Review : Darkages: Vampire Limited Edition

By White Wolf, £39.99 Print

Getting Medieval On Our Asses

Vampire: The Dark Ages, was one of my favourite White Wolf games. A curious blend of history and horror, mixed with a dash of mythology. It managed to set itself apart from it's parent game system, forging it's own path. Where Vampire: The Masquerade focused on personal horror, and the downward spiral away from humanity. Darkages made its path the pilgrims journey, a subtle shift in focus that made the whole game different enough from its predecessor to warrant its own line. Plus it had vampiric crusaders cutting a bloody swathe through turbulent times, and then agonising over it in a mindset peculiar to medieval times. It was written in a way that conveyed the feel of the times. This new version sets about reworking the Dark Medieval world top fit in with the Revised Edition of Vampire.

Lets start with look and feel. The book, being the limited edition, has a gorgeous feel. A slipcase containing a dark leather effect hardback, complete with red bookmark and shiny metallic logo. In addition to the main rulebook you get a thin artbook style introduction to the Dark Medieval world, told as a series of pilgrims tales, Geoffrey Chaucer eat your heart out. This game will look nice on your shelf, or coffee table. Was it worth an extra 20 quid? Depends how much you like strokable Ltd editions really. As a darkages fan, I happen to like it.

As ever the artwork is a mix of styles, tastes vary, I like some of it, was less impressed by others. John Bolton again gives us some wonderful chapter dividers, full of gothic menace. I'm pretty sure the clan pages were illustrated by Kieran Yanner, but he isn't credited, so I can't be sure. I didn't like these images to begin with, but they've grown on me. I suppose I just missed the old clan template illustrations, moustaches and all. There's a handy map of Medieval Europe illustrating the inside cover too, which is a nice addition. Layout is good overall, though the white text on black background sidebars are a bit stark, though they do draw attention to important side information.

The introductory fiction is a mix of mad prophetic ranting and the story of Caine. It's not overly annoying, and doesn't suffer from "cool dude with signature weapon" problem that many such intros do. I'm not a fan of introductory fiction, but this didn't detract from the book, and set the religious tone of medieval times quite well.

The Introduction gives us the standard run down of what the game is, what Vvampires are in this context, what a "storytelling game" is, gives us a chapter by chapter rundown and recommends some resources. Cadfael gets a mention, but not The Name Of The Rose, which I thought odd.

Chapter One gives us an overview of the setting. It's a nice mix of history, atmosphere building and background material. We are given the details of how Caine sired the race of vampires, how there are different clans of vampire which are caught in the eternal struggle, their stereotypes, the Traditions, Hierarchies, and so on. Details of how vampires work in the setting. The biggest difference here, is a stronger focus on the Roads (vampiric codes of morality) than previously. The writers have player up their importance, and filtered that into the setting nicely. We also get an introduction to the war of Princes, essentially an update of the setting to 1230 AD, which gives a stronger feudal hierarchy to the existing vampiric society structure and a good intrinsic conflict for player characters to become involved in. Now vampiric Princes hold Domains for Lords, who in turn hold their principalities for Monarchs. Clans have also been neatly divided into High and Low, essentially nobles and rabble. This chapter really hammers home the mindset of the setting.

Chapter Two explains the various vampire clans in more detail. Clans, for those of you not in the know, are vampire's equivalent of classes. They are thirteen styles of vampire, that give you a starting point for creating your character. The Brujah are mostly passionate warrior philosophers, the Tremere are secretive wizards, the Tzimisce are hoary eldritch fiends and warlords, the Malkavians are all mad; generic starting points which you can mould into your own concept. The descriptions try hard to avoid making each Clan seem too clichéd, and for the most part provide good introductions to the clans from which a player can springboard a variety of concepts. Some slip slightly, 10th Level Ventrue Paladin anyone?

Chapter three focuses on the Roads, our aforementioned vampiric codes of morality. Roads are given a solid introduction, that brings home how important these codes are to the setting. We get details of the five Roads followed by the majority of Europe's vampires: The Roads of Humanity, The Beast, Sin, Kings and Heaven. Each is given a two page summary, complete with coat of arms and a nicely evocative illustration. Each of the roads exemplifies a particular aspect of the setting, which is a nice touch. New rules have been added for "auras" for each of the roads, a mechanic that nicely rewards adherence to a road in game by giving you bonuses in certain social situations. For example, followers of the road of kings have a commanding presence, which helps them on social rolls related to giving orders.

