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Justice


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ALCRITAS

 

“Back when I was a uniform cop, in the sixties, the city was being torn apart, you had to choose what side you were on. Two cops had been killed, and we had brought in a suspect. I was in the squad room, and I could hear his screams, everyone could. I remember him yelling out, ‘Where’s the justice? Where’s the justice?’ My Sergeant just laughed and said, ‘Justice? Boy, there’s no justice. There’s just us.’”

 

— Lieutenant Giardello (From the T.V. Show “Homicide”)

 

I have to say, this scenario didn’t go over well with me. Now, up front, I will concede one factor which made my experience less pleasant than for the typical player. I played the scenario in it’s first post-beta release. On two occasions, bugs within the scenario required me to restart entirely. Obviously, these bugs significantly diminished my playing experience, and, if as reported they have been fixed, would not effect subsequent players.

 

To the scenario proper — I believe Andrew Barton coined the term “Plot Coupons”, and the expression never fits better than for Justice. I believe that either plot or free will should dictate where the party goes. Put more simply, the various dungeons and hurdles the party must overcome should be the outgrowth of the plot — hurdles and challenges should serve the plot, not the other way around. No more egregious violation of this principal can be found than in Justice.

 

The premise of Justice is fine — you are part of an Empire expedition sent to exterminate a local Slith tribe. It’s very heavy handed, but all fault for that falls not on the scenario designer, but rather on Jeff Vogel. Taking place within the established Exile world, even when the established part is poorly written, is no fault of the scenario designer. After this premise, however, things go swiftly downhill. Follow, if you will:

 

1. The main Slith settlement is in the middle of a lake — No problem.

2. You need a boat (a skiff, I hasten to add) to get to the settlement — Makes sense.

3. The Sliths have no boats, they swim instead — Alright.

4. The Empire division you are attached to has no boats. — Okay.

5. The Empire division can’t get any either. — Hmmm....

6. There’s lots of wood around, unfortunately all of it is Special Plot Device Wood™, that can’t be used to make boats.

7. The resident Empire archmage of course can’t do anything about this either.

8. In fact, the Empire Division does not have and cannot get sufficient wood to make a skiff.

9. What’s worse, the Empire Division couldn’t even make a skiff, EVEN IF they had the wood.

10. So you’re going to have to trick the Sliths into making boats for you.

11. But first, there’s the problem of getting some wood. Luckily for you, there’s a Faerie Grove where regular wood grows.

12. Unfortunately, the Faeries won’t talk to you unless you first have the Faerie Horn.

13. The Faerie Horn is hidden in an ancient, and haunted, grave.

14. But the long dead Slith who holds it won’t give you the Faerie Horn unless you get the Serpent Jewel first!

15. The Serpent Jewel can only be found by traversing the local Hyrda’s lair, and killing the beast. (The Jewel’s inside!)

16. Once you’ve got the Horn, the Faeries are still reluctant to chop up their forest for you.

17. Luckily, they’ll comply once you figure out a riddle.

 

All of that is the first leg of the scenario, and it’s all mandatory. And it’s ALL TO GET A BOAT! My gosh, now we know the true reason the Empire lost the Exile War — they’re totally and completely incompetent!

 

 

 

This is a trend that doesn’t evaporate as the scenario progresses. Way too many portions simply make no sense. When I reviewed Destiny of the Spheres, I commented that one of my problems was that way too many of the mandatory legs of the scenario felt a little too convenient. It’s the exact same problem here, except that wherein Destiny the convinces were all borderline — Yellow Flags — in Justice, they’re WAY over the border. To call them Red Flags would still be too kind.

 

Beyond this Overwhelming problem, however, the scenario is fair enough. Gameplay is never above par, but the scenario is short enough so the player doesn’t become tired by the repetitiveness.

 

The plot is.... Heavy-Handed. Justice could sorely benefit from a more subtle approach to its topic. This approach really isn’t the author’s fault, as it takes place within the established Exile context, but the author doesn’t do a whole lot to improve it either. (To say the author does nothing would be inaccurate, but what little is done isn’t particularly effective.) Starting from the premise that the party is made up of Empire soldiers, the Slith’s appeal makes no sense. Starting from the premise that the typical player is a product of modern liberal democracy, the Empire’s appeal makes no sense. Tension over what to do within a scenario is great when accomplished (see A Small Rebellion), but here the tension is entirely artificial — it only results because the typical player is forced to assume an ideology he or she will most likely categorically reject. Someone who completely accepted the premises of the scenario would have no conflict, and the same would be true of someone who completely ignored the premise. The only conflict occurs when a player half-heatedly assumes the premises, and frankly this mechanism doesn’t particularly impress me.

