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Trail of Cthulhu
by William C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/20/2015 02:11:06
Trail of Cthulhu is a fun and easy system for investigative and thriller games. One of the biggest weaknesses (at least in my opinion) with Call of Cthulhu is there is the potential of missing 1 single clue and being unable to advance at all in the scenario.

Trail fixes that problem by saying you will always get just barely enough to advance the plot along and your rolls and point spends are to develop a broader picture of what is going on.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu
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13th Age Bestiary
by Roger (. L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/28/2014 07:09:31
http://www.teilzeithelden.de/2014/12/27/rezension-13th-age-k-
lasse-statt-masse-im-bestiary/

Mit 200 Varianten von 55 verschiedenen Monsterarten beglückt uns Pelgrane Press für ihre d20-Variante 13th Age. Das 13th Age Bestiary vervollständigt das System mit einer detailverliebten Vielfalt an Kanonenfutter für Helden aller Stufen, und strotzt nur so vor Abenteuerideen für Spielleiter.

Rezension: 13th Age: Klasse statt Masse im Bestiary
13th Age habe ich mir persönlich 2013 zugelegt, und es bald darauf auch mal geleitet. Ich war auf der Suche nach einem d20-System, das mich ansprach. Was ich über D&D4 gelesen hatte, schreckte mich eher ab. Rollenspielurgestein Jonathan Tweet hatte bei D&D3 wesentlich die Finger im Spiel, Rob Heinsoo bei D&D4. Pelgrane Press schien hier definitiv ein Stück vom d20-Kuchen haben zu wollen, und aus reiner Neugier habe ich das Endprodukt dann auch gespielt.

13th Age brachte sicherlich Einiges an Abwechslung gegenüber anderen d20-Systemen. Ein Escalation Die wurde beständig während der Kämpfe hochgezählt und machte diese über Boni und Effekte spannender. Gerade, ungerade und besonders Würfe konnten Effekte und Spezialfertigkeiten triggern. Der verursachte Schaden und die Trefferpunkte skalierten über die gesamten zehn Stufen, über die man aufsteigen konnte. Jede Klasse war in Bezug auf ihre Mechaniken individuell gestaltet. Das Skillsystem war mit ein paar einfach zu verteilenden Punkten abgehakt, die Formulierung der eigentlichen Spezialisierung war hierbei sehr frei.

So innovativ 13th Age in mancher Hinsicht schien, wurde ich damit nicht warm. Die Charaktererstellung meiner Pregens dauerte sehr lang, weil ich viel Info auf den Bögen verdichten musste. Einfachen Skills und anderen das Spiel auflockernden Ideen standen haufenweise Spezial- und Klassenfertigkeiten gegenüber, und für jede Klasse war ein eigenes Einarbeiten vonnöten. Die Kämpfe aus dem Beispielabenteuer liefen eher mechanisch ab, auch die namensgebenden 13 Icons überzeugten mich nicht besonders.

Insgesamt war 13th Age für mich eine durchwachsene Erfahrung: Zu gut zum Einmotten, aber definitiv mit Macken. Aber beim 13th Age Bestiary hat dann letztlich die Neugier wieder obsiegt. Würden es die Autoren schaffen, eine innovative Monstersammlung hinzulegen? Was könnte man mit den Spielmechaniken in Bezug auf Monster anfangen?

Inhalt

Das Erste, was auffällt, ist, dass das Format der Monsterwerte gegenüber dem Grundregelwerk weiterentwickelt wurde. Die Unterschiede sind nicht groß; es fiel mir hauptsächlich deswegen auf, weil ich Details dort nachgeschlagen habe. Was mir hierbei wenig zusagte, war, dass die Beschreibungen reiner Monstereigenschaften wie der zugedachten Rolle eben nicht im Bestiary enthalten sind.

Diese Monster Role ist übrigens sehr hilfreich für den SL, sie fasst nämlich den typischen Verwendungszweck eines Monsters zusammen:
Archer sind Gegner mit Fernkampfangriffen
Blocker schützen andere Monster
Caster greifen über Sprüche in den Kampf ein
Leader verstärken die Fähigkeiten anderer Monster
Mooks sind Kanonenfutter und werden nur in großer Zahl gefährlich
Spoiler schwächen die SC mit Spezialeffekten
Troops sind Durchschnittsgegner
Wrecker sind Monster mit besonderer Durchschlagskraft

Es wird schon im Grundbuch beschrieben, wie man die Rollen sinnvoll mischt. Fernkämpfer und Zauberkundige sind kaum effektiv ohne Blocker, Mooks oder Troops, die sie decken. Genauso umgekehrt: Die Kobolde in der ersten Reihe mögen Kanonenfutter sein, aber die Hexe dahinter zieht einem das Fell über die Ohren. Wreckers können Kämpfe sehr schnell eskalieren, Spoilers sie in die Länge ziehen.

