I’ve been riding the new Triumphs since 2004. Their sport touring 2001 Sprint, the naked streetfighters — 2006 Speed and the 2010 Street Triple; the wonderful 2010 Thruxton and the equally excellent 2018 Street Cup. They’ve all been great bikes but all have had electrical gremlins (with the exception of the Thruxton, which was flawless.) I’d kept the Thruxton for just shy of 7 years, and traded it for the Street Cup, which other than a lackluster top end, was better in every way.

So why the hell am I riding a Royal Enfield Interceptor now?

One of my riding acquaintances showed up with one a few months back — a lovely creature with chrome tank and classic styling that Triumph tries to evoke, but Enfield just does. He let me ride the thing and it was surprisingly fast and nimble…easily as good as my Triumph. Most importantly, it was fun. Fun in a way the Thruxton had been but the others never were — fun at slow speeds, fun doddling about, as much as ripping up mountain twisties. I went back to my bike and was perfectly happy…then my local Triumph shop, Motopia New Mexico, started carrying the Enfields at the start of the year. This coincided with some electrical issues the Street Cup had started having, usually the harbinger of a whopping big repair bill on the electrics in the near future: my heated handgrips wouldn’t work save sporadically, my four-way turn signals would keep my normal turn signals from working (a fault in the starter switch module.)

And there was the Interceptor. I’d looked at the Continentals when they first came out, but we didn’t have a dealer in Albuquerque at the time, and having ridden the Bullet 500…well, that was not a bike to blow your kilt up (but it would put your hands to sleep from vibration.) A friend of mine and I decided to test ride the new Conti and Interceptor, trading off halfway through the ride to get a feel for them. I liked the Continental riding position better, but that chrome tank with the classic badging was calling me. My buddy bought one.

One day on old Route 66 (yes, that one), we decided to see how they compared. The Triumph was kicking the Enfield’s ass for the first 30mph or so, then the Conti with its 650cc motor hit third gear and blew the Street Cup with its water-cooled 900cc away. While getting the electrics sorted on the Triumph, I noted the presence of a chrome Interceptor on the floor. I went home on her.

After that long way to get to the point, here we go. The Interceptor is a 650cc parallel twin motorcycle in the style of the old British bikes (including Royal Enfield). It looks the part, it doesn’t just crib some styling queues like Triumph’s Modern Classic line, or the BMW R9T; a new bike pretending to be a classic — like the Moto Guzzi V7, this is a legitimate “old school” bike with a few new tricks up its sleeve. Yes, it has ABS and it works okay on the ByBre brakes. (Apparently ByBre is Brembo made in India…) It’s got electronic fuel injection and the map is very good and adaptive to conditions. Other than that, well, that’s it.

The frame was designed by Harris Performance and the steering geometry and weight distribution is fantastic. The bike is very nimble — easily on par with the Street Cup — and fast enough for what it is. The suspension is pretty basic, although the rear shocks (no, the reservoir isn’t real) are adjustable to five points, and with a tick over the bottom setting, it’s done quite well on most terrain. The front definitely needs progressive springs; it’s soft in hard bumps. The stock tires are the same Pirelli Phantom Sportcomps the new Triumphs use. They’re also the ony ties I’ve had slip on me in damp. Not wet, damp. They’ll be coming off first opportunity, but they are serviceable and some folks really like ’em.

The motor is smooth, sounds good (especially with the addition of a pair of S&S silencers and a K&N air filter with DNA airbox removal), and on paper is anemic as hell, producing only 45ish horsepower at my mile up. (I probably made back the altitude changes with the pipes.) It’s not anemic. The gearing on this thing is superlative. Once you hit third, the Interceptor runs hard. Hard enough to smoke a 900cc Triumph. It’s getting about 60mpg for me with mixed highway/city riding and a few miles lower in town. I figured this out by calculating the mileage at gas stops; the gas gauge is, not to put too fine a point on it, execrable. It shows me as on reserve with a good 1.5 gallons left in the tank. Low end, you should get about 160 miles on the tank, high end 200ish. Fueling is smooth and gives no hiccups. You can use lower octane if you have to, but I’d stick with premium.

