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Night's Black Agents
by Roger L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/14/2014 02:50:42

http://www.teilzeithelden.de/2014/02/14/re-
zension-nights-black-agents/


Im Sep­tem­ber 2013 über­raschte mich Pel­grane Press damit, dass sie Night’s Black Agents (NBA) in das damals aktu­elle Bundle of Hol­ding pack­ten. Die ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titel Ashen Stars (2011), Fear Its­elf (2007) und Mutant City Blues (2009) hat­ten ja bereits ein wenig Staub ange­setzt, aber NBA (2012) ist wesent­lich neuer und gerade wurde mit Dou­ble Tap ein Erwei­te­rungs­band herausgebracht.


Nach einer Online-Hangout-Runde Eso­ter­ro­rists als Spie­ler, war bei mir die Lust auf Gums­hoe wie­der geweckt und ich habe mir NBA mal genauer angesehen.


Die Spiel­welt


NBA sie­delt seine Aben­teuer im moder­nen Europa an, das häu­fig als Kulisse rasan­ter Spionage-Thriller taugt. Der Twist der Spiel­welt ist dabei, dass Vam­pire exis­tie­ren. Als Ver­schwö­rung wir­ken sie im Hin­ter­grund, und agie­ren z.B. durch das orga­ni­sierte Ver­bre­chen oder auch die Geheimdienste.


Um das Spiel inter­es­sant zu hal­ten, wird nicht genau vor­ge­ge­ben, was Vam­pire sind oder wel­che Fähig­kei­ten und Schwä­chen sie haben. Das müs­sen die Spie­ler in ihrer Kam­pa­gne selbst her­aus­fin­den. Es gibt einen umfang­rei­chen Bau­satz für Ursprünge des Vam­pi­ris­mus sowie ein varia­bles Sys­tem ver­schie­de­ner beson­de­rer Fähig­kei­ten. Vam­pire kön­nen magisch, außer­ir­disch oder auch Mutan­ten sein, mehr der Folk­lore Ost­eu­ro­pas oder den Geschich­ten aus Hor­ror­ro­ma­nen ent­spre­chen. Genauso wenig ist zum Beginn einer Kam­pa­gne klar, ob Vam­pi­ris­mus über­tra­gen wer­den kann.


Da die Spie­ler vor­ma­lige Geheim­dienst­ler sind, braucht es auch etwas Hin­ter­grund. Hite gibt einen Über­blick über die wich­tigs­ten Poli­zei– und Geheim­dienst­or­ga­ni­sa­tion sowie Fak­ten über Ver­bre­cher­syn­di­kate. Es wird dar­ge­legt, wie man selbst eine Stadt zum Spie­len vor­be­rei­tet und ihr Leben ein­haucht. Zusam­men mit einer Samm­lung vor­be­rei­te­ter Geg­ner hat man einen Bau­satz, aus dem man ver­schie­dene Kam­pa­gnen schus­tern kann.


Die Regeln


Hier sei auch auf meine Rezen­sion zu Trail of Cthulhu ver­wie­sen, denn die Regel­ba­sis von Gums­hoe besteht auch in NBA fort. Auf Ermitt­ler­fä­hig­kei­ten wer­den keine Pro­ben abge­legt. Pro­ben auf andere Skills wer­den mit dem W6 abge­legt und man darf Pool­punkte aus­ge­ben, um sich diese zu erleichtern.


NBA erwei­tert diese Mecha­nik gezielt in zwei Berei­chen, die für das Genre bedeut­sam sind: Kämpfe und Verfolgungsjagden.


Bei Kämp­fen bleibt die Basis­me­cha­nik erhal­ten: Es wird run­den­weise agiert, es wer­den Angriffs­würfe gemacht, Scha­den ermit­telt. Zu die­sem Pro­ze­dere kommt aber noch etwas hinzu:


Man kann gezielt durch das Aus­ge­ben wei­te­rer Pool­punkte und das Ver­wen­den von Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten (Cher­ries genannt, s.u.) bestimmte Manö­ver wie z.B. Extra-Attacken frei­schal­ten. Cha­rak­tere mit hohen Pool­wer­ten im zwei­stel­li­gen Bereich kön­nen so im Kampf deut­lich mehr Feu­er­werk ver­an­stal­ten als andere, ins­be­son­dere auch als Cha­rak­tere in ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titeln. Einige Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten erlau­ben die Wie­der­auf­fri­schung von Pools.


War in ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titeln Kampf eher eine Würf­le­rei ohne viele Optio­nen, so hat man in NBA mehr Mög­lich­kei­ten, die durch die Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten befeu­ert wer­den. Fin­ten, kri­ti­sche Tref­fer, gezielte Schüsse, Auto­feuer und Flä­chen­be­schuss erwei­tern das Arse­nal. Man kann auch gezielt einen schwa­chen Geg­ner an sich rei­ßen und als Deckung auf engem Raum benut­zen (Mook Shield). Ver­schie­dene Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten wie Kampf­sport, Scharf­schütze oder Zusatz­trai­ning an einer Waffe fri­schen z.B. die Pool­punkte auf, erhö­hen die Reich­weite oder den Schaden.


Diese Thril­ler Com­bat Rules sind als Paket optio­nal, aber Weg­las­sen ist mei­ner Mei­nung nach keine ernst­zu­neh­mende Option. Es ist mög­lich, einen hoch­ge­züch­te­ten Spe­zi­al­agen­ten drei Atta­cken am Anfang der ers­ten Kampf­runde aus­füh­ren zu las­sen. Dies bil­det das bei­nahe Über­mensch­li­che des Agen­ten­gen­res gut ab. Den Spie­lern wird noch viel mehr Ent­schei­dungs­raum gebo­ten, wie viel von ihrer Befä­hi­gung sie wann im Spiel ein­brin­gen wol­len. NBA dürfte daher wohl bei Wei­tem die span­nends­ten Kämpfe aller Gums­hoe–Rol­len­spiele haben.


Eine große Schwä­che des Gums­hoe–Rol­len­spiels bleibt aber auch erhal­ten: Eigent­lich sol­len die Pools garan­tie­ren, dass kein Spie­ler das Spot­light an sich reißt. Aber in der Pra­xis kann es sein, dass die Aktio­nen trotz aus­ge­ge­be­ner Pool­punkte nicht zün­den. Ein Cha­rak­ter ohne Pool­punkte kann je nach Schwie­rig­keits­grad der Begeg­nung even­tu­ell schon gar nicht mehr tref­fen, selbst wenn er noch unver­letzt ist. Er hat dann sein „Story-Pulver“ schon ver­schos­sen, ohne dass es eine Erklä­rung dafür gibt, die sich naht­los in die Spiel­welt fügt. Warum hat der geübte Pis­to­len­schütze plötz­lich keine Chance mehr, das­selbe Ziel zu tref­fen? Frü­her oder spä­ter ras­selt man mit Gums­hoe in einen sol­chen Logik­bruch hinein.


