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Hideous Creatures: Ghouls
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2013 06:23:35
Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/28/tabletop-review-hideous-
-monsters-ghouls-trail-of-cthulhu/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Ghouls
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Man-Made Mythology: A Comic Book RPG
Publisher: Critical Strike Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2013 06:29:54
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/23/tabletop-review-man-mad-
e-mythology-a-comic-book-rpg/


Man-Made Mythology: A Comic Book RPG is the first offering from Critical Strike Publishing. Designed off the venerable 3.x engine, this game was made to allow the group to combine the flexibility of the OGL with the over-the-top action of the super-hero genre. Although this idea is not entirely new, it is something that this company approaches in a different manner than their colleagues.

The book begins off simply enough with the almost mandatory description of the hobby, a lexicon, and the methods for determining the characters starting Attributes. It is in Chapter Two that the company begins to illustrate their take on the comic-book world. Chapter Two begins with the racial descriptions and modifiers inherent to each of the four core races of Man-Made Mythology.

The first race presented is, of course, Humans. After that we come to Reptiods, an alien lizard species that came to Earth millennia ago. After that come the Synthetics, which are mankind’s success at creating artificial life and finally there is the matriarchal race of warrior-women – the Valkyries. There isn’t anything especially noteworthy about the starting racial choices, but they fill their roles well and give the Players several options to choose from without over-doing it.

Chapter Three begins with detailing the procedure to generate the characters Alter-Ego. Each Alter-Ego lists any sort of requirements that must be fulfilled as well as the Skills, Bonus Feats, and any Resource modifiers that come with that choice. The options here range from the bookish Academic, to Emergency Services characters, to Soldiers. The nice thing is that the choices also include things such as a Rural upbringing to flesh out the section.

In Chapter Four, the games Classes are presented. There are ten Classes available in the core-rules and these include enough options to make a variety of iconic characters. This chapter also begins with the Advancement guidelines and the rules for multi-classing. The individual Classes are presented in the familiar format found in most 3.x games, so one who is familiar with them will have no problem understanding them.

The same holds true for the next two chapters which go into detail about the games Skills and Feats. Although there are some new ideas presented here there is nothing truly unique to those familiar with the genre or overall 3.x games. There are some new feats presented, but these are mostly variations of existing ones that amplify the characters power usage and help further define their abilities.

It isn’t until Chapter Twelve after the mandatory rules on equipment, combat, magic usage and the like that the games super-powers, known as Mythic Abilities, are explained. There are fifty powers fleshed out in Man-Made Mythology and each comes with ten levels of modifiers to that power. The first mythic ability is Body Armor and while it provides basic protection it can also increase other attributes, mitigate critical hits, and provide damage reduction to the Character as they advance it. In my opinion there could have been many more powers given here and although the ones that do exist are detailed nicely. I just like my supers games to have a-lot of options when it comes to powers.

All in all I give Man-Made Mythology a thumbs in the middle. Is it anything entirely new and spectacular? No, but I feel it does a better job of emulating the genre than most of its predecessors using the 3.x engine. I am interested in seeing what other offerings the company provides as time passes, as I feel there is are a lot of options available for expansion. Man-Made Mythology could become a very well rounded game but only time will tell.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Man-Made Mythology: A Comic Book RPG
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #76.5: Well of the Worm
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2013 07:35:24
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/22/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-76-5-well-of-the-worm/

I’ve never understood the .5 style numeration of some Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures. There are several things that can trigger it – con exclusives, conversion from another system and so on. I just think it’s silly. Maybe a different track with its own numbering, ala old school D&D adventures? Con exclusives could be CE1, CE2 and so on. The point-five bit always sounds like it’s part of an adventure or to be tacked on as a follow-up to an earlier release. In this case, the adventure does state that it was converted to the Dungeon Crawl Classics system, but unfortunately it doesn’t say WHAT it was converted from. As a reviewer, that would have been nice to know for comparison and contrasting. I had to actually look up the original source, and it turns out it was originally DCC #29, back when these were printed for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It’s also worth noting the printed version of this adventure was originally only available to people who purchased two or more paper copies of adventures from Goodman Games. It’s nice to see that, for those who missed out on the original offer, they can still purchase a pdf version of the adventure. With all that out of the way, let’s get on with the review.

Well of the Worm is for four to six Level 1 characters, which is a rather small party for a DCC adventure. It’s a very short adventure which has characters going down a well to fight human headed worm monsters. I’ll admit that the enemies aren’t all that interesting a concept, but they can’t all be winners. Besides, just because *I* don’t think the well worms are interesting doesn’t mean that some other gamer WON’T. At least the adventure gives you three possible plot hooks to make your characters go down the well. One is especially weak (What are the chances all the characters are from the same village after all – how often does THAT happen?), but the other two are solid and diverse enough that they can spur your party into action.

Sure, it’s a bit odd that there is a massive cavern under a town’s dried up well, but it’s a fantasy game. Honestly, is that really the weirdest thing your players will have encountered in one of these? A good DM should really play up the tight quarters of the adventure. After all, this isn’t an expansive dungeon made by some evil big bad. It’s a naturally occurring cavern that just happens to have some hideous monsters living in it. I really like that the adventure calls attention to how cramped the location is and inflicts penalties on large weapons due to the lack of room to properly use them.

