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Steven Saunders Presents:








 

TOTAL PARTY KILL #2

A Total Party Kill (TPK) is the colloquial term for when, in a single encounter during the course of a role-playing game adventure, the entire party of player characters is killed.” – The Codex Wikipedia

Is it time for another TPK already? My, how tempus fugits…

For those of you just joining us and wondering what this is all about, TOTAL PARTY KILL is a column about role-playing games and comics gamers will probably enjoy. There’s even a bit to help you beleaguered fellow GMs out there dig up ideas. And starting with this TPK, there will be a new section covering videogames we nerds ought to take a peek at, for good or ill.

In this installment, you can find coverage on the following: Chaosium’s Basic RPG, Pathfinder RPG Beta, a couple terrain treats from Fat Dragon Games, me not really covering Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy , Grey Ranks, Foundry miniatures, some excellent ideas sources via MonkeyGod Enterprises, Geneforge 4 and other tasty items.

I’ll also give you my quick opinion on the following comics: Red Sonja #36, Fall of Cthulhu: Godwar #1, Crossed #0, Army of Darkness #11, Knights of the Dinner Table Special #1, H.P. Lovecraft’s Haunt of Horror, Dragonlance Legends #1, The Gloom, two Warhammer 40k comics and more…

Thanks for all of the excellent feedback on the debut column. I have decided to keep the length (but this by no means I won’t do a short TPK once in a while), but I’ve also broke up the sections a bit better. This way those of you who have more interest in RPGs, or favour comics, or just want to know what terrain I’m yabbling about this time around—all you have to do is scroll, and your scrolling should be a bit easier. I hope, anyway.

Right, so let’s get right into it… Right? Right!

Wait!

Before we get started, here’s something to get you in the mood:

Yeah, I wish I could’ve been at Gen Con. Wait, I don’t mean to equate those who attended Gen Con to harlots or anything—

Moving on.

I. Pulling Serious RPGees

Here is RPG Goodness I have harvested the last couple of weeks. I’m always on the prowl for more. Well, that’s probably obvious, right?

- Pathfinder RPG Beta. Those lovable crazy folks at Paizo have done it again. Now you can take their upcoming Pathfinder RPG for a beta spin. The alpha has already been available, and here is an improved version. There are finished games out there which look less good than this. Impressive. And hey, if you want, you can order a hardcopy version, too! Some folks think it’s too much like D&D 3.5 with not enough changes, while other proclaim it to be a breath of fresh air (so far). Why don’t you download it and judge for yourself? Score: The party is anxiously awaiting your verdict. Do they live? Or do they become a messy part of the Pizza Topping Matrix?

- Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium System. This book has been a long time coming. As a nearly lifelong player of Call of Cthulhu, as well as being a fan of Stormbringer and (old) Runequest, I had to pick this up as soon as I could. The first thing I notice about this book is how well put together it is. It reads nice, looks nice (but not too slick), and stresses clear layout and formatting much in the same way the new Traveller game does (though BRP isn’t as simple. I’ve only had time for one read-through, but I can say with confidence that if you are looking for an easy-to-learn and adaptable game-system, give this one a try. It appears everyone wants to get in on the “generic” system wagon these days, and I’m happy to see Chaosium pull-off such a graceful showing. But don’t take my word for it! I only have time for this blurb and you may be asking me “Steve, what’s character generation like? What’s the game like? I hate you!”. Have no fear, friends. Lev Lafayette wrote up a remarkable and in-depth review of this game on RPG.net. Read it here.

- Dark Steve Heresy. I mentioned last week I would yap about the Warhammer 40,000 RPG some, but time got away from me and I didn’t get a chance to run a game with the group yet. Next TPK this should change, though. As for the rules and layout: NICE. The Emperor provides! Though I’m a big WFRP guy, I had my quibbles with 2nd Edition (“Where are the shield rules!” etc). Dark Heresy looks jawdroppingly sexy. Just SEXY. Man, I think my wife is jealous. I sleep with this book under my pillow and whisper sweet nothings to its cover before bed. Anyhow, next time I’ll go a little more in-depth. With the game, I mean. Not my strange “affections” for certain books. Score: Steve is fed to ambulls. There was much rejoicing.

