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Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/21/2011 10:23:03
Sex in RPGs has always been a proverbial sticky wicket. While the topic certainly deserves some degree of prominence, actually integrating it into a role-playing game is difficult to implement and tends to end badly. Knowing that, I was thusly quite interested when I saw that John Wick was tackling the subject in his book Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex.

Before we get into it (yes, that was another regrettable pun), let’s take a look at the mechanics of the book. The PDF file is twelve pages long from start to finish, taking into account things like the cover, credits, etc. The book is entirely devoid of illustrations save for periodic silhouettes of various sexy women – the pictures are silhouettes with singular parts in white to highlight certain things, such as the silhouetted woman with a white bra on. In fact, all of these illustrations are of sexy women; a note near the end of the book explains that they simply couldn’t find any “sexy guy” illustrations.

There are no bookmarks, which is a shame, but nothing crippling in a twelve-page PDF. It should also be noted that both eBook and Mac formatting are present, allowing for plentiful options about which platform you enjoy this product on.

But beyond all of that, what is this Sexcraft book all about? As the name suggests, this is its own take on sex-based magic. The opening fiction hints at the basic nature of sexcraft as a dueling sort of magic…that is, two practitioners have sex, which for them is a duel of their respective magic.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Sexcraft explains that it’s meant to be a meta-system; you can take the rules in this book and integrate them into other RPGs seamlessly. In fact, this was where I feel the book fell down, as I didn’t find the new type of magic here to be easily added to most other RPGs, but I’ll get to that in due time.

The introduction then explains that sex is often ignored in RPGs because it has no tangible reward within the framework of the role-playing game itself; hence, giving it mechanics and a metagame framework will help to bring it more fully into RPG gaming. Now, I completely agree with the premise here – most RPGs that I’ve played have emphasized mechanics enough that even the best of role-players wanted the system-based rewards. Hence, you need to make any new aspect of the game part of that. However, I was skeptical of a one-size-fits-all approach…

The book begins to get into the mechanics of sexcraft by first explaining that characters can only learn this particular art by being taught, and that it’s a rare and secretive power only a few know. Beyond that, gaining power via sexcraft requires taking it from others…but those who are uninitiated have very little power to give. The quickest way to “charge up” is to engage in a sexcraft duel and take another practitioners energy.

Sexual energy, we’re told, is measured in points. The uninitiated have only ten points (and in mundane sex – that is, sex between people who can’t use sexcraft – everyone just donates a single point to everyone else, resulting in no net gain), but practitioners can have quite a bit more; the presumption seems to be that however much energy you gain in a duel is how much you retain.

Sexual energy can be freely given by those who know what they’re doing, or practitioners can actively take it. Note that in either case, sharing sexual energy is only possible during consensual sexual acts – forcing yourself on someone gains you nothing.

After some discussion on the effects of loss of energy, we’re then told what sexual energy can be used for. Instead of spells per se, there are a half-dozen different applications, called “roses.” Each rose is a different color, and most cost just a single energy to invoke. The blue rose, for instance, requires a touched target to truthfully reveal the answer to a single question asked, whereas the red rose causes the target to become obsessed with someone or something.

I was surprised at the relative narrowness of each rose’s application, and how few roses there are. Each is certainly colorful in what they can do, but there aren’t that many. Further, the idea that sexcraft is “beyond” other forms of magic (something mentioned earlier in the book) seems bluntly reinforced here, with various roses mentioning how each rose’s power cannot be removed or defeated by anything, short of a reprieve from the sexcraft witch that used it.

The above system of sexcraft magic is where I really took issue with the book. For all its talk about being a meta-system that can be put into any RPG, the fact remains that magic is specific to various role-playing games, and using sexcraft as its presented here can be a poor fit. Consider how well this magic would fit, thematically, with Call of Cthulhu? It’s risk-free to the user and subject, easily recharged, and even enjoyable…it’s against the tone of the game, in other words. Likewise, using this in D&D would bring up problems if you said that sexcraft powers couldn’t be dispelled, removed, or even disjoined. The simple mechanics here don’t mesh with that system’s intricate, technical magic rules.