The next chapter covers the basic rules. These will be familiar to anybody who's played before, you use a pool of ten sided dice, based of an attribute and an ability. For each dice that rolls over a difficulty, you get a success. Tens get re-rolled (now optional, oddly) and if you roll any 1s without getting a success, you botch. Personally I prefer the Exalted system, where there's only one difficulty, and number of successes is the difficulty, as this streamlines the system somewhat. But as dice rolling will probably be quite rare, this is not too much of an issue.

Chapter five covers the points based character creation, and also defines the skills, attributes and other statistics relating to characters. There's a nice section on "Thinking Medieval" here, which is a must for any player to read. I also enjoyed the addition of a set of "starting points", character templates useful for inspiring new players. These don't fall into White Wolf's normal trap of waffling on about a concept, they're clear and succinct, just enough to get creative juices flowing. This chapter details at length each of the abilities and what each level is worth. Though why they can't just give one table saying Poor, Average, Good, Exceptional and Outstanding, I'm still not sure. Each of the backgrounds, a vampires ties to external resources is also covered. The chapter is rounded off with a look at health levels, blood pool, humanity, willpower, and experience points. It's nice to see the maturation system making it into the main rulebook.

Chapter 6 details the vampiric disciplines. The cool powers and funky abilities that make vampires stand out (or in some cases hide away). For those of you who aren't familiar with the game, disciplines each cover a series of powers tied to a theme. Obfuscate covers hiding from sight, Potence is vampiric super strength, some are more tied to the traditional vampire myth than others, some are signature powers for particular clans. Each of the powers gets six levels of ability explained, with the exception of Mortis and Thaumaturgy which get a number of paths and rituals. Those familiar with the game will note that Celerity (vampiric speed) still follows the Darkages model of one action per blood point spent, rather than one blood point for all celerity actions, as seen in the modern day game.

Chapter 7 details "Dramatic Systems", which is to say, what rolls you make to achieve certain actions. I've always found it odd that a game focused so much on storytelling and character, gives you precise rules for how far you can walk a turn. I'd much rather they went with "as far as the plot demands" approach, than the 12 + dexterity yards they actually choose. It's handy for people new to the system I suppose, but seems to come more from a desire to simulate a reality, than a desire to tell interesting stories. Fanboys might say, "remember the golden rule, you can always change it", to which I say, wouldn't it be better if the rules practised what later chapters preached: Story, Character, Theme, and Mood. This chapter also deals with combat, again more detail than is really necessary in a "storytelling game". It works, but combats involving more than two people quickly degenerate into dice rolling competitions. It also provides rules for handling vampiric reactions to fire, sunlight, and a characters degeneration towards the bestial state and away from his Road.

Chapter 8 gives advice for the storyteller when preparing his game, or chronicle as it's called here. It covers how to convey the setting's atmosphere, themes, mood and get across the Medieval mindset. It also gives advice on controlling players, creating non-player characters and so on. At only twelve pages, it's a tad short for my liking, but no doubt there'll be a Storytellers Handbook out soon to remedy this, and the information given is enough for a beginner to get a basic grounding in the concept of setting up a game. One nice thing is that there's actually a section on "Letting Your Players Write the Story".

Antagonists and Allies is the title of the next chapter. It gives a rundown of the other denizens of the Dark Medieval world. It's got brief details on ghouls (vampire servants), The Church (inquisition included), Werewolves, Mages, Ghosts ,Demons and Fae. There's also a number of handy sidebars telling you what vampires know of these groups, even the informed ones, handy for gauging just how much characters should know of the setting. All this information should get a new storyteller filled with ideas for villains and other non-player characters.

The appendix covers the merits and flaws system. A series of handy traits for making characters unique and interesting, and always handy for hanging a plot off. Shame they're considered optional. There's also a Bestiary detailing common animals, and the weird creations of vampiric magic.

Overall: This is not a new game by any stretch of the imagination. It is a revision and repackaging. For this reason it is a game that will appeal more to newcomers to White Wolf and completists. Those of you who already know and love the game will find a few changes, but it is not a drastic update. The setting is excellent, the presentation good, but the rules system occasionally lets the game down.