- Grey Ranks. A friend suggested I take a peek at this, and I have to say I’m rather impressed. In Grey Ranks players take the role of young Polish partisans (freedom fighters) before, during and after the failed uprising against the German occupiers in 1944. This game is definitely for a mature crowd, considering the subject matter (so let the kiddies commit kobold and goblin genocide instead, okay?). The rules seem simple enough and if anything you’ll get one heckuva history lesson. I’m looking forward to running this sometime in the future so I can see how it plays. Those curious can head on over to Bully Pulpit Games and download a hefty sample! Score: The squad of five is taken out by some 88s… one survivor short of a TPK. Hey, are those Tigers?

Two other RPG goodies:

- Hellas: Worlds of Sun and Stone . The ancient Greeks in space. SF Hellenes! How frickin’ cool is that?!

-Action! RPG. Ever want to do an RPG where you play out an 80s era action film? Feel free to dl this game and playtest it a bit for my buddy Ryan.

Didn’t I also promise last time to give my thoughts on 4th Edition D&D? Hmmm… I really have to buckle down and read through my new Dungeons & Dragons books more. I’ll tell you this: it’s a very different game from 3.x; but you are probably already aware of that. Here’s to the next TPK being about 4th ed D&D a little.

II. Minis on the Mind, Terrain on the Brain

I’ve mentioned them before, but I think I’ll mention them again! Fat Dragon Games is a company that deserves your attention. They are committed to creating quality products to make your gaming life that much better. Most recently, I have had the chance to take two build-it-yerself paper models of theirs out for a spin: Borderland Keep and Dragon Tiles: Forest Advetures.

Damn. You really should know how easy these are to put together. Yeah, you’re going to do a little work. This is the price you pay for “inexpensive”. But honestly? I guarantee you these paper models will look as good as some of that expensive pre-made terrain to purchased. Especially if you follow the incredibly detailed, clear and well-written direction FDG provides. After some good not-so-hard work and a little time, you can create some neat things, as you can see here…

From Dragon Tiles: Forest Adventures:






 

From Borderland Keep:






I plan to take pictures as soon as I get my digital camera fixed. In a future column I’ll show ‘em off!

Score: The party felt safe and sound in their dwarven fortress (which has some wicked forges), but then along came an enormous paper dragon in need of some serious TPK action. Oh, the humanity… all over the place.

Want me to cover some miniatures, terrain or other gaming props you like, use, or are curious about here? Drop me a line, dammit, and let me know.

III. Arbitrary Random Idea Generator

Two things this time around, the first being a couple idea sources of mine and then three awesome people I know give their respective inspirations. I’d like to do a quote each installment, so if you have one— send ‘em in!

- Here are a couple great RPG idea sources: Frost & Fur and From Stone to Steel. Frost & Fur is a sourcebook for the colder climes. Forget Frostburn. Sure, Frostburn is pretty and reads nice, but Frost & Fur is one of the best sourcebooks I’ve got. It’s aimed at d20 players, but the data contained within this tome is priceless for any gamer of any system. It also covers Slavic and northern Native cultures and a bevy of other things. You’ll find new races, myths, magic, classes, as well as tools and equipment. I always crack open Frost & Fur when I need some real cold-blooded ideas to unleash on my players.



From Stone to Steel is essential for anyone who wants the ultimate weapons and armour guide. Spanning history and a few different cultures, you will actually be educated after reading this. If someone asked me what the top ten best and most useful RPG books ever published were, there is no doubt in my mind this 352-page gem would be on the list. You’ll also learn tactics, training, and a bunch of other stuff. As the copy says: “From stone-age primitives to the height of the Renaissance, history is in your hands”. Aside from being a terrific sourcebook, From Stone to Steel is an excellent idea mine—especially if your group likes combat focused games. Even if they don’t, this could make running into some tribal plainsmen a less-than-generic experience for sure. I’ve used this book for D&D, Warhammer, Judge Dredd, Castles & Crusades, HackMaster, Iron Kingdoms, Conan, and other games. Sometimes I just flip through my copy to see what sticks. This book is one of my most cherished possessions and it comes with my highest party-killing recommendation.

