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Game Geek Issues #21
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/16/2011 12:35:57
Though a great deal of work went into this issue, most of the artwork, the layout, and the great many mis-spellings and poor sentence structure, are extremely amateur, like much of my work with the first four issues of Argent Fire I did between 2004 and 2007. That being said, I know how difficult it is to produce an eZine on your own, without help -though, to be honest, if there had been any help I wouldn't have known because there is only one credit given in the contents-, and still... there is extant software to help with desktop publishing that could have made this magazine more enjoyable to look at. I think the largest peave I have, however, comes in the way of the cards throughout the book; I understand they need to be a particular size to be handled appropriately, though this could still have been accomplished. Rather than placing the back-side of a card to the right or left of its' front-face, put the front face on the top row toward the top of a page, and the accompanying back-sides beneath those on that same page. Much space could have been saved by doing it this way, rather than having a set of two cards on a single page, the remaining space wasted.

Since subsequent works tend to show improvement through experimentation and learning, I would be highly disappointed to see what the previous 20 issues look like.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Game Geek Issues #21
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Game Geek Issues #21
by Ben P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/16/2011 12:21:39
Some of the art in this issue was excellent, but much of it was amateur and grainy (including poor quality scans) and the writing subpar. Lots of ads. It was free, and I got what I paid for. Probably won't continue to follow it.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
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Horror Show
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/26/2011 07:07:54
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/08/26/tabletop-review-horror--
show/
I’ve been avoiding doing a tabletop review for a while now. This is mostly due to my aversion to PDF files when it comes to reading. I prefer actual books for this kind of thing, because I can take them anywhere (I don’t have a Kindle.) and I like the feel of turning the pages. There’s nothing better than cracking open a good book. That, and being on a computer, I have too many distractions readily at my fingertips. I find myself checking a web page or turning on some music. I don’t do that when I read a book.

However, when I took a look at Horror Show, and saw what it was, my curiosity was peaked to the point where I gave in. This game sets out to emulate the feeling of a horror film, and I just found that idea really cool. I’ve played several campaigns with horror elements involved, but there were never any scares or tension. It was more like, “Oh no. Skeletons! And I just got rid of my bludgeoning weapon!” I was hoping this game could change that.

Let’s see if it does.

The first thing to look at is the character creation system. The first thing you do is chose a role. There are several to chose from, such as cop, athlete, leader, and bookworm. These give you a primary skill and an acquaintance. An acquaintance is an NPC your character can contact for help once per adventure. They can help in battle, open a pathway, or simply divulge information. If you play a cop, your acquaintance is your superior. If you play a bookworm, the acquaintance will perhaps be an expert colleague with vital information. After you’ve chosen your role, you can chose a career. While there are plenty to chose from in the book, the writers stress you can use anything. Each job comes with a bonus to one of your stats, either listed or decided upon by the player and DM. This part of the character creation system is painlessly simple. The next part, gets a bit trickier.

You have six different skill groups: defense, combat, physical, specialist, mental, and knowledge. You get one primary skill based off of your role, and you can chose any one other as well. The rest fall under secondary skills. The difference is in the number of points you get to spend for that category. Primary skill get twelve while secondary get nine. You can then place these points in a number of subcategories. For example, the combat skill group includes hand to hand, small arms, heavy arms, etc. Each skill has three slots that can be filled. Using up one slot costs one point, two slots costs two more points, and the third costs three more. So, if you wanted to master a skill, it would cost you six points. How these skills work is that you roll a number of d10s equal to your skill level. If you wanted to shoot a zombie with a shotgun, you’d roll dice equal to your medium arms skill. After rolling, you take the highest number as your roll, with a ten being an automatic hit while a one being an automatic miss. The same holds true for any applicable action. Trying to convince someone to open a door would require a manipulation check, making a jump would take an athletics check, etc. The exception is the defense skill set. These come with base numbers, and buying skill slots here boost your stat.