Nix wie hinterher


Ein ande­res Ele­ment, das in Action­fil­men eine beson­dere Rolle spielt, ist die Ver­fol­gungs­jagd – zu Fuß, per Auto, viel­leicht sogar mit einem Schnell­boot. Auch hier wur­den die Stan­dard­re­geln für Ver­fol­gung auf­ge­bohrt. Nor­ma­ler­weise wird bei Gums­hoe solange gegen­ein­an­der gewür­felt, bis einer sei­nen Wurf ver­sem­melt, was bedeu­tet: die erste Sache, die schief­geht, ent­schei­det die wilde Jagd.


Bei NBA hin­ge­gen ver­rin­gert oder erhöht das nur einen nume­ri­schen Abstand, Lead genannt. Wird die­ser zu hoch, kann sich der Ver­folgte abset­zen. Sinkt er tief genug, kann der Ver­fol­ger auf­schlie­ßen. Hier­bei wird berück­sich­tigt, wie hoch Erfolge oder Miss­er­folge waren, und wie weit das Ergeb­nis auseinanderliegt.


Auch hier kom­men die Cher­ries wie­der ins Spiel, und kön­nen z.B. hel­fen, die der Ver­fol­gung zugrunde lie­gende Fähig­keit wie­der­auf­zu­fri­schen. Oder einen schnel­len Schuss durch den Ver­fol­ger zu erlau­ben. Aber am bes­ten gefällt mir, dass man auch inves­ti­ga­tive Fähig­kei­ten ein­brin­gen kann:


Agent A ver­folgt einen Ghoul zu Fuß durch die Kata­kom­ben von Paris. Agent B ist mit ihm per Funk ver­bun­den und gibt einen Punkt Archi­tek­tur aus. Er benutzt sein beson­de­res Wis­sen über den Pari­ser Unter­grund, um den Agent A zu ermög­li­chen, dem Ghoul den Weg abzuschneiden.
Agent C wird in einem Auto von einer Gruppe Gangs­ter ver­folgt. Agent D hatte sich bereits zuvor in den Poli­zei­funk ein­ge­hackt und gibt jetzt einen Punkt Poli­zei­jar­gon aus, um Strei­fen­wa­gen auf den Ver­fol­ger zu hetzen.


Ich finde, dadurch wird der nar­ra­tive Aspekt wun­der­bar in die Mecha­ni­ken des Sys­tems ein­ge­bun­den. Cha­rak­tere kön­nen auf ver­schie­denste Weise in das Gesche­hen ein­grei­fen, wie halt auch im Film. Funk­ver­bin­dung wird vom Sys­tem vor­aus­ge­setzt und ermög­licht das Koor­di­nie­ren von Akti­vi­tä­ten an ver­schie­de­nen Orten sowie die erwähn­ten Ein­griffe. Mich erin­nern die Mög­lich­kei­ten am ehes­ten an Filme wie Snea­kers, Ocean’s 13 oder Ronin, weil das Team der Star ist.


Netz­wer­ken und Tarnidentitäten


Zwei Fähig­kei­ten neh­men eine Son­der­stel­lung ein: Cover und Net­work. Es wird ange­nom­men, dass sich die Agen­ten Tar­niden­ti­tä­ten ange­eig­net haben, um ihrer Tätig­keit nach­zu­ge­hen. Gibt man aus einem Cover–Pool Punkte aus, kann man diese einer Iden­ti­tät zuwei­sen. Diese wer­den bei allen Wür­fen ein­ge­setzt, bei denen diese Iden­ti­tät ins Spiel kommt. Ist der Pool einer Iden­ti­tät leer, so ist diese auf­ge­flo­gen und nutzlos.


Genauso erschafft man Kon­takte aus dem eige­nen Netz­werk. Man gibt Punkte aus und inves­tiert diese in einen Infor­man­ten oder jemand, dem noch an einer alten Wir­kungs­stätte kennt. Auch hier kann der Pool ein­ge­setzt wer­den, um indi­vi­du­elle Würfe zu erleich­tern, z.B. wenn man Infos von einem Kol­le­gen vom MI5 braucht. Oder wenn einem ein Mafioso noch einen Gefal­len schul­det. Sind die Punkte in einem sol­chen Pool auf­ge­braucht, kann man den Kon­takt nicht mehr aktivieren.


Um das Spiel nicht zu kom­pli­ziert zu gestal­ten, bedient sich der Autor bei Lever­age und arbei­tet mit Rück­blen­den. Rück­blen­den ermög­li­chen es, Fak­ten durch Aus­ge­ben von Punk­ten in die Story hin­ein zu erzäh­len. Man muss nicht vor­her ange­ben, wel­che Kum­pels man beim KGB hat. Man zieht die­ses Kar­ni­ckel inmit­ten des Story-Verlaufs aus dem Ärmel und gibt dann die Punkte aus. Das ermög­licht es auch, mit­ten in der Hand­lung so zu tun, als hätte man umfang­reich geplant und fast alles bedacht, ohne vor­her lang­wie­rige Pla­nun­gen aus­spie­len zu müssen.


Im Bezug aufs Kam­pa­gnen­spiel gilt, dass Cover und Net­work sich nicht wie­der auf­fri­schen. Gibt man Punkte dort aus, kann man sie nur durch den Ein­satz von Erfah­rungs­punk­ten zurückgewinnen.


Cha­rak­ter­er­schaf­fung


Es ist einem auch bei NBA unbe­nom­men, die Kauf­punkte aus­zu­ge­ben, wie man will. Man kann aber auch Hin­ter­gründe wäh­len. Ein Hin­ter­grund ist ein Paket von inves­ti­ga­ti­ven und all­ge­mei­nen Skills. Diese Pakete sind aber nicht bil­li­ger. Sie beschleu­ni­gen nur den Pro­zess. Wäh­rend diese Cha­rakt­er­hin­ter­gründe nicht bin­dend sind, ver­mit­teln sie ganz gut Arche­ty­pen aus sol­chen Thril­ler­ge­schich­ten wie Geld­ku­riere, Flucht­wa­gen­fah­rer oder Hacker.


Erreicht man in einer all­ge­mei­nen Fer­tig­keit einen Wert von 8 oder höher, wer­den Bonu­s­ef­fekte frei­ge­schal­tet, Cher­ries genannt. Hat man 8 Punkte in Digi­tal Intru­sion, erhält man einen Gra­tis­punkt in Kryp­to­gra­phie. 8 Punkte in Ath­le­tik ermög­li­chen z.B. die Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­keit Park­our, die bei Ver­fol­gungs­jag­den zu Fuß sehr nütz­lich sein kann. Durch die Cher­ries wird auch aus­ge­drückt, worin sich beson­ders inten­si­ves Trai­ning von nor­ma­lem Kön­nen unter­schei­det. Cher­ries unter­stüt­zen die film­rei­fen Aktio­nen, die wir von den Prot­ago­nis­ten von Action-Thrillern erwar­ten. Man wählt auch einen MOS, eine Fähig­keit, die ein­ma­lig garan­tiert gelin­gen wird.