There isn’t a lot to see or do in Well of the Worm. It’s a fairly straightforward, linear dungeon crawl. Characters will hack and slash their way through zombies and well worms. For a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, the lethality of the quest is surprisingly low. I was surprised at how “easy” the adventure was for characters to survive compared to previous releases. That said, there are two very easy ways to die in this one. The first is taking a very large fall at the beginning of the adventure. The second is falling into a pit of the human headed worm monsters. Neither are very fun ways for your character to go. For the most part, though, this is a fairly standard and somewhat generic dungeon crawl. Even the two main antagonists are a bit predictable and pat. In fact the warm worm mother is almost ripped exactly from the video game ArcaniA‘s first boss, which is probably just a coincidence. There’s only so much you can do with worm monsters after all. There is one neat monster in the Zombie Ogre, especially its unique physical state. That’s definitely the most memorable and enjoyable thing about Well of the Worm. Unfortunately, it’s an optional encounter that may not happen depending on what players do.

There isn’t a lot of art to Well of the Worm, but what’s here is very well done indeed. There are two full page handouts that really help to make the adventure come alive, and as always, the DCC maps are the best in the industry today. The two covers (front and back) are full colour and are really well done, but I did have some people laugh at the absurdity of the monsters, which puts a damper on playing the adventure. After all, if the players can’t take them seriously, it takes a bit of extra work to salvage the experience.

All in all, let’s give Well of the Worm a thumb’s in the middle. It’s not a bad adventure by any means – just a rather generic and uninteresting one. It’s very well written, and I loved some of the details to the location and mechanics, but the adventure just didn’t really wow me. There are plenty of better (and cheaper) Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures out there. Again, this is not a bad adventure by any means, but I’d only recommend picking this up if you’re a completionist trying to get your hands on all of the adventures for the system.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #76.5: Well of the Worm
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Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 10:53:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/17/tabletop-review-tome-of-
-the-unclean-castles-crusades/

Tome of the Unclean is the latest release from Troll Lord Games for its Castles & Crusades system. This is the oddest release yet as it’s being made available even though the book is nowhere near finished. Instead, Troll Lord is trying out an installment plan option, something I’ve never seen a RPG publisher try before. It’s similar to episodic content for video games, in that you pay a lump sum up front and then will be given regular updates with new content. In this case the PDF will be automatically updated over at Drivethrurpg.com or RPGNow.com whenever new content is added. Updates should be every two to three weeks and there should be two to three monsters with each update. If you prefer to wait for the finished version, you can, but the PDF will cost five dollars more and the physical version of the book will be twice what you pay for the installment version of the PDF. I decided to go the installment route since it’s such an odd but intriguing concept and I wanted to see how things would go down. I have no idea what the eventual final page count (It is expected to be roughly 100 pages) will be or how the book will turn out quality-wise, but at least it will be an interesting journey, right?

Tome of the Unclean will be focusing on demons and devils. Yes there is a difference in most fantasy games. This first installment looks at three creatures: two demons and a devil and it clocks in at nine pages. Of course, two of those pages are the front and back cover and another two pages are devoted to the Open Game License and cover page. That means you get five pages of content for your ten dollars. Sounds crazy expensive, right? Well it is right now, but with each installment, you’ll more than likely start to get your money’s worth.

Tome of the Unclean currently provides a half page definition for devils and demons for Castles and Crusades. As a retro-clone, it is very similar to the old Dungeons & Dragons hierarchy for both. In this first installment you’ll get the classic Balor and a Glabrezu for the demons and Beelzebub for the devils. All three denizens of the Hells are written up nicely and are accompanied by an excellent illustration. This is a very nice start to what looks to be an incredible book and I’m really hoping that the remaining updates will be as great as the first impression. Speaking of art, though, the cover for Tome of the Unclean is just amazing. It’s one of the better fantasy pieces I’ve seen this year and Jason Walton deserves a special shout out for his work here (He also did the interior illustrations for this installment).

I definitely think that if you are a Castles & Crusades fan, you should go for the installment version of Tome of the Unclean. Not only will you get the book for far cheaper than you would otherwise, you’ll be privy to the editorial and writing process by seeing changes occur and new content being added with each update. Tome of the Unclean certainly is going to prove to be an entertaining and unique experience for tabletop gaming fans, even if the book doesn’t manage to stay as impressive as this first update. I know I’m excited to see this blend of classic D&D denizens of darkness with a new way of releasing a manual. Here’s hoping Troll Lord Games can keep the regular updates coming.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Tome of the Unclean
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Guildhalls of the Deathless
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2013 06:27:21
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/15/tabletop-review-mummy-t-
he-curse-guildhalls-of-the-deathless-world-of-darkness/



After an extremely successful Kickstarter, Mummy: The Curse was released at the beginning of this year to both critical and fan acclaim. If you read my extremely long and enthusiastic review, then you know that I consider it to be one of the two best releases of 2013 so far (along with Numenera). Guildhalls of the Deathless is the first supplement for Mummy: The Curse, and it’s a worthy second release for the line. Although it’s not as impressive as the core rulebook, and there are a few issues I have with the book here and there, they are minor ones, and with a fifteen dollar price tag, Guildhalls of the Deathless is an exceptionally good deal considering you are getting nearly two hundred pages of content that will help to flesh out your Mummy: The Curse campaign. You even get an extremely long adventure that should take multiple play sessions to get through, which is only the tip of the iceberg for an extremely long metaplot based campaign.

So let’s talk content. There are eight chapters to Guildhalls of the Deathless. The book is divided into two parts – one for players and one for Storytellers. Unlike the core rulebook, I can’t say that there is anything in Guildhalls of the Deathless that would spoil the playing aspect of the game – unless you read the adventure before you played it of course. You also don’t NEED to read or own Guildhalls of the Deathless to play Mummy: The Curse, but the book does give an extremely in-depth look at how the five guilds view themselves and each other, in addition to a long history of each organization and how they work towards restoring the glory of Lost Irem. If you’re picking up Mummy to read or run a game, then you will probably WANT to get Guildhalls of the Deathless as it is extremely informative and well written, helping to better define the five guilds. This will let the Storyteller better design inter- and intra-guild relations and give characters a chance to better understand their place within the organization they chose at character creation, as well as the place in the grand scheme of the Judges.