The bulk of character creation is in the skills. After that, everything is optional. You can take what’s called a “shortcoming” to give you a negative character quirk. An example is being unable to read. Why would you want to give yourself such a flaw? You get extra skill points for each one you take, with a maximum of two. I find this an interesting way to max your stats. You can also chose a motivation, which is a goal your character works toward. These help keep the story in focus and you’ll need to work toward them if possible. Finally, there is equipment. The game comes with a good sized list of various weapons, gadgets, and everyday items you might encounter, but in reality a campaign in this game might not include any or all of them. If you’re stuck in a barn with a madman running outside, I doubt you’ll be able to just pop out and buy a handgun.

An interesting aspect of character creation is the “octane level” that gets chosen. Instead of HP, characters have wound points. Every time you get injured, you take negatives to your rolls. If you take one too many shots, you’re down and out. A low octane character gets two hits before they’re down, while a regular has three and a high octane character gets five. This allows you to customize your game for the type of feel your want. After all, you can expect a high schooler to have the same staying power as a mercenary.

I’ve kind of touched on it a bit, but I should mention how the game’s mechanics work. The only dice you’ll need are d10s. That’s because the number of your skill check equals the number of dice you roll. You take the highest number and compare that to your target number. For example, if you wanted to shoot a crazed axe murderer with a pistol, you’d first need to look at your small arms skill. Let’s say you had a two in that. You’d roll two d10s, take the highest number, and compare that to the axe murderer’s evade skill. If you win, you hit. Simple as that. (Although, in order to do actual damage, you need to do another roll, but that’s neither here nor there.) The basic rule is that highest roll must be greater than target number or else whatever you’re doing fails. If you roll a natural ten, it is an automatic success, and there’s usually a bonus involved. Scoring a ten on a bully check has the opposition begging for mercy and handing over whatever information you needed, for example.

As far as the various monster, aliens, psychos, ghosts and what-have-yous that serve as enemies, the game gives you a pretty good creation tool to make up your own. However, it also gives you plenty of monsters if you don’t want to go that way. I like how they even accounted for the difference between a regular ghost and a j-horror one. If you don’t want to use them the pages are filled to the brim with various powers, spells, and abilities that can be used to create pretty much anything you can think of. The best part is that nothing is set in stone. For example, the game details rules for a spray attack, but lets you pick the damage and possible negative status effects it could cost. It’s a very flexible system designed for the DM to create the stuff of nightmares.

We’ve gotten the basics out of the way. So let’s talk about what this game does to create that horror atmosphere. In all honest, a great deal of the book is dedicated to just that. There are sections that cover setting the mood, various camp levels, and what how much information goes out. There are also large sections dedicated to giving you ideas that emulate various movies and character. For example, someone who wanted a villain akin to Michael Meyers would need to consult the mysterious subtype. Again, none of this set in stone. The game is merely giving you ideas of how to move forward with your planned adventure.

For those that don’t want to come up with the setup, there are several scenarios in the book as well. While not full campaigns, they lay the groundwork and give you an overall story to follow if you want. For example, the “Saved by the Bell” scenario is all about middle school students trying to survive a masked killer while getting no help from skeptical faculty members. If you’re struggling with ideas, these can certainly help you out.

From an overall perspective, this game feels less like a core rulebook and more like an idea machine. Sure, there is a decent character creation system, but the focus here is on creative freedom. You could very well use this setup to create a completely non-horror related game. That’s why the book includes so much information that doesn’t impact rules, but instead gives ideas on how to create a true horror film atmosphere. In that regard, the book is pretty darn nifty, although it will appeal to a niche audience. Thankfully, the game is only ten dollars, so the barrier to entry is very low. Horror Show ends up being a great find for those that have always wanted to roleplay through a Friday the 13th movie.

Which makes it totally awesome.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Horror Show
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Horror Show
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/14/2011 16:54:32
WHAT WORKS: A tested system that has depth without being too crunchy, combined with an obvious passion and knowledge of the genre. The book really shines with the Monster sections, where they provide both a number of ready made monsters as well as powers and guidelines to build your own from scratch. And yes, if you choose, you can use the Monster Powers section to make characters with special powers (like the psychic chick from Friday the 13th Part VII) or even play the game as a straight up Monsters game. Oh, and I love that cover so much.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: None of the provided Features did much for me, but they don't take up much room anyway. There are still a few places where they probably carried over a bit TOO much information from the previous Network system games, but that's a maybe.

