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All Flesh Must Be Eaten Character Journal
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2013 07:23:11
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/08/tabletop-review-all-fle-
sh-must-be-eaten-character-journal/

The All Flesh Must Be Eaten Character Journal is an odd duck. It basically amounts to an eighteen page character sheet, which just might be the longest one ever created for a game. Now, I’m a big fan of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and I try to review everything that comes out for it, like last month’s Band of Zombies, but this is the first ever release for the system where I honestly can’t think of any time I would ever use it.

Now, granted, we all need character sheets for our various games, be they printed off official versions or just written hastily on notebook paper. The problem is, I can’t think of a time you would want to have an eighteen page character sheet. Sure, the Character Journal gives you a lot of room to take notes on the events of your character’s life, but so much of the Character Journal is just unneeded space due to a character sheet for AFMBE being spread out from one page to eighteen. Do we really need two pages just for skills? A full page for Qualities? A full page for drawbacks? An entire page for weapons? How about that page where you just list the amount of ammo you have? No, you will NEVER need that much space. Oddly enough, you only get a tiny sticky note size space to write up your character’s personality. Obviously this Character Journal was not well thought out as, if anything, that’s where people need the extra room. I was glad to see a full page for character history, but that’s about the only thing about the Character Journal I think was done right.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to keep track of every zombie they have ever killed. That seems a little OCD/anal retentive, but you have a full page for that. Same with the space for tracking every head shot your character has ever made. That seems unnecessary and a little bit psychotic to boot. Basically, the Character Journal takes eighteen pages to do what you normally can do in just one or two pages, and that feels like a waste of paper, ink, and time to me. I would never even think of using this, nor can I think of any tabletop game where I would have the desire to need or want a sixteen page character sheet and two pages to act as covers for it. Now, if you CAN get use out of this, more power to you, but it seems fundamentally worthless to me. The more pages a character sheet is, the harder it is to find the information you are looking for, the more resources it wastes, and the easier it is to lose a page. The PDF version of the Character Journal isn’t an interactive version, allowing you to type information in or click a button to check things off (like the ammo), so you can’t use it digitally at all. You still have to print it off and handwrite everything on it, making it outdated and not very useful if you’re trying to stay electronic.

Obviously, this is not a release for me. It’s a product I neither understand nor can fathom how anyone would want such a thing. That said, the cover art is nice, the product is well laid out for something that spreads a one page character sheet over sixteen pages, and it is a neat idea for those that are pretty much only playing All Flesh Must Be Eaten and have characters in campaigns that will be going for years. Again, if you can find a use for this thing, good for you, because I can’t. My advice is just to print off a character sheet for the game, as it’s a saner alternative. The production values are high and I’m sure someone somewhere will get a kick out of this; it’s just not for me in any way, shape or form.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
All Flesh Must Be Eaten Character Journal
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Shadowrun: Splintered State
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2013 06:48:14
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/04/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-splintered-state/

Splintered State is the first adventure for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition that isn’t from the Shadowrun Missions line. Although to be honest, since the adventure uses the same formatting as Shadowrun Missions, follows up some of the storyline threads from the last season of Missions and looks and feels like a double length adventure from that series, it’s hard not to instinctively look at Splintered State as a post script to the Seattle adventures. Unlike Shadowrun Missions though, Splintered State is completely in black and white and it has nearly twice the page count. That said it also has a little over twice the price tag as well. Season 5 of Shadowrun Missions costs a little under six dollars per adventure and Season 4, which Splintered State ties into, costs $3.95 each, so you could get two or three adventures using the same format for the same cost as this. Why the higher price tag? I’m not sure save for the fact it’s the first adventure to start touching on plot points from Storm Front, the last Metaplot release for Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. We get to see a little more regarding the fall of Kenneth Brackhaven, Governor of Seattle, but more importantly, we also get a bit more of the mysterious weirdness “infecting” various people of the Sixth World including some beloved Jackpointers.

Splintered State is meant to be an introductory adventure into Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. It’s meant for rookie characters and to help a group of new shadowrunners not only make their name, but really get thrown into the deep end of Seattle intrigue and see whether they can sink or swim. Now note I said characters rather than players. While I think Splintered State is an excellent adventure for showcasing the new rules and system for Shadowrun, I hesitate to say it’s a good adventure for introducing people completely new to the setting. After all, the adventure makes heavy use of the metaplot that came before Fifth Edition, along with a cast and characters that have a lot of back story and baggage attached to them. As such, long time players with new characters will have a blast with this adventure while newcomers will have to stop and ask questions almost constantly about various players and megacorps that rear their head throughout this adventure. I personally feel an introductory adventure should be more handholding and explanatory about the setting and mechanics and Splintered State just doesn’t do that at all. I mean, when you throw in Jake Armitage and a back story that stretches back to First Edition as an Easter Egg, you’re obviously NOT writing for the newcomer crowd. Now it does do a great job of guiding a new GM through running the adventure and pointing out how players can go off the rails or make incredibly stupid (lethal) mistakes, but from brand new players. I think they would need something a little friendly to their inexperience and lack of Sixth World knowledge. So basically, Splintered State is a fun and frantic adventure that gives new characters a lot of potential contacts, allies and enemies, but it’s a little too intense for people who are touching Shadowrun for the first time.

Splintered State revolves around a very special comlink – one that used to be possessed by a special agent trying to bring Governor Brackhaven down. The good news is that it can do just that. The bad news is that this particular agent has the same problem that seems to have affects characters like Fastjack. The good news is that the comlink is worth a LOT of nuyen in the right hands. The bad news is many sides want the comlink and are willing to kill for it. The good news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. The bad news is the PCs end up getting their hands on the comlink. What follows is a set of potential, bribes, betrayals and battles as the players have to decide what to do with the comlink. Anything from getting bullets to the brain or collecting well over 100,000 nuyen can occur depending on how the characters play their cards. Hell, you could get the money AND the fatal injuries depending on the actions taken.

In a sense, the players have five sides that they can take. You have Ares, Mitsuhama, Brackhaven, the Law and “Screw you all.” If you’re using experienced characters, especially those that have been through Season Four of Shadowrun Missions, you’re pretty much guaranteed to side with DA Oaks and Tosh because you probably have them as contacts with a high rating while Brackhaven probably has already tried to murder you more than once. The Law is the lesser or the five evils but new characters and especially new players might not realize this, causing the comlink to fall into the hands whichever side makes the best offer. I really enjoyed the dynamic layout of the adventure and how it plans for any of the five sides to be taken, along with the repercussions of each.

Splintered State offers a lot of handouts, maps and NPC data, which as I have said earlier, make running this adventure pretty easy. It’s well written and laid out, and contains all sorts of ways to scale the difficulty of the adventure and also gives some tips for what to do when players try to think outside the box. If you’ve ever run or read a Shadowrun Missions you know what to expect. Splintered State does tie heavily into the metaplot of fourth AND fifth edition Shadowrun, and the results of this adventure will be felt in later releases for the system, so if you like that sort of thing, you and your team can play the adventure and read about it in future releases. For newcomers, this is a great way to tie emotional impact into the memories of a fun session of gaming. Some gamers however may be turned off the whole “everything is metaplot first and foremost” aspect of Shadowrun. For that I can only offer two solutions: don’t play or just ignore the metaplot. You can write your own campaign or version of Shadowrun if at any time you start to feel like you have to purchase and read every release in order to understand what is going on story-wise.

In the end, Splintered State is a really fun adventure. It’s probably a dollar or three overpriced and it really doesn’t feel like an introductory adventure for new players as much as it does for new characters, but it’s well designed, touches on all the tropes of the setting and gives you a large look at some of the key players and issues currently taking place in the Sixth World. If you’re familiar with the rise and fall of Kenneth Brackhaven and have enjoyed the drama, than you’ll definitely want to pick this up to see the continuation escalation of events. You can easily modify the adventure to fit your older, more established characters if need be. Bottom line – Splintered State is well worth picking up for long time Shadowrun fans, but newcomers can probably skip it as it’s not as newcomer friendly as it wants and/or needs to be.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Splintered State
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Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2013 06:28:11
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/02/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-missions-5a-01-chasin-the-wind/

Okay, chummers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today! That’s right, this brand new season of Shadowrun Missions kicks off in Chicago smack dab in the middle of winter. Midwest winters are the worst because not only do you have temperatures well below freezing, but the winds can sometimes send the chill factor to as low as 100 below zero Fahrenheit. If you think that’s bad, imagine how it must feel to have a cyberlimb in that weather! Perhaps a more reckless character can be dared to lick a cyberdeck that’s been sitting out all night in the cold.

Now if the weather wasn’t horrible enough, there’s one big thing about Chicago in Shadowrun that you have to remember…or should I say BUG thing? That’s right – they call Chicago “Bug City” for a reason thanks to the infestation of bug spirits that plagued the city in the 2050s. New to Shadowrun? Then the best way to get caught up may be by playing the new Shadowrun Returns video game released earlier this year. If you’re not into video games, I would suggest either the novel Burning Brightor the classic second edition Shadowrun release, Bug City. You don’t need to experience any of the above to really enjoy this season ofShadowrun Missions, but all three are lot of fun, they’re cheap and they really will help you to understand how insidious and horrifying Insect Spirits are.

So with all that out of the way, let’s talk the actual plot of Chasin’ the Wind. What starts off as a simple routine everyday run (Well for Shadowrun) where you’re upgrading some Matrix nodes in the containment zone so your Johnson can piggyback off a pirate matrix grid turns weird. While in the Containment Zone (The quasi sealed off section of Chicago due to the whole bug thing), the PCs are contacted by one Simon Andrews, who works for Lofwyr, CEO of Saeder-Krupp – one of the biggest Mega-Corps on the Sixth World…and also a great dragon. Now you all know the adage, “Never Deal With a Dragon” when it comes to Shadowrun, right? Well, as true as it is, you also don’t want to get on the wrong side of a dragon by telling them to slag off. It’s also very lucrative to have a S-K contact who will vouch for you. So the question then becomes whether the PCs want to take a new, also seemingly easy mission or if they want to leave well enough alone. If the runners do take up Andrews on his mission, they’ll find themselves trying to locate a under the radar lab that has cut off from the outside world more or less thanks to being smack dab in the containment zone. From there, players will be sucked into a game of dragon politics, a secret cloning experiment and trying to run down a certain something that was missing from the lab.