Review : Adventure!

By White Wolf, $25.95/£16.99

Action, Adventure, and Really Wild Things

It took me ages to get round to buying Adventure! I wish I'd bought it earlier. Adventure! is, in my opinion, a spot on roleplaying game. It is a wonderful combination of loyalty to genre in both presentation and mechanics. Adventure! is White Wolf's pulp game, and you know exactly what it's about just by looking at the cover. Flip through and you'll see the slightly discoloured paper and illustrations that fit the subject matter perfectly. This is the game for all those Indiana Jones and Doc Savage fans.

The first part of the book is filled with background material in the form of short stories, and the annals of the Aeon Society. The stories manage to nicely convey the feel of the pulp writing on which the game is based (and as a Planetary fan I'm a sucker for Warren Ellis material). The rest of the background material manages to avoid many of the things I find annoying about in-character background, and gives a nice idea of the types of stories Adventure is design to create, as well as providing a reasonable world overview for the 1920s.

The game information doesn't actually begin until page 107, at which point we're given the standard White Wolf introduction to roleplaying, which I've read too many times, but which is essential for newbies. The first chapter deals with the basic storyteller system rules, how traits and abilities work. It's nice and brief, and has plenty of examples for people who haven't played before. The system is a tweaked version of the original Storyteller rules: You roll some ten sided dice equal to a attribute + ability, any result of 7 or more is a success. The more successes the better you do. If you don't get any successes and roll a 1, you botch, causing a mishap. If a task is more difficult, you need more successes. Simple and easy to remember.

Character creation is, some would say thankfully, not splat focused. It follows a fairly familiar format: allocate set points to attributes (strength, wits, intelligence etc), abilities (firearms, stealth etc) and advantages (powers, connections, resources, etc), then spend transformation points to tweak. The chapter is nicely succinct, with a good summary and a running example. The rules for character advancement seem oddly out of place to me (though I can see the logic in putting everything in a chapter called Character). I also found myself flipping forward to the chapter on traits, so that I knew what Knacks (cool pulp powers)and Backgrounds there were.

The next chapter covers all the traits that define a character. It covers possible character origins, allegiance, and natures, along with attributes, abilities and backgrounds. A big thank you to White Wolf for finally noticing that it's pointless to describe each level of every skill. Each skill gets a hefty and entertaining description of what it's used for and suggested specialties, but no pointless repetition of "one dot is trained" etc. The backgrounds all have a nicely pulp feel (with some neat associated quotes), and include Sanctum and Nemesis. Characters can also take their backgrounds to astounding levels, so a character can have legions of followers or be wealthy beyond avarice, which is a nice touch. Characters in Adventure! also get Inspiration as a trait. Inspiration is used to power Knacks, as well as for "Dramatic Editing". Dramatic editing is by far the coolest addition to the game, and allows for a large amount of player authorial power in the game. More on that later. Inspiration is also sub divided into three types, Intuitive, Destructive and Reflective, each of which can give a variety of bonuses to situations and help define your character's style.

Chapter 4 details Knacks. Knacks are powers possessed by Pulp heroes. A lot of effort has obviously gone into making these evoke a pulp feel. Knacks are divided into three types: Heroic, Psychic and Dynamic. Heroic powers, aren't really powers and allow characters to pull off all those coincidences that pulp heroes are famous for. Dramatic entrances, defying death, being a one man army, knowing how to design weird devices, there all here. Psychic powers are mesmerism, mind control and similar. Dynamic powers are much like heroic ones, but go beyond the normal bounds of humanity. Your character can be as tough as Bronze, or be inhumanly fast, but not at a superhero level, at a pulp level. The following chapter deals with Super Science. It gives a brief summary of how your character can create weird pulp-style devices, how long this would take, and how to repair them when things go wrong.

The next chapter is on Drama, which is White Wolf speak for rules. Here we have a rundown on how the system deals with dramatic feats, along with a comprehensive section on combat and damage. Here we also get the rules for Dramatic editing. Dramatic editing is a player empowerment technique, that allows you as the player to influence things outside your characters sphere of control. It gives the game the feeling of those old pulp cliffhangers. It allows players to add facts to a scene in their advantage. Those of you who have played games like The Pool or OctaNe will recognize it, but it's nice to see this style of mechanic appear in a mainstream game.

