Game Preview - Part 1

Here's a snippet from the introductory chapter, to give a taste of the feel of the game's setting:

For five thousand years, the secret society known as Covenant prepared for the apocalypse. Insinuating itself into every government, bureaucracy and religion. Preparing for a day it knew would come. Armageddon.

On January 1st 2000, they awaited the sign that would herald the end of the world. It didn't arrive. Soon the society that had manipulated governments, built ideologies and overthrown religions was in turmoil. It split into a whirlwind of warring factions and conflicting opinions. Why had prophecies failed, where before they had succeeded? Who was to blame? What does the future really hold?

Art preview - Part 1

Illustration: Hostage situation on a Prague rooftop

Here's a bit of Covenant preview material for you to admire. This is the top left part of one of Cliff's excellent illustrations. I asked for a tense hostage situation on an Eastern-European rooftop, and that's what I got.

Welcome

Welcome to the Realms Publishing weblog!

This blog is the home of small-press projects spun off from the Realms E-Zine.

Our current main project is Covenant, a story game of failing conspiracies. Covenant is currently on-schedule for a July release.

I'll be posting some sample downloads in the near future, as well as some of the excellent artwork by Cliff Kurowski

Review : And Their Tummies Growled

By Lisa Hartjes, Hart Felt Productions, $5

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Full of ideas that are made viable by the shear number of folks out there. And their tummies growled is an RPG cookbook. Not the kind containing techniques and scenarios, but one containing recipes for hungry gamers. Now, I'm a sucker for cooking and novelty RPG products, so this kind of sideways idea amuses me. It's the extension of a set of reasoning that goes: if gaming takes place after work, then waiting for folks to eat can shorten available time, so why not combine the two? This book aims to be your guide to combining gaming and dinner...

It's available as a 50 page minimally, some might say basically, formatted PDF from RPGNOW. The advantage of a PDF cookbook is you can print out the individual recipes as and when you need them, so it's quite usable in that way. There's a cover, but no other art, and I was a little disappointed that there weren't photos of some of the dishes. Whenever I follow a recipe I hope to have a clue of what it should end up looking like, especially if it's not something I'm familiar with.

The book is broken down into themed sections: baked goods, salads, pasta meals, soups, meat dishes, other mains and side dishes. There are PDF bookmarks, hyper-linked table of contents and index to jump between them. There's also a recipes by type index (quick, pre-prepared and so on). There's lots of flexibility in terms of moving around the PDF.

The recipes, of which there are 35, are on the whole easy and substantial, which seems to be exactly what the author is going for. Most have a solid American home-cooking feel to them, and ideal for hungry gamer filling. A few of the ingredients are fairly obviously standard US brands that I didn't know of and that slightly confused me; Chex is obviously a breakfast cereal, but is it like cornflakes or something else? Similarly, ingredients like condensed lemonade left me scratching my head as to where to find them.

In general the recipes are more likely to use chilli powder, or spice mix than a particular selection of spices, which disappointed me slightly, but does aid in making them easy to put together if you're not somebody who cooks a lot. Similarly some dishes don't contain ingredients I'd expect them to, for example the Beef Stroganoff contained no mustard. This isn't a problem, given the target audience, but might disappoint an avid foodie.

Most of the recipes are nice though, there's a great one for German Warm Potato Salad and an intriguing mixed-bean chilli that has a hint of chocolate in it. The type of thing that's just different enough from your own recipe to intrigue. The beer and cheese soup should be an excellent winter warmer. Some of these can be found in the demo version of the PDF and this gives you a fairly accurate feel for the production values and nature of the recipes.

Overall: If you're looking for a few quick-n-filling recipes to share with friends before gaming, then this is as good a bet as picking up a random cookbook, and has the added advantage of being designed with speed and ease in mind. Aside from timing issue though, actual links to gaming are slightly tenuous.

Review : The Mountain Witch

By Timothy Kleinert, Timfire Publishing, $35 Print / $18 PDF

A group of Ronin Samurai are hired to kill O-Yanma, the Mountain Witch of mount Fuji. Each of them brings his own dark secrets and cannot fully trust the others. Will the tensions in the group destroy them, or will they unite to achieve their aim?

