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On Her Majesty's Arcane Service
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/07/2010 16:24:31

On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service is a new RPG released by Clash Bowley and Flying Mice Games, based off of his Blood Games II setting. Rather than the more modern horror approach of Blood Games II, On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service is more of a historical horror game, set specifically in 16th century England. I have both the PDF and a the POD version of the game. The PDF is available from Precis Intermedia Games’ website (www.pigames.net) for $10, and the POD version is available from Lulu for $22.71. PDF vs POD The PDF is full color and bookmarked. Clash has filled his RPG with clipart, but the vibrant colors of the PDF make much of the art stand out in a very good way. The art doesn’t look as impressive in the black and white tones of the POD version. As well, the formatting clearly wasn’t designed with POD in mind, as part of the back cover blurb is covered by the UPC code. Just speaking aesthetically, unless you have a hatred for PDFs, I would recommend the PDF over the hardcopy, as the PDF just looks better, top to bottom. Table of Contents We do get a Table of Contents, with chapter headings. Always a good sign. I can get around a lack of index in RPG books, but when they don’t even bother with a table of contents, that’s just annoying. Introduction Before I begin breaking down the chapters, I do want to comment here: I love Clash’s layout. He does a single column of text on the pages, and on the side he has little headings relating to the subject matter. I loved that in Blood Games II and that continues here. Anyway, the introduction begins with the history of this earth, up through the 16th century. It begins by talking about Homo Sapiens being hunted and stalked by Vampires, Lycanthropes and Demons. Enoch is sent to earth bequeaths both civilization and magic to humans. Humans beat back the darkness, but Demons find new ways to counter the advancements of humans and return in force. The battle has waged back and forth, slowing the advancement of humans. It is now the 16th century, Elizabeth has just become queen, and forced Catholics to the fringes. Dr. John Dee, at the orders of Queen Elizabeth, has headed up Her Majesty’s Arcane Service, a secret force designed to protect England from mystical attack. Dee is a devoutly religious man, guided by angels to find his agents, PC and NPC alike. The game is designed with a pretty clear focus, spelled out as the book discusses PCs. Namely, PCs are assumed to be agents of Dee’s, and assumed to be some denomination of Christian (any other religions need some work by the GM and player to make sense). A section follows on group set-up, with PCs being Path (magical) characters or Non-Path (non magical) characters. What follows is a paragraph on each character type, and their typical role in the party, from Hunters and Templars to completely unskilled parties. Blood Games II included a similar section and it is a helpful read. Creating Your Association The group begins by creating their own branch of Her Majesty’s Arcane Service. The GM can decide how much starting “capital” the organization has, or they can roll 1d20 on the included chart. From there, you determine what kind of organization this is, once again determined by random roll or selection, and including entries such as Witch Hunters, a trading company, military, government diplomats or even simply an extended family. The book provides a helpful, short description of each entry. Now, the group selects their home base, and a two page chart follows showing various entries, and their cost depending on their placement (broken down to “In London and out of London”). These range from palaces to working farms to derelict castles to pubs, warships and even pocket universes! A very nice selection covering all “levels” of games. The group next needs to fund Areas of Interest, defined as Guards and Security, Espionage, Warships, Transport, Medical, Arcane Library, Training, Cartography, Mercenaries, Artificers and Device Development, and Logistics and Maintenance. This section expands on each entry, detailing costs of pikemen, details on tomes and libraries, costs of mercenaries and more. The chapter ends with a helpful worksheet designed to keep the numbers straight. I like this system, but the downside seems to be that it is geared towards something of an in-group “game” where each side haggles for what they think is appropriate. As I often GM for only one or two players at a time, a lot of that would be lost. A little crunchier than, say, the Angel RPG organization rules, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Creating A Character Character creation is handled via a Lifepath system. You start at 10 years old and age through Apprentice and Journeyman stages before seeking out professional life. Come up with a basic, short concept and decide if you are making a Path character or a Non-Path character. You