The first five chapters comprise the entirely of the player’s side of Guildhalls of the Deathless. Each chapter is devoted to a specific guild. Chapter One is for the Maa-Kep (middle management), Chapter Two is about the Mesen-Nebu (alchemists), Chapter Three talks about the Sesha-Hebsu (scribes), Chapter Four is about the Su-Menent (priests) and finally Chapter Five gives us the Tef-Aabhi (masons). I’m really glad each guild received their own chapter in which specifics were talked about, as they received a level of depth, history and philosophical discussion the core rulebooks imply but didn’t have room for. It’s great to see all five guilds in a single book too, instead of spread out amongst five small “Clanbook” style releases. Here we get everything at once, early on into the life of the game, and for far less than if you had to purchase the content in five smaller books. This is simply the best way to do this style of content and it really benefits the player. Note that reading these five chapters is bound to change your original impressions for each of the five guilds. The extra depth will change how you look at each one, and also give you insight into their own goals… as well as the internal issues plaguing each organization. All five chapters are really worth reading if you’re even remotely interesting in playing or running a chronicle of Mummy: The Curse.

The only real problem I had with the player side of the book is that the five chapters for the guilds are neither equal nor uniform. What I mean by this is that some guilds have more pages devoted to them than others. So, for example, you’ll learn far more about one guild than you would another. As well, the information you are given isn’t presented in a stable format, so one guild might see a sample PC presented within its pages, but the other four won’t have NPC stat blocks at all. I think editorial could have done a better job by telling the writers to outline each chapter in a uniform format. For example, maybe do a brief overview, then the information, then what other guilds think they know about the guild in question, followed by what the guild of topic thinks of the other guild. So on and so forth. That would have made the book flow a lot smoother, and it would be easier to find the information both players and Storytellers might be hunting for in a pinch. Instead, the chaotic way each chapter is written might make it enjoyable to read, but it certainly makes using the book as a resource while PLAYING a lot harder. An index would have been a godsend. It’s also extremely obvious that there are different writers for each guild, as the voice, writing style and content are so different from each other. Whether or not you would prefer a more uniform voice is subjective however, but I do wish the voices for the book would have blended together better, as the end result feels piecemeal instead of cohesive. I can’t emphasize enough how MINOR the above issues are, but they are noticeable and thus worth pointing out.

The last three chapters of the book are for the Storyteller. It’s odd because the bulk of the book is the Storyteller sections rather than the chapters on the guilds themselves. Those first five chapters and the introduction take up 78 of the 178 pages in the book. That’s less than half. In fact, the longest chapter (roughly 45 pages) is the adventure, which is only part one of a Chronicle. To get the rest of the chronicle, you’ll have to purchase a different book (most likely the upcoming Cursed Necropolis: DC release). I would strongly have preferred to see the Avarice Chronicle be released as its own separate supplement rather than spreading it as a tagalong throughout other books. That way, if you wanted the chronicle, you could get it in one shot instead of having to purchase multiple, possibly unrelated or unwanted, books and then having to cart all of those around (physically or in e-reader format) instead of having them in a single book. It also makes looking up information insane, as you have to hunt through multiple books (without indexes BTW) instead of, again, a single release. This was bad form from WW/OPP and I have to say I’m very disappointed with their decision to release the chronicle in this format. Again, this is a minor issue to me, but one I know other people will probably feel strongly about, so I’m bringing it up now as a head’s up that you will need to buy multiple books if you want the full chronicle.

Chapter Six is entitled “Keys to the Chamber” and it’s mainly about rules for guild (inter- and intra-) disputes and how to resolve them with dice and roleplaying. Obloquy takes up the bulk of this chapter, and it is an interesting read, but not something that will come up often (or at all) in your Chronicle unless you really want to tell a story about it or you are running M:TC like V:TM. The rest of the chapter is about creating and designing talismans (a magic item within the game) and some new abilities for your character. Guild Affinities can be purchased in relation o a character’s Guild Status rating. There are also new rules for Mummies combining their powers into one channeled effect. This is known as Unison. This can create effects up the equivalent of Level 10 Sekhem, which is insanely powerful. I like the Unison idea, although I do wish the rules for it were more defined and also not tucked into the tail end of Chapter Six in a supplement. I can see this being missed by a lot of gamers. There’s some great new rules and content in Chapter Six, and I can see why they were put in the Storyteller section instead of the Player area, as it lets the person running the game decide if they want to use these and if they want to make DISCOVERING this new option part of an adventure.

Chapter Seven, “Beyond the Door,” is mostly mechanics. Here you have more Guild Affinities, but these are geared towards specific guilds rather than the universal ones found in the previous chapter. Again, these are very much tied into Guild Status, so if a player didn’t take any during creation these are unavailable to him or her. You’ll also find magic items and NPCs here as well. The chapter is grouped by guild, which makes looking for information easier, but an index would have made finding and using the pieces in this chapter so much easier.