Chapter 7 is about roleplaying, and covers a host of elements in a small amount of space. There's a discussion of making sure characters fit together and don't overlap, along with motivations and connections. There's a look at the way the world of Adventure works (in terms of genre and period conventions), as well as a nice piece defining Pulp and comparing it to other styles of fiction. The storytellers section is a small, but gives good advice on plotting a pulp story, creating suitable villains, and how to deal with problem players.

Chapter 8 is a summary of the heroes and villains of the official setting, along with generic stats for commonly encountered bad guys. This section is handy for the Storyteller who lacks inspiration, and also useful reading for players whop want to get an idea of how to create pulp style character. Finally there's an appendix, giving details of weapons, vehicles, the cost of travel, drugs, and a timeline. There's also a handy list of resources and inspiration.

Overall: I love Adventure! It wonderfully evokes the atmosphere of pulp series. It is a joy to read, and leaves you wanting to start a game straight away. I can't give any RPG a higher recommendation than that.

Interview : Red Dwarf - The Roleplaying Game

We talk to Todd Downing of Deep7 about their forthcoming game.

When we first heard about the Red Dwarf roleplaying game, we were surprised, and just a bit curious. So who better for the first of our interviews than the game's creators. Armed with a selection of questions from fans, we tracked down Todd Downing of Deep7. Here's what he had to say:

[Realms] First off, tell us a bit about yourself and Deep7.

[TD] I was born in a poor Welsh mining town - er, wait. Before Deep7, I'd done a fair bit of writing, art and design in computer games and indie comics, and had been designing RPGs since I first started playing them. Samantha, our Business Director (and the lovely lady I'm married to), had been an editor and run a couple small companies of her own. We started Deep7 in '99 with a third partner, Ron Dugdale, with whom I'd run a game store previously. In the beginning, we were dedicated solely to virtual products, seeing a niche needing to be filled. In 2000, we released our first hardcopy product, Santa's Soldiers. Last year we sold a line of CD-ROMs, and this year saw the release of our first substantial printed game, Arrowflight. Although it's just Sam and I now (with a mighty army of freelancers and art friends I made in the video game industry), we are still following the same path we mapped out 3 years ago. Supporting the brick-and-mortar games market with good hardcopy products while making attractive and economical virtual products for the wired roleplayer.

[Realms] How did you go about securing the licence for such a cult television programme?

[TD] We asked. It was that simple, really. No one had bothered to try before us. I take notions of predeterminism with a grain of salt, but this was one of those "meant-to-be" things. As a fan of Red Dwarf since '89, I'd always wanted to make an RPG in that setting, and almost 10 years after first discussing the concept with some of _Arrowflight'_s co-designers, here we are. We contacted Grant Naylor Productions, who very quickly referred us to IMC Licensing, who handles Red Dwarf in North America. It was relatively quick and painless, which I understand is not the case with many licenses. It's probably spoiled us now.

[Realms] Working with licensed products can sometimes be constraining, how much free reign did you have with the project?

[TD] As with any license (especially when you're making one into an RPG), there is a certain learning curve on both sides. We had to make sure they understood that we wouldn't be mucking about with the canon of the show. As with any license, there were certain restrictions on content (NO ALIENS, for example), but we've actually been granted unprecedented creative freedom with our product, in terms of original artwork, new character types and ship blueprints, etc. Of course, we treat the canon with all due respect. Everything we added for game purposes has its roots in the show. We just push out and explore a bit of the less-developed areas of the 'Dwarf universe.

[Realms] Tell us a bit about the system, how did you go about designing it?

[TD] That's actually answered in one of the book's two appendices (and you're a true 'Dwarfer if you get the reference), but I can say that it was designed as the backbone to nearly every Deep7 property thus far. The XPG system is a very simple one to grasp, and very cinematic. Our economy 1PG line strips the system down to so-simple-you-can-play-with-a-gaping-head-wound proportions, while the DEEP system utilized by Arrowflight adds layers of depth. XPG is the cornerstone of both variant systems, and seemed a perfect choice for both ease of play and character depth. Probably the best thing about it is its flexibility. As designers, we can make changes and tweaks and not have it collapse on us. As players and gamemasters, you can do your own tweaking and still not break its functionality. It facilitates a wide range of cinematic styles, from the classic film noir of Mean Streets to the swashbuckling adventure of the upcoming Bloode Island XPG, to (as we have discovered) comedy like Red Dwarf.

