City of Last Chances – A Review

Ilmar, City of Last Chances, a city occupied, on the brink of revolt, divided by factions, riven by agendas, where necessity makes for strange and shifting bedfellows.

City of Last Chances is a stand-alone fantasy novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A fantasy novel set in an industrial city, where magic and the arcane isn’t just some mysterious power understood by a cabal of masters, but the lifeblood of industry, a tool to be harnessed. Magic, like snaking vines, wraps and infiltrates every aspect of the city itself, from the demons who’s infernal contracts bind them to power the factories, to the ‘firearms’ loaded with tablethi, primed to go off with at the touch of the right spoken word.

Stunning cover art by Joe Wilson

Ilmar is the setting, and while a whole world beyond this city of last chances is hinted at, rich and varied, it is the city itself that provides the backdrop for the novel. It is a city built from ancient stones, aging wood, fading paint, and new veneers. It is full of factions, suburbs, streets and alleys. It is lived in, populated by lively characters riven by agendas.

Ilmar is the product of vivid imagination; around every corner the reader encounters some new detail, a detail that in itself would provide enough backdrop for a full story on its own, and which is stacked, one among many. All of them some strange twist on the expected, some wonder, or curio. The city is a melting pot of furious imaginings. The city of Ilmar feels like one of those antique shops that sells odds and ends. The sort that has existed for as long as anyone can remember, in which every inch of space is teetering shelves packed with every more curious items, grouped in a fashion that on logical examination might make no sense, but which feels right, lived in, curated, loved, built up over time and yet timeless.

Equally appealing are the characters: jaded, idealistic, hopeful, bitter, naive, impassioned, melancholy, changing and changed… faced by circumstances beyond control; each trying desperately to steer their raft as the white water rapids of time dash them inevitably against the rocks the events they are involved with have cast into the waters ahead.

All of it makes for a mysterious and fascinating backdrop to a story of the tumult of unfolding events, of causes and effects, of spiraling chaos, the hoped for but unexpected wins, all of it colliding together like a Guy Ritchie movie. Increasingly frenetic as the pages between your thumb and back cover dwindle. Increasingly explosive as events collide, victories are won, losses are taken, and the unexpected twists of circumstance conspire to muddy the way.

City of Last Chances, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is a vivid and rich book, and one that, in my view, is well worth checking out.

As a role player, I just can’t help but note, it is also a book that cries out for a Forged in the Dark adaptation – the Blades in the Dark system just feels like the right sort of bones upon which to build a game for this setting…

Owlbear Omelette on the Gaming Table

Lexi, from the wonderful YouTube RPG review channel, The Gaming Table, just released a review of Owlbear Omelette! It’s always a pleasure to see your games played, reviewed, or commented on, and I was thrilled to see this!

I sent Lexi a few of my games, and had no expectation that she would review them, or if she did whether they would be positive or critical, so it was lovely to see this video.

As always, it’s important to say that all of the wonderful art in Owlbear Omelette was created by the very talented Juan Ochoa. I love working with Juan, and Owlbear Omelette was the third (I think) thing I had worked with him on. For anyone curious, the others are Rascals, The Tales of Ulos graphic novel for Guf Studios and Thunderworks Games, and after Owlbear Omelette came Prisoners of the Elf King, and Ganymede Outriders…

Anyway – check out the review of Owlbear Omelette from The Gaming Table, and if it inspires you to look for a copy of the game, you can get it below, or from Exalted Funeral, Indie Press Revolution, and other online game stores. You can also find digital copies on itch and DriveThruRPG.

Looking Forward to the rest of 2024…

Ganymede Outriders have been fulfilled! All digital files and physical copies have been sent out – and I’ve even seen some photos of them in the wild! If you backed, and have your copy – I’d love to see it – post a photo in our Discord channel, or hit me up on socials!

If you didn’t back Ganymede Outriders, and are keen to see what it’s all about, you can find it on Itch here, and on DriveThruRPG here. Physical copies are available from the Caradoc Games webstore, and will soon be available from Exalted Funeral and Indie Press Revolution!
 

So what else is coming from Caradoc Games in 2024?

With Every Fibre is the next game coming from Caradoc Games. A rules light OSR style fantasy game, With Every Fibre uses 1D10 for skill tests, and a range of dice types for damage. The game is designed for quick test resolutions, and has some fun rules, including traits characters can learn and unlock – which allow them to use special abilities with different weapons – like using a great sword to attack multiple opponents, or a great axe to re-roll damage dice.