Die Mischung macht's, und das Regelwerk und dieses Buch zusammen geben einem viel Handreiche, um die Spieler taktisch zu fordern. Für jedes Monster werden noch einmal individuell Tipps für ansprechende Kämpfe gegeben. Eine umfangreiche Lister aller Monster aus beiden Büchern, geordnet nach Stufe, findet sich im Anhang. Dort werden auch die Rolle, die Größe, die Art des Monster (Humanoid, Untoter, Drache usw.) und die Seitennummer im jeweiligen Werk gelistet.

Abenteuerlich

Besonders gefällt mir, dass jedem Monster mehrere Abenteuerideen zugeordnet sind. Darunter sind sehr viele gute, und eine so große Ideensammlung ist Gold wert. Ich habe nicht nachgezählt, aber eine ähnliche Größenordnung wie die der Monstervarianten im Buch (200) könnte es schon sein. Ein paar Missgriffe sind auch dabei ... So glaube ich zum Beispiel kaum, dass eine Gruppe Bauern ein Monster der Stufe 5 für ein Rodeo fangen kann.

Generell gilt, dass die Autoren immer wieder mehrere Möglichkeiten anbieten, wie ein Monster in die eigene Kampagne passen kann. Es wurde darauf Wert gelegt, dass man die Story der Gesamtkampagne auf die Gruppe zuschneiden kann. Für jedes Monstrum wird auch dargeboten, wie es zu den 13 Icons passt, die die Welt im 13. Zeitalter maßgeblich beeinflussen. Hierbei fällt auf, dass den Systemschöpfern besonders viel zum Archmage und dem Lich King einfiel, andere Icons wie der Crusader oder der High Druid hingegen oft außen vor bleiben.

Über das Buch verteilt, tauchen zwar alle Icons auf, der Bezug zum Archmage ist aber fast immer gegeben. Da ist schon eine gewisse Unwucht drin, die die 13 Icons nicht als gleichwertig erscheinen lässt. Der Trend im Bestiary geht auch eher zu bösen Monstern, so dass ein Icon wie die Priestess wenig Bezug zu den Kreaturen zu haben scheint. Sie wird höchst selten und dann oft mit ablehnender Haltung erwähnt. Die Idee aus dem Grundbuch, ein Monster primär einem Icon zuzuordnen, wurde hingegen verworfen. Manche Bezüge zwischen Monstern und Icons wirken etwas an den Haaren herbeigezogen und zu gewollt.

Wie originell? Wie stark systembezogen?

Es sind 200 Varianten von 55 Monstern enthalten. Ich habe mal meine vier Bände des Pathfinder Bestiary dagegengehalten. Von den 55 Monstern finde ich im Inhaltsverzeichnis des ersten Bestiary 37 Äquivalente – fast alle mit identischen Namen, bei manchen kenne ich auch einfach das Äquivalent. Nehme ich alle vier Bestiary-Bände, verbleiben 10 Monster ohne direktes Äquivalent. Davon sind dann die Hälfte interessante Neuschöpfungen. Zum Vergleich: Paizo bewirbt das erste Pathfinder Bestiary mit über 350 enthaltenen Monstern, die Tome of Horrors hat über 400 Monster, Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities enthält grob 500 Monster auf ebensovielen Seiten.

[box]Der Kobold ist ein klassisches D&D-Monster, ein zweibeiniger, verweichlichter Abkömmling korrupter Drachen. Klassisches Kanonenfutter für Charaktere der Stufe 1. Im Regelwerk werden sie als Gegner der Stufen 1 und 2 präsentiert: Kobold Warrior, Kobold Archer und Kobold Hero. Das Bestiary erweitert die Vielfalt deutlich, hinzu kommen folgende nicht immer ernst zu nehmende Varianten:

Kobold Grand-Wizard: Ein Mook der Stufe 0, der genau einen Zauber kann
Kobold Skyclaw: Ein Mook der Stufe 2, der mit einem instabilen Raketenantrieb über dem Schlachtfeld kreuzt und alchemische Tränke herabwirft
Kobold Engineer: Ein Leader der Stufe 3, der Fallen legt und Bomben wirft
Kobold Dog-Rider: Ein Troop der Stufe 3, auf einem gepanzerten Hund mit feuriger Lanze
Kobold Bravescale: Ein Blocker der Stufe 4, der mit Mitstreitern eine Art Phalanx bildet
Kobold Dungeon-Shaman: Ein Caster der Stufe 4, der magische Fallen legt und mit einer Bärenfalle um sich schlägt
Kobold Shadow-Warrior: Ein Mook der Stufe 4, eine Art Chamäleon und Koboldninja
Kobold Dragon-Soul: Ein Troop der Stufe 5, der tatsächlich fliegt und Feuer speit