Finally we have Chapter Eight, which is the first part of the Avarice Chronicle. This is a huge chapter, the largest in the book, and the Chronicle is a mini campaign in and of itself, meaning it will keep players busy for many a playthrough. Now, will it keep them busy long enough for the second part of the story to be released? That I don’t know. This is White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing, after all, and they do have some issues getting things out on time, even more so than most companies in the tabletop industry. As such, you might want to hold off on running this until part two is in your hands to ensure your characters aren’t stuck without anything to do until the new release. I’ve seen this happen to many a Pathfinder gamer after all…

The adventure itself, Crucible of Fate is an excellent one. It takes place in Washington D.C. (my backyard – literally; I look out my window and there’s the Washington Monument), which is a good place to hold the Grand Conclave – the largest gathering of mummies in thousands of years. After all, D.C. is rife with Egyptian style art and motifs. Who is to say that the inspiration for these things is not far older than the mortals suspect? Such a large gathering gives a fine explanation as to why there would be a clutch of mummies able to have adventures together all in one spot. After all, the hardest part about writing a Mummy adventure is figuring out a task that requires ONE Mummy, much less three or four. This particular adventure touches on all the basics. You get to interact with multiple Arisen, witness mummy politics, discover some potential heresy against Irem, Duat and the Judges, fight some unholy creations, and most importantly see the schism between multiple mummies regarding how to view the modern day world, as well as exactly where an Arisen’s loyalty should lie. The adventure is a lot of fun and you can definitely feel the metaplot hammer hitting the characters repeatedly here, so even if you don’t want to play Crucible of Fate, you will probably want to read it to see how the world of the Arisen is about to dramatically change.

All in all, Guildhalls of the Deathless is a wonderful release, and it compliments Mummy: The Curse beautifully. It’s not a flawless however, and whether the flaws Guildhalls of the Deathless contains are minor or major will vary by the reader. I was quite happy with this book and Mummy: The Curse continues to be the crown jewel in the New World of Darkness for me (although The God Machine Chronicle came close and Blood and Smoke might surpass it, but I’m starting to think the latter won’t hit until 2014).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Guildhalls of the Deathless
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RM3 Web of Illusion (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2013 06:55:24
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/14/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
ft-web-of-illusion-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-edition/-


Web of Illusion is one of those odd Ravenloft adventures that neither fits the mood nor theme of the campaign setting, and actually works better if used as a generic mid-level adventure for PCs. This is not the fault of the adventure’s location, as Sri Raji is one of the more unique locations in all of 2e AD&D, and the Darklord of this domain is one of the more memorable in Ravenloft. Rather, the adventure simply eschews everything that makes Ravenloft, well, Ravenloft, and instead we are given a highly generic and somewhat dull experience that just doesn’t sit well with fans of the Dread Domain, and especially with those of Sri Raji itself.

One of the big problems is that the adventure lacks everything that makes Ravenloft so unique. There is no need for fear or horror checks because nothing about the adventure is scary, spooky, creepy or foreboding. It’s your general run of the mill, “Learn about a big bad guy, enter a dungeon and kill it,” affair. That’s hardly the type of thing one thinks of in regards to Ravenloft. Oerth or Toril based adventures, sure, but not the Dread Domain. Another problem is that there really isn’t a lot of story. The adventure is literally, “You’re magically in a new location. Here’s a magical artifact that can kill the evil being that rules this land. Have at it.” Sure you get a tiny bit of explanation from a few NPCs, but the adventure is so linear and dead set on rushing you into the dungeon crawl that you don’t really get a taste of the setting. This is funny, because the adventure includes a huge section from the Darklords supplement on the background and world design of Sri Raji. Seriously, why include over five pages of background information if your adventure turns this entire country into a one shot location that players will never be able to visit again?

Another thing wrong with the adventure is that it simply refuses to ever pull the trigger on the fact that Ravenloft is a pretty evil place where one constantly has to choose between the lesser of two evils. It turns the guilds of Sri Raji from a bevy of horrible choices that control the political intrigue of the country into a simple black hat and white hat side. Sure, the white hats are all Lawful Evil, but the characterization in the adventure makes them all closer to Lawful Neutral or Chaotic Good. That’s some bad design there. As well, if players drag their feet, the DM is encouraged to run a scene where their would-be allies claim to have infected the PCs with a weretiger strain of lycanthropy. However, the adventure balks at actually doing this, having it be a trick to make players go along with the adventure story. Not only is that kind of lame, but it’s Ravenloft people. Infect those PCs! Look at Dark of the Moon. Here players ARE infected with Lycanthrophy, and it really adds a layer of tension and fear to the adventure. Not with Web of Illusion though. God forbid you actually try to fit the theme or feel of the setting.

Finally, the adventure is just too disjointed for me. It feels like two different writers with two VERY different adventure writing styles each took half of the adventure and threw it together. The first half is a bunch of barely written scenes thrown together without any real order or continuity, and the DM is supposed to make sense of them. Then the second half of the adventure is written in a completely different style and is a very dry dungeon crawl that feels hastily inserted. Web of Illusion is just NOT a good Ravenloft adventure, and it’s kind of a middle finger to the entire campaign setting.

Now you would think after all that constructive criticism that I’d give this adventure a huge thumbs down. Actually, no. As I said at the beginning of the review, Web of Illusion is far from being a good Ravenloft adventure, but it works quite well as a generic hack and slash dungeon crawl. The actual dungeon crawl part of the adventure is really well done. In fact, in terms of explaining and showing how to properly use illusion magic, Web of Illusion is almost a must read for any DM or player who uses Illusionist specialists in the slightest. Showcase layered illusion and how to craft one on top of the other or make the dispelling of an illusion trigger a new and different one is simply genius, and it’s something 99.99% of players and DMs either overlook or never even think that deeply about. The illusions are the most dangerous aspect of the dungeon, and I think anyone who plays this will walk away with a newfound respect for that type of magic. The dungeon is tough but fair and the type of monster the Darklord turns out to be is always a fun one to deal with.

