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Through the Breach RPG - Penny Dreadful One Shot - Recruitment Drive
Publisher: Wyrd Miniatures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 06:40:56

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/07/06/tabletop-revi-
ew-penny-dreadful-one-shot-recruitment-drive-through-the-bre-
achmalifaux/


Although my primary skirmish choice is the Batman Miniature Game, I’ve picked up a few Malifaux pieces here and there just for the sculpts. I have three War Wabbits, a Pygapult and Nicodem, Avatar of Decay. However, with the announcement of the two player starter kit that will release in August, I’ve decided to preorder that, as well as start on a Gremlins warband (mainly for painting, but if I like the game, I’ll have something to play it with). The starter set is roughly two months away though, so I decided to familiarize myself with the game via Through the Breach, the RPG compliment to Malifaux. Both take place in the same world and use a lot of the same characters, it’s just one is a skirmish game and the other is an RPG. Ashe will be reviewing The Fated Almanac and The Fatemaster’s Almanac at some point this summer, but I decided to review my first adventure experience for Through the Breach – Recruitment Drive.


Recruitment Drive is a PDF only adventure that can be used as a one-shot (it’s in the name of the product after all) or the start of an ongoing campaign. The adventure comes with a set of pre-generated characters so you can try out the game under the guidance of an experienced GM, even if you haven’t fully read the rulebooks or taken a look at character creation. The pre-gens also make the Penny Dreadful One Shot adventures a fine choice for tournament/convention play. In many ways, they are the Through the Breach equivalent of Shadowrun Missions. Five bucks for a full colour, nigh thirty page PDF adventure is reasonably priced, and the art contained inside showcases just how unique Wyrd Miniatures’ creations are. Most of the art is reused from the miniature boxes and previously published books, but it is what it is.


I should point out that Recruitment Drive is not going to marvel you or make you proclaim this the greatest adventure ever. It’s not. It’s a fun way to test the water to see if Through the Breach is a tabletop RPG you want to invest in, but nothing more. Only half the pages are devoted to the adventure proper (pages 4-17) with the rest going to NPCs and the pre-generated characters. So Recruitment Drive is a fairly short adventure. It shouldn’t take more than two hours to play – three if you are teaching the game to some newcomers. Because of this, some of you might balk at the $5 price tag, but I’d say it is worth it.


Recruitment Drive consists of four Scenes, all revolving around relative newcomers to Malifaux. All the PCs are at the Southgate train station for their own reasons. None of the characters know each other or have any sort of connection, but give it time. Each character is waiting for the train arrive for their own personal reasons, be it an object, person or assorted something else. As the train starts to arrive, it is attacked by iron zombies. Think Hit Mark II’s from Mage: The Ascension or some other steampunk pneumatic cyborg undead. That’s an iron zombie. Anyway, the zombies attack the train and the PCs have to try and protect themselves, as well as others in the train and at the station. After the scuffle dies down, a second group of zombies have absconded with people and objects from the train. Coincidentally, they are all reasons the PCs were waiting on. Because each PC needs the help of the person now kidnapped from the train, it’s up to them to band together and save their MacGuffins from the undead menace that absconded with them in the first place. This means a trip through the sewers and an eventual showdown with the remaining zombies.


It’s worth noting that Scene IV of Recruitment Drive varies greatly based on how you do in Scene III. There are four different versions of the scene that can occur. The scene you get is based on the amount of in-game time it takes you to navigate the sewers of Malifaux. If you did a good job, combat can be avoided completely. If you did a bad job and got lost along the way, expect to see a pretty intense combat scene – one where the PCs may find themselves in a TPK (Total Party Kill) and even wind up as undead servitors themselves. I really liked how dynamic the last scene was. I just wish it wasn’t purely luck based. I’d have rather seen Scene IV decided through role-playing than roll-playing, but it’s rare you see a pre-published adventure like this provide multiple potential climaxes. Sure, it could have been done better, but I’m still quite happy with what is here.


Overall, my first real taste of Malifaux was a fun one, and I can’t wait to pick up the other Penny Dreadful adventures for Through the Breach. Experiencing Recruitment Drive convinced me I made the right choice in preordering the upcoming two player deck and a few more Gremlins to flesh out my War Wabbits and Pigapults. For those of you discovering Malifaux and/or Through the Breach for the first time through this review, you might want to pick up the University of Transmortis pack from Wyrd Miniatures, as it contains four Iron Zombies. It would be perfect to use with this adventure. You don’t HAVE to have miniatures for Through the Breach though. Remember, it’s the tabletop RPG game, and Malifaux is the miniature skirmish game. Still, they’d be fun to use as a visual explanation of what the characters are doing battle with.


