All posts by Adam Sink

Acquisitions Incorporated Review for D&D 5th

First let me confess that at one point I watched a good deal of the live show this material is based on.  But with the departure of Chis Perkins who really was a great comic straight man and DM I have lost interest in the series. So I was sort of the audience for this book like a year or 2 ago.  But with the growth of D&D and most of the new players exposure coming from show like Acquisitions Incorporated this book seems like a no brainer for Wizards of the Coast.

So the concept of Acquisitions Incorporated is Adventuring group as Corporation with a Comic twist.  Think The Office with swords. While the concept of adventuring group as a guild or company or guild is older than D&D.  I think this concept has potential for a solid campaign setting.

This book contains a campaign to take characters from level 1 to 6 based on the idea that the players are starting a new Franchise of Acquisitions Incorporated with the characters gaining a level each chapter instead of the carrot on a stick XP. Which I like and it makes sure that the campaign moves at a decent clip. The adventures are pretty good but mostly standard fair find the pieces of an Artifact that is can destroy the world before someone that wants to use it for evil.  I think what separates this from just your run of the mill Fantasy game is the downtime activities to help you build your franchise, live in the town, or investigate the mystery.

There is a section to help you build characters for this game and these are a new path for a City Barbarian, character backgrounds, race, and spells. The City barbarian is interesting as a kind of mob enforcer and the Spells have a new component type where every time you cast it  the original creator gets a gold.

Humor elements and the characters of the show are woven into the DNA of this book but is not as intrusive as you would think. This book is dense new people that pick this up expecting to be laughing as much as watching the show will probably be disappointed as this book is good fan service but lacks what makes the show any good the people that bring it to life and fails to transcend to something more.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh Review

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a recent release from Wizards of the Coast for the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition roleplaying game. In the interest of full disclosure, we here at Full Metal RPG were given this book free of charge by Wizards of the Coast for the purposes of review, and will be raffling off the limited edition cover variant. Ghosts of Saltmarsh (GoS) is a series of nautically themed adventures, some of which are part of a linked narrative, while others are stand alone dungeon crawls. The adventures are appropriate for various character levels, not necessarily flowing into each other easily. Often there are level gaps between where one adventure would end and another would begin, or no threads tying the narrative together.

The intro of the book details the town of Saltmarsh, and is easily the section from which I would derive the most utility. Set in Greyhawk, Saltmarsh is not part of the current Forgotten Realms default setting, but there are sidebars about porting things over to other settings in the line. The town is laid out and explained in a way that makes sense. The various dramatis personae and factions dwelling within the town are explained with enough detail to allow the GM to flesh out and explore the politics and tensions. The are mentions made to the Pirate Kings and various kingdoms, but no details given on those factions, so expect to do some additional research if you would like to include any of that content in your game. Saltmarsh is listed as having a population of 5,000, with 100 active guards, which feels incredibly high given the talk about how much smuggling is reported to occur. That is one guard for every 50 people. Assuming the average family is 4 people, each guard could personally inspect 3 dwellings a day without having to exceed a five day work week. How good are these smugglers? Or perhaps how lazy are these guards? That quibble aside, the town would make for a nice grim dark low fantasy location for something like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or something more OSR and less epically heroic than D&D. At a certain point, the type of characters you grow into in the World’s Most popular Roleplaying Game are no longer going to want to hang around what is basically a glorified fishing village.

After the chapter on the town come the adventure modules. There are seven in all: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, Salvage Operation, Isle of the Abbey, Final Enemy, Tammeraut’s Fate, and The Styes. Finally, the book contains three appendices: Of Ships and the Sea, Magic Items, and Monsters and NPCs.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is billed as a haunted house adventure, which I found an intriguing prospect. As someone who loves horror, I was very interested in what they were going to do with this concept. The answer, disappointingly, was that the house is not really haunted at all, and is instead a fairly standard “murder all the baddies” room by room search. This felt like a missed opportunity to do something really unique with the line and grow it in a new direction. The adventure is fine, but nothing remarkable. I would do something different with it, playing more on the haunted house angle.

