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Night of the Living Gamer
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OgreCave's 2003 Christmas List - part 4
 
An Electronic Christmas Nonet
9 Downloadable Games To Buy

By Matthew Pook, Cedric Chin and Merwin

And so, just in time, OgreCave announces its last of the Christmas Gift Guides for 2003. This fourth list of gift ideas and suggestions taps into a newer "instant gratification" breed of game. And "just in time" is the idea behind this all-new category, which acknowledges the growth of the electronic publishing market over the course of the last year. Despite that recent boom, we cheat a little bit and include some of the best titles currently available in PDF format from the past few years.

Each entry requires no more than a few clicks of the mouse to purchase and is then ready to download at your leisure. Which means that every one of these entries can be bought in the comfort of your home -- perfect for that last minute purchase! Then it is a simple matter to print and bind the brand new book, or even easier to burn onto a CD-ROM. Either is then ready to wrap and present to the gamer in your family. Or of course, buy and send to that gaming friend who lives far away and you have missed the last chance to get anything mailed. Now if only wrapping could be as virtual...

Though we encourage giving PDFs as gifts, OgreCave wants to remind you not to distribute PDF products illegally. Be sure to pay for each copy you give away, and help keep the company that created the product in business. After all, sometimes the company in question is a single, talented individual, and he's got gifts to buy, too.

Hard as we tried, we could not make this list into another Dozen, so flying in the face of tradition we present to you a Christmas Nonet, that is, nine games rather than the usual twelve. Nine, we hear you say? Well, Tolkien never wrote about a party of twelve, did he? It was either nine or fourteen. So in that spirit we present to you an electronic Fellowship.

Wushu - The Ancient Art of Action Role-Playing
Bayn.org, $5

Not the name of some anthropomorphised animal from Disney's next animated feature, but an amateur RPG that encourages cinematic action -- especially in fight scenes! It asks players to really describe what their characters are going to do and the better the "Embellishment," the more dice they get to roll. Therefore, "I leap over the banister and kick the guard in the head, knocking his neck sideways with an audible crack and throwing him down the stairs into the path of his comrade below," gets more dice than, "I run down and take out the guard." Wushu is perfect for high action cinematic games and is supported by a range of cheap and free supplements that give rules for campaigns a la Highlander, Matrix and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Shady Gulch
Politically Incorrect Games, $5

Shady Gulch is a 49-page RPG set in the Old West. In fact, it is set in the fictitious town of Shady Gulch, rife with frontier trimmings. Important town locations are briefly introduced, including the Opium Den, the Newspaper, the Telegraph Office, the Barbershop and the Saloon. A glossary of slang helps players and GMs immerse themselves in the lingo of the time, while a one-page timeline covers major events of the mid-1800s. All the stereotypical Western characters are given a template: Cowboys, Gamblers, Homesteaders, Scholars, Tradesmen, Lawmen, Outlaws, Soldiers, Businessmen, and Drifters. An unfortunate curiosity is the acknowledgement of Native American influence on the times, but a lack of support for player character tribesmen. Nonetheless, this could be resolved with a free web enhancement, if it is not already. Virtues and Vices, foisting conscience and temptations on the characters, respectively, are the notable additions to the core system. Three pages of adventure ideas and subplots make this a pick-up and play game of the highest caliber.

For more details on Shady Gulch, be sure to check out our full review.

My Life With Master
Half Meme Press, $8.95

More a closed narrative structure than an RPG, My Life With Master is built around a set of mechanics that drive the story to its climax. The setting for this "indie" RPG is that of a small middle European town sometime early in the nineteenth century, in which the players are minions driven by love to do the dark bidding of their Master. This will bring them into conflict with the townsfolk and even their Master if his orders conflict with the ties or love they have for certain townsfolk. A study about the nature of dependent and abusive relationships -- from the Minions might escape before the townsfolk bring their torch and pitchfork-wielding wrath down upon their Master. This is a darkly gothic game, both tragic and comic (though inevitably more the former), but one that is infinitely more intelligent and clever than any gothic game we'd care to mention. Cutting to the bone of its genre, the game's mechanics fit in a manner that proves simple to run and complex to interpret. My Life With Master is arguably the best RPG of 2003.

The Colonies
Politically Incorrect Games, $7.50

Take one part Total Recall, another Blake's Seven and then throw in a dash of V, and the set-up of this very full RPG will be familiar to almost every gamer. Unseen alien masters control the world through their human puppets, most notably the French (or to quote The Simpsons, "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys") and the resistance to them is directed from a Free Mars. The characters form a resistance cell, sent by Earth to throw off the silent overlords and their human servants, its members originating from throughout the Solar System, or from any of the Colonies founded in other star systems before the aliens took control. Exposure to radiation, nanite swarms and advanced technologies grant them gifts ranging from cybernetics to psionics, all determined by rolls made on the Lifepath table given for each and every world. Usable as is, or with any system of choice, the game is also supported by a number of free downloads.