So a thumb’s down as a Ravenloft experience, but a thumbs up if you look at Web of Illusion as a generic hack and slash one shot, akin to what you’d find for say, Dungeon Crawl Classics. The two ratings balance each other out, and I give this a thumbs in the middle. I can’t recommend it if you’re specifically looking to run something Ravenloft for the Halloween season. You don’t have a lot of options to choose from over at DNDClassics right now, but there are definitely better ones than Web of Illusion for showcasing the Dread Domain. As a general adventure, five bucks for a sixty-seven page adventure is a really good deal nowadays, and there’s that great showcasing of how to properly use illusion magic, so it may be worth picking this up, depending on what you are looking for. In the end, Web of Illusion proves the old adage about whether or not to buy a Ravenloft adventure: if the adventure has you killing a Darklord, you probably shouldn’t buy it.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
RM3 Web of Illusion (2e)
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Dark of the Moon (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2013 06:37:57
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/11/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
ft-dark-of-the-moon-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-edition-
/

As I’ve said in the past, a good rule of thumb for whether or not a Ravenloft adventure is worth buying or not is whether the plot ends with you trying to kill the Darklord of a domain. If it does, put it down and look elsewhere. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Ship of Terror is one. Bane of the Shadowborn is another. Thankfully, Dark of the Moon is another, even though you’ll be killing one of the more interesting Darklords in the game. The reason this adventure is able to get past the horrible idea of killing a Darklord (which should be all but impossible and trivializes what being a Darklord means as well as the entire campaign setting as a whole) is because you’re given a slow burn up to the inevitable climax. In essence, Dark of the Moon is more a mini campaign where trying to kill the Darklord only comes after a long series of grueling events where PCs will be tested not only by a horde of unwavering lycanthropes, but by the very elements themselves. Much of my time with Dark of the Moon both past and present reminded me of the old Wilderness Survival Guide from First Edition. For many gamers, Dark of the Moon will be the first adventure where they actually have to keep track of inclement weather damage, frostbite, hypothermia and starvation. For some, Dark at the Moon may be too intense for the gamer that just wants a standard hack and slash dungeon crawl. For others, the fact their players will have to deal with so many variables will be a new, exciting and interesting challenge. After all, weather is an enemy that you simply can’t defeat.

Dark of the Moon is designed for four to six players between 5th and 8th level. The adventure is pretty intense and more likely than not, members of the party will die from exposure to harsh temperatures or being eaten by werewolves. Do not underestimate how lethal this adventure is as it’s very reminiscent of some old Gygaxian penned adventures in terms of how easy it is for a PC to meet their final fate here. I’ve found that a Druid has the best chance of survival, followed by a Ranger or a Cleric. Indeed, a Druid may be indispensable to the party surviving both the weather and the werewolves in this adventure. The old AD&D adage about Mages being the best character the higher level characters get is thrown completely out the window here as for much of the adventure, Magic-Users will not have access to their spell components. So that extremely low Hit Point total combined with no magic just paints a massive bullseye on any Wizard PC that takes part in this adventure.

Dark of the Moon takes place in the domain of Vorostokov, which is an analogue for Siberia. Players will be brought to the domain by the mists of Ravenloft, ensuring that they will be ill prepared for a climate of endless frigid winter. Votostokov has little in the way of food as animals that are game animals are elusive and the weather is much too cold for the growing of crops. Villages are sparsely populated and it can take weeks of travel before you find one. As such, players are in a bind. After all, would you want to be wearing full plate mail in below zero weather? That has got to be painful. With the heroes realizing they are pretty unprepared for the weather (unless again, you have a druid or magic items like a ring of warmth), cold based damage is about to set in. So Players will be completely out of their element, both literally and figuratively lost in a land that they have never been in and freezing their collective asses off.

Which of course is when the hordes of werewolves show up. Much of Dark of the Moon is fighting and running from werewolves. If the players have magic, silver or blessed weapons, there will be more fighting than running but if the opposite is true, Pass Without Trace becomes the absolutely best spell in the game for the duration of this adventure. The werewolves in Vorostokov are very different from those players will have encountered before. Instead of your standard werewolves or loup-garou, the lycanthropes in Dark of the Moonare skinwalkers or Loup Du Noir, which actually doesn’t mean skinwalkers or skin changers in French. Discovering the differences between these creatures and your standard werewolves, is a big part of what will help characters to survive, especially as the way to kill the Darklord is extremely convoluted and may take multiple play sessions based on the rolls and wits of the players. There’s also the additional problem that at least on PC WILL be infected with lycanthropy, if not all of them. In Ravenloft you have a 2% chance per point of damage taken of developing lycanthropy – 3% if it is by the Darklord. Considering the sheer amount of combat and that for this adventure you roll after each hit and the percentage is cumulative, you’re going to have a werewolf or entire group of werewolf PCs. The good news is that being a werewolf will help them to survive the freezing weather, give them some nice damage prevention bonuses and help them to regenerate. The bad news is that it basically lets the Darklord of the domain mentally control them at will. A cruel DM will force infected players to find a cure for their lycanthropy after the adventure, but in Ravenloft, that is an exceptionally hard task to accomplish. A kind DM will let the players be free of the disease once the Darklord is dead and that’s what I’d strongly suggest. Of course some player at some point will want to stay a werewolf, but that’s a whole other problem you’ll have to deal with if and when it comes up.

Another interesting aspect of the adventure is how alignments blue here. You’ll find Chaotic Evil Rangers, a good aligned werewolf, and that your best bet for killing the Darklord is by allying with three evil aligned NPCs – two witches and a ghost. More than likely, there will be a few Powers Check rolls made by your players in this adventure. This is actually typical of a Ravenloft as you’ll find strange bedfellows as players must decide between the lesser of two evils. Truthfully though, the three allies you’ll need to make in this adventure aren’t evil in terms of how they are written, but Second Edition was pretty strict with classifying specific “races” (for lack of a better word) as a specific alignment with no room to budge. It’s odd the adventure does this with these three while making huge steps outside the usual alignment with the aforementioned good werewolf and evil ranger who still has access to all his class disciplines.