have two choices for character generation: Point Buy, which gives you 44 points for physical attributes (Strength, Coordination, Agility and Endurance) and 180 points for mental attributes (Intelligence, IQ, Magic, Lifestyle and Charisma), or a random roll method in which you use 2d6 for your physical attributes and percentile die for your mental. Next, take four “Mother’s Milk” skill ranks – that is, skills you would have had before the age of 10. Find an Apprenticeship that suits you. If you meet the prerequisites for it, you’re fine…if not, you can make a waiver roll on a d20 to bypass those requirements. This grants you 9 skill ranks/attribute increases. Next comes Journeyman, which is handled the same way. From this point on, you can decide if you want to take a Path or not. If so, that opens up new skill and attribute opportunities, as well as special abilities. Then, you begin selecting professions. You take one increase per year spent in the profession with an additional increase for every six years in the profession, and you can change at any time. This persists until the character is “aged” appropriately. Every two years in the profession, you have an opportunity for advancement, which can increase your Lifestyle. For finishing touches, add 7 levels of Traits, which can be taken from a sample list, or defined by you. One example from the Traits section featured a character using his 2 ranks of “Goad” on a guard. You calculate your Constitution score from your physical attributes, select starting gear and you’re finished. The chapter continues with a brief note on die mechanics. The Starpool system which powers On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service uses a d20 die pool with every roll under the target number counting as a success. Also, like BGII before it, a character only advances once a year, and is assumed to have approximately one major adventure a year. I do love Lifepath systems. I generally find them to be much fun. I am a tad different in that I largely prefer a slightly more random element to my lifepaths, but I have long thought that the Starpool lifepath system to be a very solid system. After the outline of character creation mentioned above, the book goes into much deeper detail, including discussion of Deterioration, which becomes a reality as characters enter their mid 30s. Next we get a listing of Apprenticeships. Each listing has Prerequisites, Waiver Rolls, Lifestyle and Skills Available. You can take an apprenticeship as a Thief, Warrior, Hunter (not to be confused with the magical character type), Priest and more. From there is the listing of Journeyman entries, which has the same detail and includes being a Thug, Soldier, Sailor, Trapper, Squire and more. Finally, we get listings of professions, such as Pirate, Artist, Explorer, Engineer, Priest, Lord, Spy and much more. A sample character, Sir Edmund Teague, is created for our perusal. Teague is a point buy soldier turned Esotericist. Character Options Half-Angels are just as they sound, but with a twist: While not born of a union between humans and angels, they are born of a lineage in which an angel has previously bred, and they have a latent gene which has activated. Half-Angels are always twins, one with light coloring ad wings and one with dark coloring and wings. Normal humans are incapable of perceiving Half-Angels for what they are. As in BGII, Half-Angels are so rare that if there are two in a party, the book STRONGLY recommends that they are twins. Half-Angels can fly, heal, make flaming weapons, and communicate telepathically. Once they have declared allegiance to the light or dark, they gain access to a few more powers, such as Auras of Light or Darkness, or emitting pure Awe or Menace. Immortals have a destiny that MUST be fulfilled before they can die. Once they die their “first death” they become trapped in that form for the rest of their existence. They can’t even learn new skills, though they can “forget” ranks of skills and reassign those ranks to new skills. Only when they accomplish what they were fated to accomplish can death take them. Changelings come in two varieties: fairies who have been left in the place of human babies, and human babies who have grown up in Faery. Fairy Changelings can access some oof the more magical Paths of Power, while Human Changelings are just like humans, physically, except they always exude just a bit of that fairy magic on them. They can learn some fairy magic, but can never take a Path of Power. Hunters are kind of like the setting’s answer to Slayers, except gender neutral. They are humans enhanced by magic to fight the darkness, and are capable of low-end wire-fu type combat. The Esotericists are scholars devoted to learning the secrets of the supernatural world, and combine all manner of mystical, scientific and religious study to that purpose. They can cast spells, create relics and have magical Grimoires that house their knowledge. The Magus are followers of the Archangels, and the ones that imbue Hunters with their power. Each Magus follows a single