Jede Figur hat auch einen Drive, also eine ihr Han­deln bestim­mende Moti­va­tion, und drei Dinge, die dem Cha­rak­ter etwas bedeu­ten: Sym­bol, Solace und Safety. Sym­bol ist etwas Abs­trak­tes, ein Gegen­stand, irgend­et­was, das der Figur viel bedeu­tet, ob es nun Aus­druck von Reli­gion, des per­sön­li­chen Wer­de­gangs oder der eige­nen Werte ist. Solace ist eine Per­son, der man bedin­gungs­los ver­traut. Safety ist der per­sön­li­che Zufluchts­ort. Wer­den einem diese Dinge genom­men, oder sind sie bedroht, kann das unan­ge­nehme Aus­wir­kun­gen auf die innere Sta­bi­li­tät im Spiel haben.


Spiel­bar­keit aus Spielleitersicht


Auf den SL kommt zuerst die Ent­schei­dung zu, ob er eine der vor­ge­schla­ge­nen Vari­an­ten für seine Kam­pa­gne her­nimmt: Burn, Dust, Mir­ror oder Sta­kes. Burn führt zu schnel­le­rem psy­cho­lo­gi­schem Ver­fall, auch Töten ist hier keine Sache, die man mal so im Vor­bei­ge­hen macht. Dust kürzt fast alle neuen Thriller-Elemente aus dem Spiel, die Agen­ten wer­den auf eine Art Nor­mal­maß her­un­ter­ge­stutzt und müs­sen vor­sich­ti­ger agie­ren. Mir­ror bedeu­tet, dass Kon­takte unzu­ver­läs­sig sind und Ver­rat fast erwart­bar ist. Sta­kes legt Wert auf eine Moti­va­tion und ein höhe­res Ziel der Cha­rak­tere. Vom post­mo­der­nen „Jeder für sich selbst“ bis zum „Für mein Vater­land, egal was es kos­tet“ ist hier alles dabei, und ver­schie­dene Modi ver­lan­gen ver­schie­dene Spielweisen.


Gene­rell fällt an NBA posi­tiv auf, wie wenig es ver­sucht, nur eine bestimmte Geschichte zu erzäh­len. Viel­mehr ist es ein Bau­kas­ten, um ganz ver­schie­dene Ele­mente, Moti­va­tio­nen, Hin­ter­gründe und Sto­ries aus­zu­pro­bie­ren. Ob es nun um die Schwä­chen der Vam­pire oder die Motive der Spie­ler geht, alles lässt sich vari­ie­ren und damit lohnt es sich auch, mehr als eine NBA–Kam­pa­gne zu spie­len. Man merkt dem Buch auch die Recherche-Leistung sei­nes Autors an.


Das bedeu­tet auch, dass jede Kam­pa­gne etwas Vor­ar­beit erfor­dert. Wie funk­tio­niert Vam­pi­ris­mus? Was steckt dahin­ter? Hier wer­den die Hin­ter­gründe Superna­tu­ral, Dam­ned, Alien und Mutant ange­bo­ten. Wie weit reicht die Ver­schwö­rung im Hin­ter­grund? Wie lange besteht sie schon? Ste­hen über­na­tür­li­che Mit­tel zur Ver­fü­gung? Wer arbei­tet mit wem? Und natür­lich: Was ist das End­ziel der Vampire?


Die Über­sicht im Kam­pa­gnen­spiel behält man durch das Anfer­ti­gen einer Cons­py­ra­mid – ein Dia­gramm, an des­sen Spitze die Ober­vam­pire ste­hen und unten das Fuss­volk. Die Spie­ler wer­den sich im Laufe der Kam­pa­gne durch diese Pyra­mide hin­durch­ar­bei­ten und sie erleich­tert es dem SL, kurz­fris­tig Hin­weise zu gene­rie­ren und zu streuen, wenn die Spie­ler die Ermitt­lungs­rich­tung wechseln.


Durch die Hin­weise zum Gestal­ten eines Thril­lers lernt man, Action– und Ermitt­lungs­sze­nen sich abwech­seln zu las­sen, wodurch die Ermitt­lung auch nicht das Spiel domi­niert. Wen man nicht genug Infos hat, müs­sen die Agen­ten wie­der ins Feld. Dadurch hat es man in NBA viel leich­ter, eine Kam­pa­gne selbst zu gestal­ten, anstatt müh­sam ein Gesamt­kunst­werk wie bei Trail of Cthulhu stri­cken zu müs­sen. Es geht auch Spie­lern leich­ter von der Hand, die nicht so detek­ti­visch vor­ge­hen, wie das andere Gums­hoe–Spiele wol­len.


Spiel­bar­keit aus Spielersicht


Für den Spie­ler gestal­tet es sich NBA rela­tiv ein­fach. In den ver­schie­de­nen Szen­en­ty­pen kann der Umgang mit den zwei Arten von Skills ein­ge­übt wer­den. In einer Thril­ler Chase kann man gezielt zusätz­li­che Regeln ein­füh­ren. Die Thril­ler Com­bat Rules las­sen sich eine nach der ande­ren in den weni­ger wich­ti­gen Kämp­fen mit klei­nen Scher­gen ein­füh­ren, um es dann spä­ter im Kampf mit den Vam­pi­ren rich­tig kra­chen zu las­sen. Durch die anstei­gende Span­nungs­kurve lässt sich die­ses gra­du­elle Ein­füh­ren von Rege­l­ele­men­ten gut rechtfertigen.


Auch die Rück­blen­den ermög­li­chen den schnel­len Ein­stieg ins Spiel. Weil man nicht alle erlern­ten Spra­chen, Kon­takte und Tar­niden­ti­tä­ten zu Beginn fest­le­gen muss, kann man sei­nen Cha­rak­ter gezielt im Spiel wei­ter ausgestalten.


Preis-/Leistungsverhältnis


Man erhält ein rich­tig gutes Spiel, aber es ist nicht bil­lig. Mein per­sön­li­cher Erwar­tungs­wert liegt bei weni­ger als 10 USD pro 100 Sei­ten, und ab 20 USD für ein PDF über­lege ich mir in der Regel schon sehr genau, ob ich zuschlage.


Ver­gli­chen mit dem Bundle of Hol­ding, bei dem es das PDF als Bonus inklu­sive einem Aben­teu­er­band dazu gab, schnei­det das Preis­leis­tungs­ver­hält­nis sogar sehr schlecht ab. Als Ein­zel­kauf ist es für mei­nen Geschmack zu teuer, aber die Kom­bi­na­tion von PDF + Hard­co­ver beim Sphä­ren­meis­ter kann sich preis­lich wie­der sehen lassen.


Spiel­be­richt


Bei einem Oneshot mit vor­be­rei­te­ten Cha­rak­te­ren und einem selbst­ge­stal­te­ten Aben­teuer bewährte sich das Sys­tem gut. Die Spie­ler, alle bis auf einen ohne Gums­hoe–Erfah­rung, haben das Sys­tem schnell erfasst und konn­ten sich auf ihre Rol­len kon­zen­trie­ren. Anschei­nend kom­men Spie­ler auch ohne über­mä­ßig viel Spio­na­ge­thril­ler gese­hen zu haben ganz gut damit zurecht, wie man in NBA Infor­ma­tio­nen durch Hacken und Kon­takte beschafft. Rege­l­ele­mente wie Cover und Net­work las­sen sich durch die Mecha­nik ganz gut mit­ten im Spiel ein­füh­ren. Das Feed­back der Spie­ler war durch­weg positiv.