All in all, Dark of the Moon is one of the better “Kill the Darklord!” adventures for Ravenloft, mainly because while being the climax of the mission at hand, there is so much more going on, that it is only the focal point until the very end. Dark of the Moon will last you several playsessions and while it’s not a top tier Ravenloft adventure, so to speak, it’s still a pretty enjoyable one. You could do a lot worse for a five buck adventure, especially since this one will last you multiple playsessions and really test you as both a player and a Dungeon Master. I definitely recommend this, but with the caveat that you and your players really have to be willing character death or a permanent change into a evil werebeasty.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark of the Moon (2e)
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Howls in the Night (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2013 06:36:58
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/11/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
ft-howls-in-the-night-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-editi-
on/

It’s October and what better time for DNDCLassics.com to FINALLY start re-releasing some more Ravenloft adventures than in the month of Halloween. Until now, DNDClassics.com had only sported subpar releases like The Created, the badly written, Children of the Night pieces and the wonderful Monstrous Compendiums for the setting. This month however, we’ve seen four Ravenloft adventures released so far, which is great to see. Today we’ll be looking at Howls in the Night is not only one of the best Ravenloft adventures, but one of the best second edition adventures regardless of campaign setting. It’s extremely versatile and can be adapted to just about any campaign world (except Planescape). Best of all. Howls in the Night offers four different ways for the GM to run the adventure (One for each possible main antagonist) which gives the adventure an amazing amount of replay value, a fact that is all the more amazing when you remember that most adventures written in this time period (regardless of system) were extremely linear and inflexible.

Howls in the Night takes us to the domain of Mordent. It’s an analogue for Scotland and you’ll recognize that almost immediately. From the lush rolling meadows to the dark ominous moors where much of the adventure takes place, the DM should feel more than free to use their best (worst?) Scottish accent to give the NPCs of Mordent some personality. It’s a great setting and one made all the better by the fact the Darklord of the domain never shows up in the adventure. You can generally tell whether a Ravenloft adventure is good or bad by whether or not the goal is to kill a Darklord or not. If it is, put it back and look for a different adventure.

Howls in the Night is a little bit The Hound of the Baskervillies, a little bit of the Black Shuck from British folklore and a lot of Ravenloft twists thrown in. The adventure is for four to six players between 3rd and 5th Level, meaning that the characters have some experience under their belts, but not enough that they can shrug off a pounding. Indeed, much of the adventure is running from or circumventing the almost limitless bog hounds at the disposal of one of the antagonists. As well, the core monster plaguing the town of Mordentshire can’t be defeated unless very specific circumstances are encountered, meaning that Howls in the Night plays a little more like a Call of Cthulhu adventure and far less of a hack and slash dungeon crawl.

I absolutely love the story here. You have a doomed force love affair, the effects of which still curse the village, the surrounding countryside and the principal players a century after it occurred. You have a wonderful curse, as odd as that phrasing may sound, which breathes a lot of life into the adventure, makes it exceptionally spooky and also highlights how well Ravenloft used the concept of curses, especially curses made during one’s death throws. I always found the whole “Bestow/Remove” curse spells from D&D to be implemented horribly and both PCs and DMs would use the spell without any style or forethought. Ravenloft is the one exception to that and a curse made here is extremely hard to get rid of and generally has long ranging dramatic results.

As the principal protagonists in this adventures, Players are hired to exterminate the ever growing problem of what appears to be extremely aggressive wild dogs. Just as the moors slowly extend their reach every year, so too do does this pack of wild canines grow ever bolder and closer to the town of Mordentshire. Of course, players will instantly assume that the dogs aren’t actually dogs. They’re right, but not in the way they think and the end result generally has overconfident players who were relying on player knowledge rather than character knowledge, getting freaked out and humbled by their actual foe. It’s wonderful as a DM to see how players handle their first encounter with the bog hounds and the slow realization that nothing in Ravenloft is ever straightforward.

Besides dealing with the hounds, Howls in the Night has several other nasty surprises for the players. At least one character will probably having to roll for their lives against quicksand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a playthrough of this adventure where one character meets their end at the hands of a mundane natural occurrence. It’s wonderful as it keeps players really invested in where they are placing their feet and their immediate surroundings. Players will really quickly learn to think on their feet (literally and figuratively) from this adventure. Most of all though, players will be brought into the conflict that occurs between the two main NPCs of this adventure. They are the root of the curse plaguing the village and much of the fun of the adventure comes from the players trying to decide who is wearing the black hat and who is wearing the white hat. Again, the adventure has four different playthrough possibilities, so you can design the adventure to where BOTH are evil or both are victims of the curse rather than deserved recipients. I tend to find the adventure is more fun for everyone involved when you have both NPCs either be truly evil dicks or good people caught up in a bad situation. Regardless, all of the four storylines are extremely fun to play through and no matter which one you choose, your PCs will talk about this adventure for a long time to come.

I can’t end this review without really plugging the artwork it contains. The cover for Howls in the Night by Paul Jaquays is especially spooky and sets the tone for things to come quite nicely. The interior artwork by Mark Nelson has me missing the days when I could regularly see his art in Vampire: The Masquerade, Ravenloft and Shadowrun publications. He also did a wonderful job with the Hellraiser comics back in the day. Both Wizards and Catalyst Game Labs need to hire him back for regular work ASAP! Nelson is one of my favorite RPG artists and it’s easy to see why after you’ve flipped through this adventure.