I’ve had a lot of fun playtesting this game, and already have a number of adventures underway, or already ready to release (with the game of course). Trouble at the Farmstead and Behind the Wall include a full adventure with art and maps, as well as additional rules, while The Old Sounding Tower is a cross fold adventure with a map, perfect for a one shot, or for a couple of short sessions in between longer games.

I’m thrilled with how With Every Fibre is coming together, and have had a lot of fun playtesting it over the last few months. Keep an eye open for With Every Fibre hitting Kickstarter in late July or early August!

The Game of Clocks

The time has come. I will be running Blades in the Dark soon. This is a game I have loved the sound of for some time, it’s a game I’ve had on my shelf for some time, and it’s a game I’ve looked forward to playing/running for some time.

Famous for the use of clocks, a clever mechanism for tracking extended tasks, background effects, or pretty much anything else your creativity can apply it to (which seem to have originated in Apocalypse World, but really come to life in BitD). Blades in the Dark strikes me as the game of clocks for another reason: it is game system that feels like a set of intricate and interacting cogs and wheels.

Blades is undoubtedly a clever game, it is well designed, and I love the intricacies that seem to flow out of the system (I am yet to run it – this is a view after reading the rules only). It feels like a deeply thematic game, and one where every mechanism feeds into creating a style of play that fits its very evocative setting.

But…

I’ll be the first to admit: I am pretty terrible at reading rules. I rarely read a full rules book, even for games I have run extensively. I too often skim read, skip sections, and don’t bother reading whole sub-systems until I need to know them, and even then, well, see above. I am not a huge fan of crunchy and detailed rules sets. At the same time I absolutely love games that lean into their themes and settings. Blades pulls me in two different directions. On one hand the many many interacting elements have my brain screaming at me to back out while there is still time. On the other I am deeply curious and almost morbidly fascinated to see how all the little wheels look when spinning together.

This is not meant as a criticism of John Harper or Blades in the Dark by any means, Blades reads like a piece of masterful design, and I admire what it sets out to do immensely. It’s just that over the years my tastes in role playing games have leaned further and further toward smaller games and simpler systems.

I fully intend to run the game, my game group is excited to play it, and I am excited to run it. But every time I pick up the rules book a part of my mind cries out in desperation. Why? Because this is not the sort of system I typically like to run. At the same time it is exactly the sort of system I like to run. Go figure.

Blades in the Dark is a clock. All the little cogs and wheels so intricately placed together look like they work as one. Spinning or tweaking one feels like it will affect the whole piece. I am excited to see it in play: to leverage this to alter that, to turn one cog to see what happens to the wheel, but I am fighting myself to get there, my mind telling me to put the book down and find something else to do.

At some point I’ll have to revisit this post and write about how it all goes down. Hopefully well… like a clock ticking down, it’s only a matter of time before I find out!

Venture into the Frost!

The digital files for Ganymede Outriders have been fulfilled!

If you backed Ganymede Outriders, you should have received emails from Itch and DriveThru will access to your copy of Ganymede Outriders, and the linked files!

If you have the opportunity, please consider leaving a rating on Itch and DriveThruRPG – every rating helps increase visibility, and means more people are likely to find and play Ganymede Outriders.

I am thrilled to be able to release this game, and it’s down to the support of our backers. Thank you! I hope you get even a fraction of the enjoyment from reading and playing Ganymede Outriders as I have in creating it.

If you didn’t back Ganymede Outriders, and are keen to see what it’s all about, you can find it on Itch here, and on DriveThruRPG here.
 

What have backers got so far?

Ganymede Outriders

The core rules are a 40 page A6 sized book, including background on Ganymede, and all the rules required to play.

A Call for Help

A 24 page A6 sized PDF adventure, with interior art and map by yours truly, and additional rules on racing.

Let the Cards Fall

A whopping 40 page A6 sized PDF, with additional information on the setting of Ganymede Outriders, and 14 adventure outlines inspired by the weird and wonderful imaginations of our Commander level Backers.

Example of Play

Is… well it’s exactly what it says in the title!

The Drift System

A PDF document perfect to send to players, or to use a reference when creating your own spin off material/games. It includes all the rules for the Drift System used in Ganymede Outriders, as well as some additional commentary on why the rules exist, or how they might be modified.

Sheets

The two page character sheet and single page vehicle sheet for Ganymede Outriders.
 

So what’s next for Ganymede Outriders?