Erschei­nungs­bild


Nights black agents coverDie glän­zen­den Sei­ten im Hard­co­ver tref­fen mei­nen Geschmack nicht, genauso scheint die Bin­dung etwas ungleich­mäs­sig. Das sehr helle Sei­ten­de­sign wirkt hoch­mo­dern und passt auch zum Thema Spionage-Thriller. Für Vampir-Horror wirkt es hin­ge­gen etwas klinisch.


Gums­hoe–Pro­dukte lei­den gene­rell an einer über­trie­be­nen Menge Text pro Seite. Das fällt beson­ders bei Sei­ten ohne Illus­tra­tion oder Side­bar auf. Dort wir­ken der drei­spal­tige Text und die geringe Schrift­größe beson­ders problematisch.


Die Illus­tra­tio­nen sind manch­mal sehr gut und manch­mal eher etwas dürf­tig. Es kann vor allem sein, dass nur alle paar Sei­ten eine kommt. Side­bars und Tabel­len sind hin­ge­gen sehr über­sicht­lich gestaltet.


Bonus/Downloadcontent


Es gibt Eini­ges an Down­loads, ins­be­son­dere die ver­schie­de­nen Bögen für das Spiel, eine Kurz­demo und Mate­rial zu dem Aben­teu­er­band The Zalozh­niy Quar­tet.


Fazit


Mein Ein­druck ist, dass NBA ganz her­vor­ra­gend funk­tio­niert. Man kann es gewis­ser­ma­ßen als ein Gums­hoe 2.0 betrach­ten, das dem Sys­tem weder zu viel noch zu wenig hin­zu­fügt. Zwar wird Gums­hoe nie wirk­lich ein Sys­tem tak­ti­scher Tiefe wer­den, aber im Rah­men der Story sind inter­es­sante Kon­flikte möglich.


NBA scheint auch viel ein­stei­ger­freund­li­cher durch seine Erzähl­struk­tur. Die Ermitt­lun­gen blie­ben kurz und kna­ckig, um in die nächste Action-Szene über­zu­lei­ten. Eine sol­che Erzähl­struk­tur würde sich auch für Eso­ter­ro­rists eig­nen. Über­haupt zieht NBA Gums­hoe aus der rei­nen Ermitt­lungs­ecke und kann dadurch als Inspi­ra­tion für alle Gums­hoe–Spiele die­nen. Das Glei­che gilt für die Thril­ler Com­bat Rules und die Thril­ler Chase Rules. Was Hite hier dem Kanon der Gums­hoe–Ideen hin­zu­fügt, das zündet.


Obwohl NBA das Sys­tem wei­ter­führt, blei­ben die alten Pro­bleme beste­hen: Was tun, wenn die Pools erschöpft sind? Dann kann sinn­vol­les Han­deln sogar unmög­lich sein. Ins­be­son­dere dann, wenn man Ath­le­tik erschöpft hat: Dann kann man je nach Gegner­zahl nicht mal mehr abhauen, denn das erfor­dert auch einen Wurf oder sogar einen Wett­be­werb mit ver­glei­chen­den Wür­fen! Das Pro­blem der unmög­li­chen Schwie­rig­kei­ten von 7 oder höher auf dem W6 kann bei ein paar unglück­li­chen Wür­fen sehr schnell drän­gend wer­den und in einen Total Party Kill füh­ren. Das hat mit Spot­light–Ver­tei­lung nichts mehr zu tun, son­dern ist unter Umstän­den in der Spiel­welt nicht sin­nig zu erklären.


Zusam­men mit ein paar Schwä­chen bei der Prä­sen­ta­tion ergibt sich als Wer­tung eine sehr posi­tiv gemeinte 4 von 5.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
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RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
by Sven A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/07/2014 12:12:36

Pretty nice and just long enough for an evening's play. It is not very cthulhu-ish but more like a traditional horror mystery.


The story and motivation for the PC:s are a bit weak but a crafty GM will mend this. It's good to have read or watched something about the Titanic before playing this, as it will be easier to find the right atmosphere.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
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13th Age Core Book
by Idle R. H. P. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/28/2014 20:35:44

This was a very pleasant surprise. We were expecting a slightly tweaked D&D 4e and found a exciting, free-form role-playing system that could become your go-to fantasy game. This combines D&D 3.5, 4e and those narrative RPGs that the kids are all talking about. The choice to frequently pull back the design veil when presenting the rules was refreshing and makes the game very accessible. While it lacks the jaw-dropping art of some other games, you’ll probably be too busy having fun to notice. Included in the book are the rules, a default setting and monsters.


Check out our full, indepth review on the Idle Red Hands Podcast at: http://www.idlere-
dhands.com/?p=2404



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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13th Age Bestiary Preview
by Derek M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/24/2014 12:40:16

I'm a fan of the system used by the game and loved the extra content!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary Preview
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Night's Black Agents: Double Tap
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/29/2013 13:19:07

Described as "the Night's Black Agents Expansion Book" this contains a wealth of additional material for Agents and Directors alike: new skills, new approaches and (of course) new kit. It is jam-packed with ideas and is well worth a read by anyone who enjoys contemporary espionage games. Whilst most of the material is going to be of interest to anyone, irrespective of which side of the Director's screen that they sit, the contents have been divided into an Agent's Companion and a Director's Companion.


The Agent's Companion begins with a section on Abilities. Virtually every ability is examined, with different angles and enhancements on the material presented in the core rulebook. New ability foci are introduced, and there are a whole bunch of ideas as to how both old and new ones can be utilised within the game... not just mechanically (although that is covered well) but in conceptual terms that will inform role-play and descriptions of what the agents are attempting to do (and how!), serving to enhance the game no end. Even what sound on the face of them quite boring abilities, skills you might overlook in character creation in favour of more exciting and cinematic ones, are developed in ways that will give the agent using them a chance to shine and contribute to the success of the mission... and in a realistic way, there is plenty of what a spy would call 'tradecraft' here to enjoy and use in your game.


To add to the fun, each ability's write-up includes a 'tactical fact-finding benefit' which gives an example of how that ability could be used to great effect within the course of a game. There are also 'sample spend benefits' which give quick examples of how you use what you have discovered to mechanical advantage in your investigations and 'sample clues' detailing the sorts of things you might be able to find out. Study these well and hone your use of your chosen abilities. For General Abilities, which follow after the Investigative ones, there are 'sample clues' for when you use that ability to investigate and 'new cherries' to take in the abilities into which you have put the most points.