Archangel, who grants them power over the areas that the Archangel lords over. Templars are Holy Warriors. Once called, their creation also releases a Demon from Hell. The Templar knows its name and some of its personality, and is tasked with sending it back. Templars are also granted a small selection of Miracles they can use on their adversaries. The Savant is basically a magical scientist, using logic to master mysticism. Savants can create Wards, read Astrological charts, Commune with spirits, create dimensional pockets, and more. A Warlock’s main schtick is summoning spirits. They can call them, anchor them and even clothe the spirits in flesh. Warlocks have a very bad reputation, but aren’t inherently evil. Cunning Folk use “folk magic” to achieve their ends, but neither they, nor their targets, realize that they aren’t actually using magic, but merely reinforcing their target’s belief in the desired effect. Minstrels are similar to the classic Bards from Dungeons & Dragon, using their music to achieve effects bordering (and sometimes crossing that border) on magical. They can boost or lower a listener’s attributes, and even affect their memories. The book shifts to normal humans and how they view the types of magic that they are even aware of. As well, it provides for an otherwise unpowered human to have developed some manner of “gift” from their contact with the supernatural: a talent that isn’t normal and can’t really be controlled. OHMAS Skills and Traits Skills give you extra dice to roll when attempting a task. If you are riding a horse and have Riding +3, you roll 4 dice (you always get one) and try to roll under your target number. For every five levels in a skill that you have, that’s a Level of Mastery, and that grants you a reroll if you fail. Simple and effective. The skill list itself takes up four and a half pages, and that’s a bit larger than I tend to like for a skill list. However, the less than crippling penalties for not having a skill makes that slightly less annoying. Next, we cover traits, which I went over above. Just short descriptors to flesh out the characters. Finally, we get a look at unarmed fighting styles…specifically, Boxing, Brawling and Wrestling. Religion This chapter plunges headlong into the Seven Sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Unction, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Penance, as well as a fairly detailed description of each. Then the book moves into the differences between the Roman Church and Church of England. This section also touches on Calvinists and Puritans. The chapter rounds out with Tests of Faith for confronting Demons and Vampires and the like, Tests of Will for the less devout to fend off Demonic Influences and rules for Possessions. Adventure Generator Yes! I love adventure generators! This one is pretty straightforward. Get a d20 and roll on the tables, or move through them picking for inspiration. You start with a rumor, move to a place, a table for finding out what is behind the rumor, how much the association stands to gain from the adventure and “sweeteners”. Then the book helpfully provides a list of adventures made with the generator. Finally, there are bounties which can be tacked onto the adventures and up the PCs overall standard of living. Non-Player Characters Another fine chapter after my own heart: Need to generate an NPC and don’t want to put a ton of work into it? A series of tables that let you roll up on NPC, including quick rolls for attributes, personality hook, skill levels and more. As well, the book also provides a handy list of pre-made mercs, thugs and mooks to be used, hired and dealt with as need be. Magic We get a quick overview of how Magic works in BGII, namely using a characters MAG points as placeholders for magic effects. The chapter explicitly points out that no Magic is permanent, even magic used to empower items. Magi and Minstrels use MAG points differently, using them up in a session, with them returning at the next one. This chapter includes the Laws of Correspondence, the rules which govern the use of magic in the setting. The chapter concludes with a list of very common spells, common spells, uncommon spells and rare spells. Starpool Dice Mechanic An in-depth chapter detailing just how the dice mechanic works, from basic d20 rolls to Quality of Success (every ten points of success is an additional level of Quality of Success). As well, the book provides a fairly common sense guideline of what attributes a given action should fall under. Initiative is handled like everything else: Roll a d20 and lowest roll is best. However, you can move up or down the initiative chain by adding or subtracting resolution dice. That is, if you roll a 10 and want to move faster, you can give up one of the dice you will roll for your action and drop to a 7 on the initiative chart. If you are convinced you can succeed and don’t need to go quickly, you can add an additional die to your action but move your initiative to a 13. Armor modifies the target number to hit someone, and combat has a bit of a