CONCLUSION: Yeah, I doubted the guys that made me like both a mob-based RPG and a terrorist/Homeland Defense based RPG. I'll learn someday. Probably the biggest problem the book faces is that most groups probably have a go-to game for horror at this point, be it GURPS Horror, All Flesh Must Be Eaten (which is easy to mod for non-zombie horror with the genrebooks out at this point), new World of Darkness or what-have-you...and there's probably not anything in this book that just SCREAMS "ditch your go-to game in favor of Horror Show", other than being written with few, if any, assumptions in mind. For my part, even if I never actually use this to run a game with, I have little doubt that I'll constantly pull it up for inspiration when running horror games. Did I mention I really love the cover? Very strong recommendation if you like horror RPGs, and one of the strongest releases by Bedrock Games to date, in my opinion.

For my full review, please visit: http://mostunreadblogever.blogspot.com/2011/08/tommys-take-o-
n-horror-show.html

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Click here to issue a publisher reply
Hell on Earth, Issue 1
by matt c. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/09/2011 12:19:47
Solid stuff. A great first addon to an already fascinating idea for a wargame. A very unique style of artwork and small fan fiction snippets to tell the grander story. Slightly confusing backstory at first but once you accept its progress through chaos, it all coheres. Highly recommend this and the other rulesets!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hell on Earth, Issue 1
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Altered Earth
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/07/2011 08:35:48
Opening with a Setting Introduction, which describes the variety of game types that you can play in this bleak yet chaotic apocalypic future-Earth, a setting rich with a wealth of opportunity for those brave, perhaps vicious, enough to sieze what they want and defend it against all comers. The background is explained, a gradual decline brought about by wars, economic catastrophes and environmental damage: no single apocalyptic event but a succession of disaster after disaster that brought once-green Earth to its present state of barren wasteland scattered with giant city-fortresses ruled by warlords.

Scene set, Chapter 2: Races looks at, well, the races available to players. The default is, of course, human beings - as described in the 'Humans' section of the Dungeons & Dragons 4e Player's Handbook. However, if 'fantasy' elements are required, the use of this ruleset means that the D&D fantasy races are compatible - even if they are explained away as aliens or from another dimension within your game. Or there are other options here: you might want to play an android, for example, a robot with artificial intelligence that has developed self-awareness... a process which tends to end in insanity. The formulae of D&D 4e have been used to good effect with such as 'Play an XXX if you want...' and powers for androids being renamed 'skill programs' - very neat retooling of the ruleset to suit the game setting. You could also pick a cyborg, a human with a lot of prosthetic enhancement and replacement. Stranger are the experimentals, subjects of mind or body altering biological experimentation, and gene freaks, who are genetically engineered humans, altered to excel in one specific area. Strangest of all, perhaps, are the risen, who have died and been restored to life by technogical means.

Next, Chapter 3: Classes examines the different career paths that characters can follow. Different races tend to be better at different classes, but you can enter whichever one that you wish. There are three to choose from: athlete, diplomat and specialist. Fantasy classes from D&D can also be used, the most suitable being those that draw on the martial or psionic power sources... unless you want to go really fantasy, of course. Athletes excel in melee, specialists in ranged combat, whilst diplomats use their minds and their charms to achieve desired outcomes. For each, a wealth of exploits and other features enable you to customise the character within these broad categories to end up with whatever you want. It's clear that plenty of thought has gone into these.

Chapter 4 then presents some paragon paths for those who reach 11th level and choose to specialise further. These are based on past history and inclinations, not on any specific class, and all are available to any character. Relic hunter, killer, high-tech gladiator, free agent, king of the streets, tunnel rat... it's the style in which you go about your adventures, the areas in which you wish to excel, that determine which, if any, you choose.

Race and class decided, on to Chapter 5: Skills and Feats. There are two new skills - Psych and Science - to equip your character to deal with the world as it is now, as well as notes on how to adapt existing D&D skills to the setting, in particular how to use knowledge of nature to forage in the wastelands. There are plenty of setting-specific feats to choose from as well. This is followed by Chapter 6: Equipment and Vehicles, so that you can kit out your newly-created character. In this setting, each fortress-city has its own currency, often held in electronic format: fine whilst you stay in one place, but what if you are visiting, or travel around a lot - or just have to leave in a hurry? Once you move on, electronic funds need to be converted into something more tangible. Precious metals and gems are a standard, of course, but drugs, medicines and ammunition are also popular. Then on to armour and weapons, and more general gear including medicines, food, and the various necessities characters are likely to need. An interesting point is that gear is defined as the stuff your character has that makes a difference to his being able to complete the adventure. Services - from lodgings to those of 'sex workers' and even a scale of bribes - and vehicles are also included here.