Recruitment Drive is well worth picking up if you’re looking for an intro Through the Breach adventure. Make sure someone has the core rulebooks though, or much of the adventure will read like gobblygook to you.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Through the Breach RPG - Penny Dreadful One Shot - Recruitment Drive
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W20 The Poison Tree
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 16:43:44

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/06/17/book-review-the-poiso-
n-tree-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/
-


More than two years after its release, Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is still the gift that keeps on giving – at least if you were a Kickstarter backer for it. Case in point, The Poison Tree – the newest W:TA Novel. Sure, with a page count of only 180 pages (which includes covers and legal bits), The Poison Tree is somewhere between a full length book and a novella, but it’s always nice to see a new release for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, am I right?


I going to be brutally honest right now though. The Poison Tree is a pretty paint by numbers piece. You should be able to see the end of the novel coming from the first few pages. If not, I have to assume this is your first ever book, not just your first W:TA read. It’s full of clichés, it can be quite hackneyed, not a single major protagonist dies (odd for a Werewolf book) and the climax is an abrupt Dues Ex Machina that feels a bit hollow/rushed/unsatisfactory. So you would think that means The Poison Tree is pretty terrible. In fact, the EXACT OPPOSITE is true. In spite of all these flaws, tropes and things authors are told never to do, The Poison Tree manages to be a very fun read due to the ability of the author and the personalities of the characters. If anything, The Poison Tree proves that sometimes you can take what are perceived to be negatives and turn them into positives. Sure, The Poison Tree‘s plot won’t win any awards since it’s something we’ve all no doubt read or watched dozens of times before, you can’t help but find the tale enjoyable. Think of it as the W:TA version of a Cozy Mystery, where you’re charmed by the book and its characters in spite of it having characteristics people tend to poo-poo.


The Poison Tree revolves around the war chief of Savannah, Georgia. Her name is Ingrid and she is a Shadow Fang (My favorite clan, followed by Uktena and Silent Striders). Ingrid is a rather angry young woman. Her cousin Marcus wants her title and pack. Her father Karl, runs the city and although he has always been an isolationist, he seems to grow more paranoid and insane with each passing day. Her city is under constant siege by the forces of the Wyrm and due to her father’s policies, it’s hard to recruit Garou from outside the city to help battle fomori and other Wyrmspawn. So yes, Ingrid is a little angry at the world and unfortunately, there isn’t much she can do about it.


Recently though, she’s been having terrible dreams about the fall of Savannah and apparently, she is not alone. Her father appears to be plagued by something similar and her cousin, a Metis named Eric is having the same dreams as Ingrid. So disturbed is she by the combo of bad weather and dreams that Ingrid decides to bring in some new blood to the city. At the next moot she enlists some outside help. Now her father is okay with Garou getting the equivalent of a yearlong pass into Savannah as long as they spend the bulk of their time fighting the Wyrm, so the Get of Fenris pack and a mixed pack of three other Garou mean nothing to her father. These are within the laws of his realm. It’s when Ingrid break her father’s rule of letting ronin werewolves into the city that his sanity begins to break completely. Moreover, allowing these three ronin into the city begins to unmask a conspiracy that involves the entire city of Savannah that has waited twenty-five years to unveil its machinations. This conspiracy may not wipe out just the Garou of Savannah…but the entire city itself. Who can Ingrid trust, if anyone, to save Savannah and her own soul from the Wyrm?


The Poison Tree is a quick read since it is about half the length of most full-sized novels, but even though the page count is short, there is a lot of action and characterization packed in. Each character is pretty stereotypical, not just in regards to how their clan, but personality tropes as well. Marcus, Ingrid cousin is a slimy weasel who does nothing else but plot, scheme and annoy Ingrid. Ingrid herself is little more than the two-dimensional bad ass female with a heart of gold trope. Yet even while each character clings to clichés, they managed to leap off the page as more than they actually are, which is a testament to the author’s writing ability more than anything else. You quickly find characters you’ll love and whom you’ll hate (my favorite was Catherine the Uktena and Starscream…I mean Marcus was the easiest to loathe). This was fun light literature from beginning to end and even though The Poison Tree embraces a lot of my personal pet peeves (especially for WoD fiction), I couldn’t help but really enjoy this book for what it was. Fans of Werewolf: The Apocalypse should definitely track this down once it is released to the general public. Onyx Path generally prices their fiction quite affordably, especially digital-only pieces like this and this is just one example of how W20 has managed to outside V:TM 20AE in nearly every way (as a longtime V:TM zealot, it pains me to admit that).


