• Fear of the Unknown

    I’m setting up to run some Delta Green this weekend and while pulling some books off the shelf noticed the Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, Night’s Black Agents and The Esoterrorist sitting next to my Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green and thought briefly why even though I have the books (and love a lot of the scenarios that have been written for them) I’ve never been tempted to run one of them instead of Call or Delta. Then I realized that it has to do with Fear, and its relatives Uncertainty and Doubt. The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown — H. P. Lovecraft – Supernatural Horror in Literature Trail and its sister games are all based on the Gumshoe system, the central premise of which is “the players always get the clues they need to proceed”. The rules were actually created in response to a problem in other games where the players could fail their rolls, miss important clues and not know how to proceed. For example, all the players in a Call of Cthulhu scenario could fail their Spot Hidden roll, preventing them from finding the essential clue and thus progressing with the scenario. The Gumshoe system avoids that by insuring the players always get the clue. If the characters have the proper skills (and the character design rules are set up so that the players work together to make sure the

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  • Review – Afterfall: Insanity Edition

    In my continuing quest to clear The Pile™ this time around I played Afterfall: Insanity, a post-apocalyptic FPS from Polish developer Intoxicate Studios. It’s a game I wanted to like but in the end I felt it fell a bit short. Now stop me if you’ve heard this one. There was a global nuclear war and the only survivors were those who were able to get into one of a few underground vaults. People have lived for years in these vaults under the control of a general overseer, but now problems are appearing and one person must go up against the General in order to protect the vault. Or not. In Afterfall you play Dr. Albert Tokaj, the psychologist for the vault Glory. The inhabitants of Glory think they are the last survivors of the human race and they have been living here for years, long enough that Tokaj is seeing more and more cases of what he calls “Confinement Syndrome” and the number of patients he is having to treat are increasing. So much so that he even falls asleep during one session. Then he is sent by the General running Glory with a team to investigate a problem on a lower level. He gets there to find that a plague of some kind is breaking out. People are becoming mindlessly violent and attacking one another and even mutating into horrible creatures. Tokaj comes to discover that someone is behind the plague and violence but then finds that he

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  • Review – The Bureau: X-Com Declassified

    OK, I just finished this one. I don’t normally negatively review games as I finish them (because I usually just give up before finishing) but I wanted to talk about this one. Because by Cthulhu I hated it. I love any number of horribly broken games. I give a pass on any number of things as long as I am entertained. As long as a game has a story I find interesting I’ll put up with whatever janky mechanics you throw at me to get through it. By the end I hated everything about this game. I hated the mechanics. I hated the story. I hated the characters. I hated the world it created. I hated what it did to the X-Com name. I admit using a cheat code to get through the final battle just to see if it managed to redeem itself at the end and it still failed. It was bad. Really bad. Hugely, mindbogglingly bad. Bad beyond all possible conception of badness. OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but f’htagn it wasn’t good! I bought it plus the DLC in the Steam sale and regret it. I’m not even going to try the DLC because I really can’t bring myself to go back into it. Great Cthulhu, where to begin? I’ll start with the story, because that’s why I play games and why I got this one. (And I’m not going to spoiler anything because everyone needs to be warned of this one; it’s spoiled like

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  • Random Musings on the Steam Summer Sale

    Well, another Steam Sale has come and gone. I didn’t pick up much this time around. Part of it of course is that I have way too many games currently in The Pile™, but part of it too is that I think I’m starting to get tired of certain kinds of games. There were a couple of games that I was interested in that hit sale points. Bioshock: Infinite and Far Cry 3 both came in at $7.50 and Borderlands 2 dropped to $5.00. I had fun with the predecessors of these games so I was a bit surprised when I found myself hesitating over the “Add to Cart” button. I think part of it is because while I enjoy stories in games (and I’m told Bioshock: Infinite at least has a good one) I’ve decided I’m tired of shooting thousands of people in the face in order to get to them. Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing a lot of adventure games lately because of the “Let’s Play!” videos I’ve been doing, but I’ve started thinking that the story is more important than the gamey things I have to do to get to it. I enjoyed Lifeless Planet that I talked about last week because story and exploration were more central to the game. Yeah, I thought the jumping was a bit annoying after a while, but entering an area and seeing a dozen rock outcroppings doesn’t provoke the same groan I give when I see a dozen chest-high

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  • Review – Lifeless Planet

    The Steam Sale is under way but I’ve been strangely unenthusiastic about it this time around. I’ve picked up a few things, but what I’ve been playing mostly this week is the game Lifeless Planet. It’s a science fiction game that is less about shooting things and more about exploration and story; in other words just what I usually look for. It’s a bit short and a bit wonky in places but overall was an interesting diversion. This time around Nameless Protagonist™ is an astronaut who has been sent on a 15 year mission to another planet that is around 20 or 30 light years away. Apparently they are using a not-much-faster-than-light drive. They arrive and promptly crash. Nameless Protagonist™ wakes up to find that his colleagues are missing and the supposedly lush world they were travelling to is barren and lifeless. Still, he sets out to explore what he can of the world before his oxygen runs out. You very soon finds that he isn’t the first person from Earth to arrive here; almost immediately you find a road that leads to an abandoned town that was apparently established by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. The inhabitants are missing or dead, except for a mysterious woman who can somehow live in the toxic atmosphere and who seems to want you to follow her. The story becomes a mystery to find out how this colony came to be here, what happened to it and who this woman is. Strangely,

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  • Random Musings on Dead Island

