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NPC Strategy Cards
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2014 08:37:06

A simple, neat and elegant GM's tool... labelled for Pathfinder but useful whatever game system you are playing.

In the heat of battle, it is easy enough even as a player to lose track of your character's considered goals and the best path to achieve them: even harder as a GM with a whole mob of NPCs to handle as well as the overall moderation of the game! It also helps you give NPCs some individuality: this one is cautious, this one is rash especially if he's had a few drinks, this one fights dirty whilst that one is clinically efficient until someone insults his Momma...

A brief key and a sample card is provided, then there are several blanks. Being a PDF, you can print out as many as you need. They are not set up to enable typing in, you are expected to print and scribble - but if you use Adobe Acrobat, go into the Comment|Annotations menu and pick Text Comment. If doing this, remember to save a blank copy so that you can reuse the cards again and again first.

The card covers a range of things: to start with the NPC's name (Fred, Spear Carrier #2 or whatever), a reference for his full stat block (scenario notes, a bestiary...), and the vital ones, his AC and hit points. His role - why he's wherever he is - and morale too.

Then there are a variety of situations with space for you to jot down what he will do in those circumstances. It starts off with Ease, or what he does when not under any kind of threat. Then Alert, what he does when he thinks something's up. Then there are spaces to record his likely actions in Melee and Ranged combat, and the final slot is Blood - what he's going to do when it's all going wrong for him and he's dropping below half his hit points.

It's a really neat idea. Of course, you can come up with other things you might want to have. What does he do if intimidated? What are his 'triggers' for flying into a rage? Can he be bribed and if so, what does it take? I guess that's what the back of the card is for!

And best of all, they're free :)

[5 of 5 Stars!]
NPC Strategy Cards
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Lunatic Labyrinth
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/05/2012 19:14:26

One of the hardest things about playing a tabletop RPG is simply finding people to gather around the table. Coordinating schedules so everyone has enough free time at the same time can be exceptionally difficult. Given that, it’s surprising that more companies don’t put out adventures that can be used with only GM and a few players…or even one GM and just one player.

One such adventure is Lunatic Labyrinth, from Phoenix Rising Games.

It should be mentioned that Lunatic Labyrinth is billed as a game that can be played not only for one-on-one play, but also for solo play – that is, one person who acts as both player and GM. This claim is technically true, but there’s something of a “but…” in there. Which we’ll talk about more below.

One other thing should be made clear from the outset; at the time of this writing, I haven’t seen the Pathfinder Beginner Box, but from what I hear it’s got some sort of streamlined or specialized rules for easier play; based on what I’ve seen Lunatic Labyrinth doesn’t use anything in particular from the Beginner Box – this is straight Pathfinder.

The file comes as a single twelve-page PDF. I was surprised at the brevity of the adventure, but found that it managed to pack quite a bit into its twelve pages; between the adventure itself, the discussion of supplementary materials, and the labyrinth tiles, the book really feels packed.

From a technical standpoint, the book does fairly well. Full nested bookmarks are present, for which I give the author extra props, as I can imagine plenty of people overlooking those in a product this short, and copy-and-paste is likewise enabled. The artwork exemplifies the phrase “simple is best,” as it consists solely of black and white interior images (notwithstanding the labyrinth tiles, which are in color). This isn’t bad, and actually fits fairly well with the “no-frills” look of the book.

The adventure itself is refreshingly straightforward; you’re an adventurer looking to make a name for him- or herself, and to do this you’ve come to Lunatic Labyrinth, the abandoned lair of a cabal of warlocks, to claim the magic sword that lies within…you know it does, since the opening text says you’ve seen it in a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. I wouldn’t mention that last part, as it’s a fairly small bit of the opening read-aloud text, but it irked me a tiny bit, simply because it’s a throwaway line that just seems like it’s begging to become problematic if the adventure turns into a campaign (“before we go storm the vampire lord’s manor, let’s visit that fortune-teller I saw before I raided Lunatic Labyrinth; her crystal ball worked then, it should work now!”).

The adventure is easily set in any world, but does have a specific setting that it’s set in. This is very loosely described, having only a single half-page map of the region and quick glossary of locales. More is available on the Phoenix Rising Games website…something that the product tells you over and over. I’ll confess that I was slightly off-put at just how often the product hawked visiting the website; maybe it was right to do so, but it felt like it was stressed a little too strongly.

The labyrinth itself is based around a series of tiles, set randomly into a 5x5 grid (the entrance and exit aren’t random, however, always being in opposite corners). Each tile shows a hallway in some configuration, such as straight, a four-way intersection, a corner, etc. A smattering of monsters are also spread throughout the dungeon, looking to put an end to your hero.

Actually advancing through the dungeon is a bit tricky. The text on the tiles says something to the effect of keeping the tiles hidden from the player, but that seems counter-intuitive, so that’s a bit of a mark against it for being unclear. As it is, the text says not to try and make the hallways on each tile match up; rather the PC and the monsters both make a check (which is not the best idea, since it uses a skill most PCs won’t have…certainly the monsters don’t) to rotate a tile. The monsters, of course, are doing this to get at the hero (though how many of them move is random, and they move the same way as the hero), while the hero is presumably trying to get to the exit.

The adventure is written for a single character or 1st or maybe 2nd level. In this regard it’s spot-on, as the few monsters in the dungeon are fairly weak creatures…but then again, you’re an extremely low-level character all on your own. The monsters are represented by tokens for the labyrinth, and determining which is which requires a random roll; each monster has their own bit of flavor text and tactics laid out.

Once you reach the exit, you come to the final room and face the dungeon’s boss monster to claim the treasure and hear the game’s epilogue. Of course, the boss is no easy monster, especially as you may have fought all of the dungeon denizens to get there. Insightfully, the book takes this into account as it says that if you’re not a fighting-based character (e.g. a wizard), you’re also taking a 1st-level human fighter “guide” with you as well (I did like that he’ll abandon you if he’s hurt badly enough unless you can convince him not to, a nice old-school nod to how NPC henchmen aren’t fanatically loyal). Make sure to double-check his stat block though, as it’s missing some information (CMB and CMD for example) while others are incorrect (e.g. his saving throws).

By now, the question of how the game is meant to be “solo-playable” should be obvious; this idea largely rests around the idea that the monster tokens on the labyrinth tiles use a combination of randomized (for how many move) and pre-set sequences (for where they move) to determine whether or not they encounter the hero. This part did seems somewhat entertaining, but only from a simple standpoint – it was more of a quick mini-game than a true solo adventure.

The rest of the adventure is a more traditional set of Pathfinder encounters; you could conceivably run these as a “solo” also, but only in the way that you could play chess as a solo affair, moving one side and then the other. That’s pretty lacking in terms of excitement, since everything short of the die rolls is entirely under your purview, and you can fudge those.

As a one-on-one adventure, I’d recommend removing the mechanics relating to how the monsters move and instead treat them as you would monsters in a normal game. Beyond that, it’s actually a very fun little adventure, offering almost but not quite enough to get a first-level character to second level, if they defeat every monster (on the medium XP progression), and hitting that sweet spot where it’s simple enough not to feel like a burden, but presenting just enough of a wider world to seem tantalizing – while it may need a bit of polishing to make it shine, I’d definitely run this as an introductory adventure for someone new to the hobby. You don’t have to be crazy to see the excitement that Lunatic Labyrinth offers.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lunatic Labyrinth
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