Once the print copies have been delivered here at Caradoc Games, I’ll begin fulfillment to all Outrider and Commander level backers. For anyone who missed out, and wants a physical copy, they’ll be available from the Caradoc Games website, and from Indie Press Revolution and Exalted Funeral after I have finished fulfillment to backers.

With the ‘Drift System’ file in the downloads, and with Ganymede Outriders available for use under the Caradoc Games License, I hope that anyone who is keen takes the opportunity to create their own content for Ganymede Outriders, or utilising the Drift system. If you do – make sure to let me know so I can celebrate and share!

I plan on kicking off a ‘Drift Jam’ on Itch.io later this month, and would invite everyone to consider creating something for the jam – whether it’s a business card with a table of crazy Ganymede Events, an adventure, or a spin-off hack of the game system or setting – I’d love to see it!
 

What’s next for Caradoc Games?

Aside from the above? Well…

Behind the scenes I’ve been working on our next game: ‘With Every Fibre‘. This is a fantasy game set in the city of Fasthold – a once floating city that has crashed to earth in an unknown landscape. Adventures can take place in the fortress of Fasthold itself, in the dangerous mines and tunnels beneath Fasthold, or in the unknown wilds beyond the shadow of the city… 

This is another A6 game, with a full unique system and setting in one book. I’ve been playtesting this one for a while now, and am really excited to share more in upcoming months. It’s also the first game I’ve released where I have drawn all the art!

Owlbear Omelette – Cooking with Gas!

It was announced today, Owlbear Omelette was nominated for the Freeplay Game Awards in the non-digital category!

I am shell-shocked and egg-cited that my small-fry game sits in such esteemed company!

The awards are announced at the Freeplay Ceremony on the 29th of February. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it there, and I can’t imagine winning when I know a lot of the games in the same category are amazing pieces of design, writing, production, and art, but even to be nominated is a huge honour!

Want to know more about Owlbear Omelette? This short video won’t help, but I had fun making it, and that’s the main thing!

If anyone is interested, you can pick up hard-boiled copies of Owlbear Omelette from the Caradoc Games webstore, from Indie Press Revolution, from Exalted Funeral, and more!

While you’re about, check out the website of the amazing Owlbear Omelette artist: Juan Ochoa!

Looking Forward…

If the last post was looking back at the worn path of 2023, this one is about looking forward into 2024. What has Caradoc Games got planned for this year, and what are some things I’d like to work on outside of that?

Ganymede Outriders

Scheduled to be the first release for 2024, Ganymede Outriders will be hitting Kickstarter in February as a part of ZineQuest/ZiMo

Ganymede Outriders is a big game in a little package. The game uses a custom designed system built for thematic and quick play; putting the emphasis on fun and high action.
Ganymede Outriders includes a full RPG system, and is ideal for both one-shots and campaign play. It is designed to be played with 2 to 5 players and a GM.

Ganymede Outriders will be published as a 40 page A6 zine – another pocket sized book because I like the format, and it keeps the shipping cheap for overseas buyers.

I’ve been working on a bunch of support material for this one, including an SRD, an example of play, and an adventure. It will be available for people to hack, remake, or create for under the Caradoc Games license. Which means you can make stuff using the system, or for the game setting, for free or for sale, without Caradoc Games expecting a tithe.

Everything for Ganymede Outriders is done and ready to roll, and I am super excited for this to launch. I think the setting is fun, and the rules lean into it – something I love doing with all my games!

Ganymede Outriders will be the first game I launch in 2024, but it won’t be the last.

With Every Fibre

Coming in second is With Every Fibre, which will probably be launched somewhere on crowdfunding a month or so after Ganymede Outriders, or the middle of the year at the latest.

With Every Fibre is a fantasy dungeon crawl. The system is designed to OSR-like, but uses D10s for skill tests, and a range of other polyhedrals for weapon damage, spells, and the like. Here’s the pitch:

With Every Fibre is a rules-light fantasy adventure game. Between the covers you’ll find the rules of play, spells to cast, weapon traits you can unlock for special powers, adversaries to face down, tables to roll on and more.

With Every Fibre includes a full RPG system, and is ideal for both one-shots and campaign play. It is designed to be played with 2 to 5 players and a GM.

With Every Fibre will be published as a 48 page A6 zine. I’m really proud of this one. First of all I think the game system is fun, and contains some interesting ideas. Mostly though because all the art and maps for With Every Fibre and the adventure were done by own hand!

Like Ganymede Outriders, everything for With Every Fibre is already done – the rules are written, the art is complete, the layout is finished… So basically, it’s ready for launch!