[Realms] Which design decisions did you have the most problems with?

[TD] How to make it funny. Because if it ain't funny, what's the point? Fortunately, the book is really aimed at fans of the show, and it includes a pretty basic primer on roleplaying, roleplaying comedy, and roleplaying comedy in the Red Dwarf universe. It also brings the gamemaster into the game as the ship's AI, with notes on how to run a game in character and how to make it funny. As it turns out, given the raw material of the show, it wasn't the Herculean task we thought it would be. But the fans will be the final judges on how well we pulled it off. For what it's worth, the folks at Grant Naylor Productions are very happy with the material.

[Realms] What do you consider to be the core points of the show, and how have they translated it into the game? What makes it, not just another space game?

[TD] The same thing that makes Red Dwarf not just another space show. The characters, their interactions, the situations they find themselves in. Name another sci-fi series that portrays a ship captain traumatized by a T-Rex with diarrhoea, or that accidentally screws up the JFK assassination timeline because someone wants a curry. Once we distilled the basic essence of the show, it made the translation to adventure game with very little trouble. The fact that you can have a delusional hologram in a group with an evolved lab rat, or an entire ship crewed by wax droids of Winnie the Pooh characters being chased by ravenous spaghetti monsters says this is not your usual sci-fi game. The fact that you can play wax droid Winnie the Pooh characters in a western gunslinger AR scenario makes it even more unique.

[Realms] What's sort of options are there during character creation? All the characters in Red Dwarf are in some way deeply flawed, how have you covered this?

[TD] We address the flawed character themes very strongly and early on. We've included an entire personality section, where players can choose among Assets, Liabilities and Behavior Tags to make their character as flawed and silly as they desire. There are even ways to become more flawed as the game progresses, through insanity, disease and other trauma. It's really quite fun!

[Realms] Is control of the game very focused on the GM, or will the system feature some player authorial control?

[TD] Well, it certainly falls to the AI to maintain order and convey the specifics of the game, however it is hoped that our presentation will inspire more initiative among players. Ideally, it should run like an episode of Red Dwarf, perhaps with a more epic feel (and certainly not limited to a 30-minute timeslot).

[Realms] Red Dwarf is a comedy, how have you captured that in the game? Comedy is difficult to write, let alone improvise, how will the rules encourage it?

[TD] The rules are written pretty much in the style of the show. You're right - it's very difficult to write comedy, but we had a good crop of writers, most of whom were 'Dwarf fans already. I'd already written comedy for stage, film, animation and comics, so it came pretty naturally. Again, once you really distill the series down to where you can recognize the formula, it becomes easier to write in that style and thus convey the right tone for the game. In terms of rules, 'Dwarf-isms pop up everywhere. The wound levels range from "A Bit Wonky" to "Smoldering Hole". You can take "Smeghead" as a Liability (which is, appropriately, the next step up from "Gimboid"). We did everything we could to really evoke the setting and the inherent humor of it. Even down to full-page color ads for Diva-Droid, Ouroboros Batteries and the Space Corps.

[Realms] Red Dwarf has a legion of fans. How worried are you about their reaction?

[TD] As members of that mighty legion (or as Rimmer would say, le jon?), we made the game we, as fans, wanted to play. I'm confident that the majority of 'Dwarf fans will "get" it, and probably like what we did with it. One of the first weird comments we heard was that one fan wanted to get it so he could convert it to another popular, more technical system, sight unseen (which is kind of missing the point, isn't it?). The feedback from our international playtest was overwhelmingly positive, even from the German and Brazilian groups, who don't get much (if any) Red Dwarf. And based on what we've posted on the Deep7 website, we're hearing from excited fans every day. The queue is forming...

[Realms] One of the great things about Red Dwarf is it's ability to mix humour with some complex issues. Episodes like Meltdown deal with much more than "laugh at the losers lost in space", how will the game deal with, or encourage, this kind of story?