Magic, no matter what the type, isn’t something you can make into a single-use system to put into any established role-playing game.

Following the list of the roses, the book talks about sexcraft duels between practitioners. Each sexcraft user has a number of six-sided dice equal to their energy, and each turn can decide how many to use, but with the caveat that the loser of each round doesn’t get those dice back. There are also four tactics that can be used – attack, counterattack, feint, and protect. Each can give you an advantage (a single bonus d6) against a certain other type of tactic.

This system isn’t a bad one, but seems to favor using all of your energy dice at once in hopes of simply overwhelming your opponent (especially if they’re conservative with how many dice they use at a time). While you can still lose this way sometimes, the result of “higher number wins” seems to favor making large plays, with the various tactics providing some variance only if the participants both bet a relatively equal number of dice.

The book closes out with a word from the author talking about how, if this seems inappropriate, consider how many pages of how many RPGs are dedicated to killing things. It’s a salient point, but one that ignores the larger question of why sex in RPGs isn’t more prominent. It’s not a question of the appropriate nature of the content described, but rather that for most people it’s an awkward and embarrassing thing, even if you marry it more closely to game mechanics. That’s not an excuse, of course, nor is it a condemnation of either traditional RPGs or this one – it’s just why sexual-based RPG materials aren’t more prominent.

After this there’s a bonus section with the sexcraft witch prestige class for D&D 3.5. A ten-level prestige class, this is fairly decent, but makes some mistakes if you’re a Third Edition aficionado. For one thing, it’s odd that a spellcasting PrC (full arcane spellcasting progression) also requires, and grants, sneak attack dice (particularly with the note that the sexcraft witch can sneak attack someone while having sex with them).

The class abilities are interesting, and notably don’t try to translate the “rose” powers from earlier into d20 terms. Rather, we get things like the sexcraft witch having the ability to put a compulsion on someone else which they have to follow until they sleep with another person, having the power to cause a negative level with a caress (like a succubus), or using a death effect against anyone she’s ever slept with.

These powers are imaginative, but a closer look shows that they have some design problems. Leaving aside issues like requiring the never-before-mentioned Craft (sex) skill, or lacking power tags (such as Ex or Su), the powers aren’t defined thoroughly enough. For example, many lack a range listing, or any sort of limiter on how often they can be invoked. Several are too powerful, such as a power that (with a DC 15 Craft (sex) check) lets the arcane spellcasting sexcraft witch use any of several healing spells (though to be fair, this is limited to once per person per night).

On the last page, there are short notecards for a character’s name, their current energy, and how many roses they know.

Overall, Sexcraft is – like so many other attempts to bring sex into greater prominence in RPGs – a good idea that doesn’t work. In this case, it’s not because the attempt is too prurient (it’s fairly light in the tone of its presentation), but simply because in trying to apply itself to any game system, it renders itself inappropriate for quite a few, if not most, of them. The attempt is laudable, but in order for something to be universally applicable, it helps to cover ground that no one else has touched, and magic, regardless of the theme of the magic, is not such an area.

Ironically, the book seems to know it too. Presenting the sexcraft witch prestige class is a nod towards the fact that sex-magic is an area that can be tailored much more directly towards a given game system (a message which is diluted by the fact that the sexcraft witch needs further system editing).