Emissaries World Pack
Microtactix, $7

Rather than being a complete game, Emissaries is a science fiction setting for Microtactix's generic RPG, Simply Roleplaying! It's set in a technologically advanced and optimistic world of the mid-22nd century, four years after an alien race made contact. The humanoid Chonar are appalled at the fractious-though-peaceful nature of humanity's increasingly balkanised and varied cultures. They hold out the promise of FTL-travel beyond the confines of the Solar system -- if mankind can prove itself worthy. This is a game of diplomacy and intrigue in which internationally recognised Emissaries settle disputes and negotiations between Earth's microcultures, corporations, nation-blocs and now the Chonar, who have established an embassy on the Moon at Tranquillity Base. As a bonus, the rules for this interesting setting can be downloaded for free from the publisher's website. But even then, the rules-light nature of this World Pack means that Emissaries could be run with whatever game system the GM favors.

Vice Squad: Eighties Police Adventure
Politically Incorrect Games, $4

Slip into some comfortable deck shoes, grab something light and linen, glare at perps through stylin' shades and grab the keys to that cherry red Ferrari, 'cuz it's time to go fight crime, eighties style! This GenreDIVERSION title lets the players go after that alligator-owning drug baron scum and bust his ass Miami style. Fast cars and flashy suits set the mood, while the game's many knacks let the characters walk the walk. Don Johnson would be proud.

Buggin' - The Tiny Game of Big Adventures
Deep7, $3.95

Games do not get any smaller, or bigger, than this! With its tenth release, Deep7 explores the world not of the anthropomorphic, but an arthropomorphic one in which the players take the roles of bugs and insects of all shapes and sizes. Inspired by movies such as A Bug's Life and Antz, this speedy little game provides simple rules for playing some 26 different bugs, along with a set of six adventures that can be played as a mini-campaign. With improved layout, Deep7's tenth 1PG is one of its best to date, and with its emphasis upon roleplaying and problem solving, is perfect for introducing the young to roleplaying.

Unbidden: Horrors, Secrets, & Legends
Politically Incorrect Games, $7.50

Unbidden covers the horror genre in 81 pages. Personal Demons, Dementia, and Endowments supplement the core Xd6 system as things that motivate you, things that make you go cuckoo, and things that give you powers beyond normal ken, respectively. Characters begin as standard, everyday Athletes, Artists, Clergy, Criminals, Detectives, Dilettantes, Executives, Government Agents, Journalists, Professors, Soldiers, and Free Spirits, who are then enlightened by the Truths. These underlying Truths are that demons walk among us, and the Unbidden (the PCs) must hold them back with their Endowments. Endowments can range from speaking in tongues and healing others, to meditative focus, immunity to poisons and illness, and animal repulsion. What it took the World of Darkness splatbook after splatbook to accomplish, PIG approximates clearly and concisely in a marvelous eight pages. This is an extraordinarily grim and gritty ghostbusting environment in a vein similar to the mostly-extinct Kult RPG. A detailed timeline from 3000 BC to the present, along with detailed gamemastering guidelines, adventure seeds, and a double handful of sample monsters and monster traits fleshes out the setting. If horror gaming is your thing, Unbidden won't disappoint.

Call of Duty
Chain Mail Bikini,$7

There is not a week that goes by on EnWorld without someone posting a thread about an issue related to the paladin. An argument about what Lawful Good means. An evil enemy who surrenders. A paladin PC who turns a blind eye to the evil rogue. Slavery. A majority of the discussion comes from posters' different interpretations of moral behavior. But it is this difference of opinion that Chain Mail Bikini has turned from a contention into a strength. Far from being a roleplaying straightjacket, Call of Duty attempts to accommodate the different interpretations of being a paladin -- plus quite a bit more. Call of Duty takes an uncommon approach to playing Paladins by encompassing the different views players and GMs have about them -- many of which cause quite a few arguments. It is this approach, best seen in the Roleplaying section, which makes us recommend this supplement. Call of Duty also encourages the player and DM work together to define the player's paladin, through paladin orders. With orders, instead of simply playing a paladin "his way," the GM and player design an order to give a setting rationale for the paladin's behavior. Designing an order forces a player to better understand how he will play a paladin. Call of Duty makes the paladin the roleplaying opportunity it is.

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Thus our last list for 2003 comes to an end. We hope that somewhere on the four lists we have given you this Christmas, you have found something to whet your gaming appetite or that of your fellow gamer. Every entry has been hand picked by one of the OgreCave dwellers and picked over to see if it is worthy of inclusion, not just because it is the best, but because it also interesting, and most of all, gameable! Already, a trickle of new titles is making its way into our cave for consideration for next year's lists.

Still not enough ideas for you? There are always the lists from last year or even from 2001! Of course, we can't promise all the games will still be in print, but us Cave Dwellers feel that every entry is still worthy of your time and pocket change. In the meantime, our other 2003 Gift Lists are ready to assist you in your holiday game shopping needs.


 

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