And the looks… That chrome tank (soon to be joined by a chrome fender instead of a plastic silver one.) That classic badging. That motor: sculpted, clean, shiny. Everything about this bike comes together beautifully.

The downsides: The foot pegs are in an awful position when you stop. They’re right under your feet. When just out of the crate, the handlebars are way too high and forward. I had the mechanics rotate them about 30 degrees toward me. It’s not a cafe position, but it’s much more comfortable. The saddle’s a bit hard, but I did a 230 mile day on her the other weekend with just a bit of butt and hip soreness. The instrument cluster is very basic and compared to the gorgeous brushed aluminum of the Triumph, it’s a letdown. But you also won’t crash while admiring your dashboard. Another unfavorable comparison with Triumph: the Enfield’s gearbox is so-so. It shifts well enough but you’ve got to give it a kick; it doesn’t like a leisurely throw. It’s nowhere near as smooth as the Triumphs, which are some of the best shifting motorbikes I’ve ridden.

To give my Triumph a good send-off, I named her Lakshmibai, the Rani of Enfield as a tip of the hat to the (in)famous queen of Jhansi who led her troops against the British in the India Mutiny of 1857. That’s three history jokes rolled into one.

My buddy bought the white and silver/blue striped Continental, and nearly all the comments about the Interceptor hold for it, as well. The Conti shares most of its bits and bobs with the Interceptor. The footpegs are further back (and those rear sets will eventually make it onto my bike.) It has low cafe-styled bars that are well positioned but might be uncomfortable for those with back issues. I found them more comfortable. The tank is GP styles, instead of the classic teardrop. Otherwise, same bike. They do a lovely chrome one for the Continental, as well, but you don’t get the badge.

Out the door, the bike was a hair over $7000US with a 3 year warranty and 1 year roadside assistance, and was almost a straight trade for me. I had them removed the awful plastic mudguard extensions on the fenders, drop the S&S cans on, and over 1300 miles, she’s been flawless. On a “spirited” trip through the Valles Caldera and the twisty Route 4 to Jemez Springs, we were pushing these bikes hard in the turns and they were on par with any modern bike I’ve ridden.

But sometimes…that’s not quite enough. S&S has partnered up with Royal Enfield to develop a line of mods to improve the bike. This weekend, the Interceptor went in to receive a new high-performance camshaft and a set of pistons that brought the compression up from 9.5:1 to 11:1 — and it is glorious! My butt dyno tells me this thing is much faster off the line, with power coming up pretty much immediately. Where she would just scratch 100mph maxed on the throttle at 6500rpm (so at least you won’t blow up your motor…), she’s hitting 75 at just under 7000rpm in second gear! Cruising at about the same throttle position and revs, I’m getting about 5mph faster on the freeway. I anticipate (but cannot yet confirm) that she will probably bury the needle at the advertised 120 on the speedometer. Parts are ridiculously cheap: about $600, but labor is pretty intensive, so the labor costs if you don’t do it yourself are going to be spendy.

So if you are looking for a machine that will happily doddle around at 40 while still entertaining you, but can still carve canyons with the other bikes, the price point is definitely right.

I have to thank one of my Facebook acquaintances and fellow game design/small publisher for this one: Lex Arcana. It looked interesting, and out Dungeons & Dragons campaign has been set in an alternate late antiquity Roman Empire, so i was interested in it for material to crib. After hearing it was a good system, but picked up the PDF and read through it. Then bought the Encyclopedia Arcana, their “sourcebook” on the setting in PDF. Then found a print version of both, plus the “Demiurge” (GM) screen at Miniature Market and picked them up. (I was really impressed with their selection, prices, and the speed of delivery — check ’em out.)

Back to Lex Arcana… Apparently, this had been a popular game in Europe in the 1990s, but recently was re-released through Kickstarter. First off: these books are gorgeous! The artwork is as good, and in some ways better than the stuff Wizards is doing for D&D and even the superb Odyssey of the Dragonlords. This holds through all of the products I’ve gotten, thus far, including a module in PDF on Constantinople. Production values are high — the paper quality, binding, layouts — it’s all just top shelf. This was easily one of the best buys for an RPG I’ve dropped money on in recent years.