Like a teenager getting ready to lose his virginity, Sexcraft knows what it wants to do, but what it actually presents leaves room for improvement.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex
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Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/08/2011 17:12:05
Interesting little book. Given when it came out I thought it might have been a April Fools Day joke, but this is a real product and it has some really good stuff in it. How much will you use in your own games of course depends on your group and what you are doing (and how mature they are) but this is a good take on a new form of magic and I have already thought of a couple of very different games I could use this in.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex
by Nathan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/05/2011 04:06:46
I must admit to being a little dubious about this product, how useful it might be and whether it would truly add anything other than titillation to my games. But I was pleasantly surprised. It deals with the topic tastefully (even the silhouette images are evocative but not outrageous) and presents a great new type of magic. I really liked the feel of the "Roses" (or spells) that sex magic can create - to me they had a kind of fairytale quality, allowing the caster to "curse" a target or cause them to become infatuated with a subject. The effects of the spells at first seems a little at odds with the way in which they are powered, but it just feels "right". I am not going to comment on the d20 class, as I don't play d20 games that often these days and I don't think my opinion would be that valid. The "mechanical" elements of the magic power and spells are pretty story-focused and don't have a lot of mechanical crunch to them, which I like but I am not sure how well this will mesh with other types of games. Overall, I like this a lot.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex
by Eoin B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/02/2011 22:00:17
Normally sex in RPGs is pretty salacious and remarkably cheesy. Here, the focus of the game mechanics hinges on the fact that there is a relationship between the magician and the target of the spells - a wonderfully good addition.
A more legalistic GM might want things to be more defined and less ad hoc than what's presented here. It's not an expansion for less mature groups. It calls for better social rules than are in most d20 games (IMNSHO). The art is tasteful, but kind of ... well, not for everyone.
It's a good supplement... but not a great one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
by Tim R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/26/2011 15:00:18
I once wrote an adventure around Michael Moorcock's idea of the Eternal Champion. Heroes that existed through time, space, and dimensions. I planned it all in d20, keeping to a very specific storyline. The Flux makes that concept possible to translate across RPG system in addition to everything else. It's a spectacular method for turning short-form games into long-term epics. Hats off to you Mr. Wick. I can't wait to see what else you have in store.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
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Byron Falls: A Little Game about a Lot of Supernatural High School Drama
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/14/2011 12:03:41
This game takes the very ripe and ready genre of "High School Supernatural Romance" and run with it. And yes I do mean things like "Twilight" and many other books and TV shows like "Vampire Diaries". Set it all in some small town where the girls are super smart and beautiful, the boys are all emo and everyone is trying to date the local supernatural populace.

The hard core horror gamer in me wants to rebel, saying that this is what is so wrong with the genre today. That last generations monsters are this generations would be dates. But in truth I just can't get worked up about it. The games are fun, there is a bit of tongue in cheek here (ok, maybe more than a bit) and if these games can capture just a fraction of the "Teen Angst" market that sells the books and TV shows, then they will be the ones laughing at us hard core horror types. ;)

So what is this games? Well if you have ever listened to a Smiths song, then that is what you have here. Take those high school kids, mix in a supernatural and let wackiness ensue. It goes for very rules-light presentations and instead focus on the relationships and interactions with the characters. In fact the rules are so light that an enterprising GM could add these games to any current modern supernatural game (or even supers) for another level of play.

Written by RPG demi-god John Wick, Byron Falls focuses more on the human side of the equation. The town of Byron Falls is full of beautiful, highly intelligent girls and women that only have eyes for the supernatural creatures in town. And the town has more than their fair share. Character generation is also very simple. You have Interests, up to five Friends, an Enemy (or not) and your Grade. All characters start out as High School Freshman (Grade 9). The mechanic is a very simple one. If you want to do something and it relevant to your interests or friends then you roll the number of dice that you have points in that area. Evens mean a success. No success and your enemy gets to decide what the outcome of your actions are. Again here it is not whether or not you have enough points in a area to beat someone up, but rather what is most dramatic for the game. The supernatural creatures of BF also have to be agreed on. Do Werewolves and Vampires hate each other? How do witches react around humans?
The game is designed with playing humans in mind, and female high schoolers in particular. But over time more supernaturals can be added and even some characters may discover they are supernatural themselves (like becoming a witch on your 16th birthday).
The town is fleshed out and situations are given for role-playing.

The game simultaneously poke fun at and respect their source material, which I think is about right. You can see the silly side of this but at the same time understand that to the people in this situation it is all seriousness. It is high school, where all drama in Big Drama and every choice is Life and Death.