Nochmals: Die Kobolde aus dem Bestiary sind definitiv nicht ganz ernst gemeint, zeigen aber deutlich, wie viel Arbeit und kreative Energie in einzelne Einträge gesteckt wurde.[/box]

Eine eigene Monstersammlung braucht das System hingegen unbedingt. Wie bereits eingangs erwähnt, skalieren Trefferpunkte und Schaden auf jeder Stufe hoch. Damit steigt die Fähigkeit der Spielfiguren, auszuteilen und einzustecken, sehr schnell an. Im Beispielabenteuer aus dem Grundbuch erscheint als Gegner ein 120-Trefferpunkte-Drache. Ich hatte die Pregens bereits auf Stufe 2 erstellt, und die haben das gute Stück ohne Mühe filetiert.

Berücksichtigt man weitere Systemeigenheiten wie fixen Monsterschaden oder verschiedene Rüstungsklassen gegen normale, Berührungs- und mentale Angriffe, sind die eigentlichen Werte der Kreaturen kaum auf andere d20-Varianten übertragbar.

[box]Ein besonders schönes Beispiel bietet hier der Remorhaz, eine Art riesiger, feuerspeiender Tausendfüßler, der unter dem Eis lauert. Dieser durchwächst in seiner Entwicklung fünf Stufen, die separat mit Werten und Spezialfertigkeiten ausgestattet wurden. (Man beachte, dass das gewählte Format nicht dem eigentlichen Stat-Block des Spiels entspricht.)

Squib Swarm, Stufe 0 Mook, 5 HP, +5 Angriff, 3 Schaden.
Barbellite, Stufe 3 Troop, 36 HP, +11 Angriff, 7 Schaden.
Frost-Würm, Stufe 6 Troop (groß), 180 HP, +11 Angriff, 18 Schaden.
Adult, Stufe 8 Wrecker (groß), 280 HP, +16 Angriff, 50 Schaden, 20 Feuerschaden.
Queen, Stufe 11 Wrecker (groß), 580 HP, +17 Angriff, 80 Schaden, 40 Feuerschaden.

Man merkt, wie der Schaden, den Monster anrichten, mit den Trefferpunkten der Charaktere skaliert, ebenso die Trefferpunkte der Monster umgekehrt. Da die Rüstungsklasse der Charaktere hingegen nur durch höhere Attribute und bessere Ausrüstung wirklich wächst, steigen die Trefferboni der Monster hingegen langsamer.[/box]

Da das System nur darauf angelegt ist, über 10 Stufen Charakterentwicklung zu skalieren, ist auch die Monstersammlung an diese Rahmenbedingungen angepasst. Zusammen mit den Tabellen zum Generieren von passenden Kämpfen aus dem Grundbuch lässt sich schnell bestimmen, wie die Monster die Spieler fordern werden. Umgekehrt sind die Werteblöcke definitiv nur für 13th Age tauglich und können allerhöchstens als Inspiration für das Übertragen in andere D&D-ähnliche Systeme herhalten.

Preis-/Leistungsverhältnis

Legt man den Preis für das PDF zugrunde, liegt es unter 10 USD pro 100 Seiten, was definitiv meinen Preisvorstellungen entspricht. Mit 200 Monstervarianten kann man dem eigenen Spiel sicherlich einige Zeit Leben einhauchen.
Erscheinungsbild

Jedes Monster wartet mit mindestens einer Illustration auf, und das Artwork ist generell gelungen. Wenn ein Gegnertyp besonders viele Varianten hat, wie zum Beispiel das War Banner, dann können auch einige Seiten ohne Bilder folgen. Das Format der Einträge ist aber abwechslungsreich genug, so dass das nicht allzu negativ ins Gewicht fällt. Text und Schriftart finde ich generell angenehm zu lesen.

Die Präsentation der Monstereigenschaften und -werte ist definitiv sehr übersichtlich. Ich tue mich hierbei einfacher im Überblick als neulich beim Nachschlagen in einem Bestiary für Pathfinder. Ich habe den Druck leider nicht zur Hand, aber die farbigen Leisten oben an den Seiten könnten in der Papierausgabe auch das Nachschlagen erleichtern, so auch die gelungene Monsterliste mit Seitenangabe. Einen Index gibt es hingegen nicht.

Bonus/Downloadcontent

Wer sich mit 13th Age beschäftigen will, sollte sich generell mal die Downloads auf Pelgranes Seite hierzu ansehen. Man kann sich aber auch als Kostprobe den Eintrag über Orks herunterladen.
Fazit

Ich klammere einfach mal aus, dass 13th Age selbst mich nicht so wirklich überzeugt hat, und konzentriere mich darauf, wie gut das 13th Age Bestiary zum System passt.