The next adventure, Danger at Dunwater, is intended for 3rd level characters.  Continuing off of the first, it sends the characters on a mission of diplomacy to some lizard folk. While the leader of the council impresses on the characters that this is an information gathering mission, it is entirely possible to slaughter your way through the dungeon and not bother with negotiation at all. Given the usual way these adventures run, this is how I would expect things to play out. I prefer this adventure over the one that preceded it, as smart characters can avoid a fight entirely, though I would certainly make it very clear from the outset that killing absolutely everyone is not the desired solution of the town leadership. With branching paths and multiple means to success, this tale is one of the more compelling to appear in the book, though by no means the best adventure.

Following the crawl through the home of the lizard folk is Salvage Operation, and adventure for 4th level characters. This adventure is not connected to the first two in any way, and sends the party off to retrieve a chest from the cargo hold of a nearby shipwrecked craft. The confines are tight and the idea of exploring a derelict craft is appealing, but I wish it had gone for a more supernatural theme instead of the more standard fantasy creatures employed. Spoilers: Servants of Lloth show up! Good old Lloth, who as the Drow spider goddess of course makes perfect sense as a villain in an adventure set at sea. I suppose octopuses have eight legs, too, so maybe there is some kinship. I wish they had played up that angle, honestly. This is shortest adventure in the book, coming in at all of seven pages.

Next is Isle of the Abbey, intended for 5th level characters. The town would like to claim a small, strategically located island in order to build a lighthouse. The island is home to burned out abbey, which is itself home to cultists who survived a recent attack by pirates. Getting on the island involves making landfall on a beach, with threats buried beneath the sand. From there the party explores the ruin and drives out the remaining cultists. Rather standard fare, honestly.

Continuing the story from Danger at Dunwater is the Final Enemy, an adventure for characters of 7th level. Having either murdered all the lizardfolk, or agreed to aid them against a common foe, the party is once more sent on a reconnaissance mission is the stronghold of the Sahuagin. This is a slog through a dungeon packed densely with foes. It is possible to complete the investigation without needing to resort to violence, but not probable given the number of threats contained within the confines. There are some nice set pieces here, and it can be a little overwhelming in spots.

Next is Tammeraut’s Fate, an adventure for 9th level characters. The characters are sent to investigate an island recently reclaimed by a religious order. Of course, something has gone terribly wrong, and the party must perform a room by room exploration to ferret out the enemy and stop a terrible evil hidden in the depths of the sea. Spoiler: It is Orcus. It is always Orcus. I do not know why you cannot have an adventure without Orcus showing up as the bad guy at some point, but here he is, for anyone who was worried he would not make an appearance in a nautical adventure and the writers might use a more appropriate villain instead. When I think of the ocean, I think of Orcus and Lloth.

At least we come to the final adventure, and the standout for me: the Stye, for characters of 11th level. This is a street level, Lovecraftian style murder mystery with dark conspiracies and an evil cult. It is probably the best arc of the lot, however at 11th level are characters really interested in skulking back alleyways and dealing with peasants getting murdered? It is a shame that so many of the iconic and disturbing monsters are reserved for characters reaching a point where they can venture to other planes and take in strange, otherworldly sights. 

There are three appendices, the first of which covers ship stats and ocean travel, which I suppose is useful for people who want that level of detail and immersion in their game. This seems like it would have been good information to have at the front of the book, given that several of the adventures involve travel over open water and will likely require the characters to have access to a ship. There are rules for ship combats and environmental threats and challenges, along with tools for undersea and shipwreck adventures. The next two entries cover magic items and NPCs and monsters appearing in the book, which is to be expected. Nothing too controversial. This is the portion of the book most likely to entice the nautically inclined.