I absolutely loved this mission as it’s a great introduction to how creepy and insane Bug City can be. This adventure should be run with a heavy atmosphere of paranoia and creepy spooky dread. To say Bug City should have similar tones to say, a Chill or Call of Cthulhu game is not that far off the mark. After all, there are hideous things lurking in the shadows everywhere in Chicago’s CZ and if your players aren’t ready to frag everything that moves, you’re not doing the location right.

One thing I discovered while running this adventure is that the more experience with Shadowrun a player has, the more likely they are to go off the rails and screw up. That’s due to knowledge of the location and insect spirits in general. By the time the players had investigated the lab, half the party was convinced that it was a secret bug location where they were cloning technomancer bodies for insect spirits to inhabit. I almost felt like Plan 9 was a PC in our run through of this adventure. Inevitably when someone from Aztechnology offered the players money to find a homeless person who happened to look just like the cloned bodies they saw earlier, conspiracy theories hit an all time high and well, there was no way they were helping Aztlan’s crazy blood mages. They shot first and asked questions later, leading to the first time I have EVER seen a Shadowrun Mission manage to go so completely and utterly off the rails. I mean these adventures are designed to be pretty hard to deviate from, but it sure happened here. Now had the PCs all been relatively new to Shadowrun without any knowledge of how messed up Chicago is, this would have been a fairly straightforward run without any of the, “Obviously there are going to be bug spirits in this adventure. BUG SPIRITS EVERYWHERE!” attitude. So GMs, keep in mind that this could happen to your game too, but you know what? Let it? Chicago, and especially the CZ, should be one of the freakiest places in the Sixth World and if the players let the city’s reputation run wild in their brains, it’ll be an all the more memorable experience for the party.

So now that we’re done with content, let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. First up – the Good. With Season Five of Shadowrun Missions comes a new crisper, cleaner layout. You’ll notice each page has a set of bookmarks on the right hand side, which makes for quicker perusal and access to the information you want instead of scrolling through the entire thirty-five page PDF. This makes GM’ing with the PDF a lot easier too. I didn’t think it was possible to improve of the Shadowrun Missions design, but I was wrong – this thing is snazzy and so much easier on the eyes. As well, Shadowrun Missions still use the same layout, ensuring that a GM’s hand will be held from beginning to end. From ways to adjust the challenge of each scene, to a list of possible ways players can go off and mess things up for themselves, Shadowrun Missions are a GM’s dream come true as they make running a game exceptionally easy. Even somewhat relatively new to Shadowrun or tabletop gaming as a whole can take a Shadowrun Missions PDF and run it passably. These things really should be the gold standard for published adventures. In the case of Chasin’ the Wind, I ran this adventure SIGHT UNSEEN. It showed up in my inbox, I gathered some players and I ran the adventure AS I READ IT just to see if the SM format is as nigh foolproof as I thought. Guess what? The players didn’t realize it for a second. Granted I’ve been playing Shadowrun since the early 90s, but I feel this shows just how well designed the SM format it.

Now the bad. There’s a price increase. Shadowrun Missions used to be $3.95 a pop, and because they were cheaper than a comic book, I regularly called them the best deal in tabletop gaming. Well, the price tag has raised two bucks, so now it’s $5.95 for a mission. That equates to a little over a dollar an hour, so you’re still getting a great deal, just not AS good as in previous seasons. I am glad to see that the Missions stayed in full colour as I remember Bull stating they might have to go black and white. So while the price increase isn’t a deal breaker, the two dollars extra per Mission may add up for gamers with a shoestring budget. Just a head’s up.

Finally the ugly – the new Shadowrun Missions logo. Ick. That might be the worst logo I’ve seen in a long time. Ah well, art is pretty subjective, right?

All in all, Chasin’ the wind is a great start to this new season of Shadowrun Missions. It’s creepy, it’s low key and far more subtle than your usual Sixth World adventure, but not every missions has to be a save the world or take down a mega-corp’s insidious plan sort of deal. Chasin’ the Wind is a great way to introduce gamers to Bug City and I can’t wait to see where the rest of the season take us.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Chasin' the Wind (5A-01)
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Weird Wars Rome
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/01/2013 06:41:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/01/tabletop-review-weird-w-
ars-rome-savage-worlds/

As seems to be the norm these days, Weird Wars Rome was a successfully Kickstarter release for the Savage Worlds system by Pinnacle Entertainment. Although not as successful as Pinnacle’s first Kickstarter project, Deadlands Noir, Weird Wars Rome did get 831 backers and raise nearly $47,000 dollars, which I would call a pretty good job on their part.

I should point out, you do need the core Savage Worlds rulebook to use Weird Wars Rome. This is just a supplement and campaign setting for the game, so if you purchase Weird Wars Rome without Savage Worlds, you can’t really use it. Keep that in mind before deciding if you want to buy this, as you’ll have to double down if you’re new to Savage Worlds.

I should also point out that Weird Wars Rome really isn’t that weird. In fact, the bulk of the book is a very dry and well written look at Rome from 753 BCE through 496 CE (although the book uses the archaic BC and AD nominations). You get a look at the world during this time frame, the military structure of Rome, a list of locations and a lot of combat mechanics for things like siege engines, shield walls, naval actions and more. This is a very intense book, but be prepared for something that reads more like a history textbook rather than your usual RPG campaign setting book. This is fine, and I personally liked how detailed and seriously Pinnacle looked at Rome, but I know that for some gamers, their eyes will glaze over and they will find the subject matter dull or boring. I have to say in terms of technical writing, Weird Wars Rome is one of the best historical fiction campaign settings I’ve ever looked through, as it addresses just about everything that could come up save for a list of various religions and how each Roman god was worshipped along with the size of the congregation. Of course, that can always be a later supplement.

Making a character for Weird Wars Rome is a little harder than in other games. The premise is you are a Roman soldier of some kind, and as such, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for female characters. It’s not that the game is being sexist; it’s simply a matter of how Roman society was and staying true to the assigned gender roles of the time. Weird Wars Rome directly addresses this issue and does try to come up with ways to insert female PCs into your games, which is a nice touch. As well, a lot of the “classes” that you have to choose from have high Vigor and Strength, which makes sense since you are fighting, so don’t expect to necessarily have a d12 (or even a d10) Spirit on your starting character. Now, not all classes require you to have a minimum d6 Strength and Vigor. For example, a Medic style character only has a D8 Smarts requirement, and an Equities Calvary character doesn’t have ANY stats requirements, but does need a d6 in the Riding and Fighting skills, along with the Equestrian Edge. So yes, while characters will probably be combat focused, there is still room for an agile or Spirit oriented character.

One area where Weird Wars Rome truly excelled was with the artwork. I have to admit, I was blown away by each piece in this book. Whether it was the cover, where a Roman soldier was trying to go one-on-one with a muck monster, to one a full page piece where two zombie legionaries were duking it out, this is one of the best looking releases of 2013, and it’s well worth picking up just for the art. Pinnacle assembled a truly excellent collection of artists for this book, and it is a coin toss between this and Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition in regards to who is going to win our “Best Art” award this year.

So here’s the big elephant in the room: why invest in Weird Wars Rome when things like Cthulhu Invictus already exist? Well, there are several reasons. The biggest is a system preference. After all, if you don’t like Call of Cthulhu‘s modified BRP system, you can just play Weird Wars Rome and throw in Mythos monsters. After all, there’s even a sanity system for WWR. In my case, even though Call of Cthulhu is my personal favorite system, I don’t really care for Cthulhu Invictus, and I feel Weird Wars Rome captured the feel of the time period better and the Savage Worlds system works better for the large amount of combat that goes on in this game. Both have their place, but I’d give the nod to Weird Wars Rome as it’s more detailed, better written and prettier.

My only one real complaint about Weird Wars Rome is the list of monsters in the back. I was hoping for a bevy of Greek and Roman mythological beasties, but there wasn’t really a lot there. You only get nine pages of creatures, and some just don’t fit. The mummies presented are far more D&D style, with rot abilities rather than being something more akin to the mummies you’d expect from a historical setting. The werewolves listed are more Hollywood Lon Chaney Jr. style ones than the actual version of lycanthropes that appear in Grecian and Roman myth. The Strigoi are closer to modern 20th century vampires than their historical counterparts. So on and so forth. I was really disappointed to see the book drop the ball with the monsters, as that’s where the WEIRD in Weird Wars Rome comes into play. Without some quality creatures, you just have a low to no fantasy Roman era RPG. That’s fine, but I really feel the monsters section could use a complete and total overhaul and that the book could have spent more time on the weird aspect, as the title is a bit misleading because of it.

Overall I’m quite happy with Weird Wars Rome. It’s highly detailed, well written and sports some gorgeous art. It has a fun adventure generator and even a Legacy Plot Point Campaign that can last centuries and give players generations of characters to play through. Fifteen dollars is a bit pricey for a PDF that’s under 100 pages, but Pinnacle does tend to be more expensive than the average publisher, so this is in line with how they do things. I won’t say you NEED to pick this one up, but it is a fun read and an excellent setting to try out. If you’re not in the need of a good Roman based setting, then you’re not missing anything by not picking up Weird Wars Rome. If however, you have wanted to try to set a game of any kind in ancient Rome, than Weird Wars Rome certainly is the best version I’ve seen so far.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Weird Wars Rome
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Derby Day - Ghosts of Albion Quickstart
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2013 08:14:56
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/26/tabletop-review-derby-d-
ay-ghosts-of-albion-quickstart-rules/

Ghosts of Albion is an odd duck of an RPG. The electronic version of the game came out in 2008, but the physical copy wasn’t released until 2011. It uses a “Cinematic” version of the Unisystem rules, which is a system you might recognize from such RPGs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conspiracy X, Army of Darkness and my personal favorite Eden Studios RPG – All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Ghosts of Albion is even odder in that unlike most licensed RPGs, which are based on comic books, TV shows, movies or video games, Ghosts of Albion is an eclectic mix of animated flash movies, novels, Realplayer Audio files and of course, the RPG. It was an interesting premise, but alas, Ghosts of Albion stopped being updated in late 2006, a full two years before the RPG came out and seven years before this latest version of the Quickstart Rules for the game. I myself didn’t discover Ghost of Albion until years after the BBC stopped producing anything for it, which is a shame because it’s all quite fun. The downside, of course, is that the lack of support by the BBC means Ghosts of Albion never found its deserved audience, especially for the RPG, which is a shame as it’s very well done. If you’re interesting in learning more, the BBC has archived the entire Ghosts of Albion series and who knows? Perhaps between the free animated films on the web and this quickstart set, you too might discover why Ghosts of Albion still has a small extremely devoted following.