So yes, Howls in the Night is a truly brilliant adventure from beginning to end. It’s an extremely easy adventure for a DM to run, and it’s hard not to have fun with this. With a price tag of only four dollars, it’s practically begging you to buy it. Howls of the Night is one of my favorite adventures from 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as it is creepy, boasts a wonderful cast of characters, a very intricate plot and it highlights just how well D&D works as a horror game instead of a hack and slash dungeon crawl experience. Seriously, pick this up today.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Howls in the Night (2e)
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The Wives of March
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2013 08:10:02
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/09/tabletop-review-no-secu-
rity-the-wives-of-march/

The Wives of March is the sixth and final release from the No Security Kickstarter that Hebanon games held back in June of 2012. I’ve reviewed all five so far and given three extremely positive reviews (Bryson Springs, The Red Tower, and The Fall Without End) and two recommendations but with slight caveats (Lover in the Ice and Revelations). While The Wives of March is going into that second category, I still do need to point out that all six adventures have been excellent and I have more than gotten my money’s worth as a Kickstarter backer from this project. The fact Hebanon Games has put out six quality adventures in a year and a half, and for free to boot, is a feat that I don’t think any other publisher has pulled off in a very long time, and that includes the big guys like Paizo and Wizards.

The Wives of March is all but impossible to review without outright spoiling some of the twists and turns in the storyline, so if you don’t want the plot ruined, let me just say that by all means, stop reading the review now, download this sucker (maybe throw some money at Hebanon’s way while you are at it) and know the adventure is well done but that there are one or two plot points that your gamers might nitpick to death during the adventure or, more likely, after the fact. I know both my play testing teams harped on the same point without any nudging from me and that it was the same plot hole I had an issue with when I read the thing, but it’s a minor one that shouldn’t get in the way of running or playing the adventure. With that out of the way – SPOILERS AHOY MATES!

The Wives of March, at least on the surface, is a pretty standard murder mystery. It’s set in the south during the early 1930s (The Dust Bowl is a wonderful time to set any horror adventure really) and the players are hired by one of four potential sources to solve the murder. One Dashell March, pastor of the Unifying Word Revival Church has died on account of his midsection being removed by a point blank shotgun blast. The culprit is believed to be a black man who is now in hiding (and is also suspected of corrupting a young white girl to boot!) and it’s up to the PCs to figure out what exactly happened. Now this being the Deep South in the 1930s, those hiring the players may be more concerned with the strangeness of March’s will rather than whether or not one of them “Negro folk” actually killed a respected and beloved member of the community or not. Remember this is an era and region where African Americans were still considered highly disposable and little better than animals by a large portion of the Caucasian population. Racism is not just a part of life, but definitely something you’d see in a small rural sharecropping town hit exceptionally hard by the Great Depression. Thankfully this facet is not shied away from by the adventure, but is instead embraced and becomes a critical part of figuring out (perhaps even surviving) the adventure. The adventure does give a disclaimer to make sure players and the GM aren’t mistaken for being racist pricks themselves and that maybe the group shouldn’t use certain offensive descriptors towards African Americans while playing The Wives of March. I think that was a smart decision to put that in but honestly, in both play sessions, we let a lot of words come out that we would never use ourselves, because it fit the time period and mindset of the NPCs (although certainly not the players) and the racist characters/NPCs were pretty much hate filled towards everything, not just those of African descent. Some characters need to be racist to make the game believable (and actually flow) but making said characters a little over the top also made it clear we were playing a game and not actually espousing that horrible believes ourselves (while making subtle or not so subtle fun of those that had such outdated, primitive beliefs).

So back to the plot. As players continue their research, eventually they will discover that things are not all as they seem in the backwoods burg of Barefoot Crossing. There is an abnormally large population of hideously deformed people – and none of them are circus employees. There are a lot of people in town that looks ridiculously similar to each other. The March family has way too much money for a simply upstart church. So on and so forth. Eventually what we learn is that Dashell March himself is both far more and far less than human and in death he is perhaps more dangerous than alive.

The big twist on the adventure is that Dashell and his wife are two immortal beings cursed not only to be reborn for all eternity due to a pact they made with creatures from beyond our realm of understanding at the dawn of human existence, but there is a crazy sex problem they both have. If they mate together, they create a horrible form that houses one of the many creatures they bargained with, allowing them to exist (somewhat) on our plane of reality. So the obvious fix to that is not to have sex, right? Well if they don’t they die and are reborn, spawned by the monstrosity they already brought into being long long ago. As babes, they have all their memories from their previous existences but tiny little baby bodies. So a breadth of knowledge that surpasses everything contained in a library is trapped in an itty bitty body that can’t hold its head up and is exceptionally fragile. At the same time if they mate with anyone else, they bring another of their kind into this world. If the male has sex with a woman, the baby is always female and a basic clone of his original female partner, complete with all of her memories. The reverse is true if the female gives birth. Her children are always essentially exact male counterparts of his original mate, just babies. While there is room for each clone to be slightly different than their fellow (by saying purposely overeating to get fat or getting a lot of tattoos), the end result is that you essentially two immortal beings that occupy multiple bodies (no telepathic hive mind though).

As you can imagine, discovering that you are dealing with a veritable clan of just two people is not only creepy but hard for the mind to wrap around. You can kill the entire “race” (for lack of a better term), but even if you do manage to get every single one, at least one male and one female will be reborn through the cosmic monstrosity they are essentially leashed to. Plus now they’ll remember who killed them and how and have learned from that. Even worse, these two beings have probably died in every way imaginable and have learned every trick in the book, so how do you outsmart something like that? The end result is that The Wives of March is not an adventure you win, but one you survive, in which your best bet is to either convince the March “family” that you are either not worth their time and energy to expunge, or that even if you are especially efficient at ruining their plans, they have all eternity while the players have maybe twenty or thirty good years left in them, giving the Marchs plenty of time to come up with new plans or the chance to strike the PCs down (and those they love best) when they are old and infirm. Truly a horrific situation. I mean how do you stop an entity that has literally done and seen it all, with the knowledge of millennium behind them and no fear of death. One person I know summed this adventure up as “His and Her Ra’s Ah Ghul” from Batman comics. While that underestimates the cosmic horror behind the March’s it’s not too off the mark if you excise Ghul’s eco-crusader aspect. Honestly. The March’s are built in recurring antagonists if the players get on the wrong side of them. This means if you are playing a campaign, the threat of a March always showing up or being there in the background is never ending and players will be quite paranoid as to where a member of the family is at any given moment.