[TD] This is really at the discretion of the group in question. We can't really mandate things like "be sure your adventure includes a healthy dose of social conscience". But so much of Red Dwarf has that anyway, even in episodes you wouldn't normally think did. Look at Camille, Waiting for God, Timeslides, and the Last Day, just for starters. It's kind of fundamental to the vibe of the show, and it's a factor in the book, albeit not overtly.

[Realms] Will you have extensive curry rules?

[TD] Curry is definitely a factor. We have stats for the Vindaloo Beast. Of course, you can take the Cooking skill and specialize in Curry. You can wear week-old curry as body armour (if your shipmates don't push you out the airlock). You can turn your friends into it (if you encounter a DNA Modifier). Curry is a catalyst in the Red Dwarf Scenario Generator (included in the book). You can also choose to alter your own group's universe so that some other spicy food takes the place of curry in the show. Like Mexican? Thai? It's all possible.

[Realms] Which RPGs do you enjoy, and which have influenced you when writing this one?

[TD] My personal all-time faves are Cyberpunk 2020, Star Wars (the West End version) and Deadlands. All three really conveyed a rich setting and had easy-to-learn, cinematic systems. For comedy specific RPGs, I've always liked Toon, Teenagers From Outer Space, Paranoia and the occasional gem of hilarity like Ninja Burger. Bill Smith, who was behind a lot of West End's Star Wars stuff in the '90s, was a great mentor to us, and Red Dwarf is probably closest to that version of Star Wars in terms of presentation.

[Realms] Will there be character advancement, and if so, how are you handling it?

[TD] Yes, there is character advancement. XPG doesn't have "levels" like some other games. It's skill-based character improvement. Players gain Character Points at the end of each adventure, which can then be pumped back into individual skills.

[Realms] Are Red Dwarf games intended to be set on the Jupiter Mining Corporation vessel Red Dwarf? If not, what other options available for GMs?

[TD] Again, it depends on what kind of alternate universe you are setting up. We have stats for the JMC Red Dwarf, but nothing's stopping you from playing on the JMC Oregon or the SSS Esperanto or the SSS Ozzy Osbourne. Just like it's up to you whether to set your timeline pre-continuity (only humans and mechanoids) or post-continuity (very few humans, evolved cats, dogs or non-canon pets like rabbits and iguanas). By the same token, your character can be the exact character from the show, a variant of that character, or a completely new one. You could be playing in the universe where Sheila Krebbs was locked in stasis and revived three million years later with a Hudzen 10 mech, an evolved lab rat and a re-programmed simulant. Along the way they may save an injured Kinitawowi warrior who tags along to fulfill some sort of tribal life-debt. Or perhaps they happen across a lost colony of pleasure GELFs or a holo-world where hard-light holograms fight to the death in a primitive arena. As long as the AI gives them plenty of opportunity to cock it up, it's all good.

[Realms] Do you want some toast? How about a muffin?

[TD] Ask me a question that is wholly un-bready and not even slightly curranty.

[Realms] What have you got planned for the future of the game?

[TD] Well, the AI Screen will be shipping shortly after the basic game. After that, we have some options, but it will likely be next spring before any see print. It is our hope to release a movie sourcebook timed with the release of the_Red Dwarf_ feature film.

[Realms] What has been your favourite role-playing experience, as a player or GM?

[TD] Must've been when I was playing a halfling charged with a quest to destroy a magic ring in the fires of Mt. Doom... oh wait. That wasn't me. Um, there was that time when - you know - with the thing, and the treasure, and the monster, and the elf hookers. Ahhh. Good times. Seriously, when you've been gaming for 20-some years, it's hard to pick one moment. There are a ton of "no sh**, there I was" stories no one particularly wants to hear.

[Realms] What do you think about the recent explosion of third party D20 products, and its effect on the games industry?

[TD] While we don't make d20 products (for a variety of reasons I won't go into here), I must say, I love the fact that it exists. It made possible a bandwagon of products that eventually created a market glut. And the best thing about a market glut is that it makes other products - products that don't follow the leader - stand out all the more. Part of _Arrowflight'_s success has been the fact that it wasn't d20. And since we're in it for the long haul, we're more concerned with strong long-term sales than with huge sales for three months before falling flat.