There was an original version of the Ghosts of Albion Quickstart Rules released in June of 2007, but that was before my time and I can’t seem to find any evidence that Derby Day is a rerelease or updated version of those rules. This particular set just appeared on DrivethruRPG.com and RPGNOW.com on September 12th, so I’m going to treat this as a new release as it is to me and both major RPG PDF retailers. The good news is that this Quickstart Rules set is completely and totally free, so there’s no reason why you should click the link at the top of the review and download them ASAP. The better news is that the Quickstart rules are well done and feature an exceptionally long adventure that should take your troupe a few sessions to get through. By the time you’re done with Derby Day, I am pretty confident you’ll want to check out the core rulebook for Ghosts of Albion….which admittedly is a bit pricey with its $20 price tag for the PDF version and a $40 price tag for a physical copy.

The Derby Day PDF clocks in at forty-four pages, which is quick big for a set of Quickstart rules. They’re so well laid out I wish I had a physical copy of these to distribute to those that just won’t adapt to modern times and cling to dead tree versions of games. Half the document are the rules for playing Ghosts of Albion, along with six playable character sheets for the “Original Cast.” The other half of the QSR is a five act adventure called well, Derby Day that is pretty open and allows for Cast Members (PCs) and the Director (DM) to explore much of the location, politics and feel of the time period in which the adventure takes place. Again, the adventure is pretty long and its easy to go off the rails, so don’t expect to finish Derby Day in a single play session.

The rules for playing Ghosts of Albion are pretty straight forward, especially if you’ve ever played a Unisystem based game before. The cinematic version of the rules are streamlined to be more accessible to newer, younger or more casual gamers and it works really well here. You basically just roll a single d10 and add/subtract your particular character bonuses and any modifiers. If you get a 9 or higher, you succeed in your particular action. Combat and magic are similar and the end result is a system that is designed more for exploring and talking, but still provides for fun and fast combat situations. You’ll also find rules for fear effects and Drama Points (think Edge from Shadowrun and you have a good idea). What you WON’T find are character creation rules, but that’s okay because you have six pregenerated characters (all from the Original Cast of Ghosts of Albion), along with a description of who each character is and what their Drawbacks and Qualities mean in terms of gameplay. For example Lord Byron (Yes, you play as Lord Byron!) has a Quality of “Hard to Kill.” This gives him a +4 on any Survival based check. He also has a drawback entitled, “Covetous (Desperate Lechery)” which means the player has to made regular lewd comments, even when it is exceptionally inappropriate. Much of the system relies on roleplaying rather than roll-playing so except to see most of the Qualities and Drawbacks to feature notes on how to play the character instead of anything mechanics based.

Then there is the actual adventure Derby Day. This five act adventure is set during the actual Derby Day Holiday in May of 1839. As an ex-resident of Epsom, where the adventure and the real Derby Day take place, it was really fun to flip through the adventure and see what I recognized about the holiday and the locale. Sure it’s 150 years before my time, but it’s still always fun to discover an adventure set in someplace you used to live, right? Anyway, the adventure revolves around two coins infused with demonic energy. Now don’t think these coins are enchanted to give massive wealth at the costs of one’s happiness or mental/physical well-being. Nor are they going to massively curse whoever holds them. No, this is the beginning of Victorian England after all. Plots like this generally have a more mundane and/or genteel reasoning for occurring. In this case it’s an attempt to cause minor short term possessions of two important members of the British government. The reason behind this? To keep a railway from being built to close to a Lord’s home so as not to ruin his enjoyment of the scenery or to scare off the wildlife. WOW THAT’S PRETTY EVIL, ISN’T IT? That’s half the fun of Ghosts of Albion. On the surface, it seems like a pretty minor reason to get involved with satanic powers, right? Look at it closely though? Railways are very new, very load and very expensive at this point in time and creating one dramatically changes the landscape. It’s not like today where you just plop down a new road with little to no inconvenience. It’s pretty humdrum. Also, think of the sheer arrogance that comes with feeling that your one particular home is more important than the will of the entire country. Welcome to the British aristocracy, especially in this time period. This is what I love about Ghosts of Albion. It doesn’t just slap a time period coat of paint on some adventure that doesn’t really fit the mindset, attitudes and way of life from that age. It actually has adventures that are befitting the way people thought and acted back then. It’s really great to see that attention to detail, but I can definitely see some people being underwhelmed by the scope of the adventures or the fact that so much attention is paid to the class system of the time period. Indeed, three pages of the QSR alone are for detail the differences classes and their attitude towards certain things at the time, from who should vote to whether or not Canada means a tax increase. Again, I love this, but people who play hack and slash dungeon crawls will probably recoil in fear at this game.

I really enjoyed Derby Day, especially as it’s the only release for Ghosts of Albion besides the core rulebook. It’s a damn shame this RPG didn’t get more support as this game is vastly underrated, although I guess you’d have to know of its existence to even rate it, so perhaps that isn’t the best turn of phrase for Ghosts of Albion. I really wish that we had more than this single adventure for the game as it’s incredibly well done and I would have enjoyed reading more. Alas, even if you enjoyed this set of Quickstart Rules as much as I did, you’ll only have the core rulebook to take you any further unless you want to watch the animated films and read the books. At least Derby Day is free as it gives you the chance to experience Ghosts of Albion for yourself. I mean, it’s FREE. I don’t need to keep saying that. Everyone one of you taking the time to reads this review should be downloading Derby Day immediately upon completion of this text, right? Right. Well, we’re done. Get to it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Derby Day - Ghosts of Albion Quickstart
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Call Of Catthulhu - ORIGINAL EDITION
Publisher: Catthulhu.com
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2013 06:37:05
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/26/tabletop-review-call-of-
-catthulhu/

Yes, you read that right. This was not a typo. This is not Call of Cthulhu, but Call of Catthulhu. I discovered it when a review copy of the character sheet ended up in my inbox and my reaction was probably similar to yours. I clicked through, found the core rulebook and showed my wife the cover. Her reaction? “Awwww, that is SO CUTE.” Now I know my wife is a cat aficionado, but I would hesitate to call Great Catthulhu “cute.” It’s a great cover, but anything with tentacles automatically fails the cute test for me. Still, she seemed so enamored with the idea of Catthulhu, that I used my DriveThruRPG/RPGNOW credit to pick up the physical/digital combo package of the game. I wasn’t expected much from Call of Catthulhu except that it would temporarily amuse my wife, and in that regard the game served its purpose. However, since I review a crazy ton of games, tabletop and video game, it only made sense that I too would delve into a world where cats are reality’s only hope from permanent madness and horror and review it for the site. What I discovered an entertaining rules lite game that is somehow both adorable and creepy – much like my wife’s view on the cover art.

Call of Catthulhu isn’t a very long book. It’s twenty eight page, but that includes both covers, an ad for an upcoming Kickstarter, a credits page, a table of contents, a list of famous cat quotes (two of which are made up for the game) and an acknowledgments page. So the actual content count is twenty one pages. That might seem a bit sparse for a complete game, but Call of Catthulhu is a rules lite game, where the emphasis is on storytelling over rolling dice. In fact, the rules for CoC are pretty straight forward: you roll one or two six sided dice (usually one). On a 3-6, you succeed and on a 1 or 2, you fail. You never have to roll for mundane tasks and depending on your character build the only time you might need to roll when you are doing something outside that character build or if it is appropriate to your “class” (for lack of a better word), when you have to face a difficult challenge. If you fail a die roll, the player gets to choose if the cat gets injured or loses one of its nine lives. The rules contradict themselves on how many injuries you can have until death. On page 12, it says two injuries equal the loss of a life while on page 14, it says three injuries lead to a dead cat. This is really the only rules weirdness I’ve found in the book – mainly because there are so little rules to be had! Basically your cat has nine lives and once they are all gone, your kitty character meets permadeath. Which is sad when you think about it, because no one likes to deal with a dead cat.

Call of Catthulhu has five roles your cat can fall under. You have the Cactrobat, the Pussfoot, the Scrapper, the Tiger Dreamer (Think mage/cleric/Dreamlands hybrid) and the Twofootologist. You also have to pick if your cat is feral, house cat or a show cat, whether it’s a mixed breed or purebred, the type of hair of the cat (short, long and none) and finally fur and eye colour. All of these things determine your basic PC and it’s a hilariously enjoyable character creation process. Character sheets take up half a page of paper and you don’t actually have any stats beyond the description, which is interesting as well as extremely easy for new gamers to experience.

There is so much about Call of Catthulhu that is cute and whimsical. The DM role is called the Cat Herder here. You have animal gods rather than Great Old Ones or Outer Gods…although the god of fish is called Doggone and the god of dogs is Mutt’thra (the ever living?). You have weird little Lovecraftian puns such as Snarlathotep, the god of wild animals who can take on many forms. You have alien cats called the Mew-go. Hastpurr of Catcosa, Shed-Nappurath and of course Great Cattthulhu himself await you here. There are even pages devoted to locations and adventure seeds to help make your foray into Call of Catthulhu easy on a new Cat Herder. Even if you don’t play Call of Catthulhu, it really is a joy to read, especially if you love cats and/or the Cthulhu Mythos. Azazthoth knows Howard Phillips would love this as he was a big cat fancier himself.