Heralds… Maybe…

The third release for 2024 is likely to be a game I have been working on for a while called Heralds… A game where setting building and map creation are a strong part of the game – but I haven’t decided whether this will be a setting book, or whether it will come with a game system as well. Knowing me, I’ll probably end up designing a game system for it, but who knows!

This one is planned to come out late in 2024, I don’t know the page count, and while it’s partly written, I need to go back and rework stuff I put down to paper from a couple of years ago… it’s very much fluid at the moment.

Of course, if Ganymede Outriders or With Every Fibre do particularly well, this third release for the year might be something expanding those systems, and Heralds might be bumped back to 2025. Speaking of which, at some point, probably in 2025, I want to revisit Corsairs and Rascals.

A Podcast?

One of the things I have been considering is starting a short review series – one where each episode is less than twenty minutes, and focuses on a single table top role playing game. One of the reasons I thought about doing this is because there are so many indie games that struggle for reviews, I thought it would be nice to do something to fill that gap. Yeah – it would probably keep a fairly positive focus, but that’s mainly because I’m motivated to talk about the things I like. I’ve done podcasting before, and I’m not sure I have the energy to make this a multi-person affair, so it would probably just be me talking into a microphone. Sure it could be TikTok or YouTube or whatever, but I’m not really interested in creating video content, and I almost never watch these forms of game media myself, stick to what you know right?

Other Stuff…

Three games and support material is a pretty reasonable release schedule for 2024, but there are other things I am working on, including a novel manuscript, creating more art for my projects, and other things both personal and professional. We’ll see how it goes.

Looking Back…

I’ve written about my gaming goals for 2024, and in the great tradition of the new year haze, I want to continue in that vein of thinking. But first, we need to look back.

2023 was a relatively quiet year for Caradoc Games, at least in terms of releases. Prisoners of the Elf King launched as a Kickstarter in February of last year, and only just scraped over the line thanks to the generosity of a friend. I was a little disappointed in how Prisoners of the Elf King fared on Kickstarter. I think it’s a fun game, and more than that, I think it’s a fun read. It’s done reasonably well post Kickstarter though – so there is a silver lining! With the post Kickstarter sales the game managed to cover it’s costs and make a little bit of money. By which I mean I paid the artist and made that money back, and managed to keep some change for myself as well, and if not enough to pay me for the design time, writing, and layout, is better than it not covering costs!

For anyone interested, Prisoners of the Elf King a game that pokes fun at some of the classic tropes in fantasy fiction, and in particular the Hobbit (who would have guessed from the name). If you want to know more, you can pick up a below, or from Indie Press Revolution, or from Exalted Funeral.

Why did it not fare so well?

It could be the format – A6 might not be as popular as A5, or something with a hard cover. To be honest, I don’t think this is the main issue, it just failed to capture much attention on Kickstarter. It could be that it was because it was marketed as a one-shot game – it is an adventure and all the rules required to play that adventure. I think it’s a fun idea, but maybe it’s not a commercial idea. This concept (story arc and bespoke rules set) may be something I come back to, but for now I’m going to focus on making game systems and settings that are not built around one plot concept, however funny I think that concept might be (and trust me, it’s funny). The next few games from me will keep the format, but will be fully fledged RPGs.

Sales of my other games also slowed down in 2023, though I did send off my last copies of Corsairs and Rascals to Indie Press Revolution. Corsairs has sold about 600 copies, and Rascals about 500. I could order another reprint of both, but sales have slowed, and to be honest, both of these are games I’d like to revisit.

At one point I’d love to do a bigger version of Corsairs, with the supplements rolled in with the core rules, maybe even a hard cover if that was possible. We’ll see.

Rascals is a game I am really proud of. I think the playing card system is solid, and I like it a lot. Again it’s a game I’d like to revisit, maybe as a second edition, maybe using the same core system in a different setting.

For now, both these games are almost sold out. The last copies available can still be purchased from Indie Press Revolution (Corsairs, and Rascals) and Exalted Funeral (Corsairs, and Rascals).

Why the slow down? I honestly don’t know. It could be related to the economy, but it’s most likely related to two factors:

1) I wasn’t very active in promoting my games in 2023. A fact that is almost directly related to

2) A main source of traffic for me in the last was through Twitter, which fell of a cliff in 2023. Post engagement is really low, directed traffic is really low to non-existent… Twitter was the main platform I used for putting out news and promotional material related to my games, and it was killed in a brutal if not amusingly ironic fit of capitalistic hubris.