If you are fan of the source material then this game will be fun. If you are not a fan then this games can also still be a lot of fun if taken in the right mindset.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Byron Falls: A Little Game about a Lot of Supernatural High School Drama
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The Flux
by Frank M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/31/2011 05:59:26
"The Flux" expresses a simple but elegant idea: player characters live multiple lives, in multiple worlds, under multiple RPG systems. As someone who owns far too many games I've never played, it's a brilliant narrative device to justify putting away D&D/Vampire/whatever for a while and trying something different.

Past worlds disappear and others take their place, and the "soul" of a character (namely the player) reincarnates into a similar character under the new rules. Those old character sheets, however, still serve a purpose in a brave new world. Old worlds may return, and old lives pick up where they left off ... or not. More intriguingly, player character has a chance to remember an old life well enough to borrow its abilities, but in doing so risks the wrath of the current world.

Unfortunately, the GM may risk the wrath of his players, if (as the author suggests) he surprises them with a brand new world and brand new rules. As cool as the Flux is (as a concept), GMs need to know their players well enough, or need to have cowed them enough, that they'll go along.

For 14 pages of content $5 is a tad overpriced. The contents, however, do get the old brain-meats working.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
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Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act II: Calling the King
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/21/2011 11:37:11
I loved this story. There’s a limit to where you can go with a story where the hook is that people are going to be performing The King in Yellow. It can only lead to madness. And yet John Wick pushes those limits as far as they can go, creating an eerie little tale I can’t wait to actually run with people. It has much in common with the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure Tatterdemalion. In this case, however, it is less a situation of a party turned sour and an invitation to join the King in Carcosa. Rather we see six personalities unravel, as they learn that all they’ve ever cherished, and that they value, truly means nothing. It’s bleak, it’s nihilistic, it may well be my favourite ever King in Yellow scenario. It’s a hard job to present something that’s true to the grim horror of Robert Chambers’ original stories, but John Wick has done it without making it an A to Z of King in Yellow propmpted madness.

“This is how it ends…”

It seems to me something that could so easily be adapted to Cthulhu Live too, if you wanted to run a LARP adventure with just a handful of people.

Just as this game could be easily adapted for Cthulhu Live use, so too can it be adapted to Call of Cthulhu d20, Trail of Cthulhu, or any of the other Cthulhu campaign settings that have cropped up (with the provisor that the story is set in 1999), bearing in mind the author was able to run the game without any dice or rules If you were prepared to create six new characters and dress up the sandbox slightly differently there’s no reason you couldn’t shift this to any other time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act II: Calling the King
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The Flux
by Dave B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/20/2011 11:17:07
The Flux is... Well, a bit of a let down... I mean I am a major ADD GM, much to my player’s dismay sometimes. I read the sales pitch, I had drank the Wick lemonade a long time ago to be honest, and thought that this will be a massive insight into how to tie together many games (systems) into a cohesive concept. It’s not, but it’s not a bad idea either though. Maybe I expected too much.

The Flux approach to handling the many systems and settings is to layer a meta-mechanic over top of them all. It is a light weight mechanic that DOES what is promised. With only 16 pages I am not sure it’s worth the price, it didn't feel as thoroughly explored as some of the other Wick writings. I think I would have liked it more with some more examples of how it works out, funnily in the book he says no one would want that, but I did.

I just wanted... needed more. I hope that that this gets more exploration in future products for the Big Book of Little Games

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
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The Flux
by Anthony C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/08/2011 17:05:00
I've been looking forward to this book/chapter/what-have-you since John Wick offered a tease of it on his blog. Most omni-systems leave me cold because game A does something cool that game B cannot really replicate. Attempting to shoehorn all these systems into one generic system just mostly sucks (Savage Worlds may be an exception for me).

The difference with this product is twofold (1) it lets you keep your original rules to each game you want to utilize and (2) it lets you pull a truly great trick on your players. This is a small product (arounnd 20 pages), but well worth its cost.