Although plenty of ideas pop up throughout the Abilities section, the next section looks specifically at Tricks of the Trade. This section focusses a bit more on mechanical aspects with new thriller manoeuvres, customisable achievements and the concept of 'adaptive tradecraft' which explores the extreme uses to which you can put off-the-shelf items, if only you can come up with the ideas! Tne 'manoeuvres' utilise the neat mechanic from the core rules of giving a game mechanical advantage to the player who can talk the talk, giving appropriate graphic descriptions of what his agent is up to. There are some splendid examples, and of course whilst the agent is improvising, the well-prepared player has a few choice phrases ready to trot out when the opportunity occurs. The achievements are a list of stunts which, when pulled, garner the player a bonus. The adaptive tradecraft is reminiscent of the TV series Burn Notice, those wonderful monologues where Westen details various tricks of the spy trade as he puts them into use. Each example trick comes complete with ideas of how to use them in-game and the benefits you might gain.


Next comes a collection of standard operating procedures... but this isn't what you think: these are metagaming concepts to help both players and Director keep the game moving rather than flagging. It's something both should read and make use of - indeed many of them will prove practical whatever game you are playing, never mind Night's Black Agents!


The focus then changes from concepts to kit with the Materiel section. Much of this will sound familiar at least from the movies if not from the technology reports you can find online, but even if you have heard of the stuff now you have the necessary rules to go with it. There's a delightful selection of things you can add to a vehicle... perhaps the only reason there's nothing novel for me here is that one of my gaming friends happens to be a special projects engineer at Bentley Motors (he once came in grousing that he'd not been allowed to test the grenade launcher he'd installed for one client who'd better remain nameless...)! And then, of course, there's a goodly selection of firearms for all the runner-and-gunner agents out there. Even if you are not a gun-bunny you will soon sound like one after working through this. There's even a table of the favourite weapons used by various militaries and other agencies (although the British Army has replaced the Browning Hi-Power with the Glock 17 Gen 4 pistol recently).


Next comes a section on Thriller Contests and Manhunts. This takes the basis of the chase rules from the core rulebook and retools them to suit other situations when it's not your running, flying or driving abilities that are being put to the test. There's digital intrusion, for those times when you just have to hack the planet, pitting hacker against the defending operators. This includes hints on making it sound exciting when nobody's running around visibly doing stuff - for when all's said and done, me hacking (or trying to keep a hacker at bay) doesn't look much different from me writing this review! Then there's regular infiltration, actually physically breaking into (or out of) a facility. You may feel that you can model this adequately with the regular rules, but turning it into a formal contest does have some advantages in terms of making things truely cinematic. There's a parallel set of rules for carrying out surveillance too, and finally there are rules for conducting a manhunt. This last may be a more long-drawn-out sequence, but it too can have you on the edge of your seat as it plays out.


Although he'll have found plenty of use already, we now come to the Director's Companion part of the book. It's all about making the Director's life easier, given that he has to present not just the plot but everything else in the world to a bunch of players that just have a character apiece to worry about. Things like 'cameo NPCs' who fit particular roles and can be trotted out when needed. There are sample ones here, and ideas for creating your own. Each one comes with a basic overview and further notes on how to use him as an asset or a clue, along with ideas on how to present him in play. Then there's a collection of 'establishing shots' to use in the way a movie director uses them: to paint a scene ready for the action to take place there. Each comes with an evocative description as well as a selection of likely extras and cameos who'll be there, clues that might be found there and other ideas to incorporate into the game.


A Monsters section provides a few more critters - and their abilities - to broaden the scope of the core vampire menace, with plenty of suggestions as to weave them in to whatever rationale you have chosen as the basis for your game. And then comes a section on Stories. At the heart of the game is the story we are telling with our players, but here are a few ideas for added elements. Perhaps the conspiracy, whatever it is, that they are trying to defeat does not present a unified face but is rent with internal dissension. What happens if instead of the whole group, you meet up with a single player and have his agent go solo for a while? And what changes will come if you leave the core setting of contemporary Europe and try the Victorian era (always good when vampires are involved!), World War 11 or the Cold War period? These are explored in some detail: try them or not as the mood takes you.


There's a real wealth of ideas here, and you will find yourself visiting again and again to mine this work for useful bits to enhance your agent's performance or add a new twist to your game. Everyone who plays Night's Black Agents really needs this on the shelf (or hard drive) next to the core rulebook.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: Double Tap
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13th Age Bestiary Preview
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/27/2013 20:24:02

This preview has me excited for the release of the 13th Age Bestiary, next year. I'm of the opinion that you can never have too many monsters, and while it's not difficult to create new monsters in 13th Age, my time is precious, and it's nice when someone else does the heavy lifting for you!


If the whole book is similar to the monsters presented in the preview, then we'll be in for a treat! The monsters here aren't just stat blocks and a paragraph or two. Each entry presents several relatively simple stat blocks (13th Age tends to depend on the natural dice rolls to trigger the special attacks on monsters), presenting different roles and levels for the monsters. The lengthy description that follows has alternate histories, ecology, etc. which is great for sparking the imagination of the GM, and helping these monsters fit in nearly any campaign, without declaring that one version of the monster is the definitive "13th Age" variant. Then, the monsters are tied to the icons, to make them fit well with the campaign world and the icon relationships.


I recommend that you take a look at this preview. You may end up getting ideas for your fantasy campaign, even if you don't play 13th Age.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary Preview
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13th Age Bestiary Preview
by Michael C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/27/2013 15:00:19

This preview has me excited for the actual product.


I think that too many games have way too much in the way of stats for monsters. Basic d20 had lots there, and Pathfinder took it and made it more, but that's a lot of stuff to go through. The 13th Age Bestiary, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction with the presentation of the monsters' stats and makes them easy to reference at a glance with their simplicity.


However, what it lacks for in multitudes of stats it makes up for in information. If you don't have ideas for using these critters after looking at this, you're not reading.


The bestiary doesn't stop at just a basic one-off set of stats, but easy-to-read stats are also made for variants of these creatures. You don't just have an orc, you have an orc battle screamer, a death-plague orc, and orcish archer, a pit-spawn orc, and others. D&D 4e tried to do it this way, but I think it was pulled off better here. This was done with all three monsters included in this preview.


The preview includes creative ways of using white dragons, orcs, and nagas. honestly, I haven't given nagas much thought until now, when I read the line "Naga aren’t unreasoning monsters. They generally have perfectly sound reasons for wanting intruders dead." Looking at the rest of these creatures, I wanted to actually write up a way to use them right now.


My only real complaint is that the 3 creatures were put into 3 different PDFs. I'd rather have just had one to download.


All in all, i really liked it, and more and more want to play 13th Age the more I see of it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/18/2013 23:15:13

13th Age isn't super innovative. Let's get that out of the way ahead of time. In terms of mechanics, there's nothing that hasn't been seen before. The setting is good, but not really anything that we haven't seen. Where 13th Age succeeds, however, is in its balance of elements. 13th Age is the sort of thing that I love; it takes a game and tears it down to its basics, then reconstructs it. I'm not sure that the d20 system was the best place to apply that, but it's certainly an interesting take.


I'm not actually that negative about anything in 13th Age. It's quite possibly the most professional thing I've reviewed this year, with over three hundred pages of well-edited and beautiful content. Yes, I do perhaps put too much weight on the appearance of a game, but 13th Age is great. It has a ton of art, and none of it has any major glaring errors. It's repeated in some cases, but there's a sufficient quantity that it doesn't bother me, and most of the repetition is moving an image previously shown in part into a full frame, so it's even less egregious. 13th Age isn't the most beautiful or flashy, like L5R or Eclipse Phase, but it's got enough visuals that for a game that claims that it doesn't like going into "descriptions about what all the X look like", it does a pretty good job of communicating that because it has a drawing for almost anything.


