This is How I Roll: Free RPG Day

Personally, I’m not a fan of modules. I like putting my heart and soul into a game only to watch to unravel in front of me while I fall to my knees and cry up at an indifferent sky. But modules are a great way to start a game with minimal effort, especially if you have to manage a large group of players…or if you’re not a fan of the previously mentioned scenario.

June 19th was the 4th annual Free RPG Day. It’s the lesser known cousin of Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). Unfortunately Free RPG Day doesn’t easily transfer to an acronym. FRPGD seems unwieldy, but I’ll use it anyway.

FRPGD, as the site puts it:

“…works with participating hobby game retailers and RPG publishers to bring NEW RPG Quickstart Rules and Adventure Modules into the hands of gamers.
Consumers WORLDWIDE will be able to grab brand new material for a variety of RPGs — no overstock, retail-priced or dead product here. The goal of Free RPG Day is to inspire gamers to play a new RPG, which will in turn, create sales through local game stores. “

This event seems to be big everywhere other than NYC, which is where I live- stalkers take note- so I had to trek out to Red Bank, NJ to get my gaming fix. Accolades all around for the knowledgeable staff at Hobbymasters, also accolades for the nearby diner and their blueberry pancakes.

Alright, let’s get to the swag.

I got the 3 of the big name sponsers: Wizards of the Coast, WoD and Paizo, who released modules of their Dark Sun, Pathfinder and Exalted titles respectively. Essentially what they give you is module, but not a quickstart. You need the core rulebooks, in fact, both Paizo and WoD reference page numbers to their main books. So their modules are like DLC on X-box, a fun little add on you need the main game for. It’s not something to entice a new gamer, unless you are already a fan and looking forward to the Dark Sun campaign, or Pathfinder’s Advanced Players Guide.

So, I’ll focus on the 4 other modules I grabbed, all of which offer simplified rules and a brief setting overview.

Deathwatch: Final Sanction– Fantasy Flight’s new RPG set in the Warhammer 40k universe. The story is set in a dystopian future, where worlds are overrun by planet devouring monstrosities and the half dead Emperor you serve has a life support system that eats people. You are a “space marine”, which is a highly decorated refrigerator with a tiny head and a penchant for killing. The mechanics are based on percentile roles (d100), with modifiers to reflect the difficulty of the action. They also give you a brief combat overview, which you will need. This is for the bellicose player, for those that wade waist deep in blood and viscera. For those that like to spell extreme without the E. They mention the use of diplomacy and investigation to get to certain goal objectives, but the developers know what kind of battle hardened player they are attracting. They encourage you to kill, eagerly and often. Almost every encounter can be solved by looking down the barrel of a gun. But that’s okay; the pregenerated characters are part of a “Deathwatch Killteam”. The name says it all; your character is punching people’s balls off while guitars are wailing in the distance. You enjoy dining on the hearts of your enemies. All joking aside, the layout is excellent; the art is full color and appealing, and the rules are easy to follow. There is even a “GM Guidance” section within the module to ease the flow of gameplay.

Legend of the Five Rings (L5R): Legacy of Disaster- An epic RPG published by AEG, showcasing its 4th edition release.
The world of Rokugan is basically feudal Japan, with a peppering of other Asian cultures and mythical. Choose between the bushi, which is the samurai/fighter, and the shungenja, or magic user. They use the “roll and keep” system, where you roll a number of d10s, keeping a certain number to add up to the Target Number. For example: To jump over a ravine, the character has 5k3- 5 dice, keeping 3- with a Target Number of 8. He rolls 5d10 and keeps three of the dice, preferably the highest if he wants to succeed.
This module focuses on roleplaying; expect less samurai action and more intrigue as your characters aid a daimyo (lord) after the theft of his precious sword. There is combat, deadly deadly combat, but the bulk of the adventure is of the travel/interrogate variety as you track a would-be thief and uncover the secret behind the sword’s abduction. The developers make note of the lethality of combat in the game, which makes sense if you get a katana upside the head.
This is another beautiful, full color module, but there are some editing problems. The rules are unclear; especially when they reference the phantom Book of Fire to clarify said rules. I know the 5 rings are the four elements along with the ring of “Void” – a sort of kōan ability where you go into an enlightened state that makes you more badass than before. They mention that the 4 elements are associated with characters abilities, i.e water is associated with strength, but they don’t specifically tell you how. You can still enjoy the story, but if you have no familiarity with L5R then this would be difficult to play.

Hollow Earth Expedition: A Nightmare at the Museum- Imagine Indiana Jones riding a velociraptor, shooting Nazis with a laser beam. That’s Hollow Earth, published by Exile Games. Its pulp-fiction at it’s most ridiculous. The module is gleefully campy and fun. Set in the backdrop of New York, you are one of four 1930’s stereotypes waiting the unveiling of a new invention proposed to save mankind. Then Nazis come, led by a villainess sporting an eye patch. There is also a pterodactyl that busts up the Museum of Natural History. Hilarity ensues. It makes use of the Ubiquity system, where you roll any die, from d4 to d100, and success are determined by how many come up as even numbers. The main drawback is that it is the shortest of the modules and has the weakest story, only giving you a brief taste of Hollow Earth before coming to an abrupt end.

Age of Cthulhu: Abominations of the Amazon Adventure– Age of Cthulu is a line of modules published by Goodman Games, for the Call of Cthulu RPG from Chaosium. The setting is compelling enough, a temple devoted to Yig housing an ancient treasure deep in the jungles of Peru. The rules seemed simple enough, skill based and another d100 percentile role. One problem was that there was no combat section, so rolls for initiative were improvised. You might say that it is a moot point, and I would agree with you, except that this was surprisingly combat heavy, especially given the genre. I was expecting something more investigative, something that made use of more skills than the firearms ability. I was imagining uncovering an ancient horror and roleplaying as your sanity is slowly siphoned away from you. Nope. You are up to your ass in murderous lizardmen, and your feeble Miskatonic U professor has to be a walking arsenal to survive the onslaught. Spoiler alert: he probably won’t. This was a modern dungeon crawl wrapped in Cthulu mythos, complete with a treasure buried under an Incan pyramid. Also, the rules for sanity loss were murky. I pondered what the 1/1d6 sanity loss for lizardmen meant, but I did find my answer here .

If you are interested in any of the above modules, both Deathwatch and L5R are available for download on their respective websites. Exile Games has the previous year’s FRPGD Hollow Earth Expedition adventures. There’s nothing for Goodman Games, but for those you want to pay inflated prices, there’s always E-Bay.

Posted on June 30, 2010 at 10:33 by Adrienne Ryan · Permalink
In: Events · Tagged with: , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jillers. Jillers said: RT @geekingoutabout: This is How I Roll: Free RPG Day […]

  2. Written by Jillers
    on 2010-06-30 at 21:52

    “Yes yes, you're people have come a long way”
    Hollow Earth was surprisingly awesome, I'm really glad we got to play it, but that module was way too short.
    Or maybe we just streamlined the hell out of it.

  3. Written by calusmacn
    on 2010-07-01 at 01:16

    Hey! Quit screwing around!

    Yeah, the module was too short. I wish I read the other ones from the previous free rpg days and put them all together, for super awesome ridiculousness.

    My favorite joke of the night however goes to:

    “If you defeat me, 'zere will be more of us.”
    “The next one will have two eye-patches”

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