In terms of physical quality, this is a Wizards of the Coast product, with high production values and the quality of art, maps, and construction you would expect. You will not be disappointed in the book as an artifact. WotC makes quality goods.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is an odd little book. Clearly not meant for new GMs or players, it is a nostalgic uplift of older modules from various sources. The different adventures all orbit around the sea, but it all feels disjointed. I would expect GoS to appeal to older, more experienced gamers, the kind of people more than capable of taking an old adventure and tooling it to the current edition themselves, should they so desire. Perhaps it is merely meant for aquatic enthusiasts, but the lack of rules for pirates or a royal navy faction would seem to limit the appeal to that audience as well. It gives rules on constructing ships and ocean travel and environmental threats, but was this something the community was clamoring for? I have been disconnected from the Dungeons & Dragons world for so long that perhaps this is the case. In the end, I would expect the people this type of content speaks to know who they are, and completionists will purchase a copy because that is the nature of being a completionist. I would have a difficult time recommending this book to anyone who is not enthralled by the core concept and the idea of oceanic adventures. There is not enough there to entice me to do much with the book.

BONUS EPISODE – Pat Lewis, Mantic Entertainment, Deadzone, Kings of War, Vanguard, Warpath

Whaddup cultists?! In this episode we are doing something a little different and talking to Pat Lewis, the community director for Mantic North America. If you are not familiar with Mantic’s line of exceptionally written miniature wargames, we hope that you’ll stick with us and take a listen!

In this episode we talk:
Deadzone
Kings of War
Terrain Crate
Starfall Summer Campaign
Wargaming
Roleplaying
and
MORE GIVEAWAYS

We hope that you will join us for the Phoenix branch of the Starfall Summer campaign starting Thursday, August 23rd at Games U, 5pm.

Check out Mantic here:
www.manticgames.com/

Sign up for the Starfall Summer Campaign here:
deadzonecampaign.com/

Check out our friends at Darker Days Radio here:
darkerdays2.podbean.com/

BONUS EPISODE – Zak Smith – Demon City, LotFP

Whaddup cultists!

Brendan and Adam are back from Gen Con roused from slumber by a guest that they met at the Lamentations of the Flame Princess booth, Zak Smith aka Zak Sabbath! We’ve wanted to have Zak on the show for a very long time, so this was the culmination of a big goal for us.

Zak joins us to talk:
Demon City
Horror Gaming
Game Design
Gen Con 2018
The Future

Check out his next level Kickstarter below:
www.kickstarter.com/projects/107055…g?ref=user_menu

Also check out our webpage with all our back episodes:
fullmetalrpg.com/

And our good buddies at Darker Days Radio!
darkerdays2.podbean.com/

See you out there cultists!

Tempus Tenebrarum FMRPG Guest Appearance!

Cvultists! Is there not enough FMRPG in your life? Do you find yourself in the fetal position on your bathroom floor, begging for one more sweet taste? Fear not! We have you covered!

Brendan and Adam were graciously welcomed into the coterie by Peter and Jake on a live episode of  Tempus Tenebrarum, a audio cast dedicated to World of Darkness roleplaying. Your favorite shovelheads discussed a topic near and dear to our withered undead hearts: Infernalism in the World of Darkness! So strap on your leather jackets, praise Caine, and watch out for the Sabbat Inquisition because we are digging into the demonic depths to discern what degrading devilry awaits.

The recording is up now on YouTube, so get after it if the topic at all intrigues you, and a big FMRPG shout out to Peter and Jake for having us on!  We had a blast of searing hell fire. Thank you always for reading/listening and being part of the pack!

Review: Stormbringer 1st Edition

A few weeks ago my friend Adam Sink bought me a copy of Stormbringer first edition rulebook that he found on the shelf of a used bookstore for fifteen dollars. Knowing that I was in the midst of collecting a mammoth Stormbringer collection, he texted me, asking if I wanted him to pick it up on my behalf. I demurred, saving money for Gen Con. Adam, the sport that he is, picked it up anyway as a gift.

Any man, I sure am glad that he did.

Stormbringer is set in the world of the Young Kingdoms, the realm where the Elric portion of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle of novels takes place. It deals with a failing empire in conflict with nascent powers and the fate of tragic figures driving this world into an apocalypse that has been foreseen, but which the characters are powerless to prevent.