So yes, The Poison Tree is fun fiction. It doesn’t try to be a work of seminal literature. It’s simply a somewhat generic, but very-well written tale about the Garou vs the Wyrm and how often times werewolves are their own worst enemies. Pick it up on DriveThruRPG.com once it’s released. If you’re a W:TA fan, I think you’ll enjoy it a lot.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 The Poison Tree
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V20 Dread Names, Red List
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 16:43:06

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/07/02/tabletop-revi-
ew-dread-names-red-list-vampire-the-masquerade-20th-annivers-
ary-edition/


Dread Names, Red List is a remake/update of both The Kindred’s Most Wanted and bits of other books like The Storyteller’s Handbook to the Sabbat. Dread Names, Red List came about as a stretch goal to the Kickstarter campaign for Children of the Revolution which was a mediocre release (to be fair, all the early WW/OPP Kickstarters were underwhelming in terms of final product). It’s also kind of shocking it took three years for the stretch goal to make print, but at least it’s here, right? The good news is that Dread Names, Red List is MUCH better than the product that spawned it and the supplement is guaranteed to fill any Storyteller’s head with ideas. Plots and adventures to through at their players’ coterie.


The Red List is a vampire equivalent of the FBI’s Most Wanted List, except it’s maintained by the largest undead organization in world. As well, the Red List isn’t made up of just vampires. It’s controlled by the Camarilla sure, but Lupines, Mages, Technocrats, Fae and demons could make the list if they were a big enough threat to the organization and/or the Masquerade. The list as it stands within Dread Names, Red List is mostly vampires, but there is one mortal in the set. Of course, just because it’s 92.3% vampires doesn’t mean the list isn’t diverse. You have the offspring of Set, one of the heads of the Sabbat, a Typhoid Mary for Kindred, a religious zealot, an anarch and more. With these thirteen characters you have a wide range of potential antagonists that could fill up an entire Chronicle with their machinations. The characters are a lot of fun and it’s worth noting that several of the art pieces are based on some very recognizable people. For example the portait of Raymond Narcisse is very obiously David Heath, the professional wrestler known as both the Vampire Warrior and Gangrel. My wife, whose only exposure to V:TM is through one episode of Kindred; The Embraced and The Brood from WWF/WWE programming took one look at that picture and recognized him immediately. Part of the fun will be recognizing familiar faces in the art. Oddly enough Gangrel is a Torreador in Dread Names, Red List.


Moving on, much of Dread Names, Red List is not actually about the thirteen beings named to the Red List. The book’s true focus is on the Alastors. An Alastor is essentially a parallel to an Archon. Both are positioned given to Kindred by Justicars, but while Archons are more the police of the Kindred, Alastors are more the equivalent of its military/CIA assassins. Once given the position of Alastor, you hold it until Final Death. The problem is that your job is now to eternally hunt down and destroy those who are on the Red List. So your life becomes one of intrigue and combat. This is perfect for people who like V:TM but want something a little more dungeon crawling or hack and slashy instead of talking heads and their politics. Still, being an Alastor doesn’t mean all fisticuffs and heaping amounts of Fortitude soak rolls. You still have to investigate, sleuth and other cerebral type activities. This is V:TM after all. I’m just saying an Alastor oriented campaigns offers you a lot more combat potential than any other Classic World of Darkness game save Werewolf: The Apocalypse.


The book has five set sections along with an introduction and an appendix. The intro is the usual “This is the purpose of the book” yammering. “History and Tradition” talks about why the Camarilla has the traditions along with the origins and evolutions of the Red List. Here you learn about the Justicars and their role in the Red List as well as what happens when someone is removed from the Red List (ie, killed). The second section is unnamed but it gives you all thirteen of the current Red List “participants” along with their history, stats and a full page portRait of them. Again, several should look quite familiar to you.