Next is Chapter 7: Experiments. Here are described several protracted procedures that characters might wish to undertake. They fit an analogous position to the 'Rituals' of D&D although they can involve the use of a wide range of skills. So if you wish to reanimate a fallen character, or persuade one of those archaic satellites to give you a view of the world from space... here's how. A character sheet blank, and off you go...

Despite the overview of the setting given at the beginning, the GM is going to have to engage in quite a bit of pre-game designing: surroundings, personalities, as well as whatever adventure is to take place. This work gives you the tools and a glimpse at the setting, but more work is needed before you will be ready to stride forth and adventure in the Altered Earth. What is here is good, clearly presented, consistently thought out... but it feels almost as if there's a second part to the book yet to come.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Altered Earth
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Lightspeed: Alien Contact
by Yilbber V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/05/2011 22:47:23
Totally useless for Fuzion, And stats are incompatible with Fuzion material.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Lightspeed: Alien Contact
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Art of Michael Wolmarans, Nightmares and Dreamscapes
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/05/2011 07:01:22
Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/08/05/the-night-gallery-volum-
e-i-issue-i/


Object d’art number two: Art of Michael Wolmarans, Nightmares and Dreamscapes. At a hefty $9.99 you’d expect this collections to have at least four black and white pictures. But no, instead you only get 10 full page, full color illustrations as well as the same pictures again, but shrunken down and in b&w. There’s a nice selection of fantasy/horror going on here. There’s the bloody-mouthed woman from the cover, a hellish landscape, odd skeletal remains, even the Bride of Frankenstein dressed in her 50’s housewife best holding a fresh-baked apple pie. My favorite is a somewhat original take on what I assume is Baba Yaga.

While some of the art is a bit too wacom-tablety for my taste (wide, soft lines that don’t look like anything other than a computer made it) each piece is good in it’s own right. Not just nice to look at, but seeming to convey a story, or a part thereof, all by itself. Good art is inspirational , and you could easily work these into your campaign, or even use them to create a new scene you hadn’t thought of before.

So is it worth ten bucks? I’d have to say that’s up to you. It’s a bit much for my taste, but you could certainly spend your money in worse ways.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Art of Michael Wolmarans, Nightmares and Dreamscapes
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Markets and Merchandise
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/29/2011 11:58:17
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/29/tabletop-review-markets-
-and-merchandise/

Markets and Merchandise is a fairly straightforward book; stuff what for to buy in your imaginary friends games (Pathfinder, 4e, and d6 compatible versions are available), where for to buy such trinkets and why for how you has the moneys of what they is. Honestly, the overall idea is one I tend to skip past. First off, my group gets picky (read: bitchy) about their loot, so I let them pick it themselves. More importantly, I like my D&D a bit more down and dirty dungeon crawly, so stopping to talk about the illustrations on each side of the local kingdom’s coinage and the finer points of their anti-shaving technology never really crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I thought it would be worth a look to see if there were any ideas or times that I could add to my current campaign.

At around sixty pages of text, Markets and Merchandise is a slim yet comprehensive volume and is surprisingly well written with quite a lot of thought put into it. It seems (to my admittedly amateur eyes) that the writers did some actual research into the history of coinage. Or maybe they skimmed a Wikipedia article. (Or maybe they just made it all up and I’m too lazy to do my own research to check). However it was done, the final product reads quite professionally, without going overboard into a Ben Stein drone on the formal history of economics from the Paleozoic to Medieval Agrarian. The book is sparsely illustrated, with a decent layout, but chapters aren’t given their own page and start wherever the last chapter happens to end. This gets on my nerves a bit, but isn’t a deal-breaker.