The Mountain Witch is a 140 page digest-sized book of mythic Japan goodness. Where most RPGs proclaim their ability to allow you to "do anything!!!", The Mountain Witch makes a feature from its very tight focus. It's a game designed to tell tales of trust and betrayal in a specific scenario, and this is does amazingly well. To work best it needs at least four players and a GM, to my mind, I played with three and though excellent, it felt lacking a certain group dynamic.

Visually the book really sets the tone wonderfully, clean modern type and layout make for an easy read. Evocative colour art is spread throughout, setting the spooky atmosphere of the eponymous witch's lair and showing characterful samurai in a variety of situations. For a small-press work, the quality of art and design puts more "professional" company's work to shame. My only slight issue with the layout are the sidebars, which seen to intrude slightly on the main text. Not currently having a downloadable character sheet also mean't I had to build my own, though that wasn't a huge deal.

Each player creates a Ronin, and during this process is randomly dealt a Dark Fate. A secret he hides from the company, that puts the mission at risk, an inevitable betrayal waiting to happen. Maybe his character really wants to kill a companion for a past slight, maybe he has a secret deal with the Witch himself? Players get free reign to add any details related to their character's fate to a scene, thus allowing them to slowly reveal their fate through game play and work the narrative to it's natural climax. The game is split into four acts (nominally introduction, build tensions, reveal fates and denouement), so players have plenty of time to do this.

The game system itself is elegantly simple. All conflict results are determined by the roll of a single six-sided dice by each side, that can be rolled over if you get a 6. Before rolling you predefine the broad stakes of what you'll get if you win. The resulting difference in dice rolls is your degree of success, which determines how much you can narrate as successful or how much damage you can do. Damage reduces your normal dice roll by -1, for a length of time dependent on how successful the hit was. You can die, but it's unlikely, and even if you do you can still spend Trust...

The core of the system is the Trust mechanic. At start of play your character's trust ratings to other characters are defined by your character's chosen zodiac animal, with some trusting others more or less. At the end of each chapter (each act may have more than one), you can choose to raise your trust of another character by one, drop it by any amount or keep it the same. How much other trust you gives you trust points that you can spend to modify rolls: If Zuri trusts Keho by 2 points, Keho can spend one of the two points to aid Zuri in a conflict, and thus add his dice to Zuri's, dramatically increasing chance of success. Keho can also spend those points to betray Zuri and modify a conflict roll down by that many points at the worst possible moment. Alternatively he can spend a point to steal Zuris narration and  although he can't alter the success of the conflict he can twist it to his own agenda...

The Trust system creates a great dynamic. The characters have more chance of success in their mission if they have lots of trust to others. However when betrayal comes, and it will fates assure that, their trust will be their undoing. The system wonderfully highlights the themes of the story. All the GM has to do is push situations that put that trust into doubt, or antagonists that soak up the co-operation.

The book contains a summary of typical creatures from Japanese folklore to add to your tale, as well as an introduction to Japanese castles and a set of possible character names. So you have a really solid grounding in the feel of the setting, though it's by no means a huge bloated setting; You're expected to build the setting from the characters out, and every game will be different based on the character's back-story as built in play. Should you need more info on Japanese history and myth, there are suggested websites for more information.

The GM advice section is a mixed bag. Although it covers many of your likely questions for running this kind of game, I felt that it could have done with more solid, worked examples, particularly of the types of critical moments that say something about the characters that you should be throwing at the players. It does however make up for this with one of the most useful pieces of advice for this kind of game, if in doubt ask the players: "You see a series of heads on pikes at the witches gate, who are they?" Thus really hammering home the "build from the inside out" method of story creation the game is for.

Overall: The Mountain Witch is a great game, all my players enjoyed it and want to play again now that they're more familiar with how it works. It plays particularly well if you've got a group who are up-to-speed with Samurai drama and really take ownership of their dark fates at an early stage. Its single scenario shouldn't put you off, while it is just one basic situation, there's no reason its wonderfully theme-enhancing mechanics couldn't be used for any similar "dirty dozen" style game in any period in history (Western and WWII seeming obvious candidates).