As mentioned throughout this review, there really isn’t a lot in the way of rules. You’ll roll dice when trying to do an attack, contesting another character (PC or NPC)’s roll, trying to get humans to do what you want and more. Much of the adventure is simply going to be watching cats be cats and yet someone stop alien gods and beings from across time and space do damage to their carefully ordered world where their twofooted ones pamper, feed and pet them. Obviously people who like a lot of mechanics or rules lawyering will be put off here, but gamers will have a lot of fun with the sheer weirdness of the concept here. Sure, Call of Catthulhu isn’t a game you could run regularly or even a full campaign off, but as an occasionally one off, it has a lot of potential for a fun weird evening or lite role-playing. I’m looking forward to getting the physical copy of the game in the mail in a few weeks (although damn, DrivethruRPG.com, inflate your shipping costs much?) and I’m sure we’ll be taking part in the eventual Kickstarter for the deluxe expanded version of the game. I’m hoping the expanded version has more original artwork though.

It’s nice to see such a simple and outside the box idea take shape so well. Call of Catthulhu isn’t perfect, but much like Pokethulhu, it works really well as both amusing reading and in actual practice. The cost is cheap, so if you are curious, by all means, pick up a copy today. Mia! Mia! Catthulhu ffft-hackin!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call Of Catthulhu - ORIGINAL EDITION
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Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2013 06:09:49
Originally published: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/25/tabletop-review-hideous-
-creatures-mi-go-trail-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:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
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Exotic Encounters: Mummies
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2013 06:08:30
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/25/tabletop-review-exotic--
encounters-mummies-pathfinder/

Exotic Encounters: Mummies
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
Cost: 99 Cents
Page Count: 9
Release Date: 09/20/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Long time readers knows I’m a huge proponent of mummies and that I feel they are an exceptionally hard type of undead to get right – especially in a fantasy RPG or in video games. In both cases one of the only times I’ve seen it done right is with the Ravenloft campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition where an entire island was devoted to Egyptian culture and folklore and so the mummy was used wonderfully. Stone Prophet remains one of my favorite SSI video games and Ankhtepot one of my favorite D&D big bads. Unfortunately that’s one of the only times I’ve seen mummies done right for a fantasy RPG. Sure, horror games like Call of Cthulhu, and Chill have used them masterfully and White Wolf of course has done a full fledged Mummy based RPG not once, but FOUR different times, with each one being exceptional, but fantasy? Nope – they just have a hard time making mummies work in a world filled with paladins, rust monsters, beholders and more.

I don’t think any system has even done mummies worse than Pathfinder though. This is mainly due to the OGL which lets anyone write a piece on mummies and publish it. The end result is a lot of third rate third parties releases that water down the product. It doesn’t help that Paizo‘s core mummy from the Pathfinder Bestiary was terribly done either. Case in point: Monster Focus: Mummies was one of many mummy supplements for Pathfinder that have come out, and at best I could say it was mediocre and inoffensive. So when Necromancers of the Northwest announced their Mummy version of Exotic Encounters, I was both hopeful and skeptical. Unfortunately, while a huge step up from Monster Focus: Mummies and even Paizo’s take on the mummy, what’s here still isn’t very good.

Let’s talk page count first. When you see in the header that there are nine pages for this supplement, you’re probably expecting a lot of content, stat builds and the maybe some DM tips on how to run a mummy, right? Well, wrong. There are only THREE page of content – all of which are merely stat builds. So what are the other pages? A very blurry front cover, a back cover that is equally blurry, a credits page, an introduction with the same exact verbiage as on the back cover, and two pages for the OGL. That’s…really sad when you think about it.

So what do you get for your buck? Three mummy variants – two of which are good in theory but poor in follow through and one that outright sucks. The first is the Relic-Bound Mummy, which is a mummy who exists to guard a treasure throughout eternity. If you steal, break or otherwise mishandle the treasure, it comes after you with a vengeance. It’s also able to come back from complete destruction – each time more powerful than the last. This is the best of the mummies, but it feels incomplete. For example, any antagonist that comes back more powerful each time you kill it, should have some sort of fear aura or terror check after you realize that even after your burned it into ashes, it comes back up and is simply more determined to cause a TPK. As well, the CR and stats seem a bit low for the concept. I also HATED that the Mummy is listed as Lawful Evil, when by the description for the creature and why it exists clearly makes it a Lawful Neutral creature. Honestly, being undead doesn’t make something automatically evil. Especially with mummies. What’s here is a good idea as a rough draft, but it really needed to be fleshed out and retooled substantially before considered a final release stat block.

The second mummy is a “Curse Lord Mummy” who has an aura that acts as a constant “Bestow Curse” spell and also has the ability to have “Dire Curses.” This plays in well with the “Mummy’s Curse” motif, but I feel the dire curses are far too weak for what they are supposed to do. The DCs are too low and the effects are too easy to get out of. Once again we also see a creature described as a protector and guardian…given a Lawful Evil alignment. That’s just sloppy. Lawful neutral is once again the way to go with the description, but the writers just fell into the “Undead equals evil” trope and the piece suffers for that.

Finally we have a “Possessed Mummy” who isn’t a mummy at all, but rather a corpse possessed by a negative plane based being. That’s just lazy, especially when there are so many other things we could have seen. Why not do a mummy who is a priest of Ra and thus suffers none of the usual undead issues against fire, sunlight and even turning. What do players do when the Mummy laughs in the face of your cleric and says, “Not only is my faith stronger than yours, but my God is far older?” That’s a potential freak out situation for players. What about bog mummies who are naturally created mummies through accident rather than ritual? What about a mummy with levels of a sorcerer? These are such obvious things, but they are ignored for basic, unimaginative and uninteresting ideas that have been done many times before over the past few decades, and far better than what we get here.

Look, I generally love Necromancers of the Northwest and along with Rite Publishing I feel they are the best third party Pathfinder providers, but this was uncharacteristically terrible. Sure it’s only a buck, but only a third of the piece is actually content and what’s here is kind of poor. I’m still looking forward to Liber Vampyre, Second Edition when it comes out next month, and I’m generally a fan of the Exotic Encounters supplements, but this was just underwhelming at best. Take note Pathfinder writers – go pick up a copy of Mummy: The Curse and Van Richten’s Guide to the Ancient Dead (AD&D 2e) if you want to see mummies done right. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the long line of bad mummy based products for Pathfinder.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Exotic Encounters: Mummies
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One Shot w/ Soundtrack
Publisher: Exploding Rogue
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/22/2013 09:49:32
Originally reviewed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/13/tabletop-review-one-sho-
t/

One of the delightful things about reviewing role-playing games is getting to see what is out there and, sometimes, finding a gem or at least something that is intriguing. I first was intrigued by the title of this game, which in its complete form is One Shot: A Roleplaying Game of Sacrifice and Vengeance for Two Players, and the fact that it comes with its own soundtrack. Also, it is mercifully short and to the point compared to most role-playing games. The clear layout and straightforward writing also contribute to its ease of use. So, what’s it like?

Vengeance

One Shot is essentially a scenario with very basic rules to facilitate its play. It is not really a role-playing game in the traditional sense (cue arguments over what a role-playing game is…). It is quite unconventional, and I like that a lot. The premise is that one player will create and play a character who has been wronged by someone, and that wrong is going to be corrected with a bullet. This character is simply called “the Shooter”. For him or her, vengeance is on the menu, and it is best served very, very cold. The other player (it’s only a two player scenario) will basically act in the role most approximating game master, being in control of everything but the Shooter. They will control objects or resources, or the Shooter’s three relationships that he or she chooses and writes up on the character sheet. These relationships are close but varied, like parents or friends or something like that. Basically, the Shooter is maneuvering to get to the target, the one who must die, and the other player represents everything in their way. Friends may try to convince the Shooter to let go, parents may take the Shooter out for dinner and ask what’s wrong, the Shooter’s old high school baseball coach may stop by and say “Hey, a little bird told me you were feeling down. Let’s go out and grab a beer.” (the Shooter is over 21 at this point presumably).

However, the Shooter must continue on, pursuing the goal, the shot, the kill. The scenario rules leave it open as to how the Shooter wants to end things, it explicitly states that the ending is up to the Shooter. I wasn’t sure if the Shooter was allowed to walk away from the kill, but I got the impression that they weren’t. Once the moment finally comes, I think the target must die… at least, that’s how it is intended to go.

This Must Be A Game For Cigarettes

The language of the game is very interesting, and half of the PDF is dedicated to narrative, a flavor story to go along with the brief guidelines. I say guidelines, and not rules, because really, there are very few rules; everything is up to the two players except the initial premise of vengeance and that the Shooter must have a chance to take the shot at the end. The resolution mechanism is a single six-sided die, fitting with the simplicity of the scenario. If a five or higher is rolled, that is a success. Lower than five means that the Shooter will be confronted with a complication: some material object is needed or is in the way, someone wants to talk the Shooter down or otherwise sidetrack them, the Shooter becomes unstable or otherwise can’t think clearly or focus. These are all examples of complications. There are brief sections on the concept of the game, the goals for the Shooter, the goals for the “Forces” (everything besides the Shooter), and just a few tips for gameplay and setting. That’s it! It’s pretty cool, actually, that the game is so focused and seems to hammer home these ideas, and I really like it. I imagine both players sitting across a table from each other in a dim room, smoking cigarettes and watching the smoke curl up into the darkness while they play through the scenario. The guidelines and flavor text combine to give the reader a keen sense of the game. It’s highly thematic.

The soundtrack is another aspect I was very interested in, as I’ve only reviewed one other game that came with a soundtrack (that would be a soundtrack for Far West) and I really like the idea. As a composer myself, I am heartened to see music being thought about as having the potential to heighten the dramatic effect or immersion in the theme of a game. It’s great when game developers want a composer to write music just for their game, almost like incidental music for a play. This soundtrack clocks in at over an hour, with nineteen tracks… that’s a lot of music for one scenario!