death spiral where you take penalties as you lose Constitution points to damage. In combat, Levels of Mastery grant you additional attacks, whether or not you succeed on the initial attack. This chapter also discusses Healing, magical and otherwise, as well as bits like splitting dice pools for actions (pretty much as simple as it sounds). Creatures and the Spirit World This is pretty much the bestiary of the book. It begins with a discussion of the Spirit World, the inhabitants therein and how to enter the Spirit World. The Spirit World presented here is a lot like the Astral Plane in a good deal of other sources, with the silver cord tethering the traveler to their body. It also details spirits crossing over into the physical world, such as by following the severed string of a now deceased traveler in the Spirit World. A large list of spirit creatures are present, from the fire-based salamanders, to hags, demons, nymphs, ghosts, devils (these are the fallen angels of Christian lore) and djinn (and much more). The book then moves into other creatures like zombies, lycanthropes, and even skeptics, normal people whose skepticism can disrupt magical powers. One glaring omission is vampires, who are mentioned at the beginning of the book as being enemies of humankind, and from whom the whole Blood Games title comes from. Next is a detailed discussion of fairies, all of whom are born the same and later grow into a different kind of fairy depending on how they live their lives. A few, like elves, can pass for human and live among humans, often in leadership roles. Other fairies include ogres, trolls and redcaps on the darker end, and brownies and piskies on the nicer end. Weapons and Equipment Pretty much what you expect: A sprawling list of weapons, armor and equipment available in 16th century England. The neatest part is the discussion of the importance of equipment, such as how important clothing was to 16th century England. While there is no chapter break here, I’m sure there was probably meant to be one, but we move into the counties of England. Very helpfully done, this lays out the 39 counties of England with about a paragraph on each and a URL for a map of each county. This ends with an overview of the counties, which should probably have gone first. Government and Politics This provides some insight into the political structure of England in the 16th century, discussing Parliament, courtiers, nobles and so forth. The chapter then moves to a less generalized discussion, talking about the people of Elizabeth’s court from the Queen herself, and including Lord Robert Dudley, Mary, Queen of Scots, Sir Walter Raleigh, Dr. John Dee and even William Shakespeare. Game Mastering One of the first things this chapter points out is that the second the game begins, history has been changed, so if the PCs wind up altering things, let it go. Good advice. No plot immunity for you, William Shakespeare! From there it touches on things like Flashbacks, Foreshadowing and different kinds of play, including Generational Play where the PCs play different branches of their family tree, perhaps battling an adversary throughout different eras. Appendix A: Optional Rules This gets into optional rules like Plot Points (which can make an action an automatic success or failure), Troupe Play (everyone has multiple characters) including different types of Troupe Play (Mission Impossible style has the group leader selecting the participants for each mission, for instance). Lastly, the book ends with an index, a character sheet, a character creation worksheet (for tracking advancements in the lifepath) and personal information sheets. Overall First, again, unless you hate PDFs, buy the PDFs. The art looks MUCH better. As for the game itself? I’m not a huge fan of the “alternate history England” thing (although its pretty much only alternate due to the presence of monsters and the PCs). For me, I think I would prefer Blood Games II and the more modern approach. However, OHMAS clocks in at over twenty pages more than BGII and still feels more tightly written. The Association rules and the Adventure Generator are great additions, as is the fairy material. The absence of vampires seems odd, but if you have Blood Games II they should plug right in with no problems. Clash once more does an amazing job for what is pretty much a one man operation. All of the various character types feel unique against one another, even if aspects of their mechanics work the same (such as Magi and Minstrels burning pools of Magic points each session). If you like horror games (specifically, heroes fighting the darkness) games, and you especially like historical games, drop the 10-spot on the PDF. If you are living outside the US, then that’s pretty much the only option unless Lulu has stopped killing people on shipping. Very strong recommendation.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
On Her Majesty's Arcane Service
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Hearts & Souls
by Todd M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/07/2010 21:28:29