The 144 page softcover book is actually the manual that came inside of the 1st Edition Stormbringer boxed set. This was published in 1981 by Chaosium and is written by old school roleplaying luminaries Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin. The art for the book is wonderfully evocative and composed by Frank Brunner.

The copy Adam found for me was sans boxed set, which is why it was priced so attainably. The boxed set comes with a fold out map of Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms and some other play aides, but everything you need to play the game is contained inside the covers of the manual. Additionally, I have like 4 other versions of the Stormbringer RPG so I’m up to my eyeballs in maps of the the Young Kingdoms anyway.

Now, I could get into a whole screed on the differences between this edition and any other. Some of those differences are big, some are nuanced, but they are beyond the scope of this review. My purpose here is to inspire you to go on eBay immediately and hunt up a copy of first edition Stormbringer, regardless of its condition, regardless of whether it has the box and the dice and all that crap.

But in order to go forward I have to go back a little further first. See all of this was presaged to me by none other than Sunderland’s resident wizard Jamie over a year ago via Instagram.

Jaime owns and operates Colosseum Rex in Sunderland, UK,  and I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about him here before. But In case you haven’t, I’ll catch you up. I met Jaime on Instagram back in 2014. At the time we would just talk about roleplaying games that captured our imaginations. He lived in the UK. I lived in LA. As the years have passed, Jaime has constantly challenged my perceptions of roleplaying and pushed me to explore more and be open to new ideas. As a thinker and a student of tabletop gaming he’s always about a year ahead of me. I find it incredibly vexing, but if past precedent is any kind of future predictor, whatever Jaime is up to now – will be the fad that I’m binging on in twelve to fifteen months.

One day on Insta he called out my love of the OSR movement directly. I wish I could find the quote. But his point was simply “Do we even need an OSR movement when there are so many great old games laying around, waiting to be rediscovered and played?” Of course, even after a spirited round of debate with him, I still believe that new blood exhuming old ideas and breathing new life into them is a necessary force in the roleplaying community and an objective good. I don’t think the brilliance of Diogo Nogueira’s “Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells” or James Vail’s “Xas Irkalla” would be with us if we didn’t have young blood developers looking back in order to find the way forward. But I will say that Jaime’s argument opened my mind to taking a deeper look at games that had more or less run their course by the time I was discovering the hobby in the very late 80s, early 90s.

So that brings us to Stormbringer first edition. I started reading it on a lark. There was something about the way the high weight pages of the manual felt in my hand that took me back to my teenage years when I would spend all day on the weekends or when school was not in session, draped across a couch reading a softcover Vampire manual. Seized by this nostalgia I began to read the book carefully from the inside cover, and fell in love with a brilliant and beautiful game that as far as I am concerned never got the attention or the lifespan it deserved.

Now this is the part of the review where we would usually start breaking things down into bullet points, pros and cons. I’m going to forego that tradition for this game because I don’t think that kind of binary thinking serves old school games very well. There are aspects of this game that some people will delight in, those same aspects will make others climb the walls with frustration.

I will say this as a downside: Stormbringer books are very difficult to get a hold of. In the last year since I have gotten serious about collecting them, I have noticed that their prices have risen sharply, and they were not cheap to begin with. If you are a compulsive collector of things of beauty, consider this before starting down the path of collecting Stormbringer: you cannot have just one.

You cannot have just one core book, one edition, one sourcebook. Once you have partaken of this game, you have no choice but to have them all, and some pieces will come at great cost.

So:

Character creation in Stormbringer should really be called the character lottery. It’s clear that Ken St. Andre didn’t have balance on his mind when he was writing this game. And on some level that’s fine. The Elric cycle of novels doesn’t have much to do with balance. The central protagonist of the novels is the monarchy of one of the world’s greatest empires and he spends his time in the novels chumming around with everyone from scum of the earth adventurers to merchant princes to everyone in between.

