Saturday, 2 May 2009

Thrilling Expeditions Quarterly 1 - A Review

Rich at Rattrap Productions recently sent me the pdf for the first Thrilling Expeditions Quarterly (TEQ) for "services rendered". TEQ is due to be released shortly. Although called a quarterly, I am given to understand that it will be more like a supplement and so will always be available, rather than disappearing when the next one comes out, as a magazine would.

I am a fan of his games and have played in several play-by-forum games, so I was well chuffed to get this magazine early. If you are not sure what a play-by-forum game is, then check out the Rattrap Speakeasy and have a read through the games that have been played there (there are sections of the forum for PBEM games where these take place). Anyway, back to TEQ 1. I only have the pdf so cannot comment on print quality, but will focus on content because that is what is really important.

What do you get for your money?
The pdf is a 56 page document, with a colour cover. In total there are 52 pages of content with black-and-white illustrations or photographs throughout.

The contents are as follows:
What is the New Commerce-verse? (Article) by Richard A. Johnson
The Gargoyle and the Adventure of the Monk's Eye (.45 Adventure Fiction) by Pete Murray
Sgt. Grant vs. The Oni (.45 Adventure Scenario) by Pete Murray
A Murder of Ghouls (.45 Adventure Article) by Joey McGuire
Feasting Ground (.45 Adventure Scenario) by Joey McGuire
The Curse of the Red Shirt (Article) by Marc Anderson
Building Jungle Terrain with Grimm (Article) by Markus Kaufmann
The Chronicles of Star Command “ Crash of the Red Eagle" (Fantastic Worlds Solo Scenario) by Marc Anderson
The Beast of Gevaudan: A History (Article) by Pete Murray
The Beast of Gevaudan (Gloire Scenario) by Mark Costello
The Art of Improvisation by Richard A. Johnson
Market Day (Broadsword Adventures Fiction) by Ryan Flessing
The Flaming Cliffs of al-Mahal (Broadsword Adventures Scenario) by Richard A. Johnson

So, you get some fiction to help get you in the mood for the games and to get the juices flowing. The fiction is fine for what it is. The quality of writing is generally acceptable to good and I enjoyed reading all of the stories, although I would not really have missed them, were they not there. That said, they do help to build atmosphere and there are scenarios in them, should you be inspired enough to write them.

The articles are an interesting mix. Grimm's article on building jungle terrain is appropriate because one of the scenarios (Sgt. Grant versus the Oni) takes place in the jungle and most have rural settings with lots of trees. The trees that the article describes look fantastic, although I suspect that I would not really have the patience to build an entire table worth of them. The other articles discuss the Rattrap approach to designing and linking their games; approaches to giving even the spear-carriers, the "red-shirts", some character; and archetypes for ghouls (flesh-eating, degenerate humans) in .45 Adventures. The Art of Improvisation article is particularly good. It provides sound advice for those putting on games about how to be flexible with your scenario and emphasises that the point of the game is to have fun.

Then we come to the meat of the product: the scenarios. I shall not give too much detail about the scenarios; you will need to buy TEQ to get the full skinny on them, but I hope I provide enough information for you to judge their interest for yourself. I shall also give my impression of the scenarios based on reading them through. I have not played any of them yet but will add additional comments and battle reports as soon as I do.

Sgt. Grant versus the Oni
This is a Weird War Two scenario for .45 Adventures pitting two characters against each other. It comprises three separate episodes. In the first two episodes, Sgt. Grant tries to find and recover details of the Japanese Oni super-soldier project and the means to defeat it before the final climactic showdown in the third episode. The final part of the story sees Sgt. Grant trying to escape the area before the artillery strike that will sterilise the island. He is hindered in his progress by the Oni, who is trying to kill him. The situations look interesting and I would be fascinated to try this game out. I have also been considering other theatres of war where it could fit in. Sgt. Grant could be replaced with a British Commando Super Soldier, for example, and his enemy could be a Nazi Super Soldier. As such, it should take very little work to make the scenario fit the figures you already have. I am looking forward to trying this one out.

Feasting Ground
This is another .45 Adventures scenario. It is set in the prohibition era and features a gang of bootleggers taking on a gang of ghouls for control of the cemetery. This looks like a bit of a slug-fest with ghouls popping up all over. While simple, it should be a fun scenario to play through too.