Art: don't care. I'd give any product more stars if it didn't have any. This is a very character driven, rules medium rare game. Does what it claims, no more, no less. Bonus for honesty.

At the moment it is five bucks. For an honest, low maintenance, low buy in game there is really nothing to gripe about. The 'no art' thing really is a vast minority request.

Good job.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hearts & Souls
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Blood Games II
by Thomas B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2010 22:14:17

Pros: Very good modern horror RPG. Some nice, new takes on some classic modern horror archetypes, and an interesting lifepath system for character generation. I heartily recommend combining this with On Her Majesty's Arcane Service for maximum effect. Once you get past the cover, the interior is way more printer friendly than your average RPG. I'm a huge fan of the layout, but apparently most reviewers are not.

Cons: With this book alone, there's not much here to convince you to switch from Your Default Game if you are already doing modern monster hunting. On Her Majesty's Arcane Service adds just enough options to make the switch more appealing, adding in fairies and organization rules (which can be modernized with a little effort). The fiction isn't great, but that's not the main focus of the book, and some of the art is more mediocre than anything.

Conclusion: As stated, a very well-written RPG, made by a guy who likes to make games and doesn't have a whole production company to do it with. If you are wanting to get into modern horror, or your current game isn't clicking, then I offer a high recommendation. If you're happy with what you've got, and you have some money to spare, its worth picking up for possible inspiration.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Games II
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Havoc Open Beta
by Scott K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/13/2009 00:55:13

A simple, quick system with a elegant design. I personally love dragons and look foreward to the future releases.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Havoc Open Beta
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Hearts & Souls
by Kevin M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/24/2009 18:11:13

Being a long time comic book collector and fan of superhero games in general, I’ve probably bought every super rpg going back to the classic Marvel Superheroes and Villains and Vigilantes. So I sure have my heavy list of favorites, and the Hearts and Souls rpg ranks right up at the top with its unique innovations and mechanics.

It may seem a little unorthodox at first, but it really does work in play. Rules such as monologues and stress triggers/events are great for re-creating the feel and flow of an actual comic book in a simple and quick fashion without relying on fixed stats like hit points, fatigue points, time and distance measurements, etc. The basic structure allows you to attempt any action, but does not impede the flow of the game. Also, you can create just about any character you can imagine.

I really prefer these types of games over numbers-heavy, where there’s a rule for every type of action a character tries. While it is quite freeform and rules-lite, and does require a good deal of input from the GM and players, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

If you like number crunching (and some players do, nothing wrong with that) then you probably won’t like this game. But as a GM with time constraints, I’m always looking for supplements and game systems that make my life easier while stressing actual role playing. I really feel that H&S delivers both.

In the old DC Heroes game, one of the core concepts was developing sub-plots, which are the actual day-to-day problems that heroes face in their lives outside of their superhero personas. In the sessions using H&S that I’ve run, I will allow players an “anti” stress point (or hero point as my group calls it) for creating interesting sub plots that we can role play and develop as the characters progress.

This way they can negate one point of stress they accumulate later on in the game, in addition to using monologues. The game system presented here is perfect for this. It has really helped make our sessions fun and interesting.

I truly hope that Tim continues to develop and expand upon H&S. I would love to see more; definitely worth a look and the price is very reasonable



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hearts & Souls
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Hearts & Souls
by Sylvain B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/05/2009 11:19:37

H&S is a great narrativist rules-light supers RPG. Its scaled rank system for attributes and powers works well. The game's core mechanics for character motivations (called drives) and stress (emulating physical, mental and social setbacks) brilliantly support the superheroic genre. H&S oozes with potential for some fantastic role-playing and story-telling in any style of supers game.

However, some elements of the game feel somewhat too sketchy for my taste. Character creation and advancement come to mind, the author meant them to be free-form but I think both elements could benefit from a bit more structure. Some of the rules should also be clarified although the book contains a very useful example of play.

Hearts & Souls is a rough gem that could really shine with a little polishing but that sure didn't stop me from making it my supers RPG of choice.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wonderland
by Chris H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/19/2009 07:29:22

There are very few games available today that do something truly original or really push the medium. Wonderland, however, does both. It's a genuinely scary game - reading it makes you wonder how strong your own grip on reality really is. It's intellectually challenging, immensely playable, beautifully written and in a very real sense a work of art. I really can't say enough good things about this tremendously impressive game. It is absolutely amazing, perhaps the most original and disturbing RPG since the original Kult or Little Fears.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wonderland
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In Harm's Way: Aces In Spades
by JW B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/13/2008 18:06:20

I've always loved WWI flying movies (The Dawn Patrol, The Blue Max, Flyboys). Over the years I've attempted to translate the excitement of these movies into a game format, utilizing various often complex rules systems to simulate combat, and tacking on RPG elements.

In Harms Way: Aces In Spades has an elegant and simple (well, as simple as anything that can be which recreates the feel of WWI aerial combat) combat system that will not dominate your gaming night with one or two dogfights and no real roleplay. The system produces the 'feel' of aerial combat in canvas and wood scouts through the use of 'Energy Units' that are gained by diving or burning fuel, and are lost by climbing and maneuvering. Many of the Great War's aircraft are numerically defined in the game, and the system is simple enough that any additional favorites can be added in moments. Shooting and damage are likewise simple (a D100 is all you will need), with a system to simulate luck and critical hits. This produces the flavor of the first dogfight in The Blue Max, for example, without bogging the player down in calculations and measurements.