Zum schnellen Nachschlagen eines Monsters inmitten einer Sitzung eignet sich die Sammlung eher weniger, da oft sehr viel beschreibender Text enthalten ist, der versucht, das Monster in die Welt von 13th Age einzuordnen. Werteblöcke und Zusatzfertigkeiten sind für alle Monster wohldurchdacht und sehr brauchbar. Wer sich in seiner eigenen Kampagne nicht allzu sehr um Treue zur vorgegebenen Settingwelt schert, hat sicher keine Probleme, schnell mal ein Monster aus dem Hut zu zaubern. Wer sich hingegen mit den system- und settingbezogenen Eigenheiten eines Monsters auseinandersetzen und konsistent bleiben will, braucht deutlich mehr Zeit.

Abenteuerideen und Bezüge zu den Icons helfen dem SL, aus der Monstersammlung Abenteuer zu generieren, die zu seinen Spielern passen. Da 13th Age bereits mit einer Struktur zum Generieren einer Settingwelt und vorgegebenen rivalisierenden Machtblöcken aufwartet, bietet dieses Buch auch viele Anregungen und Bausteine, um eine Kampagne zu gestalten.

Bekannte und weniger bekannte Monster sind gut gemischt, und Grundregelwerk und Monstersammlung zusammen decken die Bedürfnisse von d20-Spielern gut ab. Echte Fantasieklassiker wie das Rust Monster, die Chimera und der Basilisk sind genauso enthalten wie die deutlich mysteriöseren und originelleren Zorigami, eine Rasse basierend auf Zahnradtechnologie, die den Fortlauf jedes Zeitalters wiederspiegelt und die Zeit verzerrt.

Es verbleibt ein positiver Gesamteindruck über das gesamte Werk hinweg. Zwar ist die Auswahl an Monstervielfalt nicht gerade berauschend im Vergleich zum Gegnerreichtum von Bänden für andere Systeme, dafür wird jedes Monster mit Liebe zum Detail gehandhabt.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary
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13th Age Dragon Empire Map
by ted L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/15/2014 14:02:13
Really fantastic map and really high quality. Super large file size, but otherwise great! Gonna print it out in high quality and piece it together on the game room wall.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Dragon Empire Map
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Hillfolk
by Jean N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/15/2014 04:18:22
This is by far the best system I have ever played to build an interesting narrative fiction. When I first read it, it sounds too simple to be true and I was doubtful. Indeed, it is a work of genius, the abstract analysis of what really matters in a good fiction, and what hidden mechanisms lie beyond the flow of a good story. And it brings it into a game, full of suspens, twist, tense relationships, constant evolution. Exactly what makes you want to know more in a good tv serie. I am pretty sure it will spread around quickly.
To sum up, it is a very clever way of framing scene and relationships and stakes, that enables to build up a complex and rich background, while keeping roleplay very free-form. Most of the creation and narration power remains in the hand of the players, the GM having mainly a coordination role.
There is somewhere (on the publisher site) a free version of the rules themselves. Here I am focusing on the Drama System itself, the rules to simulate drama. Read them and be full of doubts first, as I did, thinking that it is too simple. They try them out. They you'll start to see the huge potential.
A system is not good for what it does but it is good for what it allows you to do.
It only requires very few simple ideas to make a very good system, but it takes a very sharp, abstract and creative mind to invent them.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hillfolk
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13th Age Bestiary
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/10/2014 07:01:48
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/10/tabletop-review-13th-ag-
e-bestiary/

It’s been a great year for tabletop antagonist collections. Troll Lord Games put out their new edition of Monsters & Treasure. Wizards of the Coast put out the extremely well received Monster Manual and so on. Lost in the shuffle however was Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age Bestiary, which sort of surprised me as the core manual was really well received by critics and gamers alike. Since its release, however, it’s been hard to find someone who is playing or talking about the game save for some hardcore pockets of fans on the internet. Take this very Bestiary I’m reviewing today. If you go to DriveThruRPG.com, there aren’t any reviews and even Amazon.com doesn’t have any for you. I noticed something similar at Free RPG Day when the 13th Age adventures were continually passed over for other offerings at the gaming stores I visited. Perhaps in both cases 13th Age products were just getting overshadowed by the other releases that came out around the same time. God knows it has taken me two months to review this due to my own gaming backlog and even now it was mainly because I felt sorry for the book. It’s too good of a release to be ignored.