“Role of the Alastor” is the next section and it’s the longest in the book. Here you learn why someone is chosen to be an Alastor and it is quite interesting to see all the aspects the Justicars look at. Age, clan, generation, politics and so on. You also learn about the complex relationship between Justicars, Alastors, Archons and Josians (Infernalist/demon-worshipper hunters). There is also a list of preferred Disciplines and their respective powers in case you want to min/max (which is odd for a V:TM game, but this also shows you how combat heavy an Alastor is meant to be).


“Characters and Traits” is for players who want to make an Alastor or who will be taking part in an all Alastor campaign/Chronicle. It gives you some things to think about when designing your new character, with a lot of emphasis on the importance of the background traits you choose. There are also some new combo Disciplines and Thaumaturgy rituals to take. This section does have a Merits & Flaws area but there is only one of each provided, both having to do with “trophies” – a type of boon and other associated rewards a character gets when they knock someone off the Red List.


The final section is “Storyteller Toolkit” and the title is pretty self-explanatory if you know your WoD jargon. This section gives some great advice on designing a Red List/Alastor oriented campaign and how to keep it both flowing and fun. There are also some story hooks in case you can’t think of any and also some people to put onto the Red List in case your players manage to destroy one of the current members.


The final part of the book is an appendix called “The Path of Evil Revelations.” As mentioned in the beginning of the review, this was originally part of The Storyteller’s Handbook to the Sabbat and allowed characters (although preferably NPCs/antagonists only) access to an infernal versions of both Thaumaturgy and an alternative to Humanity/the usual paths. It’s not a straight lift from Second Edition V:TM, but rather a recreation of the same themes and ideas to better fit the game twenty years later. It’s a lot shorter than the original version, but the Path of Evil Revelations is better left as some more open ended than concretely defined. I know WW/OPP has difficulty leaving concepts nebulous but hopefully they will leave the Path of Evil Revelations as is.


So that’s the book. Dread Names, Red List is a short little supplement, but it’s well written and one of the best releases for V20. The price for both the PDF and the print of demand versions are decent, making this a fine addition to your Vampire: The Masquerade collection. I can certainly recommend this over several other V20 releases, including the one that made this possible Children of the Revolution. That has to be some degree of irony, right?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Dread Names, Red List
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Shadowrun: Borrowed Time
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/27/2015 06:29:59

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/25/bo-
ok-review-shadowrun-borrowed-time/


Unlike a lot of tabletop games, Shadowrun has had a ton of fantastic fiction released for it. Whether you’re talking the original Robert N. Charrette trilogy, Tom Dowd’s Burning Bright, or many of the other books that came out of the FASA/TOR deal back in the early days of the game, you were usually guaranteed a good read. That hasn’t always been the case the past few years. The short pieces of fiction are almost always great. Pieces like Neat, Another Rainy Night, Sail Away, Sweet Sister, and The Vladivostok Gauntlet have all been top notch. The latest batch of novels however… let’s say they haven’t been as good as those released in the past. Hell on Water and Fire & Frost were not things I could recommend to anyone, for example. I’ve been afraid to pick up Crimson because I didn’t want to be hit with a third bad Shadowrun novel in a row. I skipped Dark Resonance for this reason as well (But Ashe reviewed it and enjoyed it for what it was, so I’ll probably go back and get that). I was content to stick with older Shadowrun novels for a while, but R.L. King asked me to review Borrowed Time and I agreed to do so. Which brings us to the very article you are reading. Did Borrowed Time continue the streak of bad Shadowrun novels or has the fiction side of the Sixth World started to show signs of its former self?


First off, the protagonist of Borrowed Time is one of my two favorite Jackpointers – Winterhawk. I don’t know why, but I always picture him looking like Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun facially, even though one has a beard and one doesn’t and I know what Winterhawk looks like from SR4e and Shadowrun Returns. Maybe it’s the fact they are somewhat similar personality-wise. It’s not that I think all mages look alike, I swear! I love the idea of an upper class scholary Shadowrunner that is in it more for the knowledge than for a payday, fragging feebs or sticking it to the man. It’s a unique dynamic when so many Shadowrun characters blur together. Oh, another grizzled Orc Street Samurai? Ho hum. Winterhawk has always stood out in personality, style and tone and so I really enjoy when he shows up (or actually leads) a Jackpoint discussion. Because of this, a full novel featuring him made me extremely optimistic for Borrowed Time. Oh, who is my other favorite? It’s Plan 9, but I can’t imagine how a novel involving him… er, her… er, it… er… them(?) would work without potentially ruining the character’s mystique and comedy value.