This soundtrack is nice, as the tracks range in style from edgy to sentimental, and are of generally high quality. Listening to the soundtrack on its own is missing the purpose, as it will seem rather dull most likely; music that is meant to be in the background has to have the ability to be present but not distracting, and I think this music accomplishes that quite well. At times, it can feel like a track repeats the same simple motif over and over, and some of the instruments can sound very robotic and rather like the composer, Mr. Morris, was using a notation program like Finale or some other MIDI sequencer without much alteration. Unfortunately, this leaves some entire tracks and some parts of tracks bereft of that feeling of drama and utter humanity that otherwise pervades the game and the other music. Still, the soundtrack is a nice effort, and I think many feelings were successfully captured in it that might come up during the game. Tracks such as “Wet Sidewalks”, which is full of rain storm and late-night traffic sounds, seem to evoke the conflict within the Shooter, and the bleakness of the whole situation. Another track, “How Things Should Have Been”, is a departure from the foreboding sound of most of the other pieces, and possibly represents a happier time and place, where vengeance could have been as far away as the moon and all right with the world.

The Shot

What do I think about this game/module? I love it. I think the idea is cool, as the focus and direction of the game combine for a powerful punch of thematic suspense, drama, and horror. The only downsides I see are that it only supports two players and the resolution mechanism is extremely simple. Part of me wants to ask, why even have a resolution mechanism? Essentially, it only serves to randomly determine where complications will arise. Anyway, the soundtrack is cool, the layout and artwork are good (some really cool photos!), and it all just fits together neatly. It’s not pretending to be the next big game, it’s not over-reaching to be a comprehensive behemoth, it simply is what it is. If you’ve got yourself and one other player who would really dig a deeply thematic game with all the elements of an awesome revenge thriller, this title should be of interest to you. Cheers to Tracy Barnett, Tim Morris, and the team who put this product together, I think you guys did a great job. Thank you for… dare I say it? Innovation in the world of RPGs and creating something truly different!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
One Shot w/ Soundtrack
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Shadowrun: The Vladivostok Gauntlet
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/19/2013 08:15:43
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/19/book-review-the-vladivo-
stok-gauntlet-shadowrun/

The Vladivostok Gauntlet is the latest “Enhanced Fiction” release by Catalyst Game Labs for Shadowrun. It’s been a while since he had one of these – a year and a half to be exact with Another Rainy Night. That was a great little short story marred by two problems – way too big of price tag and the fact CGL never followed up with the metaplot potential of Another Rainy Night, instead going with something else entirely different in Storm Front.

The good news is that both problems are taken care of with The Vladivostok Gauntlet. The price tag is only $1.99 while having the same page count as Another Rainy Night. The story is also self-contained without any hints or teasing of a big metaplot shakeup to come. It’s great to see these two problems fixed, although Another Rainy Night, which is the better story, is still overpriced at $4.95.

So what is “Enhanced Fiction?” Well quite simply, you get a short story and then stats for all the major players within. In the case of The Vladivostok Gauntlet, you get the two main characters, the stats for the core generic antagonists and some background information about the area including potentials contacts, places of interest and gear. In this respect, TVG is far superior to the gaming content that came with Another Rainy Night, and it’s also missing the ads for other products, which is always a plus.

The Vladivostok Gauntlet is the story of one Yuri Yehzov. He’s a warehouse janitor with a dark and tormented past. Like a lot of people who have hit the skids, he remembers better days and keeps himself burdened with self-pity and self-loathing. However, in a nice twist, Yuri is so poor his cyberware has stopped function either somewhat or altogether. His wired reflexes are just taking up space in his body, his cybereyes are on the fritz to where he has regular visions and he even has his muscle implants forcibly removed by repo men. OUCH. Alas, the only part of his better days still functioning properly are his cyberears and unfortunately those ears coupled with both a self-destructive streak and a reaction to save a complete stranger from the Russian Mob (and later another group as well) set the wheels rolling for this fast paced “run for your life” story. It’s a fairly pat tale full of tropes, both Sixth World and Noir, but the writing in solid and the events believable, so it’s enjoyable for what it is.

I really liked that someone paid attention to the fact that cyberware can stop working and what happens when it does. This is something I’ve regularly thought about but very few, if any people have paid attention to it canon-wise until now. It helps to make Yuri unique in the world of Shadowrun fiction although I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets it all working again the next time we see him – if we ever do. It’s also great to take a look at a part of the Sixth World that is rarely talked, thought or written about. You get to meet some interesting people and see some pretty strange locations and I found the entire affair very enjoyable. The characters were given a lot of depth, especially considering the brevity of the piece and enterprising GMs now have some new antagonists, locations and plot threads for their game if they want to homebrew an adventure. It’s really well done.

There are only two negative things I can say about The Vladivostok Gauntlet. The first is that it really needed a better editor as a lot of articles are just missing from sentences. Things like “a” and “the” are missing from the narrative, which not only makes the piece feel sloppy but also has the narrator sounding like Boris Badenov in my head. It would work if the piece was meant to be a campy send up of Russians speaking English, but it’s not. The other issue is the cover as the art just looks…weird. The cover is supposed to feature a shapeshifter going from man to wolf form but the proportions are just terrible with the wolf head being the size of the rest of the body. It’s just comically bad. The rest of the cover art is decent, but the shapeshifter is front and center and really detracts from the rest of the visual going on.

All in all, The Vladivostok Gauntlet is a fun read. It’s only two bucks so it won’t break the bank and the price tag shows CGL has learned their lesson after Another Rainy Night. The story is fun, but not something you’ll kick yourself for missing down the road if you don’t pick it up. I enjoyed it for what it is – a short and entertaining look at the Sixth World in Russia and you’ll be happy to know that when you purchase this, you get the story in PDF, mobi and e-pub formats so you can read it in whatever format you prefer most. If you’re looking for a way to kill an hour, there are far worse ways to spend your time than picking up and reading The Vladivostok Gauntlet.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Vladivostok Gauntlet
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Cryptworld
Publisher: Goblinoid Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2013 06:47:19
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/17/tabletop-review-cryptwo-
rld/

When I was in middle school, I was mainly running Call of Cthulhu games. I liked the horror atmosphere and was better at GM’ing it than fantasy games like D&D or Sci-Fi games like Gamma World. In eighth grade, my friend Travis found a hardcover version of a game called Chill by Mayfair Games, the same RPG company that put out my beloved DC Super Heroes RPG. He couldn’t run games very well, so he asked me to, and we all had a lot of fun with it. It was similar enough to Call of Cthulhu that we all picked up the mechanics quite well, but different enough that it was more combat/action oriented and players were more proactive in fighting supernatural threats. I liked Chill enough that I picked up several supplements for it, the original Pacesetter boxed set, and eventually Black Morn Manor, a really fun board game Pacesetter put out for the setting. Eventually though, Mayfair Games stopped publishing Chill and DC Super Heroes, and we were all sad for a time.

When Pacesetter LTD was sold to Goblinoid Games several years ago, fans of the Pacesetter titles rejoiced, as their games had some very devout older fans. I was glad to see Pacesetter resurrected from the dead, but in my heart I knew it wouldn’t be complete, as my favorite game that they put out was not part of the buyout, and still in the hands of Mayfair Games (Until early 2013 when they sold the rights to some Canadian guy no one has ever heard of…) So what to do? Well, for a while Goblinoid concentrated on the Pacesetter licenses they now owned, like Timemaster and Sandman. Then they created a zombie RPG called Rotworld using the Pacesetter mechanics, which was fine, but I still preferred All Flesh Must Be Eaten. At the beginning of this month though, Goblinoid Games announced their workaround for the lack of the Chill license – Cryptworld. As a long time Chill fan, I was excited to hear about this, and it was only fitting that the game was released on Friday the 13th. I reached out to Goblinoid Games and asked for a review copy, and they were more than happy to send me a PDF version to peruse. As you can imagine, I devoured the book in one sitting and spent much of the weekend re-reading it with both my original Pacesetter and Mayfair copies to see what the differences were. I don’t advise doing so yourself unless you’re also a reviewer or just extremely anal retentive though.

So is Cryptworld Chill? I know that’s the question most Pacesetter fans want an answer to right off the bat. The answer is mechanically, yes, but no in terms of background, setting, story and the like. As Cryptworld uses the same Pacesetter system as Chill, everything is essentially the same in terms of playing the game and character creation. You have the same eight stats of STR, DEX, AGI, PCN, PER, WPR, and LCK. You have the same Skill levels, same dice rolls, and the action table. So in that sense, Cryptworld is the Chill, Third Edition you might have been clamoring for.

Where the game varies differently in terms of the background. In Chill, you had the organization SAVE which dealt with paranormal menaces across the globe. Players created agents of SAVE and had a world-wide organization at their disposal. Well, since Goblinoid doesn’t have the Chill license, all of that wonderful background, history and continuity is absent from Cryptworld. This actually isn’t a bad thing. For longtime Chill fans, you can just use what you remember about SAVE or have in the previous two editions and use that WITH Cryptworld. For everyone else, you are free to design your own horror based world and/or campaign. This means you don’t HAVE to make an agent of SAVE or use any of the metaplot Pacesetter and Mayfair have created. You don’t have to feel pigeonholed into someone else’s world. Indeed, you’re only limited by your imagination. Whether or not the lack of SAVE and the world it takes place in makes or breaks the game for you is going to be a deeply personal decision. As I’ve said, for me, it’s more the fun of having the mechanics back coupled with the freedom to use them however I want. Remember, Cryptworld is NOT Chill, and that longtime fans of Chill can’t get hung-up that “their” game is still long out of print. Cryptworld is the spiritual successor to Chill, and not a true third edition.