If you’re unfamiliar with 13th Age, the best way to describe it is as, Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons done right.” Now I know there are some D&D 4e fans out there, even some that prefer it to the other editions of the game, but the majority of gamers really seem to loathe it. There are soon interesting ideas and good concepts, but it ended up being a system I enjoyed the sourcebooks for but really didn’t enjoy playing. 13th Age however takes a lot of the good parts of 4e like healing surges and an emphasis on background and combines it with some of the best parts of 3e D&D. It’s definitely worth picking up the core rulebook, but it is a pretty cost-prohibitive line where the PDFs are a lot more pricey than comparable products from other gaming systems and the physical books are only a tad bit more. If Pelgrane could reduce the electronic prices to something more in line with the rest of the industry, they might be able to rekindle some interest (or generate some new) from casual or less experienced gamers who think the industry is just D&D and Pathfinder.

So let’s talk the 13th Age Bestiary. Although the page count is similar to a lot of other (cheaper) monster collection, there are only about fifty monsters in the book. Now that may disappoint some of you when you read this as you were hoping for at least a hundred or more creatures to kill or throw at your players, but that’s all you get it. Accept it or don’t get it. What you get as a trade off if an exceptionally detailed look at each creature, along with three to eight variants of each monster, giving you a lot more options than you would normally see in a collection like this. The extreme amounts of background information fits the general idea of 13th Age wonderfully. After all, if players get bonuses for detailed background information, why not apply the same level of detail to the cannon fodder, mid-boss and recurring foes? The end result is something that reminds of the best Monstrous Compendiums from the AD&D 2e era, with great art and equal attention paid between stats and informative text about the ecology, personality and background of these creatures. It’s going to be personal opinion on whether quality or quantity is more important, but as a game that strongly prefers role-playing to roll-playing, I think the 13th Age Bestiary is a wonderful example of what makes the product line so popular with its core fanbase and also what would make it a fine fantasy alternative to those who are bored with the Big Two.

When you first look at the contents of the Bestiary, you might be a bit puzzled as to what made it in and what didn’t. For example you’ll see Black, Red and White dragons, but not Blue or Green. Why? Hey, it’s their book. Maybe they couldn’t think of enough Green and Blue variants. It’s also interesting to see what B-Lister (or lower) creatures were included and elevated in this collection. Redcaps, Mycanoid, Intellect Devourers, Sahuagin and the Chuul are given more love, respect and detail than I’ve ever seen. The Chuul has always held a special place in my heart so it was fantastic to see this recreation of the creature in terms of motivation, personality and worldview. It’s discussing these “lesser” creatures with the same care and attention to detail that the Drow, Tarrasque and Ghouls get. The game even pays attention to the dog vs dragon Kobold argument that has been going on since Wizards took over the D&D line from TSR. I love the little things like this.

There are also some new creatures that the game can call its own (unless I’ve somehow missed these are d20/OGL releases somewhere else). You have something like the Warbanner, which is a living magical flag. It almost feels like an homage to Warhammer. You have the Whispering Prophet which appears to be a demon who tempts the desperate. There are Wibbles which seem like a version of Ioun Stones that someone came up with after a few too many hits of LSD. So on and so forth. There are some really neat new original creatures here which shows that 13th Age is NOT just another game expecting the OGL to do all the work for them.

So what’s bad about the 13th Age Bestiary, Well, we have already covered that it’s a bit overpriced for what you get and there are far less creatures in this collection than in ones for other comparable games. It’s also perhaps worth noting that the narrative style might put off a good portion of gamers, especially those who prefer older OSR style games. While I think the writing is witty, intelligent and fun, even I can’t deny there is a level of pomposity and arrogance to it which will leave a bad taste in the mouth of some gamers. The writers definitely comes off saying, “Our game is best. We know fun. You don’t. If you have a different opinion, you are WRONG.” I don’t think this is intentional, but I also know I’m not the only person who has flipped through this and come away saying, “Wow, did an editor not warn them how bad the tone of this piece can be?” Take for example the Rust Monster article. It starts off by badmouthing the DM vs Players attitude of some of the oldest versions of RPGs. Which I agree with, but that’s not really something to do in a Monster Manual type book. That’s for blogs and editorials. Then it says things like, “The shoutback is an angry curse against an irritating monster that threatens fun.” No, no monster does that. That’s bad writing and BAD thinking. A monster, an adventure and even a game is only as good as the DM running it. You would think authors who gave such depth to the Bullette would know that. It’s a bad DM that threatens fun. A good DM can make any monster work and certainly not as “just” a punishment tool. It gets worse with phrasing like, “We’re not sure if the rust monster is particularly fun but we can see that it has a place in some campaigns, or perhaps only in some sessions.” That is a terrible attitude to take. “SOME Campaigns” reads like “THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE.” Which is a massive faux pas. Things like “Rust monsters are such a hateful element of the fantastic ecology” that you have to wonder why they included the creature in the Bestiary at all, save to run down gamers who like to play a different style of game. I don’t honestly believe that the authors of the 13th Age Bestiary are that elitist or arrogant, but OSR fans are already going to be on the defensive after that paragraph denouncing the Gygaxian way of gaming and that is just coming to come across as “We took your money but we don’t want you to play our game. Screw you.” That’s how bad word of mouth spreads. Although I like 13th Age, things like this make me not want to play the game even though I agree somewhat with the intended meaning of the poorly phrased soapbox rant. The whole thing comes across as tacky and classless. A better editor or publisher could have prevented this from going out with such an unfortunate tone. Alas.