Last year, when it came to considering how I’d promote my games, or whether I should post something, I just felt very disengaged and lacking in motivation. I tried all the things everyone else in the TTRPG industry tried: Hive, Mastodon, Tribel, Threads… the only one I have come to kind of enjoy is BlueSky, aka Twitter with the serial numbers filed off, and you can find me on that site here.

All of that, combined with changes to MailChimp – which I use for my mailing list – made it feel very difficult to get any sort of engagement. I think for 2024 I am going to focus on three things: BlueSky, my mailing list, and this blog.

A bit of a quiet year for Caradoc Games, and a part of this was the fact I changed jobs, and a part of this was that I felt a little disengaged from the whole thing. Prisoners of the Elf King was the only game I released last year, but I did put a lot of work into the design and development of some other games that will be coming in 2024. More on that in the next post…

Gaming goals for 2024

2024 is nigh. In my last post I wrote about the games I played in 2023, for this coming year I’d like to set a challenge for myself: to play some of my unplayed role playing games.

I like reading RPGs. I like reading new settings, new rules, seeing how different games try and capture different themes and ideas, and seeing how different companies lay out their games. A side effect of this means I have a bunch of games on my shelf that I have never played.

Getting new RPGs to the table is, for me at least, a little more challenging than knocking out a few of my unplayed board games. RPG rules books are typically bigger and more involved, and playing a game is usually much more of a commitment. Add to this the fact that I also design and self-publish my own RPGs, and that somewhere in the gaming schedule I like to fit in as much playtesting as possible, means that getting new games to the table can be a challenge.

Nearly two years ago my game groups decided to start rotating games and GMs – we play through an adventure or campaign, then switch games and GMs. It’s been a great way to play through a variety of games, which suits me as I tend to be a bit of a game magpie – I like to play a game for a bit, and then try something new.

So what games are we talking about? Well I have a lot of unplayed games on my shelf, and this list does not include all of them. This is a list of the games I would most like to get to the table (in no particular order)…

  • Mausritter
  • Mutant Year Zero: GenLab Alpha
  • Ryuutama
  • RuneQuest
  • Star Wars (the West End Games version)
  • Primal Quest
  • Agon
  • Blades in the Dark
  • Nibiru
  • Troika
  • Orbital Blues
  • Fiasco
  • Wurm
  • Into the Odd
  • Fate Accelerated: Masters of Umdaar

15 is too many games for me to GM over the course of 2024; I have a number of games I will be releasing next year, and need some playtest time for those, and our group rotates GMs. So I’m going to set my sights on a more realistic number: I want to knock 6 games off this list by the end of the year.

In addition I want to sort through and work out how I would like to play through these games. Will it be running…

  • An adventure of 3-5 sessions?
  • A mini-campaign of 5-10 sessions?
  • A longer campaign of 10-20 sessions?

When it comes down to it, I would like to do all three of these options, but not equally. I think we might be able to manage one longer campaign, a couple of mini-campaigns, and a couple more adventures.

At the moment I am playing in a game of Mothership and GMing a game of the Expanse. It is probable that the Expanse is going to end up being the longer campaign, presuming the players want to continue playing. We’re playing through the published campaign: Abzu’s Bounty. Several sessions in and we haven’t finished the first adventure of that campaign, so I am guessing it’s going to take a while. It has taken some set-up though, so who knows – maybe the later adventures won’t take as many sessions to play through.

My upcoming game With Every Fibre is probably going to take up at least a mini-campaign of playtest time, but there’s a chance I’ll be setting up a dedicated playtest group and we may be able to get that one done without impacting the scheduling of the other game groups I am part of.

Some of these games have specific requirements. GenLab Alpha comes with a campaign to run through, and I feel like getting the best out of it means running that campaign. All my groups play online, and that means finding a way to run them in an online format, whether through a VTT, over Discord, or through some combination of other online platforms. For games like Mausritter, with it’s little mini-game of storing equipment, that might present a challenge. For other games there are already character sheets and rolling macros built into some VTTs, which makes them more accessible for my groups.

I think setting the goal at 6 games is a reasonable target, if we get more played, even better, if not, well, 6 games is a reasonable benchmark, and I’ll be happy if I can tick that off by the end of 2024. There’s a reasonable chance that some of the other people in my game group might GM one or two of these games, and if that happens, you can be certain I’ll be counting it!

So that’s it – my goal for 2024: knock 6 games off my unplayed list.

What are your gaming goals for 2024?