[Realms] How much of the artwork will actually be artwork, and how much will be photographic in nature? Who (if anyone) is doing the art for the product?

[TD] Being a licensee has its perks, definitely. I will admit we availed ourselves of the Grant Naylor photo archives. The majority of the illustrations are photographic, including promo shots and screen captures from the show. However we have some wonderful full color character illustrations by Steve Hartley, a concept piece by Mike Tucker of the BBC effects department, and a 3D deck plan of Starbug by Julian De Puma. I did the interior border and cover designs, and the fake "ads".

[Realms] How much input have you had from the cast or Grant Naylor?

[TD] In terms of content, they've been very happy and the list of changes has been pretty minor. We get a lot of immediate input from Andrew Ellard, who is the official Red Dwarf website coordinator (and who is writing all the liner notes for the upcoming DVDs). We also got the most awesome back cover quote from Robert "Kryten" Llewellyn.

[Realms] Which is your favourite character from the playtesting?

[TD] You know, the single biggest success from playtesting was the realization of how much wax droids open up one's imagination. My brother Gavin (who also worked on the game) and I included them almost as an afterthought. Throughout the playtests we were treated to stories of a wax droid Captain Morgan, Christopher Walken, Niles Crane (from Frasier) and Ozzy Osbourne. And then there's that whole Winnie the Pooh thing, which was so wrong on so many levels, and yet so very 'Dwarf. Of course, to balance out the cool you-can-be-anyone advantage, there's that pesky little melting problem

[Realms]Thanks to Todd for taking the time to answer our questions.

Red Dwarf - The Roleplaying Game is set to be released in October 2002. Price will be $34.95 (about £25). For which you'll get an 172 page hardcover rulebook, 2-colour interior with 18 full-colour pages. More information is available at the Deep7 website.

The Trouble with Transylvania

(warning spoilers may follow for White Wolf's Transylvania Chronicls)

I bought Transylvania chronicles as it came out. A book at a time. For those of you not familiar with it, Transylvania chronicles is one of White Wolf's epic chronicles. Eight centuries worth of vampire scenario, published over four books. When it first came out I was bullish about the series, after all, the people who worked on it were responsible for Vampire: Darkages, my then favourite game. I waited until I had all the supplements to run the game, so I could work in as much of the overarching story as possible.

I ran the game for nigh on two years, most Thursday nights. I had players who I trusted, with character concepts which I liked, and which had lots of potential for development. Yet somehow the end of the game has left a somewhat stale taste in my mouth. It's not that I didn't enjoy running it, most of the time I did. It's more the level of effort I had to put in to make it enjoyable. These are published scenarios, I paid good money for them (some forty quid in all). Yet a good portion of my time was spent rewriting the material, often to take into account basic player psychology and weird plot elements that the authors seemed to believe were insurmountable, but which could be solved with the simple appliance of a basic discipline.

I think the most annoying thing about TVC is the shear mix of quality. The plot arc is good, it has that ancients manipulating events shtick that is a Vampire staple. This part of the story works well, and the characters slowly get to discover some of the biggest secrets in the World of Darkness. The introductory sections too, are remarkably well thought out, giving nice précis of the historic changes over the time period involved and a strong idea of the themes for each piece.

The problem is with the individual chapters. Each book has three of these, and they seem to follow a standard format of okay story, good story, appalling story. Part of the problem with the appalling stories is the vast amount of railroading and deprotagonisation (i.e. the players are not the main cast). A good many of the stories are linear, leaving no room for clever thinking. Now that I can forgive if the story has an interesting moral problem or a good twist, or if the illusion of control is maintained. But once again we get the standard white wolf plot device of "If your players fail to go left, there is a large group of elders with sticks who beat them around the head until they do." Not only this, but the linear nature of the stories is often solely there so that some signature character (White Wolf's favourite NPCs) can turn up and do all the interesting bits, whoopy doo, why are my players here again? I've played in dungeon bashes with more character control of plot.

That's not to say there aren't good scenarios. The second book, Son of the Dragon, has the elegant Convention of Thorns section, where players are given free reign to influence major events in Cainite history. It's very freeform and can be tailored to your individual PCs desires to change history in their favour. It's the grand scale politicking that make vampire such a Machiavellian setting. It's a shame then that the other stories in the book are both, characters turn up, Dracula does something cool, PCs watch. The third book, Ill Omens, contains a wonderful moral dilemma piece. The PCs have given shelter to the last Capadocian during the Giovanni purge, and must choose whether to aid her or sell her to the highest bidder. They must choose political favours in the world of the damned, or their own humanity. This is a story that shows the themes that Vampire should make central, but which are all too often marginalised.