You can procure these fine books by MonkeyGod Enterprises in PDF format these days from Highmoon Media Productions HERE. They have many other fine products, so be sure to take a look around.

- And now for the quoted idea-men. Big thanks to Dmitri, Lev and Bill!!

“I just do what everybody else does. Call up the Idea Board over in Peoria, Illinois.

Seriously? I have no (expletive held for questioning) clue where I get all of them from. Half the time it's some existing concept or genre that I've got in my head and I end up hearing something or read an article on some thing completely unrelated, and the two just synch up and *boom* new concept realized- which often doesn't bear much resemblance to the original. Case in point- when working for The Le Games on their Unorthodox Paladins supplement, I was strapped for ideas for an out of the ordinary paladin class variation… until my then-baby daughter's first tooth came in. Thinking about the tooth and paladins together as a class, and I somehow ended up with a group of paladins that served as torturers and inquisitors- The Order of the Hook, which ended up going in the supplement. With the Arcanpunk Collection, it was even weirder- an old-style-rollerskate and HP Lovecraft. it's like my brain jumps through a series of springboards, and then comes back afterwards and lets me see through the whole process. It's never just one idea though- there's got to be at least two or more colliding in the same headspace to get results.” – Dmitri Arbacauskas. Tormented Artifacts, Unorthodox Paladins.

“I really love random inspiration. I've found that it works for me better than anything else. I'll listen to talk radio or TV news stations and take snippets of conversations and write them down, or eavesdrop on conversations at a restaurant and do the same thing - just taking down random sentences that I'll look at later to get ideas from.

I have a set of futhark runes and several different Tarot decks with fantastic artwork on them. I don't use them for fortunetelling or anything like that - I'll draw three of them and write down the meanings in a notebook, then I'll go back later and combine those meanings into a person, a place, an event, or all three. Then I'll go through the book again when I'm looking for ideas. The Tarot decks are especially good for this, because of the artwork, which can sometimes help get ideas flowing. (There are several websites that will generate a Tarot or futhark reading for you, if you don't want to invest in them yourself.)

A game designer - I think it was Bruce Baugh - once suggested making your own "idea deck" out of 3"x5" cards with slips from fortune cookies and newspaper horoscopes taped to them. Both of these sometimes hold simple phrases that can generate some great story ideas. You just shuffle the deck and draw a card when you get stuck. I've tried it, and it works pretty well, too. (I just get a lot of strange looks from friends & family now, when I ask for the horoscope section of the paper, or if I can keep their fortune when we get Chinese food...).” - Bill Walton. The Escapist, RPG Advocate.

“A lot of my ideas come the real world. Not only do I use gaming a sort of ‘depth hermeneutics’ (roleplaying historical characters in context), truth (albeit sometimes with a fair bit of artistic license thrown in) can quite often trump the best fiction for pure weirdness value. The Pazzi Conspiracy is one example, the extraordinary attempts of William McGonagall to pass himself off as a great poet (and, incredibly, he is still being printed), improbable results in one-sided battles such as Agincourt, Stirling Bridge, and Rorke's Drift, tragic failures like the Charge of the Light Brigade, The battle of Kransebes and...

Well, you see what I mean.” – Lev Lafayette. RPG Review, noted RPG.net reviewer.

IV. Videogame Killed the Radiogame Star

It was suggested by a couple of you that maybe I should cover some videogame stuff. Okay! I love videogames, and to be honest, I didn’t think this column was long enough, you know?