So it’s pretty. How’s the system? Character creation can be a bit confusing at first, but I followed the flow they’d laid out in the book and had a version on one of my player’s characters from the D&D campaign banged out in under 15 minutes. Not bad — I do judge a game system based off of how long and how difficult character creation is. If I can knock out a character in 15 minutes or so and get playing, I’m not usually impressed. There’s a bit of weirdness where your attributes — strength, etc. don’t directly apply to things you do; they combine into….fields, I guess would be a good way to put it, like War or Nature or Society. This gives you a number from 2 to 18 being the top starting number, if i recall correctly. You pick skill, which give you a modifier to rolls in a certain field — bows in War, for instance. You pick your weapons and armor, and you’re ready to go.

The conceit here is you are part of a special force of the Praetorian Guard that hunts down mystic weirdness and threats to the Empire. There are rules for rising through the ranks, but also for magic and more importantly, for gaining favor from your patron deities. The piety score can be used to gain a bump in a test up to getting a bit of Olympian back-up. Magic here is not the “shoot fireballs from your fingers” stuff of D&D (thank the gods!) and focuses on pre and postcognition, interpreting omens and dreams, scrying, and manipulating the gods for favors. This is low magic that requires rituals, time, and effort to get something out of it.

The basic mechanics is a hit a target number system. How you do this is different…you get all the normal polyhedral dice for the game, but which ones you roll — that’s the difference. For instance, if I have a de Bello (War) of 16, I can chose dice that add to 16 (up to three dice, no more) — so I could do a d12+d4, or 2d8, or 2d6+d4. What’s the point of this? You ask. It does look like it could be confusing and slow play for new players, but for experienced folks, i think they could game the hell out of this for mathematical benefit. In the above example, you’re not rolling below a 2 (or 3 with the last option) which can be good for easier tasks. If you roll max on all dice, you roll them again and add to the original roll. What about odd-numbered die — d5, d7? Yes, that could be a thing. Combat is pretty straightforward, with damage based on the quality of your hit. For every three over, you gain a multiplier to the weapon damage. You’re not just getting up, either, if you get munched; damage here can be pretty deadly.

The downsides: there’s a lot of Latin used to give flavor. The character sheet and the used of terms like custodes, the agents of this group you’re supposed to be part of, might throw some folks but i suspect if you’re interested in this, that’s flavoring you might like.

The core book cost me $46. Is it worth it? Hell, yes. This is the first game one of my players — a Romanophile — is truly, actively interested in playing; another is a late antiquity historian turned acupuncturist — he’s in, as well. It’s pretty, well-designed, and there’s a lot you could crib for a setting or another game system. I fused the Piety system here with the one from the Odyssey of Theros book for Dungeons & Dragons 5e for our current game.

Instead of doing a different review, i figured I’d merge this with the other Lex Arcana products I picked up. Easily, the best sourcebook I’ve read in some time is the Encyclopedia Arcana.

This book is a genuine book of scholarship tweaked to be a setting guide for ancient Rome. There’s stuff on the road systems, the post service, the military (army and navy), shipping and trade, the ranks of government and society, as well as food, clothing, disease, and lastly magic. Written by Francesca Garello, it’s well worth picking up even if you don’t get the game; I’ve already be cribbing stuff for our D&D game. This was about $40 and yes, it’s worth every penny. The art, writing, research, and production values are sine que non.

Lastly, the Demiurge Screen.

Pretty much everything you need to quickly adjudicate social interactions, investigations, fights, experience — it’s there. The cardboard is thick and top-quality, the art is good and evocative of the setting, and it’s surprisingly cheap at $18 over on Miniature Market.

Here’s a new favorite of my wife and me; my daughter is less enthusiastic, but enjoys it: Santorini. Produced by Spin Master Games this is a simple, fast game for 2-3 players.

It features a basic plastic island with a playing board on the top. It’s a rule light, strategy-rich game where you take your two workers and try to build a building on the island to three stories and get one of your pieces up there before the others do. Sounds simple. Isn’t. You also randomly (or at least we do) a Greek god who gives certain abilities and sometimes special win parameters. (Hermes allows you to move a piece any number of spaces in a straight line, for instance; Ares can destroy a story because, well, he’s Ares.) These provide different challenges to work with and some are quite powerful. (We don’t use Bia — it’s a game breaker, we feel.)