This of course leads us to the two problems with the adventure. The first is that neither March is evil or antagonistic in the way players need them to be to actually view them as "the black hats" in this scenario.They’ve simply lived for possibly millions of years and have the weight of eternity on their shoulders. Imagine dying millions of times and being able to remember each death regularly. Imagine having seen empires rise and fall, having experienced pretty much everything. It would dull anyone’s sense and leave them not necessarily psychotic, but razor focused and unable to relate to these fleshy things that look similar to them but have nowhere near the level of knowledge, experience or pure unadulterated horror hanging over them. The Marchs are cursed by trying to keep their love alive forever, and have the constant specter of “we are the gateway to hideous beasties” sitting right there on their shoulders. So the more the PCs learn about these two, the more they are horrified by what they are, but the more pity they (and their players) seem to feel for them. As such, in both playthroughs, instead of trying exterminate the March’s or foil their plan for the eventual destruction of existence so they can finally die, the PCs tried to find a way to help them with their ordeal rather than view them as mustache twirling baddies. In each playthrough the Marchs ended up being viewed as amoral beings that were victims rather than evildoers that needed to be defeated. This of course makes the adventure hard to play as written, but a good GM can get through it in one of two ways (Have the Marchs actually be pitiable or have them just use the PCs bleeding hearts to further their own goals).

The second problem comes down to the sheer lifetime the Marchs have lived and the fact the adventure literally says, “the rules set supports magic, Companions know pretty much all of it, but they resist using it in most instances for fear of making themselves more noticeable.” which as you can probably figure out, is a huge plot hole. After all, if they know pretty much all of it, then the combination of life experience and insane amounts of magical knowledge means at some point they should have found a way to break the deal with the things they bargained with during the precursor to history. Whether it’s a way to send their “child” back to the abyss, a way to simply nullify the deal, or a way to cease to exist, the Marchs should have found a plausible way to get out of the circumstances they put themselves in, even if it is to say, bargain with a different entity. “Give us permadeath and you can have this thing we made while bumping uglies long, long ago.” I have to admit, this issue with the adventure came into my head almost instantly while reading the text and it came up repeatedly in game or after the fact when we talked back story or let people read the PDF. It seemed that the sheer scope of knowledge the Marchs possessed and yet their inability to find a way out of their bargain was too much for everyone’s suspension of disbelief. For some that gave their character impetus to try and help the Marchs find rest or respite and for others, they let it ruin the experience for them and wouldn’t shut up about the implausibility of it all. To which I said “technically everything in a roleplaying game, especially a horror or fantasy one, is implausible. ” Is essence it was akin to the whole, “Can God make a rock so heavy, even he can’t pick it up?” conjecture.

My own interpretation of the text balanced against the life span of the March was that there in fact MAY be a way for the March’s to break free of their bargain without sacrificing reality and existence to do so, but the countless years of death and rebirth, tragedy and torment have broken their minds and spirits into a level of depression trillions of times worse than anything we can possible imagine or put into words. Thus, if there is a way out, they are too bogged down by the despair of their existence, even if no longer on a conscious level, that they don’t even think to look for a way out other than the course they are pursuing. They are simply incapable of hope or thinking of another way out, no doubt because they have tried so many ways to be free and all have ended horribly for them. If there is a solution, they are too close to the situation to realize it and only a group of enterprising and well meaning Investigators willing to risk their mental and physical well beings may be able to….thus setting off a potential campaign or way to link published adventures together. So try that if you get players feeling sorry for the Marchs or outright trying/wanting to help them out of their predicament.

Basically neither problem is a true issue that keeps the adventure from being fun or memorable, but when every single person I played it with (two different groups, without any contact between them) came to the same conclusions about the Marchs and viewed the adventure as having some definite plot holes (the size of which varied by gamer), it’s worth mentioning as a caveat that you may run into this stumbling block with playing the adventure as designed as well. Now no one thought it was a bad adventure in the slightly – they all enjoyed it. There was, however, bones of contention post play and discussions of, “Why didn’t they just do XYZ to end their eternal agony?” Because of this, I do feel The Wives of March is the weakest offering from Hebanon Games so far, but it is far from being a bad read or gaming experience. If anything, it’s worth playing through just for the eventual metaphysical discussion your group will have after the fact and the realization that immortality is probably this horrific (if not the most horrific thing the human mind can go through) an experience. Rather it is the weakest because it’s the only release from Hebanon Games because the others more or less prevented players from going really off the rails or from throwing a plot curveball that the adventure, as written, simply couldn’t handle. This can happen to any adventure that isn’t more or less a linear affair and trust me when The Wives of March is about as dynamic and fluid as a horror adventure gets. It’s the double edged sword of being flexible instead of a dungeon crawl type affair.

Again, The Wives of Marchis a fun and very creepy affair, and it’s definitely worth downloading even if you never play it. It’s free and an entertaining read after all. However it does remain the weakest of the No Security adventures and the fact the cosmic horror is human in nature, origin and form, makes the adventure more tragic and melancholic than frightening or horrific.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Wives of March
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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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