The setting is pretty conventional. How it's handled mechanically a little less so, but it's still a pretty milquetoast inoffensive generic fantasy, with the occasional epic scene thrown in. It's cool to roleplay in, and definitely above average, but it's also nothing like Eclipse Phase that leaves one thinking for years to come on minutiae of the setting, and it's highly subject to tropes of the fantasy genre. There's not a whole lot that players won't understand; the Lich King is, of course, an undead tyrant. Still, it's worth a read, and there's some really good stuff for actually playing the game.


As far as the actual systems go, I'm a little more skeptical. I like some of the things they did to move the d20 system toward a more narrative feel; some people accuse it of going toward 4e's direction in terms of style, but I think that they're more referring to the fact that 13th Age makes everyone combat effective, rather than the actual combat-focus of the game. Moving away from skills and into backgrounds brings in an "indie game" feel (according to the authors) that is more narrative driven and, in my opinion, more interesting. However, 13th Age sticks with the d20 rules in the exact same ways that give it flaws; it escalates into a modifier fight, and while the game is intentionally designed to accept this it's still a little bit jarring that a system that progressed so well toward the narrative immediately gets driven back by a heavily limiting mechanical system.


Now, with the caveat being that I'm not a huge fan (critically, not in terms of play) of Pathfinder and 3.5, I can safely say that I prefer 13th Age. However, it's not anything that couldn't be houseruled into either of these systems, and while it's certainly got benefits it has just as many idiosyncrasies that will confuse new or transferring players. It lacks some notable features that one would expect; I'm not going to dock it for lacking a "monk" class as I've seen one reviewer do, because, quite frankly, I don't think that the setting really depends on something like that, but there are certainly places where it fell a little short, despite the fact that it's remarkably good in others.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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Looking Glass: Mumbai
by Paul B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/11/2013 01:49:37

Ken provides a brief and focussed taste of the complex and vast city of Mumbai. A supplement filled with potential for use in innumerable games, not just Gumshoe-powered ones. The text provides a concise run through the cities history, politics, crime, and urban mythology - and I found myself excited to find out more.


Personally, I like nothing more than choosing a random page on Wikipedia and following the links, trivia-surfing my way through interesting articles. Having finished reading Looking Glass: Mumbai I found myself skimming travel sites, digital maps, Flickr albums and a multitude of Wikipedia cross-references.


If you know nothing of Mumbai and you're open to considering a new city as setting for your contemporary or near future game, especially in Gumshoe settings, then I thoroughly recommend this bite-size guide as a springboard. The pages have plenty of hooks, seeds and interesting ways to engage your player characters.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Looking Glass: Mumbai
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The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/06/2013 15:05:41

The original Esoterrorists game was born out of a desire to have an investigative role-playing game in which success did not depend on getting lucky with die rolls, but on inginuity in asking the right questions in the right places, leaving the random die rolling bit to resolve things like combat and other areas where failure doesn't derail the entire plot - no more flunking one roll and missing a crucial clue!


That came out in 2007, and was well received. Now, in 2013, here is the Second Edition. Honed by over five years of enthusiastic playing and with new developments like an improved initiative system, and coupled by a lot more background detail to empower the GM to make excellent and consistent adventures within the Esoterrorist setting, this work has great promise indeed. Of especial note is the setting 'Station Duty' that is included in this work, a sandbox in which GM and characters can operate.


Characters are elite investigators dedicated to combatting the Esoterrorists, a deranged and dangerous group who seek personal power by evoking malign paranormal phenomena. Oh, and they have day jobs as well. The whole thing is kept under wraps and most people haven't a clue as to what is going on. Yet by creating mass hysteria with staged fake supernatural events, the Esoterrorists create the conditions for real supernatural events to occur... and, if not nipped in the bud, eventually the Creatures of Unremitting Horror will turn up - and you don't want them to become a regular part of this world, that's for sure!


Character generation is based on deciding on your investigative and general abilities, and then adding in the necessary game mechanics. There are certain guidelines to follow for those intending to play Station Duty, but otherwise you can be pretty much whatever you want to be. If you know GUMSHOE (the core mechanic) already, it's all quite familiar; if you are new to it everything is explained clearly. Take time to study it, it is a refreshing approach to character generation that places your concept of what a character is like and how he operates at the core of the mechanics, never mind your role-playing.


Next, the GUMSHOE system itself is explained. The basic premise is that the game is not about finding clues, it's about interpreting the clues that are found... so finding stuff out is designed to be the easy part. There's as much discussion of the underlying philosophy of the system as there is of mechanics: intentional as you need to understand the way in which its all supposed to work at least as much as you need to know which dice to roll when. This is a game that benefits from everyone around the table understanding the rules, yet they are straightforward enough that they are easy to grasp. Despite the emphasis on investigation, all the usual stuff about combat, other task resolution, wounds, healing, chases and the like are here with the necessary game mechanics laid out with enough detail and explanation to enable you to use them with confidence. Just take the time to read it!


Then the Ordo Veritas is introduced. This is the loose umbrella organisation within which the characters operate. It's well-funded and provides the characters with leads, resources and a network of contacts. It also lays out how they should conduct themselves and enforces the desired result: that the general populace should never find out what is going on. This chapter is littered with ideas that spawn adventures and even whole campaigns as you read through it: potential GMs should take notes! If you are not itching to start running (or at least playing) the game by the time you have finished the chapter, either go back and read it again or, sadly, this isn't the game for you. But if the concept and mechanics appeal, you will be wanting to rush out and round up some players... hang on and finish the book first, there are more gems to come. Although not stated, it is likely that this and following chapters are best left for the GM's eyes only. Even if you are good at separating in character and out of character information, why spoil the fun of finding things out during play?


The next chapter is The Enemy, in which the Esoterrorists themselves are presented. There's a wealth of detail about their underlying philosophy and goals, their organisation, what Ordo Veritas knows about them and more... oh, and a whole bunch more of scenario seed ideas scattered around. Sample Esoterrorist cells, notes on making up your own and a whole troop of monsters are to be found here as well. Each one comes with hints as to how to use them in your campaign and notes on which character skills will be most useful in detecting, comprehending and defeating them.


This is followed by a chapter called Scenarios, jam-packed with advice and ideas on creating the adventures that will make up your campaign. There's an interesting discussion on what makes the Esoterrorists different from other games with a similar theme: this one has a narrow focus with a single - albeit wide-ranging and diverse - adversary. That said, it is not hard to retool the system to run with a range of adversaries or to concentrate on a different one. However, the things that set the Esoterrorists out are detailed here so that you can highlight them to aid in making the game distinctive and unique.


Next up is Running Scenarios, again full of useful hints and tips on running the game effectively. This is not a game to pick up and run, prior preparation and planning is essential in order to be able to present the characters with all the information that they will need to solve each case.