The roleplay system is likewise elegant and stands somewhere between a diceless rpg system and a simple dice-based system. Characters are created by allocating points and skills are gained through comparison of social class and one's chosen background. Well-rounded characters can be rapidly created, and there is a system for quickly creating 'supporting cast' characters. Each player has a 'main' character, the pilot, another supporting officer (medical, administrative, observer, etc.), and an enlisted man who is a specialist at the aerodrome. If the 'main' is injured or captured, or unaccountably absent after visiting the local social establishment, the player can pick up one of his 'troupe' and game with him until his 'main' returns. This is a very clever concept and again recreates the 'movie' feel that the game works hard to develop.

As with all games that cover complicated historical events, the author of In Harms Way: Aces In Spades had to decide how much historical detail to include. The book is not a campaign resource for World War One. There are no maps, descriptions of historical pilots, or even historically accurate images of WWI aircraft. However, with so many resources available on the internet, the referee will be able to find all necessary background outside of this text. And it is important to remember that this set of rules attempts to recreate the feel of the idealized war in the air, not the actual war (although it could easily do that, too). Players compete for 'notice' to gain rank and medals, and all sorts of strange and audacious acts could qualify, or not, depending upon the personality of the Squadron Commander.

The book contains occasional typos. Also, some essential information can be difficult to find (ie., how to add up a player's hit points). A good 'referee's sheet' with essential data would go a long way to making what is about 140 pdf pages more accessible. However, these are minor complaints in what is a highly creative, fun, and easy to implement game system in an historical period that many of us have longed to recreate but just couldn't find that ideal balance between a technical air combat system and roleplay.

There are other games out there for the serious grognards. This game will satisfy roleplayers who long for the feel of the great WWI movies, who want to fight in the air but also want to have enough time left to roleplay their characters on the ground.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In Harm's Way: Aces In Spades
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StarCluster 4 - FTL Now RPG
by Terence C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/25/2008 19:43:15

An excellent companion game to Cold Space which takes it to the post cold war era. In fact the 911 version of cold Space is far more deadlier than what happened in OTL.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 4 - FTL Now RPG
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Cold Space RPG
by Terence C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/25/2008 16:41:32

Great system, great alternate history setting. very very nice indeed.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cold Space RPG
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StarCluster 2 Light
by Matt M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/21/2008 10:12:44

Great introduction to the StarCluster system and setting. There is a lot of cool stuff available for this game and this Light version just shows off some of the highlights.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 2 Light
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In Harm's Way:Wild Blue
by Gunther B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/18/2008 10:38:40

Very useful product both as a stand alone game and as a resourse for other gaming systems. I plan to use it as the background and support for Mercenary Air Squadron and Mercenary Air Squadron MTO. Character creation covers several levels from active front line troops to rear echelon staff officers. A broad base of equipment is provided for air, land, sea or joint campaigns. Logistical, maintenance, and finance is covered in enough detail to keep it interesting without reguiring a full time S-4/G-4 section.

Pro: Good character creation and combat rules Neutral A bit repetive in places. Con No real gripes

Very Satisfied



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In Harm's Way:Wild Blue
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StarCluster 4 - FTL Now RPG
by JD S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/02/2008 14:46:41

On the surface, this product works well-an alternate timeline where space was achieved quickly after WW2. Politics continued as in our setting, with the exception of the addition of space colonies and propulsion technology. A terrorist group launches an asteroid to strike NYNY on 9-11-2001, provoking a remarkably brief and concise nuclear winter.

In a nutshell, it sounds good. The actual 20-odd pages of the background are pretty much a shambles, combining poor writing and a teen-angst melodrama; it tends to be more a soapbox tribute to a impeached ex-President, attacks on a current President, and a hostile attitude towards the USA as a whole, and anyone who earns more money than the writer. The political developments portrayed in the post-asteroid hit are extremely unlikely, ignoring centuries of war, cultural differences, and economic hostility.

Despite having world-wide starvation as a key point of this hodge-podge, the writer(s) either did no investigation of US food storage, and somehow have overlooked key elements of the US diet/food production systems that would have minimized the effects of the brief and concise nuclear winter in North America, all the more so as the power grid was orbital, and unaffected. (Americans eat grain-fed beef, pork, and poultry in far greater quantity than other nations. The latter industry is housed in indoor, heated facilities, as is much of pork production. The USA has enough feed grain on hand to feed the US population for two years; if the US population of cattle, pigs, and fowl were harvested, it and their stockpiled feed could last the entire US and Canadian populations for a year longer than the abrupt nuclear winter, without touching the other food reserves held by the US gov’t and private producers-and this assumes only 65% efficiency in distribution). Likewise, nations lose 50% or more of their population in just a few years, and yet maintain cultural and social integrity.