 

Perhaps it is the long layoff of reviewing that has made me sound more critical than usual. If so, such was not my intention. Justice was intended, if memory serves, as a warm up, or trial run, for the short scenario contest. Judged from that criteria, it’s very good, and perhaps served it’s purpose, and Akhronath’s next effort, Earthward Road, is quite solid. The scenario, as one would expect given its premise, is quite short, and is certainly not a waste of time to play.

 

Within the criteria of a ‘short scenario’, one programmed over the period of but two weeks, this is quite a decent effort. Judged against an open field, however, this scenario is far from a standout.

 

My score - Average

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BEN FRANK

 

On hearing about Justice, by Akhronath, I very much looked forward to the opportunity to play a short, solid, scenario. While there seem to be many attempts at epics out in the Blades world, there are few good small stories that can be played to the end in a few hours. With only a little time at this point in life to take an interest in Blades, this seemed an ideal opportunity.

 

The scenario itself is solid, but very, very linear. You play a small party dispatched to a part of the Exile cave system inhabited by Sliths. Your mission, to wipe them out (or not) and free up Empire resources to deal with the Exiles. (The scenario occurs concurrently with the original Exile series.) Game play consists largely of running up and back between different areas in a small cave system, collecting items and delivering messages.

 

It is in this manner that the linearity becomes frustrating; I found I had to visit many places multiple times. The first time was inevitably “out of order” so nothing happened, while on a subsequent visit (after killing the beasts again, getting the right dialog phrase from the right person, or whatever) the required event occurred. Additionally, if you can’t find or overcome the current obstacle, you can’t advance the scenario.

 

The battles are quite challenging given the limited resources at your disposal. Given that the scenario is designed for a starting party (and I start with three characters) you often find yourself strapped for resources, spells, or even weapons. There is little treasure, but then there is nothing much to do with any you find anyway. The dialog is strong and coherent and the plot is well fleshed out. The only plot drawback is that the decision point comes very late, missing an opportunity for a Of Good And Evil type ethical struggle.

 

Overall the scenario is well crafted and interesting. While not great, it does not aspire to be. Ranking - Average

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SIMMIC

 

I have to say, when writing Justice, Akhronath didn’t seem to be very poetic. Looking at his other two scenarios, Earthward Road and River and Leaf, I was somewhat surprised. Justice was the first scenario of his I ever played, and it shouldn’t be taken as an example of what the rest are like.

 

Both River and Leaf and Earthward Road begin with a bit of poetry; Justice begins with a quotation, and a very apt quotation too. As it’s the first thing you’ll read anyhow, I can’t see myself spoiling anything — “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” — Joseph Stalin. Strangely true.

 

This scenario, some would say, could almost be a, well, smaller replica of A Small Rebellion set in a different time and place. It begins by vaguely telling you that you’re Empire soldiers in the Empire War against Exile. But you’re not fighting Exile. You are purging the land of Sliths. Some of us will remember the slaughter of entire villages of Sliths that Limoncelli directed in Exile II. This is what you’re meant to be doing in this scenario. And no wonder, I thought, that it’s rated R.

 

Combat is some of the most challenging you’ll get, harder even than Nephil’s Gambit. In this manner, the designer almost turns it into a mental challenge, forcing you to use spells usually disregarded or ignored, to use hit-and-run tactics and generally fight conservatively. Nor does the scenario lack in other, more directly mental challenges. I’ll warn a player about one thing in this scenario — don’t use a 1 PC party. I beta-tested this scenario, and, upon reflection, decided that to use a 1 PC party was darn near suicidal. While some scenarios, such as On A Ship To Algiers, are suited to 1 PC parties, this scenario is quite the opposite. Avoid them. Also, if you’re the sort who doesn’t enjoy combat, play through with a medium or higher level party.

 

Plot is one of the strongest points of the scenario, of course. Although, as mentioned earlier, the usual poetry is lacking, Akhronath’s use of English does by no means get any worse. Everything is written feelingly, except perhaps outdoor encounters. Of all the scenarios I’ve played, this one brings me the closest I’ve ever been to crying about what is going on. Which isn’t that close, but it was nevertheless a very good effort.

 

Characters are well fleshed-out and well-written like the rest of the dialogue; each has his own personality. Each has their ideals, but none of them, you will think, are actually bad or evil people. Such an achievement is what I think of as one of the ultimate realisms in Blades.

 

This scenario is well worth playing. It’s short but challenging, and more than worthy of your attention.

 

My score - Good

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