One other thing you will notice that is different is the brevity of Cryptworld compared to both versions of Chill. Clocking in at only ninety-two pages, Cryptworld seems a bit short, especially when you realize that that page count includes a full length adventure, the covers and a no frills character sheet. This is, again, because of the lack of the Chill license. After all, a lot of Chill was devoted to the background and setting description, and you don’t have that here. With Cryptworld, you are making your own setting, so Goblinoid didn’t need to devote an extra 100+ pages to a world that they designed. There is some truncation however, with Cryptworld offering less monsters and powers, in addition to briefer skill listings. The end result is a tighter read, devoted primarily to the mechanics of the game. Older gamers and especially those familiar will Chill will probably appreciate this more, although younger or more casual gamers might have found the more padded out hand holding descriptions in Chill to be easier on them.

The final sentence in the preceding paragraph leads me to perhaps the Achilles heel of the mechanics in Cryptworld, and that’s that they might come off as more complicated, indeed sometimes needlessly so, to more modern RPG releases. As a gamer who cut his eye teeth on older titles that involved me rolling dice and looking at a chart to see what the roll actually meant, or where character creation was a bit more intense than in modern releases, I’m fine with that. I mean, I cut my eye teeth on Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes by TSR, so none of the mechanics in Cryptworld had me batting an eye. Younger or more casual gamers, used to rules lighter systems, might be taken aback by some of the mechanics in this game. That’s not to say they are hard or extremely complicated to where they won’t want to play the game – just that it’s very different from more modern gaming mechanics, and so they’ll have to break their preconceived notions and paradigms about things.

For example, let’s look at character creation. For each of your eight stats, you roll dice to determine them. Again, that’s not a big deal, especially if you’re an older gamer where you have played many a title with randomly generated stats. Here you roll 3D10, add them together and then multiply the result by two. After that, you add twenty to all that and you have your stat. That’s a lot more complicated than, “Roll 3d6 and add it together.” Four steps to generate a single stat seems like a lot. You could cut the steps in half and get the same exact result by saying, “9d6 +20,” but that still seems like a lot, no? In truth though, the description is far worse than the follow through and it’s quite easy to make a Cryptworld character, but as I’ve said, the description and steps will probably seem daunting to a newcomer when they first lay eyes on it.

Another area that might throw newcomers is the difference between general and specific Ability Checks. You’ll have a big Ability Check chart in the back. To use this chart, you roll your dice trying to hit a number determined by your stats. If you succeed, you subtract what you rolled from the goal, and then check that number on the Ability Check Chart, cross referenced with the column you want to use for it (usually the second one). The result on the chart gives you your degree of success and what happens. Again, this probably sounds needlessly complicated compared to just rolling a percentile die, and if you make it, you succeed. The truth is, it IS needlessly complicated, and unless you are a longtime fan of the system or have some serious Pacesetter nostalgia going on, it’s hard to say why you would want to do this over a regular straight percentile roll. It also doesn’t help that the Cryptworld rules are written in such a way that the use of the chart is arbitrary and completely at the CM (Crypt Master)’s discretion. My advice is to play your first game of Cryptworld without the Ability Check chart and just do straight percentile rolls until you really get to know the system. Then, once you know it, at least TRY the chart and see if you like that mechanics style. Again, it’s really going to come down to age I think. Longtime Chill/Pacesetter fans won’t have a problem using the chart and might even love the needless extra steps to determine success, while newcomers probably just won’t “get” it and may look to play something similar with less mechanics, like Call of Cthulhu.

Most of Cryptworld is quite dry, focusing on sheer mechanics and character creation for much of the book. That all changes with “Chapter 8: The Crypt Master.” This chapter takes on a more narrative tone in an attempt to help fledgling CMs design their own Cryptworld setting and/or campaign. It’s only eight pages long, but this section does a wonderful job of helping to set the groundwork for a personalized Cryptworld adventure (or more!) and gives nice examples of things a CM can do to set the mood and determine the direction of their homebrew pieces. I should point out that Cryptworld does tend to emphasize a more late 70s/early 80s movie monster style of horror in the pages, but also freely gives up other options and ideas. I really like this twist, with the focus being on 80s style horror, as so many other horror games tend to do the Lovecraftian thing (which I obviously love and adore), and so it is nice to have an option other than that. I’m really hoping Goblinoid Games follows up with this via an adventure compendium to really help get CMs to start thinking outside the box from the useless nameless dread or eldritch horrors.

Cryptworld ends its content with a full introductory adventure known as Red Eye. At the start, players are completely new to the supernatural (but they don’t have to be) and by the end, they’ve had a chilling encounter with a popular folkloric creature, 50,000 feet above sea level, trapped on a commercial flight in the wee hours of the night as it goes from Hawaii to Los Angeles. This is a really fun and frantic adventure and does a great job of highlighting the differences between Pacesetter horror adventures and those written for other systems. Being stuck in an airplane with a creature that could be hell bent of killing every last living creature on the flight is damn creepy, especially when you realize that even the most seasoned monster hunter had to check their silver bullets, wooden stakes, antique cold iron swords and what have you when they boarded. Carry-ons are unlikely to have these sorts of things. The end result is a really fresh adventure that should hopefully make your friends and fellow gamers want to keep playing Cryptworld, and perhaps even pick up some old Chill adventures to use with it until Goblinoid Games makes their own.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention he amazing art in Cryptworld. One of my favorite things about the Pacesetter version of Chill was the art by Jim Holloway. The highly detailed and creepy drawings just really made the game for me. I especially loved the cover art to the Box Set/Campaign book, which is a first person view of a werewolf about to pounce on a hapless would be monster hunter in a graveyard at the dead of night. It’s always stayed with me over the years, and I wish he’d do a print of it. Well, needless to say, I’m happy to report Goblinoid Games not only got Jim to do the cover to Cryptworld, but it’s also a wonderful homage/tribute to that classic Pacesetter cover art. The internal art is done by Jim, along with Brian Thomas and Tim Tyler, and it all looks great. The end result is a great looking set of art that helps to not only make Cryptworld come to life, but also puts any old school gamer that flips through this book into a nostalgia nosedive. Seriously, I felt like a kid again just from looking at the art, and it’s one of the many high points of Cryptworld.

All in all, I really loved my time with Cryptworld. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, but it’s great to have another horror themed RPG out there, especially one that isn’t zombies or Cthulhu related. You’ll have to pick up a copy of Cryptworld to really determine if it’s for you. After all, I’m heavily influenced by my formative years with Chill, so it’s no surprise that a quasi-remake/homage of a game I’ve always enjoyed is going to get a fairly positive review from me. That said, the PDF version is less than seven dollars, and that’s an insanely good deal. Seven bucks for a full system and an adventure? How can you say no to that, especially one with the pedigree of Chill? While I can’t say I’d pay the twenty or thirty dollar price tag for the Print on Demand version, that’s due to the cost per page count as well as the fact I like digital copies over physical ones these days. It’s great to see Goblinoid keeping the spirit of both Pacesetter and Chill alive, and I really enjoyed my time with Cryptworld. Here’s hoping you will too!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptworld
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Band of Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2013 06:31:56
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/09/tabletop-review-band-of-
-zombies-a-world-war-ii-sourcebook-all-flesh-must-be-eaten/<-
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Man, do you know how long it has been since All Flesh Must Be Eaten received a new release? Several years! I think the last was Thar Be Zombies, and that was roughly three years ago. So it’s nice to see a new release for the line. I’ve been so desperate for new AFMBE content that I reviewed the 2011 free Quick Start Rules when they came out, and in August, I also covered the Kickstarter exclusive Zombiemaster screen that accompanied this book. Now Band of Zombies is finally out, and I’m happy to say that it is a fine addition to one of the best horror lines tabletop gaming has to offer.

Band of Zombies is a sourcebook for an alternate universe’s World War II era. Here, the Nazi’s obsession with the occult actually bears fruit, and they use it to stifle or outright squelch the successes the Allies had in our world. Imagine a world where SS troops get up and continue fighting after being shot dead. Where a Japanese kamikaze pilot has no fear or qualms about crashing his plane because he knows he will come back to fight for Emperor Hirohito afterwards. That’s a pretty scary picture. Not to be outdone, however, the Allies have found a way to harness the power of the undead without limiting the loss of humanity and subduing the earth to devour living flesh and blood. Enter the CAPTAIN PATRIOT program today soldiers! Yes, it’s a bit of a parody of the super-soldier formula from Captain America, but with more dramatic (and possibly gruesome) results.

It’s also worth noting that pieces of Bands of Zombies has been cribbed together from other All Flesh Must Be Eaten sourcebooks, like Atlas of the Walking Dead, Worlds of the Dead and more. In this respect, those that have every AFMBE release up to this point might be a bit disappointed by the repeated content, while those who only have the core rulebook and maybe a few other releases like Dungeons & Zombies or Zombie Smackdown! will be happy to have all the content they need to run this campaign setting without having to purchase multiple books, ala Shadowrun and several other games that do nickel and dime you in this fashion.

One thing I really loved about Band of Zombies was the in-depth coverage the book gives you about WWII and showing where and how the two timelines diverge. There is so much actually historically accurate (and detailed) information in this book, you could probably use it as a citation for a paper. Just make sure you use the real world stuff and not “the Auschwitz victims come back from the dead to devour their Nazi tormenters” part, or your professor will look at you funny… and fail you. It doesn’t pull any punches with the atrocities committed by the Nazis or their Japanese allies (the latter of which were often worse, which most people forget these days), but the Allies (specifically the Russians) weren’t exempt for a litany of horrors either. It’s good to see how much detail is put into the book in that regard without making readers squeamish about the events that occurred so very long ago.

Band of Zombies is divided into eight chapters, along with a ninth entitled “Shambling Commandos,” which are pregenerated characters based off some high level Kickstarter backers. Each chapter is primarily devoted to world background, setting detail and the timeline for this WWII era campaign, but there are stats and mechanics littered throughout. The Unisystem, which All Flesh Must Be Eaten uses, doesn’t really need any mechanics above and beyond what you find in the core rulebook, so what’s here are primarily WWII era vehicles, weapons, new (reprinted) zombies, pregens and some new walking dead like mummies, ghouls, vampires and the like. The extra undead were an unexpected highlight to me, as I loved the idea of Vlad Tepes returning to wage war on both sides and trying to make Romania the home for vampires, or the Ancient Egyptians rising and wanting all these crazy white people out of their country. Band of Zombies just is dripping with potential, and the book lets you set a campaign before any real zombie outbreak occurs, to after nuclear weapons have been dropped in Japan, which caused radiated zombies to shuffle across the floor of the Pacific towards the gaijin devils who slew them.