The lengthy and inaccurate condemnation of the Patriot Act (which it is obvious the writer never bothered to read) kills a lot of word count as well.

Despite the background’s clear paranoia regarding government abuses of power, it has the same governments donating the entirety of their nuclear arsenals to an anti-asteroid defense system. And the UN ‘remains a beacon hope’. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

An optional extension to the history has the CIA responsible for the asteroid strike. Given the caliber of the writing up to this point, this was so predictable that only its absence would have surprised anyone.

In short, the background is a plot hammer the size of the asteroid which wiped out the US East Coast, and a soapbox slightly more shrill than a political convention pamphlet. It is unburdened by much in the way of research or depth of. That it makes up only about 10% of the product is its sole virtue. Fortunately, you can explain the differences between our timeline and the game’s in a couple paragraphs, and ignore the first twenty pages entirely.

The product is dotted with fiction and poetry, the less said about which, the better. Artwork is not an issue for me, but FTL’s was pleasant and unobtrusive.

The formatting and production values are excellent.

I like the fact that FTL has a clearly stated mission for PCs: survive. Simple, and mood-setting. I am not likely to use the system, but it looked friendly and lite. The starship travel is innovative and takes travel within a system seriously, something too few sci-fi games do.

The last hundred pages detail the occupied planets; Terra’s system has map of the Moon & Mars, while the other systems detail the stellar bodies and have a simple color terrain map, plus a color ‘picture’ of the main planet. The detail is very good, and IMO the chapters on the planets is well worth the price of the product by themselves.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 4 - FTL Now RPG
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Daemornia: 2nd Edition
by Curt M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/03/2008 02:14:23

Daemornia may as well be the love child of Michael Moorcock and James M Ward--a portal to an extra dimensional hell is opened via technological mishap; daemons arrive, a war ensues--centuries later, Offworlders aide the poor humans. The setting potentially ranges several daemon-ravaged worlds ala Robotech II The Sentinels.

The game offers a whopping 13 attributes, that believe it or not, do function in play. 7 races, several level-based career paths psionics and magic rules and a bestiary.

Basically, it's a "roll-under" system: a 2d6 result less than a modified attribute value equals success.

The game's strength is the richness of the setting. At first glance, the races appear generic, but each is developed. It has an "Elric," Richard Corbin feel.

So what's different from the previous "Revised" edition?

The Positive:

2nd edition is easier on the eyes for one, if like me, you read your pdf books on screen. The text is presented against a textured color background.

A new layer has been added to game play with bonuses to various saves and resistances incorporated into racial stats, including a Save vs Magic to streamline the magic system.

The Negative:

Randomized character generation tables appear to have been removed.

Much of the setting specific material is absent. Daemornia Studios wouldn't be the first company to move to a multi-book core model, but with the exclusion of 40 plus pages of setting material, conversions of some of the races or beasts from previous supplements to the new stat format would've been nice.

That being said, the Daemornia line offers quality books at reasonable prices. Who else is offering a 156 page core book for $7.00?



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Daemornia: 2nd Edition
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In Harm's Way
by Kevin P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/18/2008 15:57:08

The RPG community has needed a follow-up to the classic FGU PRIVATEERS & GENTLEMEN for years, and this is it. I especially like the ARS-MAGICA-like idea of having multiple characters to run, and the "ensemble" style.

A reasonable mechanical system that feels true to the Napoleonic Age of Sail genre of fiction. Character creation is simple, gameplay is fairly quick.

The rules for ship to ship battles are a bit lacking but if you're not interested in fighting them out (other than as impacts your characters), you could probably dispense with them. But if you just must maneuver little ships on blue cloth, there are a lot of relatively easy rules-sets out there you could probably adapt.

While this genre might not be to some people's tastes, if you want to get a hand in on Lucky Jack Aubrey, Richard Bolitho, or any of the other naval fiction adventurers, this is the game for you.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In Harm's Way
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