The book is divided into three chapters: Currency & Wealth, Places to Buy Things, and an Item Listing. There’s also an appendix of Treasure Parcels, but it’s only two pages of some examples and is hardly worth mentioning. The first chapter has some good ideas for fleshing out your world through the use of currency. What they use, why they use it, how it looks, and just about everything else in between. As I’ve said, while it’s not my cup of tea, the potential here is unique and inviting. I found myself actually enjoying reading about the history of coins and how different societies would influence the style of currency.

The chapter on Places to Buy Things is a bit self explanatory, but again, I found lots of ideas I’d never even considered, like purchasing items from nomadic traders or military camps. They flesh out these markets with details on the setting, attitudes, and even bargaining rates. I found myself once again astonished at how they could take this flyover country and turn it into something not only worth reading, but worth incorporating into your game.

The final chapter, Item Listing, is almost beyond complete. Animals, crops, vehicles, coffee, scented bath oil, food, clothes, alcohol, breakfast options, entertainment, midwives, pesticide, land, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten, are all detailed and priced. They even have a few “futuristic” weapons; though I’m not certain I agree with their assessment that a crossbow is part of the mace group of weapons, nor that a handgun is a spear or an energy blaster is a heavy blade. All of this can be forgiven, however, by the inclusion of elephants, as well as elephant armor and weapons. Any book that contains a “trunk sword” is automatically getting a bump up in my estimation.

But here’s where we come to the interesting and possibly controversial part. Slaves are included in the Item Listing chapter (and sporadically throughout the book), but are spoken of as just another commodity. In fact, in the main article on slaves, it dispassionately explains various uses for slaves, their rights, and describes different markets where they can be purchased. You could read just about any entry on slaves in this book, substitute “oxen” or “chairs” and have a coherent sentence. It just strikes me as odd that such a potentially touchy subject be treated in such a blasé fashion.

It seems as though someone at Avalon Games anticipated this, though, because right in the middle of an introductory paragraph are two sentences decrying slavery as “[a] horrific practice [that] robs people of their dignity and their self-respect.” Its odd placement and surprisingly harsh nature (given the detached style of the rest of the narrative) makes it feel like a last minute editorial decision. As if someone suddenly went, “Wait! What if some people may get upset about including slaves in our book of merchandise? We should point out slavery is bad. Done? Good, now write this down, ‘Females are more valuable than males because they can serve as breeding stock to produce baby slaves.’” (Actual book quote inside my blatantly made-up hypothetical quote) Oddly, there was no information for baby slaves.

All that aside, Markets and Merchandise excels at what it sets out to do; enrich your game with monetary particulars. If you’re looking to flesh out your ideas for your realm with realistic economic details, or describe the character’s mercantile encounters more vividly, or if you just want your character to charge into combat on the back of a painted war elephant, mowing down your enemies with its mighty trunk sword, then this is the book for you.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Markets and Merchandise
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Markets and Merchandise, OpenD6 Version
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/29/2011 11:58:13
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/29/tabletop-review-markets-
-and-merchandise/

Markets and Merchandise is a fairly straightforward book; stuff what for to buy in your imaginary friends games (Pathfinder, 4e, and d6 compatible versions are available), where for to buy such trinkets and why for how you has the moneys of what they is. Honestly, the overall idea is one I tend to skip past. First off, my group gets picky (read: bitchy) about their loot, so I let them pick it themselves. More importantly, I like my D&D a bit more down and dirty dungeon crawly, so stopping to talk about the illustrations on each side of the local kingdom’s coinage and the finer points of their anti-shaving technology never really crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I thought it would be worth a look to see if there were any ideas or times that I could add to my current campaign.

At around sixty pages of text, Markets and Merchandise is a slim yet comprehensive volume and is surprisingly well written with quite a lot of thought put into it. It seems (to my admittedly amateur eyes) that the writers did some actual research into the history of coinage. Or maybe they skimmed a Wikipedia article. (Or maybe they just made it all up and I’m too lazy to do my own research to check). However it was done, the final product reads quite professionally, without going overboard into a Ben Stein drone on the formal history of economics from the Paleozoic to Medieval Agrarian. The book is sparsely illustrated, with a decent layout, but chapters aren’t given their own page and start wherever the last chapter happens to end. This gets on my nerves a bit, but isn’t a deal-breaker.