If you're sitting on twenty plus years of gaming books like I am and worried you'll never play them all, The Flux has seriously offered some help towards shaking the dust off them.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/08/2011 15:16:22
Back in the day, I always wanted to come up with some set of rules or guidelines that would let me move my old D&D group across multiple campaign worlds. I still can’t tell you exactly why the thought of moving them from one world to another was so exciting, but it was. I never got around to it, and in all honesty the entire thing seemed to be more trouble than it was worth – after all, give the PCs ways to move between worlds and they’ll quickly start abusing it. So I shelved the idea and eventually forgot about it.

…until I saw John Wick’s The Flux. This short book, in less than twenty pages, not only rekindled my excitement for a campaign that moves between worlds, but expands the scope of those worlds dramatically, fixes the problems I was encountering, and adds some fun new rules to it all. Let’s take a closer look and see what The Flux is all about.

From a technical standpoint, The Flux presents itself very professionally. It has full, nested bookmarks, and leaves copy-and-pasting enabled. Further, it comes with the necessary formatting to read it on a Mac or as an ePub document. The book is entirely black and white, and save for an alternating page border of a chain and pendant, is devoid of illustrations. And yet, I liked the minimalist approach of its visual design. It really gives a sense that we’re looking at something innocuous, or even deliberately downplayed, which fits with the tone of the book – fluxing is portrayed as a secret only some people are aware of.

But what exactly is a “flux” and what does this book offer?

Described as a “meta-RPG,” The Flux introduces an in-game rationale for changing RPG systems and translating characters between them, as well as offering a few additional rules based around the idea that characters remember their previous incarnations from past games. For example, your character may be a wizard in D&D, but then there’s a flux and the GM pulls out Call of Cthulhu instead, and your character is now a private investigator…who remembers some of the D&D spells he knew before.

Fluxing is nominally described as what happens when the world “dies” and is instantly “reborn.” It’s a cool description for why this phenomenon happens, but I’m not sure how well that works as a concept considering that fluxes seem to happen fairly often (in the author’s examples and from the in-game writing) and because the author talks about cycling through the same select few game systems for fluxes.

But let’s go through the book piece by piece.

There’s a fairly strong piece of opening fiction where a character is describing fluxing to another character before we move on to the rules. The author keeps a very conversational writing style throughout the book, often referring to himself in the first person, which was more entertaining than I thought it’d be. There’s no chapters, but the book is broken down into a number of sections and subsections.

The Flux tells us that when a flux happens the Game Master translates the PCs into their new incarnations – that is, he literally makes the PCs’ stats for the new game system they’ve fluxed to. All PCs also use the new ability score presented here, Memory, which determines how many of their previous incarnations they recall and correspondingly how many changes they can make to their GM-written PCs.

I personally shook my head a little at this section. Character creation is one of the areas where the players have near-absolute, if not total, control over how things turn out. Having the GM write up their new characters while letting them make only a static number of alterations certainly made sense – in a new incarnation, you don’t get to choose who you’ll be – but I know that if I did this my players would likely rebel. Personally speaking, I’d invert this rule; I’d let the PCs write up their own new characters (with some guidelines about how powerful they should be apropos to the game system) and then the GM gets to make a number of changes equal to each PC’s Memory score.

Of course, your Memory isn’t a static number. You can, in fact, fail to remember who you were before a flux, though there is a way to be awakened to your previous selves’ memories. Likewise, your Memory score can be increased by certain things.

The major aspect of Memory, however, is what the next section of the book covers: that you remember your previous lives’ skills and abilities, and can try and use them in your current world – these are known as Recall. Like the private eye with the memories of a mage, you can have a character use those powers even if they don’t necessarily fit with the genre/game system you’re currently using. Of course, you might fail to translate that ability to your current world, and even if you do use it there’s no guarantee it’ll work the same (different world, different rules).