Overall, the 13th Age Bestiary is a fun but flawed piece. It’s a bit lacking in creatures, is certainly overpriced and the authors have the occasional attitude problem, but each entry is exceptionally in-depth, well written and it’s a fantastic addition to a one of the best new lines from 2013. It’s certainly a must have if you’re already a fan of the line, but at the same time, you will need the core rulebook or the entire Bestiary will come off like gobblygook with mechanics and writing that assumes you already know everything about the setting and world. My advice is to hold off on the 13th Age Bestiary until you’ve purchased the core rulebook and/or played a few games in the system. If you like what you see, then yes, you’re going to want to run right out and purchase this. It’s very well done. It’s not perfect, but it’s very well done.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary
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See Page XX, Vol 1: The First 24 Columns
by Abel V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/02/2014 12:27:30
When I first read Laws' essays years ago, I resisted many of his conclusions. He seemed to be framing a lot of the principles behind RPG game mechanics as the result of widespread pathologies within gamers themselves. This felt judgmental and mean-spirited, to say the least. As I write this in early October 2014, "Gamergate" is raging in all it's overwrought, tawdry, misogynistic glory. Rereading this now, it's hard to escape the conclusion that he was correct.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
See Page XX, Vol 1: The First 24 Columns
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13th Age System Reference Document
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/06/2014 23:54:47
13th Age is the edition of Dungeons & Dragons that I've always wanted. Created by Jonathan Tweet and and Rob Heinsoo, the lead developers of D&D 3E and 4E, this is their "love letter" to D&D. It's an innovative mix of d20-based mechanics and story-focused role-playing. The System Resource Document (SRD) contains the basic rules for 13th Age, valuable to GMs and players, alike. While I would highly recommend investing in the core book, the SRD is a wonderful introduction to the system. Here are some of the highlights:

The Escalation Die: This is a simple but powerful tool to speed up combat. Gone are the 90-minute encounters of 4E, and that is greatly thanks to the Escalation Die -- a d6 that comes into play in the second round of combat, and is escalated each round. The PCs and certain powerful monsters add the value of the Escalation Die to their attack rolls over the course of a battle. This helps introduces a tactical choice between the "alpha strike" or waiting for increased accuracy. It's also a mechanic that several other spells, talents, and monster abilities are hung on.

No gridded combat: 13th Age abstracts distances to "engaged," "nearby," and "far away." While a map and minis/tokens or at least some M&Ms representing monsters and PCs on the table are helpful in communicating basic whereabouts, they're not required. Area effects will target 1d4 enemies in a group, for example. That will work whether using miniatures or more abstract combat. And it speeds things up. When the GM and players stop counting out squares, things move faster.

Backgrounds replace the skill list: Rather than an exhaustive list of skills, all skill checks are ability checks, where the players may suggest where their PC's background would provide a bonus. Let's say your ranger has a background of "Raised in a lumber camp in the Bitterwood," she could suggest to the GM that this background should grant her a bonus to a wisdom check in tracking enemies through a forest. But it could also apply to intelligence checks about local herbs when the party is in the Bitterwood. It could even apply to a charisma check to shake the morale of the goblin tribe in Bitterwood that she's encountered before. Thus, it becomes a very flexible tool, while generating wonderful hooks for the GM ("you say you've encountered these goblins before, eh?").

Characters feature One Unique Thing: What is your elevator pitch for your character? Is he a mechanical construct that was transformed into a human by powerful fae magics? What does this say about the world that the character is in? Apparently there are mechanical constructs. Will there be elements of steampunk, perhaps? And there are powerful fae magics, too. Now we know a couple of things that this player likes in his fantasy world, which will help the GM keep the player engaged. Furthermore, it makes the character interesting -- worthy of being a major character in a heroic tale.

Characters are immediately part of the world, thanks to their relationship with the world's Icons: Icons are the "movers and shakers" of the world. By tying beneficial mechanics to the PCs' relationships with these Icons and their organizations, the characters start their adventures with a reason to go on quests, to interact with NPCs, and to hate certain monsters and those monsters' powerful masters. GMs won't feel tempted to have the players meet a mysterious stranger in a tavern (unless they really love that old fantasy trope).

