As I write this, our friends in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania have already wrung in the New Year. Hopefully, if the US government can come to some kind of compromise over the fiscal cliff (sadly, not looking promising at the moment), we may start to see some signs of improvement in the global economy in 2013. Hope springs eternal.
On the gaming front, most of what I'm looking forward to is coming from The Design Mechanism and Mongoose. First from Peter Nash at the Design Mechanism, there is Monster Island for RuneQuest 6. Due for release early in 2013, Monster Island combines the features of a setting, a sourcebook and a bestiary in one book. Looks like a solid first supplement for RQ6. Following up later in the spring will be Book of Quests, a loose campaign of seven scenarios with a sword-and-sorcery feel.
From Mongoose, I'm mainly interested in the 2300 AD product line. I've been patiently awaiting the long-promised releases of French Arm Adventures and Tools for Frontier Living for several months now. Hopefully, my patience will be rewarded in the coming months.
Skills in RQ6 are based on percentiles. A roll equal to or less than the skill is a success, higher is a failure. However, 01-05 is always a success, while 96-00 is always a failure. Furthermore, a roll equal to or less than 1/10th the skill is a critical success, while a roll of 99-00 is a fumble. The implications of critical successes and fumbles depend on the skill being used, the circumstances and the will of the DM. Skills can also be modified to account for the difficulty of the task being performed, with difficulty grades ranging from Very Easy to Herculean. There are two ways these modifiers can be applied, either a straight modifier (the easy way) or a multiplier (the hard way, but scales with skill level).
Opposed rolls are handled by first comparing the relative degree of success. For example, a critical success beats a standard success, regardless of the rolls. For two identical types of success, the higher roll wins. In some cases, both opponents may be successful, in which case the DM must adjudicate the result. For example, a critically successful Stealth check will beat a successful Perception check, but the guard is alerted and may get a bonus to notice anyone else following up.
Combat uses the same game mechanic as other skills, although the results of critical successes are more strictly defined and typically lethal. Each character has a set number of action points based on INT + DEX, with two being the most common number (although three is possible). These action points represent the number of actions the character can perform in a round. Actions include casting spells, attacking, parrying, moving, evading and outmaneuvering. Players have to decide how to allocate their precious action points and may God help the poor soul facing off against a heavily-armed combatant without an action left to attempt an Evade roll.
Zack and Steve slipped a couple past me when I wasn't looking. The over-the-top artwork of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is always good for a laugh. As an added bonus, the guys have thrown their weight behind an effort to reboot the famously awful game The World of Synnibarr. The Kickstarter project has almost achieved its goal. May God have mercy on us all.
There are five different types of magic in RuneQuest 6th Edition, each involving a different approach to spellcasting and drawing upon different sources of power. The most common of these is Folk Magic, as it is potentially available to any character with a relatively modest expenditure of skill points. This type of spellcasting is governed by the Folk Magic skill, which is rolled to determine whether a spell is successfully cast and also to provide the opposed roll to any resistance roll made by the target of the spell. Folk Magic spells are generally weaker than spells from other magic traditions, being associated with hedge wizards and wise women.
The other magic traditions, Mysticism, Animism, Sorcery and Theism, are each governed by two skills and apply magical effects in different ways. Sorcery and Theism will be familiar to gamers with experience with D&D as they represent arcane and divine spellcasting. Sorcery is spellcasting in its most scholarly form. The two skills associated with this form of spellcasting are Invocation and Shaping. The former skill works much like the Folk Magic skill, it determines the degree of success or failure and also serves to oppose the resistance roll of the target. The Shaping skill determines how adept the sorcerer is at modifying spells. Spells can be modified or "shaped" in several ways, such as increased range, number of targets, duration or magnitude (a measure of spell effect). Multiple spells can also be combined into one casting. The degree to which such modifications can be applied is governed by the Shaping skill. There is no actual roll involved, but rather, the percentage of the skill determines the number of shaping points the sorcerer may apply.
Theism is the magic of priests. Like sorcery, there are two skills associated with this form of magic, Exhortion and Devotion. The former skill is the one rolled to determine success or failure and represents the skill of the spellcaster in convincing his god to grant his request for magical aid. Devotion is a measure of the priest's conduit to the source of his divine power. The higher his Devotion skill, the greater the intensity of his miracles. For example, an Intensity 1 Earthquake miracle would rattle the dishes in a large room, while an Intensity 10 Earthquake would level a city block.
The other two types of magic deal with the spirit world (Animism) and personal enlightenment through meditation (Mysticism). Like Sorcery and Theism, each are governed by two skills, although the way these magical traditions function is somewhat different from the more traditional spellcasting embodied in Folk Magic, Sorcery and Theism. The broad range of magical options for characters in RQ6 allows for a lot of experimentation, although it is important not to spread oneself too widely as it requires a lot of investment in a given magical tradition to achieve really awesome levels of power.
Sadly, we are once again confronted with the horror of a school shooting. This one is particularly painful for me as I have two small children, one of whom is the age of those slaughtered in Connecticut. Inevitably, talk of gun control in America begins anew. I know the issue is different in the US than most other countries because gun rights are constitutionally-protected. Here in Canada and in most other western countries, gun control is a political issue. Governments establish gun laws according to the whims of the electorate with little concern for possible legal challenges. For this reason, it is difficult for Americans to draw much insight from the gun control laws in other countries. Still, for what it's worth, I offer my thoughts as someone who has recently begun the process of exercising my legal gun ownership priviledges in Canada.