You have two actions — move then build, and you have to be able to do both, or you’re out of the game. This makes planning you builds to allow your workers to mount the stories to victory. But the other players can stop you, given the opportunity by putting a dome of the third story and blocking you from advancing to the top.

The art is gorgeous (see the box top), the building pieces capture the whitewash and cerulean blue of the eponymous island. There’s a nice expansion set, The Golden Fleece, that adds heroes to the mix, instead of gods.

It think this one cost me $30 at Ettin, our local game store. So is it worth it? Absolutely! You can play a few games in 15 minutes, or find yourself playing a single game for an hour, if the players are using their gods to full effect. It’s a solid buy if you like board games.

I saw this game by chance on Kickstarter a few months back and thought a board game that taught the basics of programming might be fun for my daughter for Christmas. (Yes, she’s that kind of kid…) It was bundled with their internet-oriented Enter the Spudnet game. Potato Pirates is now one of my kiddo’s favorite games, and it’s easy to see why: it’s super easy to play, fun, and quick. You can play a few games of Potato Pirates in half an hour.

You get two ships named after different types of potatoes and potato-related foods, and a hand of cards that have either an action like “mash” or “roast” and a number of potatoes that are suitably murdered on a ship, and program cards that set up parameters like multiplying the attack, or conditionals. There’s also “surprise cards” that allow you to recruit more potatoes, or hijack another player’s ship and the like. Lastly, if you get all six of the blue “Potato King” cards, you win; otherwise you have to destroy all of the ships of your opponents. Anytime a Potato King is drawn, you are require as the player to shout “All Hail!” and the others must race to shout “Potato King” first, or pay two potatoes as punishment. (The potatoes are represented by small and large [counts as 5] foam balls.)

It’s silly and fun, and the art look like it came from the same guys that gave us the Oatmeal, but the game design is by Codomo — an outfit out of Singapore. You can find it at ThinkFun or Potato Pirates website. This game runs $35-40 US retail. Is it worth it? The retail price is a touch high-priced for my liking, but just a touch; I got it as a bundle which was much more reasonable. It you like whimsical, simple, and fast games for playing with kids, it’s a firm yes, especially if you can find it under $30.

Tied to this is Enter the Spudnet, in which you pay delivery services that must fulfill orders around the game world.

There are six factions, and you have to set up your two factories, draw cards that give you actions tied to internet concepts like 404s, DoS attack, etc. These allow you to destroy your competitions “ships” as they go out and attempt to be the first to bring all your orders in; you can overload the factory servers of your enemies and stop them from being able to function — though you can’t use their space/server, either. There’s rules for bots, and other internet “goodness”. It can get pretty cutthroat and is a lot of fun. Like Potato Pirates, this is a fast-playing game — maybe 30 minutes — and is simple enough that my 10 year old grokked it straight off. My wife, who has a strong grounding in programming, thought it quite good.

Again, the art, production values, and rules are excellent. It retails for about $70 and can be found at the link above. Is it worth it? Again, as with Potato Pirates, it’s a touch high in price, but as a bundle was reasonable. I would definitely buy it if you found it under $60.

A few years back, when my daughter was old enough that board games became a thing in the household, we started picking up a number of different things. One of them was the old version of Rallyman, an excellent racing game out of France. We played it quite a bit, but it’s sat unused for a year or so. then I saw there was a new version by Holy Grail Games for Kickstarter last year and backed it. This was for Ralleyman Dirt…I hadn’t realized they’d also done a road/track racing version, GT.

I stumbled across this new game at the excellent Ettin Games and Hobbies here in Albuquerque, and on a whim decided to buy it. The daughter and I kicked the tires on it this weekend and early this evening, and here’s the basics:

The essential design and mechanic remains: You have a rally car mini and a “dashboard” that give you information on what kind of awfulness happens if you biff it while taking your turn, depending on conditions and tire types. You still roll dice that represent the gear you are in — 1st through 6th, with two “coast dice” to hold your speed, but added are red “brake” dice to change your speed. One of the issues with the original design was that you could only drop or go up with dice you still had available. This allows you to accelerate hard and still be able to brake without having the dice to downshift. It’s a good fix.