Monster/NPC stats don't require referring back to a spell list: Unlike 3E/5E, monsters and NPCs include their spell descriptions as part of their write-ups. This may seem like a small thing, but if you don't have a bookmarked electronic file or a handy print-out of the spell list, it's a big time-saver.

Monsters are easy to build: The math behind monsters is transparent. A GM can quickly whip up a monster in a matter of minutes.

Classes play differently: One of the big complaints about 4E was that the classes felt too similar. This is clearly not a problem with 13th Age. Classes depend on different mechanics and vary in their complexity.

Magic is rare, and magic items have personalities: There are no assumptions about characters amassing a certain amount of treasure and magic items per level. Magic is rare and special, and magic items are more like artifacts in 4E than like 3E/4E magic items. If a PC possesses too many magic items, her personality will be overwhelmed by the personalities of her magic items!

A wonderful community of players and GMs: The Google+ community for 13th Age is second to none. There is no edition warring. People are genuinely helpful toward one another, pointing out where fan-made resources can be found, helping clarify rules, answering questions, etc. This isn't something that I typically see mentioned in a review of an RPG, but it's been such a positive experience that I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age System Reference Document
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The Complete Eternal Lies Suite
by Michael H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/29/2014 12:59:53
The music on this album is a perfect companion to the ToC campaign of the same name: it's evocative and inspiring, creating a soundtrack for the campaign while still remaining unobtrusive enough to actually be useful. While it's designed specifically for the Eternal Lies campaign, the music would be just as useful for any horror or investigative game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Complete Eternal Lies Suite
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13th Age Core Book
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/04/2014 02:53:49
WHAT WORKS: No cumbersome skill system, no Prestige Classes, no pre-planning your character from level 1. Monsters stat blocks are short, sweet, flavorful and easy to customize. The magic item system is one of my favorites I've ever read, and many of the Icons are very, very interesting. The broad strokes setting is very handy, providing ample detail to help you along, but giving you room to customize as desired. The rules are deliberately designed for free-wheeling, on the fly gameplay, with even combat modifiers left to the GM's discretion.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The art is generally very good, but the bestiary is largely full of symbols and silhouettes, which detract from the flavor.

CONCLUSION: I stopped running Dungeons & Dragons a long, long time ago, and some D&D fans would tell you I ran it wrong all along. I didn't want to run games about killing monsters and taking their stuff, I wanted to run games about fantasy heroes with great destinies who did amazing things and thwarted evil. I tried to emulate the D&D of fiction in my games and found it fell short (in AD&D2e) or found it to be too cumbersome (in 3/.5). 13th Age, from reading, sure seems like it's scratching the itch I wanted out of D&D but never found, and I feel strongly enough about it that I signed up for the Organized Play program (which has some fantastic adventure support). It definitely feels like the designers wrote the game I was trying to run 20 years ago, and I dearly look forward to bringing it to my table (virtual or otherwise) and seeing if it truly scratches that heroic fantasy itch.

For my full review, please visit http://mostunreadblogever.blogspot.com/2014/07/tommys-take-o-
n-13th-age.html

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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13th Age System Reference Document
by Michael H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/03/2014 17:49:14
Following the example of many other successful models (which the creators of this game had a hand in as well), The 13th Age SRD is a smart business move and a valuable tool at the game table as well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age System Reference Document
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Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies interactive campaign map
by J. M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/29/2014 17:19:57
Now that the file has finally become useful (after weeks of wasteful weaseling), I must admit it’s pretty good. It should give the players a sense of space and time during the campaign, and it adds greatly to the period atmosphere.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies interactive campaign map
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13th Age Dragon Empire Map
by Sh0ck W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2014 19:12:22
Overall, excellent. A high quality map with lots of detail. The file size is huge, however this means your given an 'uncut' original, which you can see in the quality of the images and rendering when you zoom in. You can always render this down or use the good ole Snipping tool to make smaller files or tighter, zoomed in versions as well. The fact it lets you do this is great as it expands it's usefulness as it can be used for any home brew or purchased game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Dragon Empire Map
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Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies interactive campaign map
by Tristan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/06/2014 09:04:02
A truly excellent addition to the Eternal Lies campaign, which does not deserve the downvotes it has received. It clearly stated the existence and nature of the password protection on the product page.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Eternal Lies interactive campaign map
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13th Age Core Book
by Phil F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2014 03:54:21
Your appreciation of 13th Age is very likely to be driven by your RPG history - straight up the game recommends itself to experienced GMs (although as you would expect the players don't need to be), and you can see why. The rules are explained with the underlying assumption that the reader has already played some variant of d20 so core concepts such as hit rolls, DC checks etc. are not explained. This actually makes for a more relaxing read as you don't find yourself skipping the paragraphs to pick out the interesting bits.