Indeed, a very small percentage of the characters in the Stormbringer game will be mind-bendingly powerful. Predominantly magic-users, they will harness the power of demons, slay anyone who dares to stand against them and carve the history of the Young Kingdoms. Everyone else will pale in comparison to their raw power. All of this is determined in the character creation phase by rolling dice. Your ‘race’ your class, your attributes are determined for you by prescribed dice roll. There are very few choices you, as the player, have any say in during this phase. Honestly, if the GM were to lay out 4 or 5 pregenerated characters before the campaign began and let the players discuss which one they wanted to play, there would be more agency and selection. A typical Stormbringer character could be generated by a computer program. Now, as I said, some players will embrace this ‘winds of fate’ style of roleplaying. Others will reject it.

The Stormbringer system is sort of weirdly math-y. It’s a classic OSR style percentile, where the higher your percentile is in something, the better you are at it, and there are incentives to roll low. If you are a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Dark Heresy enthusiast you will recognise this game design principle.

While reading, there were times when I would marvel at the system’s simple elegance. Other times I found myself wondering why anyone would bother with this. Overall I found it to be really fun, at least on paper, I haven’t had a chance to run this thing yet. There are lots of unique subsystems dealing with fractions of percentages that at times I found kind of tedious and burdensome. But then there were subsystems that got no constraints at all like the winged men of Myrrh’s ability to fly without defined restrictions, which I thought was amazing.

Combining both the idea of subsystems and power level, a huge part of the Sorcery section of the book details systems that player characters will rarely, if ever, have the chance to use. The magic of the Elric universe is arbitrated by demons. Humans have no ability to wield magic on their own, and must impose on bound demons to borrow their power. Still, the ability to bind a demon is so rare, difficult and risky, it’s unlikely that a PC will ever get to have the experience. The rules seem like they were included largely to cover NPCs, but Ken St. Andre doesn’t tell us this straight out. He waits until the very end of the magic system and then sort of alludes to it, but I think that a lot of players in the 80s sort of glossed over his warning.

I’ve heard that there can be weird problems with this version of the game where people are binding demons to every damned thing in hopes of getting bonuses out of them, which is clearly against the intention of the book, although there are no rules prohibiting it. I guess it’s one of those classic John Wick style situations where the rules end up defining the incentives of the players.

All in all I really can’t say how much I love Stormbringer as a game, the first edition in particular. I could go on and on, but this review has already been our longest yet, so I won’t. I have some guys on deck to play and now that I’m done reading the book, I’m stoked to start the process of putting together an adventure and setting at date to journey into the Young Kingdoms.

Meanwhile,you may be saying to yourself, “yeah, that’s all well and good, but I’ve never read any of those Elric novels. Is this review even aimed at me?”

First, yes it is. And if you haven’t read Elric, get out there and do it. The original Elric cycle of novels is currently out of print in America, and it’s a shame. I recommend hitting up eBay and purchasing some of the Berkley Fantasy silver softcover editions as cheap as you can. The ones with the pictures of Elric on the cover, portrayed as a haunted and lonesome figure.

Start with book one, Elric of Melnibone. It’s a quick read and it will change the way you look at fantasy. At least that was my experience when I first read it after college, after by dear friend Ben Bailey had been on me to read the novels since the early days of high school roleplaying. I suggest that you take a look at book two as well, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. If after reading them you don’t want to go any further, that’s cool, everyone has different tastes and you’ll get only respect from me for broadening your horizons. But check out at least the first two books, you owe it to yourself as a gamer and a game master.

Second, while a love of Moorcock and his novels make the perfect accompaniment to this game, they should not be seen as prerequisite. I would highly recommend Stormbringer 1st edition to any OSR player for it’s dark feel, it’s grit and it’s fatality. I would recommend it for it’s baroque magic system, it’s strange creatures, it’s exotic lands and it’s prevailing sense of doom.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay tried to capture what Stormbringer had already created: hopeless adventures in doomed world. But Stormbringer did it first, and I think did it better. Jaime had it right in a certain way, and I encourage my fellow OSR throat slashers to get out there and find a copy of Stormbringer 1st edition for their collections.