There’s also the boards for the the track. In the original — you have a couple of board you could piece together to make different tracks, but there wasn’t a ton of modularity. The new game uses interlocking hex tiles that allow a lot more tracks to be set up. The sections of track are rated for difficulty from yellow, orange, through to red. If while rolling your dice you get a warning or ! face, this shows an increasing lack of control. If you get three, you lose control and spin out or crash and do damage. Damage takes away gear dice (starting with 6 and working down), or get you in the coast or brake dice.

When racing, the car in the higher gear goes first, and ties go to the car in front, or on the inside of the track. the turns have special restrictions for speed, and some cause automatic ! results, even if you get through. there are rules for weather, for pit stops, and there is a mechanic for saving from the dreaded ! — if you take a chnce and go “all out” you roll all the dice together. You gain a “focus point” that can be used when you roll the dice on your subsequent turns one after the other to negate a ! result.

The rules are simple, easy, and we found that the addition of the brake dice really made the game work well. The art on the tiles and in the rule book is quite good, and the car minis are simple but serviceable. The price was $50 at the FLGS.

So was it worth the price? Absolutely. If you enjoy racing board games, it’s a great buy.

c

We’ve barely gotten The Marvellous City out the door before we turned our attention to a sourcebook for 1930s Cairo for use with Ubiquity and Fate. The turn around time was brutal, especially with a rough semester for the high school and community college I work at, plus an ongoing illness…but it’s on it’s way.

This one will be the first Black Campbell product not written by (or mostly written by) Scott Rhymer (yours truly). The author on this one is Adam Scott Glancy, who approached us through the Ubiquity RPG group on Facebook and asked if we would be interested in publishing him. After having a look at his initial notes and work, I was thrilled to welcome him aboard. I will be penning the adventure or two that will go with the city guide, but most of this is his baby. I am handling layout, editing, and the like, so right now the PDF is probably about a month away, and another for print — depending on if i can get DriveThruRPG to work with us.

That said, The Marvelous City and most of our back catalogue is hitting Amazon.com, as well as DriveThru. This book will most likely follow that route.

For those of you waiting for the FATE version of The Marvelous City, it’s on the way, and will get some love after this one drops for Ubiquity.

The Marvelous City, our pulp guide to 1930s Rio de Janeiro for the Ubiquity system that powers Hollow Earth Expedition and Space:1889 (among others) is now live on DriveThruRPG.com.

The PDF version and now the print version is available at Amazon.

The Marvelous City is a 90-page book covering the neighborhoods and major sights of Rio, the culture of the city including music and dance, capoeira, and the more mystical aspects of macumba (or mandinga, if you’re not throwing aspersions), with an adventure written by Anthony “Runeslinger” Boyd. Cost is $9.99.

I’ve received the last material from Black Campbell’s friendly neighborhood Runeslinger and final editing for our 1930s pulp Rio sourcebook is underway. The Ubiquity version will hit a few days before the Fate version, as we have to still do the system specific changes.

Stay tuned! Possible news on another book in a few days.

After a few trying day of attempting to teach well online while our district and governor keeping moving the kung flu goalposts, I’ve finally gotten a moment to sit down and bang out a post. Today’s prompt Investigate is a good one.

Everyone’s got that first RPG that really grabbed you. I started, like most, with Dungeons & Dragons (the original boxed set), but the first game to really grab me was James Bond: 007 by Victory Games. The movies were a staple of my teen years, along with other action fare, and this game helped me hone the storytelling art: how to rig together the classic three act adventure, having a good set pieces for action that were tied by character building/exposition scenes to move the action along. Central to the espionage genre, and really for a good dungeon crawl, is the idea of investigation — whether it is uncovering what’s in the next room, tracking down a conspiracy that leads to the big bad or some kind of eldritch horror, finding out who double crossed you on that deal gone bad, to wandering the setting looking for trouble to get into — discovery is ultimately at the heart of most role playing games.