The rest of the book (nearly half!) is taken up with the Station Duty setting. The concept here is that instead of the characters being sent on missions all over the place to deal with weird events, the weird events are concentrated on the township in which they are based. It's basically the 'small town horror' trope, in which you can either invent a town or use a real one, perhaps even the one you and your players live in, as the setting for the campaign. One advantage is that it gives the characters some emotional ties to the places and people affected by supernatural events - they live there and the people are family and friends. By getting to know the place, it can become more real within the shared alternate reality of the game, rather than being yet another place that the party sweeps into, deals with a problem and leaves, scarcely having time to get to know the counter clerk in the local diner let alone building any meaningful relationship with the people and surroundings.


The whole process of setting up your township is explored in detail - and it's as much fun as playing there will be! There are loads of ideas here, much which you'll find of benefit whenever inventing townships for games never mind for this one. The Station itself - a base for the characters under the auspices of Ordo Veritas - also needs to be devised, and there are hints aplenty as to how to do this as well. The discussion then moves on to how to create adventures in your township, and deal with the specific issues that using a single location for a whole bunch of horror will cause.


To get you started, there's the outline of an adventure - Breach Zero - to kickstart the campaign. This is followed by a vast array of 'Persons of Interest' - a host of NPCs you can throw in as and when you need them. With this campaign style, you want to have them around all the time, even when they are not involved in the adventure in progress. Don't just bring them in when they are due to be affected by something, the impact is all the stronger when something bad happens to someone the characters have been interacting with for months. There's also a section on key locations, which can be mapped on to important landmarks in your own township. A handy concept is a selection of thumbnail sketches of various locations - each comes in two sorts, one neutral and one for when you need to create a sinister atmosphere. There are several scenario outlines, not as detailed as Breach Zero but enough to get you started, and a section of Local News to throw in as appropriate. The emphasis is Small Town America, but if you want to set your campaign elsewhere it ought not to be too hard to reskin it to work.


And there's more: another developed adventure called Operation Prophet Bunco. This could be played out in your Station Duty setting, but it would work just as well if you have chosen the 'sent to investigate incidents all over the place' model for your campaign. Of course, you might decide to combine the two, sometimes the adventure comes to the characters and sometimes they have to go to it, a model that I'm considering at the moment. It's a cracking adventure and well worth running however you want to use it.


Finally there are character sheets and other worksheets to keep everything in order: scenario outline tools, party sklls summary, NPC note sheets, Esoterrorist cell logs and more.


Overall, this is a real gem of a system and setting. If you like investigating and battling supernatural horrors in the contemporary world with a game system designed to facilitate it, this is the book you need. Thoroughly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
by wesley c. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/10/2013 18:55:14

this as with all the purist adventures is genuinely creepy and on the level with what MRP is doing for there more purist stuff. one point of consideration is to make sure that your players know what a purist scenario entails in the level of survivability. the ending of this scenario is on the grim side and can be considered rail roady by some players.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
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Hideous Creatures: Ghouls
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/28/2013 06:23:35

Originally Posted at: http://diehardgame-
fan.com/2013/10/28/tabletop-review-hideous-monsters-ghouls-t-
rail-of-cthulhu/


Hideous Creatures: Ghouls is the fourth in Ken Hite’s line of Hideous Cratures short PDFs. The goal of each PDF is to try and mix up or change the way both players and Keepers think about Lovecraftian characters. Previous entries have included Deep Ones, Mi-Go and Hounds of Tindalos. The bad news is that I haven’t been that impressed with the previous releases, but the good news is that each entry has been noticeably better than the last. I am happy to report that, once again, Ghouls is the best entry in the Hideous Creatures line today, and it’s also a piece I am fairly positive about. Well, aside from the bad cover art that looks like it was rendered with CGI from the 1990s.


Ghouls runs twelve pages, but only nine of those pages are content. The first three pages are taken up by the cover, title page, and finally the introduction and table of contents. This means you’re only getting nine pages of content for $2.95, which is a bit pricey in this era of digital RPG offerings, but if you’re going to pick any of the Hideous Creatures series up, Ghouls is the one to get.


The piece starts off with a rundown on the Lovecraftian version of ghouls, which are notably different from those you’ll find in Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade. While Mythos ghouls have canine qualities, the piece suggests throwing players off by giving them different animal qualities, such as rats and jackals. This is a good idea, and the only ones that are a bit off the wall are the suggestions like worms and flies. You’re also given a lot of information on why ghouls may do what they do. After all, like Deep Ones, they have some degree of humanity about them, but unlike their fishy friends, ghouls retain a degree of humanity once fully converting into their monstrous form. Hite suggests a whole bevy of reasons as to both an individual ghoul’s motivations, as well as the race as whole. Why they breed with humans, what their end game is and so on. Now, some of these postulations are contradictory, and that’s on purpose. You’re not supposed to use all of them. Just take one or two from the list and run with them. This piece is meant to be a sounding board for new and different ideas after all.


From there we get two pages of Trail of Cthulhu stats and mechanics, giving you new powers and abilities for a ghoul. I really liked the mechanics for a Ghoul-born changeling or half-ghoul, and how even an Investigator can become a ghoul and still play their character. Of course, at some point that Stability is going to hit zero… After the stats, we are given even more potential variations and story seeds for ghouls. There are thirty-one variations in all. As usual, the qualities range from really good ideas to terrible ones, but which ones are which will differ by the reader. After all, no one is going to like all thirty-one ideas and no one is going to hate them all. I personally disliked the variation that ghouls are undead, as that’s done everywhere else, and by having Mythos ghouls being living breathing creatures, this sets them apart from other creatures bearing the race name. However, someone might like their ghouls being undead and able to paralyze anything but elves, so this will work for them. Heck, this piece even has mechanics for giving Mythos ghouls a paralyzing grasp! I loved the Parisian take on ghouls, and the idea of ghoul priests wearing special robes and masks to set them apart. I also really liked the idea of a schism between ghoul sects – one that has a traditional old style way of doing things and a “new breed” that wants to speed up the return of the Great Old Ones.


Next we go into “Mythic Echoes,” which is where we see folkloric creatures that could possibly work as ghoul variants in your Trail of Cthulhu game. In the past we’ve seen some big stretches and poorly worded/researched items in this section, but with the ghouls, everything looked top notch to me. I especially loved seeing the Arabic Ghul get listed here, as it’s so overlooked by many gamers and game developers. After that, we go back into the mechanics side of things, where you are given a bevy of ways each skill in Trail of Cthulhu can net an Investigator information about a ghoul threat or menace. This, as always, is a favorite section of mine, as it really helps Keepers to think outside the box and players to realize that any skill is helpful if you look at it correctly.


The piece concludes with two story seeds and a half page bibliography. Usually the Hideous Creatures pieces have offered more story seeds, but they were generally of mixed quality. Here in Ghouls, we may only get the two, but both have a lot of potential as full-fledged adventures. One takes place in Chicago around Halloween, 1931, and the other can take place after one of five natural disasters. An enterprising Keeper can string all five together into a mini-campaign or really long adventure.