Americans would probably find some things about Canada's gun control laws surprising. Gun rights advocates in the US often exaggerate the severity of Canada's gun laws. We have three categories of firearms, non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Non-restricted firearms include most rifles and shotguns, including semi-automatic rifles. To own a non-restricted firearm, you must get a non-restricted Possession and Acquisition License (PAL). To do this, you must be 18 years of age or older, take a certified firearm safety course and pass both a written and practical exam, provide two references as well as your spouse or conjugal partner, provide contact information for any previous conjugal partners within the last two years and reveal any criminal offences or diagnoses of mental illnesses. You then submit this information to the RCMP so that background checks may be performed. If you pass the background checks, then and only then may you purchase your firearm or ammunition. Restricted firearms include most handguns as well as certain short-barrelled long guns and any rifles with telescoping or folding stocks like the AR-15 used in the recent school shooting. The process for getting a restricted PAL is similar although an additional exam is required. The major difference is that every restricted firearm must be registered. Some of you Americans may, at this point, notice that despite what you may have heard, handguns are not illegal in Canada. I must confess, even I was a bit surprised by how easy it is to legally acquire a handgun in Canada and I live here. Still, most Canadians don't own handguns. It is, I think, a bit of a cultural thing. Handguns are associated with police or criminals. So, if you're not a cop, Canadians tend to wonder why you would want a handgun. The third category is prohibited and it includes all firearms not covered in the previous categories. This includes certain types of small, concealable handguns, "sawed-off" shotguns and rifles and, of course, automatic weapons. Despite the terminology, it is possible to own some of these weapons, although the criteria for qualification is so extreme, it is virtually impossible for private citizens to own such guns, unless you own a firing range. One important caveat should be noted at this time. As I mentioned, military-style, semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are legal in Canada, but the large-capacity magazines like those used in the Connecticut school shooting are not. Semi-autos in Canada are limited to 5-rd. magazines regardless of the type of magazine they employ. If a particular rifle doesn't have the option of a 5-rd. magazine, a larger capacity mag may be modified by a gunsmith to limit it to five rounds. This regulation will not, of course, stop a mass shooting, but it can reduce the death toll.
In researching for my gun license application, I was surprised to notice how rates of firearm ownership vary from country to country. The US is, of course, far ahead of the rest of the developed world with around 90 firearms for every 100 citizens. After that, the frequently-cited Switzerland and Finland come in at around 45 guns per 100 citizens. Canada, along with France, Germany, Austria and most of the Nordic countries have around 30 guns per 100 citizens and the UK, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the free world, has around six guns per 100 citizens. Given its draconian gun control laws and stifling level of domestic surveillance, I fear the UK is, for all intents and purposes, a benign police state.
I don't really know how Americans will square the circle on gun control. Any measures, even if broadly-supported by the electorate, will be subject to legal challenge on constitutional grounds. Throw states rights and partisan gridlock into the equation and you have a real mountain to climb. I'm not at all confident President Obama is the man to climb it. It may be that only a Republican president could manage it, like only Nixon could go to China. Still, I hope for the best. Atrocities like those we witnessed this past week in Connecticut erode the soul of a nation. They make us fearful and paranoid. They chip away at the foundations of civilization. They must be stopped.
I spend most bus trips to and from work reading form the kindle app on my iPhone. I've been doing it for years and actually quite like it now and in some ways prefer it over a real book. (mostly because of portability). Having finished off whatever I was reading before I flipped through what kindle books I had around and look them up trying to decide what to read next.
I had the first book of Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" series and it seemed to have pretty good reviews. I'm not especially big on detective novels but I thought having a wizard as the protagonist could be an interesting twist so I gave it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. The first book Storm Front, does a good job introducing the protagonist and many of the secondary characters that occupy Harry Dresden's world. Harry is a wise-ass who's mouth frequently gets him into trouble - lots of it. In fact I am amazed that he manages to survive every book since it seems like just about everyone is out to get him. There is lots of great action and the dialogue is very well written. Several times each book I have a good laugh out loud and something someone says or does.
The first book is a bit low key and sets the template for the books to follow. Plot one is established. Plot two is set up which twists plot one somewhat, a time limit is put in place and Harry frantically tries to figure out the mystery before time runs out and he ends up dead. Book two ramps up the action and violence. Book three is the only book of the series so far that had some missteps. I felt it had too many plot twists and was overly long. The ending was a big bummer as well. Things moved the other way for books Four and Five which were both EPIC! So much action, great mysteries and both had excellent plots.
I just finished book Six yesterday and although it was a very enjoyable read, revealing more of Harry's past, and giving lots of insight into the White Court, it lacked the awesomeness of its two predecessors Maybe I just don't like the books with the sadder endings as much.
Anyway, if you are looking for a new series to read, I recommend this one. It's got gangsters, fairies, vampires (several kinds - no sparkles), cops, paladins, wizards, fallen angels, demons, werewolves, and even a dragon. Lots of great action, dialogue, and character development.