Chapter One, “Introduction” is self explanatory, as it gives an overview of the book, gives some DM hints and tips on how to use Band of Zombies, and has a list of books, movies and video games to help make the setting come alive. Chapter Two, War is Hell, is where you’ll find a lot of the new character creation bits, such as the new qualities, drawbacks, and hindrances. Want to make a Captain Patriot? You’ll find all the information on how to do so here. “Aces High” is the next chapter, and this is where you’ll find vehicle and weapon statistics along with the new sanity aspects, such as shell shock and combat fatigue. There are also rules for mass combat (slightly converted from Army of Darkness) and even a set of rules for miniatures in a tactical style game. Very nice! Chapter Four is “Altered History,” and it’s the big chapter for the alternate timeline that Band of Zombies takes place in. Chapters Five through Eight continue this trend, with each one being about a different section of the world. “Fortress Europe” is Europe, “The Eastern Front” is Russia, “Decaying of an Empire” is the Middle East and North Africa and finally, “The Heart of Darkness” is Southeast Asia. I would have liked to have seen more information on the Australia and South America of this time period, as both are so rarely and/or briefly touched on when looking at World War II, but what’s here is excellent, and this is a small quibble at best from me.

Basically Band of Zombies is a wonderful look at WWII, and there is a lot of potential for various storylines and campaigns using this book. Don’t want to use the exact alternate timeline unveiled here? You don’t have to! The sheer amount of mechanics, new creatures and items are here for you to design your own WWII era campaign. Your imagination is the only limit. I can’t emphasize enough how highly detailed and well written this book is. To be honest, I originally backed this on Kickstarter to support All Flesh Must Be Eaten. I had no real interest in the subject matter or time period. Now that I’ve read the book and spent a decent amount of time with it, I have to say I’m mightily impressed by the content, and think Band of Zombies is one of the best campaign settings of the year. With a price tag of only $12.50, this PDF is a must buy for anyone interested in AFMBE or who is just looking for a good guide to WWII. My only worry is that this will be the last All Flesh Must Be Eaten release for a while, if ever, but with enough support and attention paid to Band of Zombies, the game might have a lot of life left in it after all.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Band of Zombies
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Vortex
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2013 06:29:44
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/09/tabletop-review-vortex--
numenera/

Vortex was the Numenera adventure that people could peruse and play through at GenCon 2013 this year. Monte Cook Games has since made it available as an electronic download for those that could not attend, which is always a plus in my eyes. This also makes it the first adventure released outside of the ones in the core rulebook. I’ve really been loving Numenera so far, and it’s one of my favorite new games of the year, so I was excited to see the game get an adventure released so soon after the core rulebook and player’s guide came out. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything until The Devil’s Spine, so I was happy to see a review copy of this show up in my in-box.

Vortex is actually two pieces in one. You have your eighteen page adventure for the GM to run and six pre-generated characters, which adds another twelve pages of content. I really love the character sheet designs, especially since, unlike the D&D Next ones I recently have had to deal with, the lines are big enough to type and/or write on. My favorite of the characters is the Jack who wears a sheen of ice, but everyone will have their favorite. The characters are diverse enough that every one will stand out and become memorable characters, as long as the players get into the game. Of course, if you’re experienced in Numenera, you don’t need to use the pre-generated characters. You can either create your own, or if you are in the middle of a campaign, stick Vortex in for your players to experience.

Vortex is almost two interconnected adventures in one. The town it takes place in (Jutte) can be placed anywhere within the Ninth World. The first half of the adventure, “The Temple” has the PCs discovering a cult worshiping at a strange location known as the Temple of the Vortex. The PCs will encounter a cult member who has escaped indoctrination, but her brother wasn’t so lucky. She asks the PCs to enter the temple to save him. “The Temple” is pretty open ended, and there are lots of subplots/subquests to engage in around Jutte if the players don’t want to deal with the cult right away (or at all). The cult is pretty big (especially for First Tier characters), so players may want to find a way other than combat to deal with them. Exploring the temple is a lot of fun, and the twists and turns the adventure throws at you are not only memorable, but a great way to introduce people to Numenera and show them just how alien the Ninth World is, even if it is our own, a billion years in the future.

“Through the Vortex” is the second part of the adventure, and it is a wonderful example of how weird the Ninth World can be. Here, players will be transported to an alien structure within the sun itself known as the Temple of Radiance. In this tale, players must help a strange being known as Aerridomos save the Temple of Radiance from collapsing upon itself, all while dealing with the fact their very presence within it is speeding the rate of the temple’s demise. Can the PCs save Aerridomos and/or the temple? It will be hard to do so, but the knowledge and experience gained from such an encounter is well worth the players’ time. It’s a bit of a melancholy affair, especially if the PCs can’t fix the Temple, but it’s also a great lesson in how the residents of the Ninth World understand so very, very little about what is around them.

What makes Vortex so interesting is that it’s pretty open ended. There isn’t a linear path the PCs will follow, and there are many methods to get through the adventure(s). Stealth, talking, madcap violence and scientific acumen are all ways to get through the adventure and accomplish the set goal. Both “The Temple” and “Through the Vortex” can be played concurrently or separately. Perhaps part two even happens weeks, months, or years after part one, although the adventure is written in such a manner that “Through the Vortex” occurs soon after the removal of the cult leader in “The Temple.” I also enjoy the one-two punch of this adventure, with “The Temple” being a very straightforward, simple affair, reminiscent of fantasy RPGs, while “Through the Vortex” is an over the top sci-fi affair that feels like a dungeon crawl without any actual monsters. The exploration and discovery replaces combat, and I really enjoy that. Some players may be too used to hack and slash RPGs to appreciate this, but most gamers, I think, will appreciate the alien nature of the Temple of Radiance and enjoy testing and prodding all the strange things within it. Unless they were really burned by The Tomb of Horrors or The Temple of Elemental Evil as kids, then the GM has their work cut out for them in order to get them to shift their paradigms towards exploring strange places.

Vortex is another terrific addition to the Numenera world. The adventure is simple, yet complex, while being inviting to players of all RPG skill levels and experience. The six dollar price tag is a bit much, especially compared to, say, Shadowrun Missions adventures, which are of a similar length and scope, while only costing half as much, but it’s also the only option for a published adventure outside of the ones in the core rulebook. This means if you don’t like to create your own homebrew adventures, you’re kind of stuck. I do think Vortex is better than most, but not all, of the adventures in the core rulebook and offers a little more in the way of flexibility and discovery. I do give this adventure a hearty thumbs up save for the cost, and would also like to point out that if you’re willing to wait, The Devil’s Spine is coming out next month (supposedly) and for a little more than twice the price of this PDF, you can get a physical copy with nearly five times the page count and multiple adventures to experience. The Devil’s Spine is obviously the better deal on paper, but we’ll have to wait until its release to see how good the adventures are.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vortex
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Shadowrun: Firing Line
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2013 06:47:52
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/05/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-firing-line/

Firing Lines is a collection of previous conventions exclusives bundled into one black and white compilation. Not only does this give Shadowrun fans the world over a chance to get adventures that were previously nigh unobtainable, but they get to do it for a fraction of what the dreaded secondary market would charge for them. Now this fact alone should make the adventures a must buy for a Shadowrun collector, but Bull and his team have gone the extra yard yet again. All the adventures contained in Firing Line can be played with both Fourth and Fifth Edition rules, bypassing the usual edition wars whining that comes whenever a new version of any game comes out. Hate Fifth Edition and spend time on the Shadowrun message boards decrying CGL and all who write for them? Good news – you can still cling tightly to your 4e books and get new content for them. Loathe Fourth Edition and all it stands for? Here are another four adventures that you can play with the new rules while waiting for something that ISN’T a reprint to come out for 5e. This idea of dual stat’ing long out of print and/or hard to find adventures was an awesome idea back when CGL did it with Sprawl Wilds in July and I’m glad to see the trend continuing. Will we get anymore collections of old Shadowrun Missions done in this manner? I certainly hope so!

So sure, getting four adventures in one PDF for three bucks a piece is an obviously awesome deal, but of course you also have to consider the quality of the adventures in question. That means we have to do take a look at each one and if they are worth your time because four adventures for twelve bucks is a good deal but four TERRIBLE adventures for twelve bucks is not. First, let’s start with the format. All the adventures in Firing Line are done with the Shadowrun missions format, which I absolutely adore. I think the layout and style of these adventures are the best on the market today, with every possibility and contingency getting covered. Shadowrun Missions are laid out in such a way that even a rookie or inexperienced GM can run one of these with little to no problems. In the hands of an experienced GM, each of these adventures can be easily customized with all the pertinent data in easy to find spots. I’ve been saying this for the past three years but it still holds true, if you want to learn to GM, be it Shadowrun or any other system, grab a few Shadowrun Missions and read them over and over again, seeing how things are laid out, flow and presented. These things are awesome.

Our first adventure in the Firing Line collection is Lost Islands Found. The discovery of a new island has always been one of the biggest bragging rights for explorers and it continues even into our own modern time. In the Sixth World, it gets far more complicated thanks to different borders, magic powers, dragon machinations and more. In this adventure we get MAGICAL islands that will only be around for a brief moment in time before returning to the aether. Now the rush is on to explore, exploit and excavate the islands before time is up. The players are hired to extract a college professor on behalf of the Atlantean Foundation to get him to lead the expedition to these strange islands and also providing bodyguard like support for the exploration team once that first mission is accomplished. At the same time, a crazy group known as the Knights of the Dragon have got it into their heads that these new islands are the home of Dunklezahn’s spiritual remnants. This of course means the Knights of the Dragons are recurring antagonists throughout this adventure and will inevitably make the PCs wants to murder them repeatedly. What players find on the island will remain protected from spoilers, but needless to say, the action is fast and frantic in this one, while also giving a GM a chance to paint a picture of a highly memorable one time location that his or her players can reminisce about for a long time to come.