    The Steam Sale is coming up soon which motivated me to get a bit more serious about clearing out some of The Pile™. The latest thing I cleared was Dead Island, which had been sitting there for about two years now. Well, having played it my only real reaction is “at least it’s off the pile”. I like the general idea of the game. Yeah, zombies themselves are well past their use-by date at this point but there is still something about the “group of survivors after terrible event” genre that I find appealing. I just don’t think Dead Island did it particularly well. Actually, I don’t think that most games do it particularly well, but Dead Island managed to check off everything I find irritating about the genre. As I’ve said many times I play games for the stories, not the mechanics. In this case the characters you can play have some interesting backstories, but they have nothing to do with the game itself once past the initial character selection screen. It would have been nice to see the game world (or the missions you can undertake) react to the background of the character you are playing. I get it, this is an action game, not an RPG, but it would have been nice to see something. The story itself is cliché but not horrible and there are some interesting bits in there, but they’re all a bit buried and you can actually miss a lot of them if

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  • Delta Phase

    The players in my Eclipse Phase campaign were a bit amused at the end of the first session when they were recruited into Firewall by a woman named Sonya Greene. The cause for their amusement was that in an earlier campaign, they had been recruited into Delta Green by a woman named Sonya Greene. They even asked if it was the same person and I assured them it was. It was a quick joke at the time, but some time later I thought about it a bit and realized that Firewall and Delta Green have a great deal in common. Perhaps enough that one could draw a line of connection from one to the other. Of course there are going to be similarities between the two organizations. Both are conspiracies operating under a cell structure and both are composed of people working to protect humanity from a hidden threat. And both must keep themselves and even the existence of the threat secret from the people they are protecting. Both know that their best-case scenario is only to break even; all they can really do is push the inevitable end away for a little longer. And of course both are from games that are equal parts conspiracy and horror. But is there more to it than that? I think there is. If you stop and look at it, there are quite a few elements of Lovecraftian horror in the world of Eclipse Phase. When most people think of the Cthulhu Mythos

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  • The Persistence of Budget

    I try to be careful with my gaming budget these days so I buy most of my games on sale or at discount. The semi-annual Steam Sales (like the one that should be coming up in about a month) are good for adding to The Pile™ but weekly sales and the various bundle sites are good for this too. But sometimes this provokes odd reactions as well. Last week I was looking at the BundleStars site and came across the “Reboot 4” bundle. This one has The Tropico Trilogy, Hard Reset Extended Edition, Combat Wings: Battle of Britain, Inquisitor Deluxe Edition, Zeno Clash 2 and The First Templar, all for around $3.00. Now this is a typical bundle. There are a couple of games that looked interesting (Hard Reset, Inquisitor and The First Templar), a few that provoke a “Meh” reaction (Tropico: I have 4, this is 1 thru 3) and a few others that just add to The Pile™. But for $3 it’s hard to complain too much. But in this case I found myself oddly irritated. Because I had just picked up Inquisitor a few weeks ago from Steam’s weekly sale for about $1. It’s an odd reaction. Instead of getting three games I wanted for $1 apiece, I effectively got one for $1 and two for $1.50. Pretty much a negligible difference. But it annoyed me. I think I’ve just gotten too used to these big sales. In some ways they are good, in that I keep

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  • Fallen London – Sailing the Sunless Sea

    A while back I made a couple of posts talking about Fallen London, a story-based game set in a world where the city of London was stolen by bats around the year 1862 and carried into a gigantic cavern beneath the Earth known as the Neath. The game takes place about 30 years later. London is still the capital of the British Empire but now it’s just down the river from Hell. Don’t worry, the devils are civilized; they even have an embassy in London now. They still want souls, of course, but they’re quite happy to pay good money for them. The reason for the theft of London (Did I say “theft”? Sorry, I didn’t mean that. There was no theft. Everything is well and will continue to be well.) is that it is now the home of the Echo Bazaar. It is the fifth city to host the Bazaar. I won’t go into any more details except to say that Fallen London features some absolutely amazing and evocative writing. There are hundreds of thousands of words of text and the game still has secrets that I haven’t discovered. Part of the setting is the Underzee; a vast subterranean ocean that fills most of the Neath. There are other cities and even empires out across the Underzee; the Tomb Colonies, the Khanate, the Iron Republic and others. Some of these you can visit in Fallen London while others are just mentioned. Last year Failbetter Games ran a Kickstarter for

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  • Greenbox 217

    Last time I gave an AAR on a Delta Green adventure I had run. In it I mentioned creating a list of weird items for the players to find when exploring the Greenbox but the players hit the correct one immediately and never did more than glance at the rest. So they won’t be wasted, here is everything that was in the Greenbox. Some are real and some are just red herrings. I’ve provided explanations for a few. A number of flat, square objects (total of 9, all between 1 and 1 1/2 feet across) wrapped in newspaper. When unwrapped these are all panes of glass with bio-hazard symbols drawn on them in a variety of substances, including blood and feces. Nothing else is unusual about them. The newspapers are from various cities on the east coast over a several month period about 4 years previous. 12 hardcover books, 15 paperbacks and a stack of photocopies. 2 old leather books. A VHS videotape. A narrow object about a foot long wrapped in cloth. These are all copies of the play The King in Yellow with several variations. The tape is of a performance of the play by an amateur theatrical troupe that ends in chaos when one of the actors pulls a dagger and stabs another, followed by the audience rushing the stage and attacking the cast. The wrapped object is the dagger. 4 large, square cardboard boxes. They appear water stained. The water stains were to indicate that this

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