I kid because I love. Let’s continue…




If you are unfamiliar with the Geneforge series, then you’re missing out. I first read about Geneforge years ago in PC Gamer and was impressed by the review. Now they’re up to the 4th Geneforge incarnation, Rebellion, and it’s still damned good. If you are the kind of gamer who insists on high quality, top-notch visuals that make your current-gen videocard sweat blood, then Geneforge is probably not for you. If you enjoy old-school, innovative, independently developed, original and deep computer RPGs, then you will be very happy to get your hands on this game. The world is big, being a Shaper is cool (“create and mold your own army of strange, powerful monsters”), the engine runs smoothly, and the environment and story is very engaging. Be warned, this game can be downright addictive. Read more about Geneforge, the game that started it all here and Geneforge 4, the latest in the awesomeness, here. You can play extensive demos of each game, by the way (PC and Mac!). While you’re there, be sure to look into what else Spiderweb Software has to offer. Score: All but one of the 5-man party is killed by maddened mutant beasties! The sole survivor hides in abject terror under a very heavy rock.

Yes, Geneforge is a personal favourite of mine. I had hoped to get some more videogaming stuff in this TPK, but I just didn’t have the time to play much these last two weeks, sadly. Let’s keep going with this thing and I’ll be sure to get some more pixel-killing game-time in over the fortnight.

V. Short Uncontrolled Bursts

I have a load of comics I am going to assail you with. I’ll try to be as informative-yet-brief as possible. Let’s go! HOO-RAH!

- Red Sonja #36. This is it— the issue where the reborn Sonja has her lot in life revealed, complete with gaping wound! I’m excited to see Osin back, especially after seeing how great a character he was with the last Sonja and his story in Savage Tales. I also think it’s sweet that Red Sonja is now revered like a legendary hero. The story has taken on some “Moorcockian” flavour, reminding me of Eternal Champion material. I wouldn’t be suspired if it’s a big influence. This issue should not be missed by any Sonja or Conan fan! Score: The She-Devil decimates the party in a whirlwind of blades, blood and hair. Seven of the eight barbarian adventures lay slain and rotting before their uncaring gods.

- Army of Darkness #11. Just another fun romp in this wonderfully crazy and amusing series. Home Sweet Hell has been one of the best AoD arcs in a long time, mainly because they have no problem throwing all sorts of clichés at us (including a perennial fave, amnesia) without blinking. It’s awesome. Though this might not get high marks from hoity-toity review-snobs, I will gladly state this is one of the most enjoyable comics on the market, one which I look forward to with relish. And mustard. A must for fans of Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead and RPGs which make you messily bust a gut. Score: Five out of six party members’ souls swallowed. The sole survivor needs some sugar, baby.

- Dragonlance Legends: Time of the Twins #1. The excellent Dragonlance adaptations continue with Time of the Twins, the books which take place about two years after the War of the Lance. Though I read the books years ago, I found myself drawn into the story something fierce. Caramon reminds me of Groo! If you are a Dragonlance you have to pick this up. Fantasy nerds in general don’t really need the backstory, as you’re filled in alright. The art alone is worth the price of admission. These DL comics always look damn good. Wish I could say the same for the movie... Score: Four of the five stalwart companions are bushwhacked by jacked-up Draconian ninjas. The results are as entertaining and bloody as you might expect.

- Crossed #0. Garth Ennis and artist Jacen Burrows said they were doing something really messed up, and this is the prelude issue. Well, they weren’t kidding! Not too much is revealed other than this might be yet another take on some sort of undead apocalypse. Not that this is a bad thing. Ennis wrote the zombie-filled Judge Dredd arc Judgement Day, which is still a Steve Favourite, after all. Whatever it turns out to be, I’m sure it will be pretty damned good. Jacen Burrows rocks the house with some seriously disturbing art. If you have a weak stomach, eat nothing before reading this, okay? Regardless, don’t miss Crossed, no matter your gore-tolerance. It probably goes without saying: this is NOT for kids! Score: The five-man party is flayed alive then butchered like cattle. Jacen come along to make it ever messier. Sadly, one it’s discovered that one of the party managed to escape… minus his arms, of course.

- Knights of the Dinner Table Special #1: “Last Man Standing”. I’m a huge gushing fanboy of KoDT Magazine—even if they decided to drop Gamer’s Rant On the Movies. This is a special issue covering some brutal, bitter and downright ruthless paintball wars, climaxing at Gary Con! Totally worth picking up even if you have never read a KoDT comic before (and if you haven’t… what’s wrong with you?). Score: TPK. BA’s evil laughter will ring in our ears for all eternity. Or ‘till the next HackMaster tourney, anyway.