The under pinning of the game is to provide a combat-oriented, high-magic game in the mould of 'old school' FRPG but with a covering of story driven mechanics. If you are a d20 purist who wants to see whether story driven games are worth the effort then this would be a good introduction. For me the real market for this game is for groups who like story driven games who want a nostalgic blast through some dungeons without having to grind through books of rules and tediously drawn out fights.

Overall this comes across as a game to be played purely for heroic, OTT fun. There will be opportunities for pathos and 'serious' story telling but there will be more strangeness, cinematic heroics and unlikely coincidences. If that sounds like a betrayal of your preferred game (d20 or story based) then this won't work for you. If it sounds like the change of pace you've been looking for then, like me, you will love this game

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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Night's Black Agents
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:33:51
Protagonists cut off from the real world. Men and women forced into violence to survive. Agents of powers that skulk in shadow. Are they spies or vampires? Both types of characters share a startling amount of similarities. The two genres seem tailor made for each other. Ken Hite brings them together in his newest RPG, Night’s Black Agents. But be aware, it’s not vampire spies. It’s spies vs. vampires.While playing vampires in RPGs has been extremely popular over the past 20 years or so, this one is about putting stakes in hearts and walking away while the bloodsucker burns in the sun.

The PDF is full color and laid out in a very modern style. The game includes several sidebar callouts explaining why certain rules work certain ways as well as giving examples of what happened during playtesting. The tone is intelligent yet conversational. The game is not afraid to cite influences in the text. The books ends with a discussion of sources that range from the literary to the cinematic to other games that inspired the design beyond the GUMSHOE rules. Popping in some of the DVDs recommended is a great way for players to be inspired for their characters.

The game casts the PCs as Jason Bourne style spies who stumble upon a vampire conspiracy. The PCs are expected to punch their way up the latter to the dread undead lords who rule and bring them down. It uses the investigative GUMSHOE rules set but mixes in much more options for action scenes. It also offers several rules tweaks to get the espionage feel the group wants. The spy genre is a broad definition but the game offers rules for groups that want a James Bond, Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne feel.

The game also offers a wide toolbox on how to build the campaign’s vampires. Vampires are also a very broad category. Part of the investigative element of GUMSHOE works well in figuring out which bits of folklore are true and which bits are false. Vampire games require a set of rules for the bad guys to work under and the campaign does a great job examining the pros and cons of powers and limits. The game also offers help in building up a vampire conspiracy that goes from street level thugs, through multinational corporations all the way up to the vampire lord’s crypt. There are example conspiracies in the book that act as excellent jump offs or quick adversaries in addition to fully playable bad guys on their own.

By comparison, the spy side of things comes off less useful. It’s a daunting thing to wade into the mass of agencies, private contractors and shady individuals and pare it down to something that fits in the core book. Most of the information can be had in a few minutes on Wikipedia. The book’s default setting of the european intelligence underground makes things exotic. It also means the GM should look to do a bit of legwork if they want plots grounded in the real world. Some games won’t care about the difference between the Russian Mafia and the Italian Mafia, but those that do will want to prep with some outside sources. This side of the book is merely good, not great.

The art also is an area of relative weakness. Pelgrane has a history of putting out gorgeous books and Night’s Black Agents has a fantastic layout and several art pieces that fit the mood perfectly. But the art is inconsistent, especially when it comes to depictions of the monsters the agents find themselves battling. Pelgrane’s no slouch in the monster department. There are several pieces in the Trail of Cthulhu line that are perfect, brooding and unsettling. The monster pieces here are too often brightly lit when they should be swallowed by shadow. The art featuring agents and their methods fares much better.
Every version of the GUMSHOE rules improves on the last and Night’s Black Agents is no exception. The thriller rules turn one of the weaknesses of the system into a strength. Short combats and quick, brutal outcomes are a staple of spy thrillers. But now the agents have many more options ranging from spends that allow them to go whenever they want to stunts that refresh pools if the player takes the time to talk up how awesome a gadget is. The skill list is flavorful and adds bonuses for each general skill hitting a certain level instead of a select few. GUMSHOE is proving to be a surprisingly robust platform for different versions of the game. Each version is similar enough for people to grasp the basics but the genre modifications work splendidly. There’s even a section that talks about using other games for modifications, like running spies vs. Cthulhu or adapting the powers from Mutant City Blues for actual super spies.

Bottom Line: Night’s Black Agents could easily be played as a straight up spy game. The vampires are delicious, blood red frosting on the cake.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
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