There should always be something kept just outside of the characters circle during a campaign — that big bad you’ve been building up for the final confrontation (don’t bring him in early ’cause they’re going to get insanely lucky on rolls that night and slag him like a bar of lead), some aspect of the bad guy organization (For the first few Bond films, we never saw the head of SPECTRE…he was only “Number 1”.), don’t explain everything, leave some mystery there. Even when the campaign ends, there’s a certain joy in not quite knowing everthing that was going on. Think how much people enjoy throwing ideas around about what that scene meant or what was really going on behind the scenes. The internet is full of movie and TV conspiracy theories. Never reveal all your secrets.

Well, day 14 fell on a day that was supposed to be an easy day that turned into a heavy workload. That was fine by me, since the prompt for that day wasn’t inspiring anything in me.

Today’s prompt, however, is a good one. One of the parts of learning how to GM well is the same as any media of storytelling — framing a scene. Even for sandboxers that simply let players wander about their world looking for something to happen, framing is important. Scene framing involves spotlighting important events in a narrative, or character moments that aid the player in moving toward character growth.

For instance, players might be walking interminably to a mountain where their nemesis rules to destroy a magical McGuffin. The walking, let’s face it, is boring. The day to day mundanity of taking breaks, eating, foraging to find food, can be important for the story — say the characters are traveling through the Valley of Bones on their way to the mountain and after an attack by the adversaries they need to find food and water; that’s now an important, unusual event in their journey. They do it and survive; they don’t and fail. One of the way that RPGs have traditionally gotten around the boring travel bits is with random encounters. That’s certainly a way to go if you’ve had nothing planned for the session, but a better idea might be to do the equivalent of a fade or wipe to the next scene that had impact on the characters. This doesn’t have to be combat. It can be meeting an old friend or adventuring companion of a character that allows the player to build on their alter ego. t can be a short side quest — a traveling party was raided and their children/women/money to stake their new life was stolen forcing the characters to make the choice of staying on mission, or breaking to “do the right thing.” It can be some form of moral quandry — do they help the [your enemy here] who has been injured, is trapped in quicksand (or the equivalent trap), or something that ties tightly to a character’s flaws/goals/or moral structure.

All of the players should ideally get their own “beat”; their moment in the spotlight, but sometimes, you’ll find an event is so interesting or emotionally engaging that the players not involved are interested in the story, even if they aren’t the focus. That makes for a great session. A good example of this might be many of the ensemble Marvel movies — every character gets their moment to do their schtick or experience some milestone in their journey, even if it’s a short moment. In a game, this allows the players to be the star for a while.

Framing a scene involves creating the atmosphere you want. Perhaps you’ve beamed down to a distant outpost on a mostly barren world to find the facility empty. There’s no sign of a fight, there’s food half-eaten on the tables in the canteen — as if people had been mid meal when whatever happened happened. Eery quiet save for the ever-present sound of the air circulation system is all you here. However, there’s more than that.

Important scene will have a few factors to them. There will be an action of somesort that has to be reacted to. This can be physical, like an attack; it can be mental, the setting inspires an emotional reaction; it can be philosophical — you present them with a hard choice; it can be social — they have to convince an enemy to turn to their side. The action should have something to do with achieving their goal, whether for the party or a character. It should present them with a dilemma (it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking) that requires a response that could advance their cause, or creat a set-back but require them to “do the right thing”, or which requires some kind of change in the character.

When creating a story for your players, you can best do this by setting up what the outcome that is desired — the characters find the bad guy’s hideout and can rescue the hostages. You have several scenes that push the plot — 1) a discovery of a certain piece of evidence that 2) leads to an initial confrontation with the henchmen of the big bad, and 3) if they succeed pushes them toward the goal or should they fail requires them to regroup, perhaps do another scene requiring them to find evidence or clues, and eventually leads to the denouement. You can let the players wander and investigate the world all you want, but at some point, you drop one of these moments into the narrative, allowing them to move closer to the goal. This dispels the notion they are being railroaded, while still pushing them in the right direction.

So, simoply put, to frame a scene you 1) create the right atmosphere, 2) present a problem that requires 3) the characters to make a decision, and their reaction 4) leads to an outcome or corresponding reaction that moves the story along, or helps the character grow in some fashion.