- Fall of Cthulhu: Godwar #1. Right off I would like to mention the art. It reminds me of Steve Dillon doing Akira— and it’s utterly captivating. I’m not saying this is the best looking comic out there, but it certainly looks good, and it’s style is a welcome change to the “regular” art I’m used to. Anyway, this story concerns the Fall of Cthulhu storyline, and if you are saying “huh?” then you need to go pick up the first two FoC trades ASAP. Michael Alan Nelson proves he is no slouch when it comes to owning the Cthulhu Mythos and bending it to his will. The Harlot is a perfect example of this. Man, does she rock. She’ll creep into your dreams and make you feel dirty for it, right after she stuffs your sanity into a confined space. It’s good to see Cy back, too. This really is a well crafted saga, kids. No Call of Cthulhu player should miss it. Seriously. Score: Brutal SAN loss. The entire party ends up killing themselves; save one, who becomes a necromancer. She then raises the party so that they might kill themselves again.

- Warhammer 40,000: Fire and Honour. Imperial Guard vs. Tau. Not that I’m a Tau fan, or ever have been, but I do enjoy seeing Guardsmen pound on them. This is a pretty run-of-the-mill 40k story about Guardsmen fighting the Xenos. Graham McNeill does keep it pretty good, though. The art on the other hand… I just wish it was better. The colouring does make it look much, much better, however. Not a bad new Warhammer comic, albeit it brings nothing new in the Emperor’s eyes. So far, anyway. Score: The deployed IG armoured company takes 68% losses and was pasted pretty good. We’ll see if they can hold out next time…

- Warhammer 40,000: Exterminatus #2. This series has vastly improved since the last issue, with Imperial Guardsmen fighting golden armoured mercs in the name of the Holy Inquisition. My only problems were that I could tell there are three artists on this issue, and though they tried to remain in similar style, it was pretty jarring. And then there were a couple editing gaffes. Minor, but annoying still. These complaints aside, this is a some more Warhammer for you folks who can’t get enough of the dark, grim, war torn future! Score: In order to save his retinue, Inquisitor Hardasseron jumps on a frag grenade. However, it’s more powerful than expected and the Inquisitor is turned into deadly shrapnel. Two of his comrades are torn apart, two survive with only some scrapes to worry about.

- BPRD: The Warning #2. Just another amazing BPRD issue. Between Mignola and Arcudi writing and Guy Davis on art, you can’t get any better than this for occult mystery action stuff. I love how BRPD can be just as enjoyable without Hellboy in on it. One of the most exciting comics out there! I’m lovin’ how Liz’s “visitor” is working into the story, a story which has its start quite a ways back issue-wise. And what an ending—yikes! You players of Kult, Call of Cthulhu, Hellboy GURPS (duh) and the like will absolutely love this, as will anyone else who’s into great stories. Score: Six of the seven investigators in the party are possessed by daemons who use the remaining one as a tent. Then they get wiped out by a government sanctioned kill-team. A nice TPK, indeed.

- The Gloom. I just thought I’d mention this one for you Weird War Two, Godlike and just WWII gaming types out there. Yeah, it’s kind of a few years old now, but do ya like action, wild adventure AND killing ratzi bastard scum? Then The Gloom by Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood is for you! And now the whole Gloom story can be told on the magnificent internet. I also understand they are looking to print this up as a GN. Wouldn’t that be cool? Click on that link and get reading, blast you. Score: “Was ist—“ and so ended the Abenteuergruppe Krake under a hail of rocketpacks, bullets and bits of tentacle. The smell will never be forgotten.