It should be noted that bringing in powers from the old world(s) isn’t something your characters get freely. The more they do this, the more likely they are for the world to notice that something’s happening that shouldn’t be. If the world does notice, then there’s Whiplash, where the world tries to deal with the problems that your character is causing. This usually ends badly for the character. And then there’s a brief note about Slippage; rarely, something more than just memories will make the transition to the new world…

Roughly the last third of the book is meant for Narrators; that is, people who run the game (e.g. Game Masters, etc.). This covers some of the basic questions about fluxing, along with presenting some ideas for how things could work in various fluxed worlds. Finally, we get the resolution to the opening fiction, which I quite enjoyed.

Ultimately, I found myself highly impressed with The Flux. The idea it presents is exciting and offers simple yet novel way of easily transitioning from game to game while keeping continuity for flux characters. The few rules it introduces are simple, yet serve to highlight what makes fluxing an addition to a game, rather than just an excuse to start using a different system. The remaining guidelines are helpful without being restrictive, letting you go your own way where you differ from the author’s presentation (as I did in a few places). Finally, the writing is top-notch, being all the more intriguing for its casual tone.

If you and your players want to transition game systems without having to start everything over, if you love the idea of characters and plotlines that span worlds, if you want to see a little more of one game take place in another, then pick up The Flux. New worlds are just a flux away.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Flux
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/03/2011 19:21:59
There aren't all that many RPG products that leave you standing there with your mouth open and at the same time wanting to smack yourself in the head. The Flux is one of those few.

Hello, my name is Erik, and I suffer from Gamer's ADD. No, not AD&D, but Gamer's Attention Deficit Disorder. There is just so much cool crap, i want to run from Labyrinth Lord, to Fate, to Dresden, to Swords & Wizardry, to Tunnels and Trolls - I want it all. As a GM, sometimes I get drawn to the new shiny like a moth to flame.

The Flux embraces my illness and makes it a strength. The solution is obvious really, run them all, yet keep them linked. John Wick is a smart man.

This isn't a long, wordy product, but a tool that may be eye opening and inspirational. I'm already toying with it, and I don't even have a campaign started with any system at the moment.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Play Dirty
by david f. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/22/2010 08:03:46
GM advise can be very hit or miss and John Wick's stuff is the same. That being understood, this is one of the best reads I have had for some time. It is witty and clever, some of the advise you can even use. It has been a while since I read a book from cover to cover in one sitting and if I had not had a four year old to deal with, I would have. Excellent book, would recommend it to any referee that is feeling a bit jaded and needs a reboot as an essential read.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Play Dirty
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Play Dirty
by Michael B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/14/2010 10:29:27
Advice for GM's is like any suggestion: You can take it or leave it. So, buying a PDF of GM advice might be a tricky proposition: You won't know if its going to be useful until you've read it and thought about it, and then given yourself a chance to put it into practice.

I'd never read anything by John Wick until I bought a copy of Houses of the Blooded. At the end of that book, there's a fascinating chapter on GMing, one that goes beyond the standard boilerplate RPG designers. Based on that, I figured $5 was a safe bet on Play Dirty. And I wasn't wrong.

The essence of John's guidance is simple: There's more to the RPG experience than you might know from just reading the rulebook. Far more. John offers suggestions on ways to take what might just be an enjoyable evening of gaming into an experience that transcends dice rolls. Wick focuses on players and their characters, and how to manipulate both to create tense, emotional, memorable moments.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood & Honor
by Erathoniel W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/12/2010 20:30:39
Blood & Honor is the antithesis of a game like Eclipse Phase. It lacks hundreds of pages of background and numbers. Instead, there is a simple core mechanic that is built up into a sort of network until everything meshes together flawlessly.

It's great.

I have never seen a game for $5 that presents as much as this one. It has some of the best advice I've ever seen included with a game, for both players and narrators. Professional typesetting with authentic art makes the game more natural to read.

For a unique take on an Eastern adventure, look no further than Blood & Honor.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood & Honor
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