In the end, the biggest success of Transylvania chronicles has been in convincing me that books of scenarios just aren't for me, and for cementing my ideas on what a good roleplaying scenario should contain: A good hook, a moral dilemma, a conflict players and characters care about, and player characters firmly in the limelight. So maybe it was worth the 40 quid after all.

Review : Blood Magic : Secrets of Thaumaturgy

By White Wolf, £12.99/$19.95, $9.98 PDF

Oh look, the magic users manual...

It could so easily have been just that, the White-Wolf guide to spellcasters, a book of spells for munchkins to trot out everytime they want to play a maxed out Tremere character. Fortunately, though this book falls into a few traps, it is still a worthwhile read. It's going to be of most use to the Storyteller, as a lot of the information and disciplines in here are better used sparingly. Fortunately most of the new powers here aren't so much grotesquely powerful, as different and interesting.

The book starts with a good deal of information about the history of Thaumaturgy, who used it first, who made key discoveries, and why the Tremere dominate the art. Lots of nice background reading that helps fill out the World of Darkness. There's also a chapter detailing how the Tremere look at magic, and how they use this information to their advantage when creating new paths and rituals. This is nicely detailed, and helps visualise the Tremere's attitude to magic a bit better than before. The concepts of Identity, sympathy, contagation and inherency, help to flesh out thaumaturgy from the " point and go bang!" discipline to something a bit more cerebral. They also allow you to flesh out any in character training a Tremere character might do, and help guide you with regards to dealing with thaumaturgical research. The sections of Tremere apprenticeships is nice enough, but should have been left for Clanbook Tremere, I felt.

The book has a huge amount of new powers, as well as revised versions of older paths from Vampire 2nd Ed and Darkages. Most are well thought out, and aren't actually any more powerful than existing paths, they just do different things. Biothaumaturgy is an arcane blend of science and genetics. Alchemy allows the creation of platonic ideals of elements, the hearth path is for defending a haven, Oneiromancy deals with dreams, and is significantly different from the old path of morpheus, having a more prophetic outlook. Some of the more obscure paths like path of the Bloods Curse (which plays on vampires inherent weaknesses), offer real possibilities for NPC villains, but could be game breaking in the hands of a munchkin. Most revolve around a consistent theme and have nicely thought out powers.

There's a huge lot of rituals here as well, ranging form the sublime to the pointless and every point in between. Many have previously appeared in other books, some are new, most have nice concepts. Some, like the level 8, Blade of the Forbidden Flower (which creates a magic sword using the soul of a vampire), seem slightly out of place. Some are superfluous, being already covered by other powers (notably many psychic ones, which already have comparable powers in Auspex). They also include optional rules for learning rituals, which anybody involved in a long term chronicle will be thankful of. There are also suggestions for how to characters can create their own rituals, and how to balance this.

The most interesting part of the book looks at other forms of kindred magic. This section deals with Giovanni Necromancy, Voodoo, Assamite viziers, Setite sorcery and, my favourite, Tzimisce Koldumic Sorcery. These had been hinted at in previous books, but now get a complete run down. The Giovanni get a brief section with some new rituals, all of which seem particularly pointless. The samedi and Voodoo get a nice piece of background. The Setite and Assamite sorceries stand out from the crowd as being, well thought out noticeably different variants on Thaumaturgy, which work well with the respective clans themes. Koldunic sorcery finally gets explained properly, the paths are mostly well thought out, being far more elemental than Tremere magic. The spirit ways suffer from being too dull and the fire ways suffer from being cool, but a tad ridiculous (summoning magma is a nice twist, I'm just not sure it's a good idea.......). It also suffers from a lack of rituals.

Overall: All in all, if you are a fan of Thaumaturgy as a discipline, then you'll enjoy this book. It gives you a good background overview and many new powers to play with. If you dislike the inherent power of Thaumaturgy, when compared to other disciplines, you may find it slightly annoying.