The book is divided into three chapters: Currency & Wealth, Places to Buy Things, and an Item Listing. There’s also an appendix of Treasure Parcels, but it’s only two pages of some examples and is hardly worth mentioning. The first chapter has some good ideas for fleshing out your world through the use of currency. What they use, why they use it, how it looks, and just about everything else in between. As I’ve said, while it’s not my cup of tea, the potential here is unique and inviting. I found myself actually enjoying reading about the history of coins and how different societies would influence the style of currency.

The chapter on Places to Buy Things is a bit self explanatory, but again, I found lots of ideas I’d never even considered, like purchasing items from nomadic traders or military camps. They flesh out these markets with details on the setting, attitudes, and even bargaining rates. I found myself once again astonished at how they could take this flyover country and turn it into something not only worth reading, but worth incorporating into your game.

The final chapter, Item Listing, is almost beyond complete. Animals, crops, vehicles, coffee, scented bath oil, food, clothes, alcohol, breakfast options, entertainment, midwives, pesticide, land, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten, are all detailed and priced. They even have a few “futuristic” weapons; though I’m not certain I agree with their assessment that a crossbow is part of the mace group of weapons, nor that a handgun is a spear or an energy blaster is a heavy blade. All of this can be forgiven, however, by the inclusion of elephants, as well as elephant armor and weapons. Any book that contains a “trunk sword” is automatically getting a bump up in my estimation.

But here’s where we come to the interesting and possibly controversial part. Slaves are included in the Item Listing chapter (and sporadically throughout the book), but are spoken of as just another commodity. In fact, in the main article on slaves, it dispassionately explains various uses for slaves, their rights, and describes different markets where they can be purchased. You could read just about any entry on slaves in this book, substitute “oxen” or “chairs” and have a coherent sentence. It just strikes me as odd that such a potentially touchy subject be treated in such a blasé fashion.

It seems as though someone at Avalon Games anticipated this, though, because right in the middle of an introductory paragraph are two sentences decrying slavery as “[a] horrific practice [that] robs people of their dignity and their self-respect.” Its odd placement and surprisingly harsh nature (given the detached style of the rest of the narrative) makes it feel like a last minute editorial decision. As if someone suddenly went, “Wait! What if some people may get upset about including slaves in our book of merchandise? We should point out slavery is bad. Done? Good, now write this down, ‘Females are more valuable than males because they can serve as breeding stock to produce baby slaves.’” (Actual book quote inside my blatantly made-up hypothetical quote) Oddly, there was no information for baby slaves.

All that aside, Markets and Merchandise excels at what it sets out to do; enrich your game with monetary particulars. If you’re looking to flesh out your ideas for your realm with realistic economic details, or describe the character’s mercantile encounters more vividly, or if you just want your character to charge into combat on the back of a painted war elephant, mowing down your enemies with its mighty trunk sword, then this is the book for you.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Markets and Merchandise, OpenD6 Version
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Markets and Merchandise, Pathfinder Version
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/29/2011 11:56:40
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/29/tabletop-review-markets-
-and-merchandise/


Markets and Merchandise is a fairly straightforward book; stuff what for to buy in your imaginary friends games (Pathfinder, 4e, and d6 compatible versions are available), where for to buy such trinkets and why for how you has the moneys of what they is. Honestly, the overall idea is one I tend to skip past. First off, my group gets picky (read: bitchy) about their loot, so I let them pick it themselves. More importantly, I like my D&D a bit more down and dirty dungeon crawly, so stopping to talk about the illustrations on each side of the local kingdom’s coinage and the finer points of their anti-shaving technology never really crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I thought it would be worth a look to see if there were any ideas or times that I could add to my current campaign.

At around sixty pages of text, Markets and Merchandise is a slim yet comprehensive volume and is surprisingly well written with quite a lot of thought put into it. It seems (to my admittedly amateur eyes) that the writers did some actual research into the history of coinage. Or maybe they skimmed a Wikipedia article. (Or maybe they just made it all up and I’m too lazy to do my own research to check). However it was done, the final product reads quite professionally, without going overboard into a Ben Stein drone on the formal history of economics from the Paleozoic to Medieval Agrarian. The book is sparsely illustrated, with a decent layout, but chapters aren’t given their own page and start wherever the last chapter happens to end. This gets on my nerves a bit, but isn’t a deal-breaker.