The second adventure in this collection is Deconstructing Patriots, where we move from Seattle to Manhattan. This adventure really requires a strong knowledge of the events around Crash 2.0, the New Revolution and more. As such, the adventure’s going to be lost on people new to Shadowrun with Fifth Edition but is still playable. It’s an interesting affair to be sure, but probably left best in Fourth Edition and with those that have a long running experience with the metaplot. It also doesn’t help that the adventure suggests you should buy a previously released PDF separate from this one to make it work.

Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty straight forward extraction run. The PCs are hired to nab an Ares employee and then are given a counteroffer by Ares to betray their current employer and give the target back for more money, Now in this regard, Deconstructing Patriots is a very newcomer friendly affair that hits on all the tropes and tenants of a paint by numbers run, including potential betrayal on all sides. If there was a way to have the adventure without all the political/crash backstory required to make the why and hows of this adventure make sense, this would be a great experience for a newcomer. A newer or more casual GM won’t be able to make that happen, but a more experienced one WILL be able to. Perhaps the best thing to do is for a person well versed in Sixth World Lore to take this adventure and use it with people new to Shadowrun and help teach them the basics why shrugging off the metaplot.

The third adventure in this collection, Congressional Conspiracies is a direct sequel to Deconstructing Patriots, and so you will run into the same inherent problems for running this adventure with newcomers and especially those for whom Fifth Edition is their first taste of Shadowrun. The adventure does work best as a one-two punch with the previous one too, so there are a lot of limitations in trying to make Congressional Conspiracies a one shot adventure, a throw away affair or anything close to a good choice for new players. It can work, and Cthulhu knows the adventure tries to be extremely inclusive to gamers no matter how they come to this adventure,but it falls a bit short in this regard to me.

With that out of the way, Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty interesting adventure, even if it feels like it was written by Vince Russo. There are so many swerves here ranging from the original missions idea presented to the team being a crash and burn to being hired by the side you were trying to humiliate in the previous adventure. Players might need a scorecard when all is said and done to remember which side they are one and who they have helped but this being a Shadowrun Missionsadventure, the GM actually has one! Players will also be working directing for The Man this time – literally, as their employer is none other than the Director of Strategic Intelligence for the CAS! From then on the PCs will have two missions to complete – although as usual, something isn’t what it seems. At least there’s an homage to the ol’ Fast Food Fight adventure here. Another fun adventure and a great choice to have reprinted, although a very odd choice to have as one of the first playable adventures for Fifth Edition because it’s so intrinsically tied to an older system.

Our final adventure in this collection is Stormcrow Undone and it takes us back to Bogata in the midst of the Amazonia/Aztlan War. Like a lot of Shadowrun fans during the 4e/20AE era I think Catalyst Game Labs devoted far too much time, energy and resources to something very few people actually cared about and that how they ended the war in Storm Front was terrible across the board. So as you can imagine, my reaction to having to revisit one of the lamest aspects of the previous edition’s metaplot didn’t thrill me. Of course, I never got to read or play this adventure when it originally came out, so who knows? It could have turned out to be a bright spot, right? Right?

Well…yes actually. The crux of the adventure has you getting hired by Amazonia to get of the horros that Aztlan is committing. A lot of players (and thus their characters) won’t do pro-Aztlan missions as they are completely evil through and through and while Shadowrunners are supposed to be mercs pure and simple, that tends to be the minority in practice. Mercs with a heart of gold or anti-heroes tends to be how PCs act or view themselves and so anytime an adventure pushes a pro-Aztlan agenda, there is often friction or outright refusal from at least one character in a group. So instead of risking an adventure where players will revolt and thus leaving the GM to scramble, Stormcrow Undone has you definitely in the role of the White Hat here, which helps makes the adventure more accessible to all players, especially newcomers to Shadowrun who might be used to protagonists bring “good guys.” Plus long time Sixth World fans love to see horrible things happen to Aztechnology, so hurrahs all around!

The adventure is a bit convoluted in that your characters first have to get to Columbia, then have to be stuck in a situation where helping Amazonia is their only way out, both of which aren’t things a published adventure should put on a GM, especially in the case of a Shadowrun Missions. A published adventure should never just drop the adventurers a few chapters into the story. Otherwise what’s the point of purchased a published piece instead of writing something for your players on your own? The adventure suggests just kind of waving away the getting there and crux of being stuck there, but players generally bitch and moan about adventures that start off where a huge chunk of story is missing, so my advice is to play out the precursor to all this or at the very least, write up an opening explaining what happened and what went wrong. If you have a more tolerant or less anal tentative group, I will say the “set up” for this adventure is somewhat hilarious.

Stormcrow Undone is one of the better Bogota related adventures out there. Players have to focus on camerawork over out and out violence or corporate espionage, and so it really forces players to change up their usual game plans and strategies. There are a lot of horrors and atrocities to witness here and players will become a target of Aztech’s forces. With everything from a full blown riot down to the usual fire fights, there is still a lot of combat here and even with the awesome Shadowrun Missions layout, the climax of this adventure will test ever a hardy GM with all that is happening at once. It’s a fun experience for everyone involved though, and that’s what counts.

All in all, Firing Line is a nice collection, especially for the price point and doubly so when you remember that these adventures were one time convention exclusives. The adventures aren’t as good as those in Sprawl Wilds and they aren’t as inviting to newcomers, so my advice would be to play that collection first and then move on to Firing Line once the PCs have some Karma under their belt. Now here’s hoping we start to get some Fifth Edition releases that aren’t reprints, am I right?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Firing Line
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/02/2013 08:32:45
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/02/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-78-fates-fell-hand/

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to review a Goodman Games release for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The last first party release for the system I reviewed was #72, aka Beyond The Black Gate, back in September of 2012. That’s nearly a year ago! I have reviewed eight other releases for DCC since then, but they were all third party releases (two from Purple Sorcerer, one from land of Phantoms, one from Dragon’s Hoard, and four from Brave Halfling), so it’s nice to take a look back at a release from the people behind it all. I’m glad I chose this one to delve back into Goodman Games’ releases, as Fate’s Fell Hand is an amazing adventure, albeit a complicated one. The end result is an adventure that takes an expert GM to pull off, but the end result is well worth it.

Fate’s Fell Hand is an adventure for four to eight Level 2 characters, along with a stream of henchmen. In this adventure, players are sucked into a demiplane (no, not Ravenloft) where three powerful wizards (one of which bears more than a passing homage to Lovecraft’s scribe of the Necronomicon) do battle in an attempt to escape this prison of their own making. Only when one Wizard obtains all twelve cards from the deck of fate will they have enough power to escape. The catch is that each day, the armies of each magic-user are reset and reshuffled, meaning victory is all but impossible. That is, until the PCs are sucked into the demiplane as well, upsetting the ancient balance. Now the party has to decide which of the three wizards to aid, or if they want to capture the cards themselves and let their own magic wielding allies set the team free. Who knows? The party could even split between the armies! Once allied with one of the three spellcasters, the PCs must play by the rules of the location, meaning that each day, their alliances could reset.

At the same time, the same act of eldritch power that brings the PCs into the demiplane has also caused the magic powering it to take the form of giant hideous worms bent on eating this plane of reality until there is nothing left of it. This means not only do the PCs and mages have to deal with the daily resets, but they are now stuck with a finite amount of time. Can anyone escape the demiplane before the worms devour it into non-existence? That’s a heavy plot to be sure!

Although the adventure sounds like a guaranteed TPK (even for a DCC affair), there are actually a lot of ways to get some, if not all, of the adventuring party out alive. Unlike a lot of DCC adventures, where the entire piece is a dungeon hack favoring roll-playing over role-playing, this is definitely one adventure where you can’t just stab your way through things. A solid, well thought out game plan is needed to survive. It’s refreshing to see a DCC adventure where players have to rely on their wits rather than their stat blocks and magic items to make it through things. The adventure is just rock solid from beginning to end, and it’s easily one of the most memorable adventures for the system. It’s a very long adventure with a lot of potential encounters (that could be repeated many times over due to the nature of the demiplane).

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the art in this adventure. Sure, Dungeon Crawl Classics is well known for the quality of the art accompanying its adventures, but wow, are things turned up a notch here. I just absolutely fell in love with the cover to Fate’s Fell Hand. It’s so striking. I decided to pick this up just because of that cover, and that’s an extremely rare impulse decision for me to make. The rest of the art is equally impressive, and of course, like all DCC adventures, the accompanying maps for this adventure are amongst the best in the industry today. Most DCC adventures just have one or maybe two maps if it is an especially long adventure. Fate’s Fell Hand has FOUR. That should give you an idea of the size, length and scope of this piece. The adventure even contains twelve half page size cards to represent the playing pieces from the Deck of Fate. These things are gorgeous, and I’m glad I have the PDF version of this adventure so I can print and cut out as many are needed. I’d hate to ruin a physical copy of this thing.

Fate’s Fell Hand is one of the most impressive and comprehensive adventures I’ve encountered this year. It is definitely not for an inexperienced GM and/or newcomers to Dungeon Crawl Classics though. This adventure is best left in the hands of a very experienced GM willing to put in a lot of extra effort to make this run smoothly, take copious notes about the ever changing alliances and plaque locations and so much more. In the hands of an inexperienced GM, Fate’s Fell Hand will simply fall apart and be a disappointing disaster for all involved, so be very sure of your ability to run a DCC game before going through with this one. It’s still a blast to read through, as well as for viewing the art, but I can’t express enough just how detail oriented a GM has to be to make this work. It’s one of my favorite adventures of the year, but Fate’s Fell Hand certainly needs a specific person to make it reach its true memorable potential.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
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