All in all, Ghouls is by far the best Hideous Creatures release yet, and the only negative thing I can say about it is that I think it should be priced a dollar less. I know, right? FEEL THE CRITICISM! This is definitely the only piece in the series I can strongly recommend, as the others have been mediocre, more or less. However, Ghouls is something well worth picking up, even if you don’t play Trail of Cthulhu. Any Mythos based RPG or even most horror games can freely adapt the material in this piece quite easily.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Ghouls
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Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/25/2013 06:09:49

Originally published: http://diehardgame-
fan.com/2013/09/25/tabletop-review-hideous-creatures-mi-go-t-
rail-of-cthulhu/


If there’s one good thing I can say about author Ken Hite, it’s that he’s not afraid to reinvent the wheel. This is especially true with Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos creations as even if you’re not a fan of his writing style or mechanics, you can really feel the love for these hideous beasties come through and you can’t help but respect him for that.


One of Ken’s latest efforts has been the Hideous Creatures series for Trail of Cthulhu. These small supplements are meant to help your DM/GM/Keeper/whatever you want to call it come up with some fresh ideas for Cthulhu Mythos creatures that have become overused and stale over the years. After all, Mythos oriented games are meant to be horrifying and frightening, but when players know what to expect or worse, crack trope based jokes about their would-be antagonist, much of the mood is lost. I applaud Ken for really trying to bring spooky cosmic terror back to these Lovecraftian races, but the end result of the Hideous Creatures line has been less than stellar so far.


As you’ve seen in my reviews of Deep Ones and Hounds of Tindalos, the quality of these supplements have been all over the place. The bad news is the previous pieces weren’t very good but the good news is that each one has been better than the last. This is true of the latest Hideous Creatures release in Mi-Go in that it is the best of the series so far, which leads me to believe it just took Ken a bit to find his groove. Sure Mi-Go has room for improvement, but considering the first two releases in the Hideous Creatures series were mediocre and/or underwhelming, I’m just happy to see some noticeable improvement in the line.


Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go spans eleven pages, but only eight of the pages have content on them. The first three are a tremendous cover, a title page, and an introduction slash table of contents piece. That’s not too big a deal until you realize that roughly 25% of the piece lacks any content. Ouch. On the positive even though this is a Trail of Cthulhu release, only two pages and one scenario are devoted to ToC content, so you could conceivably use this with other Mythos related systems like Call of Cthulhu, Age of Cthulhu and Realms of Cthulhu. Probably not CthulhuTech though…


The first section is simply “The Mi-Go” and it gives both a description of what the Fungi From Yuggoth look like, but also various ways to change their appearance and a whole host of motivations for them. After all, why are the mi-go so into putting human brains inside a jar? I like the attempt at explaining why this alien race from beyond time and space do what they do, but at the same time, explaining their actions and motivations also takes away from the alien horror and makes the creatures more humdrum – which is the opposite of what the Hideous Creatures pieces are meant to do. This section also gives Trail of Cthulhu stats for the Mi-Go along with weapons and potential powers and/or weaknesses. This section is by far leaps and bounds better than the Deep Ones or Hounds of Tindalos versions.


“Variations” plucks some aspects of the Mi-Go from various writers and sources. Some pieces are contradictory, but the idea is to pick and choose, not take everything from here and try to make the puzzle pieces fit. There’s a lot of potential here, but the Keeper has to put a little effort in to make things work. “Mythic Echoes” is the attempt to shoehorn a Lovecraftian creature into various myths from around the world. The Deep Ones version of this was terrible and the HoT was slightly better. Once again, this is the weakest section of Hideous Creatures with Ken either getting things wrong or making things up/drastically changing the legends to get them to fit with the Mi-Go. This section would be better off with a little more research, explaining the real legend and how one might make the Mi-Go fit into it, or just excising it altogether. Let’s just say folklore is NOT Ken’s best area.


“Investigations” is always a highlight of these pieces and it remains with the Mi-Go version. Here you are given a list of information or insights that can be gleamed by particular skills an Investigator might have. Then we have “Scenario Seeds.” There are only two this time, one of which is a direct continuation of something found in the core Trail of Cthulhu rulebook, which means you might have already finished that potential storyline off long before this was released. I can’t say either scenario is very good, and I wouldn’t use either. It also doesn’t help both play off some extremely common Mi-Go tropes and clichés, which once again is what the Hideous Creatures releases are meant to combat. Finally, we have a very nicely done “Bibliography”, listing some fine fiction to read to help you better design your Mi-Go related encounters.


All in all, this third Hideous Creatures release is a further step in the right direction as each one of these pieces is better than the preceding ones. However, what’s here still isn’t very useful and doesn’t quite achieve its goal of revitalizing a Lovecraftian creation. If anything, the piece does the opposite by relying too much on what has been done before and also basically saying, “Just rip-off X-Files and use Mi-Go as the aliens instead!” which is just tacky and lazy to me. I can’t say what is here is worth three dollars, but at least the pieces are getting better and that’s one positive worth focusing on. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm?



Rating:
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Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
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13th Age Core Book
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/25/2013 00:42:39

13th Age takes the OGL d20 foundations and turns it to it's most photogenic angle and gave it proper lighting. All the things you expect from it are there, but they look and feel better.


13th Age is presented very well, and puts down into writing tricks that many GMs have implemented in their own games. The result of this is that new GMs, or GMs who feel very closely bound by the rules find a new kind of freedom in the story-focused mechanics that were absent from other d20 fantasy games. In some cases, I get the feeling that there are GMs that really feel the need for these things to be found in the Rules As Written in order for it to be valid as to destroy any doubt as to the source of their decision to improvise as opposed to "houseruling" the same ideas.


This doesn't mean that 13th Age doesn't bring anything new to the table. There are a few interesting mechanics, such as the Escalation Die, which could be an extra thing to look forward to in combat as a bonus to represent combat momentum is a neat idea.


Given this, it's impossible to give 13th Age poor marks, but the challenge for it is how it can innovate beyond introducing story elements into d20. The metagame reasons for its design are sound, and the Icons are a great idea for helping GMs, but after applying lessons that have been in general circulation in non-d20 games for years I'm having a little bit of trouble finding how else it can come off as better.


That said if you like d20, and are looking to bring in more story elements into your game, then 13th Age is a no brainer. Get it study it and use what you can get out of it. Old hands at story games on the other hand might find 13th Age to be a little bit underwhelming as it feels like a "My First Storygame" manual for D20 fans.



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[3 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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13th Age Core Book
by Naomi B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/21/2013 23:29:29

This is a little too 4E for my tastes but some of the ideas will work at 3.X. It was interesting that one of the Icons was a Druid but there were no druids in the classes (no monks either). The lack of these two classes that I prefer to play probably figured large in my disappointment and low score.
The game seemed designed for participants in the conflict between the Icons or running errands for them. There was a suggestion that even if PCs were working for themselves, they were somehow under the command of an Icon. A little convoluted for me.
Probably an excellent setting for those wanting themes within themes.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
Hi Naimo, The Druid and Monk classes will both feature in the 13 True Ways supplement and will be available for free download.
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