The book is divided into three chapters: Currency & Wealth, Places to Buy Things, and an Item Listing. There’s also an appendix of Treasure Parcels, but it’s only two pages of some examples and is hardly worth mentioning. The first chapter has some good ideas for fleshing out your world through the use of currency. What they use, why they use it, how it looks, and just about everything else in between. As I’ve said, while it’s not my cup of tea, the potential here is unique and inviting. I found myself actually enjoying reading about the history of coins and how different societies would influence the style of currency.

The chapter on Places to Buy Things is a bit self explanatory, but again, I found lots of ideas I’d never even considered, like purchasing items from nomadic traders or military camps. They flesh out these markets with details on the setting, attitudes, and even bargaining rates. I found myself once again astonished at how they could take this flyover country and turn it into something not only worth reading, but worth incorporating into your game.

The final chapter, Item Listing, is almost beyond complete. Animals, crops, vehicles, coffee, scented bath oil, food, clothes, alcohol, breakfast options, entertainment, midwives, pesticide, land, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten, are all detailed and priced. They even have a few “futuristic” weapons; though I’m not certain I agree with their assessment that a crossbow is part of the mace group of weapons, nor that a handgun is a spear or an energy blaster is a heavy blade. All of this can be forgiven, however, by the inclusion of elephants, as well as elephant armor and weapons. Any book that contains a “trunk sword” is automatically getting a bump up in my estimation.

But here’s where we come to the interesting and possibly controversial part. Slaves are included in the Item Listing chapter (and sporadically throughout the book), but are spoken of as just another commodity. In fact, in the main article on slaves, it dispassionately explains various uses for slaves, their rights, and describes different markets where they can be purchased. You could read just about any entry on slaves in this book, substitute “oxen” or “chairs” and have a coherent sentence. It just strikes me as odd that such a potentially touchy subject be treated in such a blasé fashion.

It seems as though someone at Avalon Games anticipated this, though, because right in the middle of an introductory paragraph are two sentences decrying slavery as “[a] horrific practice [that] robs people of their dignity and their self-respect.” Its odd placement and surprisingly harsh nature (given the detached style of the rest of the narrative) makes it feel like a last minute editorial decision. As if someone suddenly went, “Wait! What if some people may get upset about including slaves in our book of merchandise? We should point out slavery is bad. Done? Good, now write this down, ‘Females are more valuable than males because they can serve as breeding stock to produce baby slaves.’” (Actual book quote inside my blatantly made-up hypothetical quote) Oddly, there was no information for baby slaves.

All that aside, Markets and Merchandise excels at what it sets out to do; enrich your game with monetary particulars. If you’re looking to flesh out your ideas for your realm with realistic economic details, or describe the character’s mercantile encounters more vividly, or if you just want your character to charge into combat on the back of a painted war elephant, mowing down your enemies with its mighty trunk sword, then this is the book for you.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Markets and Merchandise, Pathfinder Version
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Altered Earth Preview
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/27/2011 14:41:36
Jam-packed into some mere 28 pages are an overview of the setting, several sample characters, an adventures AND some ancillary material: plenty and enough to decide if this is a game that would appeal to you and your players.

First comes the setting information. After talking a bit about science-fiction adventures in the far future, things calm down a bit and it turns out that this is a post-apocalyptic Earth setting some unspecified time in the future. Civilisation has been destroyed in a series of wars, so well destroyed that nobody really remembers what it used to be like. Out of the chaos there arose powerful warlords who over the course of time have established fortified city-states that stand proud over the desolation and wilderness. Against this backdrop, all manner of adventures may be had.

The cities are teeming masses of humanity, crowded into too little space, piled layer upon layer, the higher up you live, the better-off you are. Governance is sparse, law and order just about non-existant. The rich hire security, the rest survive as best they can. Even in those rare places that hold elections, little concern is paid to the well-being of the population, whilst the majority of places are under the sway of a dictatorship of some kind. Real power lies in two places: the corps and the warlords. Neither care about ordinary people.