The Chronicles of Star Command "Crash of the Red Eagle"
This features Betty Steele, one of Star Command's finest. Her ship has crash-landed on an alien planet and she must survive and find a way to escape. This is another one that comprises three separate episodes. It features security men galore, all dying in different ways, a bug-eyed monster (well, it will be when I play the scenario) and, of course, Betty Steele. I love the look of this scenario, but I felt that it was let down by the descriptions of victory conditions, which were a little confusing on reading through them. That said, I suspect that setting up and playing the scenario will clarify this for me. I should also point out that the scenario allows for the main character to be one of your own creation rather than Ms Steele herself, so you are not restricted in terms of figures.

The Beast of Gevaudan
This scenario is apparently based on real happenings in mid-18th century France. The article that accompanies the scenario explains this background; beast(s) that preyed on and preferred human flesh stalked the countryside for several years until one was finally slain by a silver bullet. Shades of chupacabras and black beasts of Bodmin if you ask me. The scenario is for Gloire, Rattrap's swashbuckling adventure rules and is designed to be played with the Among the War Parties expansion for those rules. I have a copy of Gloire but have not actually played it so I am more likely to adapt the scenario to suit Broadsword Adventures instead, especially since I have not bought Among the War Parties yet. That said, this could be just the excuse I need to buy Among the War Parties and paint my Seven Years War figures to use with the scenarios.

The goal of the players is to lure the beast into their traps and eventually kill it over the course of three episodes. The first scenario involves questioning a local peasant woman, while fighting off hordes of gypsy thugs that are trying to kill her and driving off the beast itself. Success in this scenario will aid the players in the next. I particularly liked the use of an event deck for the scenario. Each turn a card is drawn that helps to drive the story and determines when the thugs and the beast turn up. many of these are dramatic weather cards, such as a bolt of lightning out of the blue that signals the possible entrance of the Beast. I think these cards will really help the atmosphere of the game.

The second chapter of this story sees the players using the victory points earned in the first scenario to buy traps, with which to wound or even kill the Beast. The players spend their points, lay their traps in a dark defile between two large hills and then try to lure the Beast into their traps, thus making it easier to kill in the final chapter, where they stalk it to its lair and the final showdown occurs.

I would say that this is probably the best-written scenario in the book. I love the atmospheric nature of the encounter cards in the scenarios and the nature of the scenario is enticing.

The Flaming Cliffs of al-Mahal
This is the final offering in TEQ 1. It is a Broadsword Adventures scenario in one episode. A unit of Ibyssian Lion Guard have been sent to the cliffs of al-Mahal to hunt a vicious creature that lives there. The scenario is set up for solo play but there are notes on how to adapt it to multiple players. It reads like a fairly simple dungeon-crawl scenario and looks like fun to set up and play. I shall probably try this one out first because the set-up is simple (a cave complex) and I like the fact that the creature you are hunting is randomly selected so replayability ought to be good. Of course, my Ibyssian Lion Guard are more likely to look like Vikings, because that is what I have!

Overall, I think this is a very good package. The scenarios all have a fair bit of mileage in them and I would be very happy to play all of them. The most interesting of them is probably The Beast of Gevaudan but the others are still good scenarios. I like the inclusion of solo scenarios too. This helps players without opponents get started playing these games and provides for those times when you just feel like setting something up quickly and having a go.

Although there are nominally five scenarios in TEQ, in fact three of those scenarios are multi-episode mini-campaigns, so effectively you get eleven scenarios. Using my standard conversion rate (the beer value) that amounts to around 15 to 20 hours of game play for $6 (pdf cost) or about £3.50, so for less than the price of three bottles of real ale (an hour or two at most to drink) you get a lot more entertainment. Add in time spent reading TEQ and planning the games, and the entertainment value increases massively again. Therefore, on a value for money basis, I would highly recommend this collection to anyone that already plays Rattrap Production's games. If you don't play any of them, why not? More seriously, if you do not play them, but are interested in pulp skirmish then this could provide good fodder for your imagination and the opportunity to adapt the scenarios to your own needs. If you are only interested in one of the Rattrap titles and really have no interest in the others, then I could see the appeal being more limited, but there may still be ways to make the scenarios fit your needs, or they could spark your imagination in other ways

The only really negative point for me was the number of typos in the text. There were not a vast number, but I noticed more than I think should be present in a publication. In a couple of cases the wrong word had been used (eminent instead of imminent, for example). None of these typos really matter, because they do not create difficulties in understanding the scenarios but I am picky and noticed them.

And Finally
Overall, I liked this product. I am a fan of the Rattrap Games anyway, so that may colour my judgement, but I think that there is a lot in here to fire up your imagination, even if you do not play any of them. I can't wait to get started actually playing the scenarios and shall report back once I have done so.

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