- Blade of the Warrior: Kshatriya #1. This is one hell of a comic. It opens with Alexander the Great crossing into India, where he is then told the tale on an ancient Indian prince who losses his kingdom and becomes a tiger-armed warrior in search of revenge. Strong writing is to be had; reminding me of old Roy Thomas Conan yarns. The visuals can be a bit dark with the inking at times, but overall this comic looks very sweet. Lots of exciting action happens and the characters deep enough so that you care about them (so be prepared for some lengthy exposition here and there). Dude has a tiger arm! Well, it’s not a whole tiger; I just mean it looks like a tiger leg and paw— oh, just pick this title up and see for yourself. Totally worth the read and I love how Virgin Comics is not afraid to throw around the various mythologies of India in its books. I liked this comic so much, I decided to have the cover included just so you know what it looks like and you don’t miss it. Conan disciples take note: You will love Blade of the Warrior. Score: TPK by hungry rakshasas. Elegant and exact, yet terribly bloody to behold.

Other comics of note: The Mummy: The Rise and Fall of Xango’s Axe #4 (this comic series was much better than I thought it would be… in fact, I really like it), Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons #3 (it’s D&D, yo!), Northlanders #8 (this Orkney/Vikings series has gotten MUCH better— victory!), Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1 (a must read), Okko: Cycle of Earth #1 (beautiful book), Hellboy: The Crooked Man #2 (YEE-HAW, reckon), H.P. Lovecraft’s Haunt of Horror #2 (from Marvel… seriously; and it’s chillingly awesome). Halo: Uprising #3 (yes, I dig Halo) and The Goon #27 (you better be buying this title, chump). Whew! I read a lot of comics.

Any more comics you think I should check oot and bring up? Let me know!

VI. Spotlight of the Fortnight

This is the last section I work on, because I want to be sure right up to the last minute what the Spotlight will be focused. Originally it was going to be a comic. But now, I’d like to open that up to whatever can be covered in TPK. Comic, game, miniature, whatever. Today’s spotlight is one of my absolute favourite miniatures manufacturers, Foundry. OMG! Just let me squeal a little bit here. I love these guys. Heck, you may already be aware of them or something, but still! They warrant at least one Spotlight, don’t you think? And they have some of the best packages for gamers! If you have some ducats to drop, you can order, say, a bunch of medieval civilians. Yup, everyday folk made from metal to spice up your games. Here, just see for yourself:






 

(Find the full listing here)

There’s so much more. SO. MUCH. MORE. Need the Argonauts? Done. Need a Persian army? Done. How about some English Civil War figs? No problem. Pack mules? Got’em. Ancient Germans? Keine problem. Napoleonics? Oui. Bellicose bears? Now were talking. And thousands more awaiting an enterprising gamer who decides to throw financial security to the four winds! But these guys are worth it. Additionally, they aren’t THAT pricey, considering what you get (the HORDE deals, for instance), but shipping might be rough (go with the HORDE and have no worries on shipping). If you are looking for something more special that the excellent singles you can get through RAFM and Reaper, try Foundry and be blown the Nine Hells away. Score: Mega-Brutal TPK. Did I mention the Nine Hells? The party wishes they were in that nice, comforting place. Plus, some bears got fed. Huzzah for bears!

VII. Extras! Extras!

Here are some things that may interest you which didn’t really fit in anywhere else:

- Cowboys & Barbarians. A post-by-post story written by the excellent Jens Altmann.

- Black Gate. This terrific Fantasy literature magazine showcasing some of the best writing talent today and tomorrow is a must for us nerds. Be sure to download the free sample issue!

- Best 404 Error message ever, courtesy of The Escapist:

That was a lot covered this installment, yeah? Hope you liked it! I’ll be seeing you lot in two weeks.

Note to publishers: I happily accept review product and will most certainly cover it in TOTAL PARTY KILL should you deem me worthy to receive your hard-earned efforts. Please contact me if you care to risk your adventuring party’s safety.

Thought of the Fortnight: “Heresy begets a bad dental plan.”




Appendix. The Important Self-Important Stuff

- Email me!: Steve Saunders

- The TPK “support blog” where I try to pump out material every day. Lots of comic reviews, too: Diary of a Grognerd

- The daily gamer-centric webcomic Josh Wagner and I slave over for Lord Orcus: ORCUSVILLE

- A comic book set in the 14th century we’re working on: SALVUS

- Can’t get enough of me? Even my wife would say you are mad: My Livejournal

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