So, given this premise, 5 pre-generated characters and an adventure for them to play are provided for those who are intrigued enough to want to try this out. Glancing over the character sheets, it's clear how core D&D 4e has been bent, folded, mangled, spindled and macerated to suit. You'll still need the corebooks to make the most of it, or certainly once you branch off to concocting your own materials or characters for this setting, but there's a whole range of new stuff - from chain-swords (shades of Rifts here!) to appropriate powers and skills - that remain true to the underlying system yet give it a distinctive spin.

The adventure comes next. Set in the urban jungle of the lower levels of one of these vast cities, the characters are asked to find a missing girl, whose adventure sampling the darker side of life has gone sadly awry. Encounters aplenty await, as they make their way through situations that are described evocatively, words bringing them to life in the mind's eye. Chases, brawls, negotiations, opportunity to try out role-playing, skills and that chain-sword as you explore this alternate reality and stamp your mark upon it.

Then comes the additional material. Some concept art, mostly warriors and gangers, people you'd not care to meet in a dark alley but probably will if you play the adventure. And more background material, this in the tangible form of how money is handled in this game, and some of the things you can buy with it. Want a protein bar, or space in a 'coffin hotel' to spend the night?

As an appetiser, this gives a fair bit to get your teeth into (although I wouldn't recommend the protein bar, to be honest!), certainly enough to try the game out and consider whether or not it will suit your group and meet your gaming needs. And it's free, a good start. More than that, though, it does give a good flavour, a good feel, for what is in store.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Altered Earth Preview
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Once Upon a Time, Pathfinder Version
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/24/2011 21:58:24
Once Upon the Time is inspirational with some useful ideas, unfortunately it is hampered by a poor conversion to the Pathfinder rule set. I hope that a second edition with a cleaned up and improved set of rules for Pathfinder will be released soon.

Once Upon A Time: A Guide to Fairy Tales for Pathfinder is a 46-page PDF (36 pages if you remove the cover, OGL and ads) written by David Caffee and published by Avalon Games.

The layout is most standard, double column (interspaced with single column) and easy to read, unfortunately it lacks both a table of contents and index though it is still short enough that things should be easy enough to find. The interior art is black and white and suited to the product’s theme.

This is a book about bringing elements of fairy tales into gaming, this version providing rules to be used with the Pathfinder system. It begins with an introduction to fairy tales (not originally for children alone) and then moves into the structure of the tales and how to apply that to a game structure.

A random table of fifty fairy tail plots seeds and twenty random encounters provide inspiration for adventures. Four useful characters -evil witch, good witch, seducer, strong person- are statted out but not very well with several omissions and errors (the good witch is statted as a cleric but is listed as a sorcerer for example).

Next there are new skills -detective work, puzzles and riddles, and rhyming- which to fit the Pathfinder paradigm really should have been folding into existing skills, the later two would have been excellent additions to Perform for example. There are four new feats, which are nicely thematic for fairy tail games but would be more of a challenge for other settings.

Six advance/prestige classes follow (it mixes and matches those terms) which while brilliant thematically -fair maiden, gallant hero- are just the same version from the OGL version of this product. The character skills have not even been converted to the Pathfinder versions. These classes need to be completely rewritten and available to take as base classes to achieve what they need to achieve for the implied setting.

The monsters are fun and interesting, including a big bad wolf and a wicked trader (ala rumplestiltskin), but poorly converted to Pathfinder.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThruRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Once Upon a Time, Pathfinder Version
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GROMM: Fantasy Skirmish, Basic Edition
by matt c. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/21/2011 19:52:48
An outstanding variation of the vanilla fantasy worlds we now find ourselves surrounded by. GROMM's mechanics are to the point and flawless in their operation. This is truly a gem of a free ruleset, and will only get better with time.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
GROMM: Fantasy Skirmish, Basic Edition
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Mystic Adventures
by james w. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/19/2011 19:38:15
My ten year old daughter and I enjoy this very much. One of our favorite games is Return of the Heroes. When we want a break from that or your typical dungeon crawler Mystic Adventurers and expansions fit the bill. Production quality and art is not the greatest but the game play is good and I usually pimp out my pnp games anyway. I rate it a 4 out of 5.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystic Adventures
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