Episode 137: Picaresque With Tentacles

This month, Mike and Roger consider our experiences with Enemy in Shadows, the first part of the classic Warhammer campaign, and look at the second edition of Reign.

We mentioned:

Ars Magica at the Bundle of Holding (and four allied offers).

(After the recording Michael discovered that Atlas Games will be Kickstarting a ‘Definitive Edition’ of the Core Rules of Ars Magica later this year combining and clarifying the rules and options. Which isn’t an argument against picking up any of these bundles that you don’t have.)

A Miracle of Science, the Hoplite, Enemy in Shadows, Whartson Hall’s play of this adventure, Reign. Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth, Microscope, Godlike, Wild Talents, Burning Wheel, Ludonarrative Dissidents, Numenera, a gallery of Ringworld covers, and Termination Shock. (Michael did mean “recherché”.)

Here’s our tip jar. (Please email or"89 leave a comment as well; they don’t always tell me when money’s gone in.)

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.


I don’t have any experience with Reign, but my experience with Godlike lead to the quote, “It makes want to punch Greg Stolze in the dick.” The One Roll Engine tries so hard to be clever but just fails as being fun (for me). Rolling a bunch of dice and looking for matching dice is not bad, but it is limited and too much was stuffed into this “one roll.”

Enjoy the haitus, guys!


I enjoyed reading Godlike, but I’d definitely use a different system if I ran it. ORE has a basic problem in its combinatorics, and the patches to that make it too complicated.


I think ORE needs an asymmetry.

quick summary of ORE as I understand it

You roll a bunch of d10s. You pick one matching set to be “your roll”. The “height” is the value of each of those dice; the “width” is how many here are in the set. These are used for various things in different parts of the rules, but for example width might indicate how fast you strike and a base damage, while height gives you lethality of hit location.

What the book suggests you are doing is trading off height against width: you roll 2 × ⑨ and 4 × ⑤, so you need to choose which of the two elements is more important. But you can just as easily roll 4 × ⑨ and 2 × ⑤ and then you have no choice to make at all.

Thus my despairing cry of “I’d rather play Genesys”, because it does this so much better (albeit needing special dice): your “good” dice have a mixture of success and advantage symbols, and a roll will produce some of each. (And “bad” dice have symbols that cancel them.) Sorted.

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I have vague memories that Reign was one of the games where our GM said “But why do you guys never use the optional mechanic that lets you do something special with your dice?”

And two of us stared at him and replied: “Because the benefit of doing that is not worth the cost.”

I can’t remember what the actual mechanic was. Spending xp to get a re-roll? Setting aside a dice from your pool in the vain hope that the number on it might turn out to be useful later in the session?


I did notice while reading through it that there’s some sort of bonus die where, yay, you set it to any number you like!

Before you roll the other dice.

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There are two special die types you can purchase:

  • Expert Die, which allows you to preset a die to a value before rolling the rest of your pool. This does slightly raise your chance of getting a set at a specific value (e.g. 10 to hit someone in the head)
  • Master Die, which you can set to a value of your choice after rolling the rest of your pool.
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I’ve run two short campaigns with two different groups using the Reign 1st edition rules, but set in an Arabian Nights style 9th Century Basra rather than on Heluso and Milonda. We all found the system to be reasonable - I don’t think anyone had strong objections to anything in the rules, but equally nobody particularly loved them.

I think my favourite part of the rules are the One Roll Character generation rules. The sets generate your character’s career(s) and the unmatched dice used to select background events from three tables of increasingly strange/fantastical events. For this roll, you roll 11 dice, so you’re guaranteed at least one match to get at least one career.

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The Expert die (where you can pre-set one die to a number you want) is not nearly as useful as the more expensive Master die which allows you to set one of the dice after you roll.

I am coming around to the position that REIGN is too clever for its own good. But I still want to try to run it.

Genesys on the other hand makes me want to run away and hide. It produces results that require creative interpretation on the part of the GM. For every, single, bloody roll.

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I do love the random character generation. You can also easily fudge it to use it as the framework of a points based system if that’s what you need or prefer.

I’ll say that the bog standard list of “have/lose a fatigue” or “have a blue/black die next action” work well in a pinch with Genysys and my players never noticed me default to them if I kept things moving.

ORE has always felt like a bad fit for anything other than Godlike. The Hard and Wiggle dice combined with the battle of wills mechanic worked well for that world. It’s felt clunky and too mechanically heavy in any other iteration. Working with “gobble dice” as a defense concept in Wild Talents was a particular player energy killer when I had an abortive run at it.

Yeah, while I agree with Michael that every roll there’s a call for things which aren’t in the mental purview of the character I’m playing, there are those very handy tables on p. 104 (spending symbols in combat) and p. 121 (spending symbols in social encounters). so I can just say “eh, one advantage, I’m not feeling inspired right now, next guy gets a blue”.)

(Considers trying to explain a game with Hard, Wiggle and Gobble dice to Whartson Hall, bearing in mind we are mentally twelve. Maybe not.)


I too have regular playing groups, two long established, some more recent and I have a mental check list of their personal quirks, areas of interest (and more importantly areas of lack of interest) and times I’ve annoyed them in the past. If I’m feeling down (and I too have my personal quirks) I can depress myself out any possible campaign in about five minutes.

While I’d probably say that Whartson Hall was about fourteen on average, my regular weekly groups are either retired or heading that way. The amount of unallocated memory we all have is severely limited.