For those of you new to Shadowrun, I’m happy to say that Borrowed Time is exceptionally newcomer friendly. The novel doesn’t bring up plot points, situations or characters you can only understand by having been a fan of the Sixth World for many years and read through multiple supplements and sourcebooks to truly understand what is going on. One of Shadowrun‘s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses is the constant Metaplot weaved through all the gaming books. For long time fans, it’s wonderful to see this rich tapestry and history unfolding before you. For newcomers it can be intimidating, confusing and extremely annoying, as most books refer to previously released titles or make references to them in a way that the authors assume you’ve read and owned everything put out for Shadowrun in the past few years. This is not the case with Borrowed Time. It’s a very straightforward novel that doesn’t really go in-depth about the Sixth World and how the earth of the 2070s differs from the real life version without dragons, elves and cyberware that we live on today in 2015. So you don’t have to worry about who Dunkelzahn is, the names of all the Megacorps or what a Physical Adept it. Everything is pretty self-explanatory in Borrowed Time, which makes it a great starting point for people who have been interested in Shadowrun but haven’t taken the leap yet. About the only question I could see newcomers having is, “What is a Rigger?” since four different ones show up in the novel, but even someone totally new to Shadowrun will walk away with a basic idea of thinking it is slang for a vehicle driver… which is right in an elementary way. So if you’ve been wary of the sheer amount of back history Shadowrun usually relies on you knowing, worry not, as Borrowed Time will gives you all the basics you need to understand the Sixth World, in addition to being a fun read to boot.


So now, let’s talk plot. As mentioned previously, Borrowed Time is about Winterhawk, who has more or less retired from Shadowrunning. So what brings him back for a mission? Ancient tomes containing mystical secrets? A plot by insect shamans to take over the world? Shutting down an evil corporation? No, nothing no grandiose. This time Winterhawk is doing a run because he has no choice. My favorite mage/scholar has been given a complicated poison that is guaranteed to kill him. The only way to get the antidote is to do the run a particular Mr. Johnson has asked him to complete. Why go to this trouble to make Winterhawk fulfill the mission instead of simply ask? Well, those reasons will unfold as you read the novel. Unfortunately for our protagonist, he has no choice but to comply. To this end, Winterhawk has to assemble a team and engage in a mission that involves extracting an employee from the Shiawase Corporation and having them guide the team to an artifact that Johnson desperately wants to get their mitts on. Of course, no run ever goes as planned, and so Winterhawk sees his team going from Seattle to California to opposite ends of Australia (the only two cities I’ve been to Down Under, in fact!). What’s worse is that the team sees not one, but two betrayals as the novel goes on, a lot of infighting amongst this motley crew, and perhaps the worst possible outcome when the extraction half of the missions occurs. All in all, even for Shadowrun, this particular mission seems to be cursed. Speaking of a cursed mission, the MacGuffin at the heart of it all? Oh man, it’s bad hoodoo. Bad enough that two members of the assembled team don’t make it out alive. I won’t spoil who they are, but I will use this to illustrate the point that this mission isn’t like some high fantasy licensed RPG fiction where everyone comes out unscathed. This is Shadowrun chummers, and although the mortality rate isn’t as high as say, Call of Cthulhu, runs go bad and runners get killed. This book highlights how complex even the simplest of missions (on paper) become.


Characterization is definitely the high point of the novel. Winterhawk of course shines, thanks to being written by his creator, but the supporting cast is really well written too. Within the novel you’ll meet Scuzzy, the socially awkward Decker (only schleps call them hackers) with a heart of gold. There’s Ocelot, an old friend of Winterhawk who is pretty much a white hat and who suffers from some notable issues with claustrophobia. There’s Dreja, the socially conscious Ork Street Samurai who has past issues with Winterhawk and comes on the mission for her own reasons. You have Tiny, another Ork Street Samurai who is nowhere as socially conscious as Dreja but makes up for it with his love of guns. Finally there is Kivuli, a silent but deadly elf. These six make up the core of the team, but other characters will come and go throughout the novel. There are four different Riggers (don’t worry, it’s not a Spinal Tap situation), the extraction target and Thuma, an aboriginal apprentice of magic flitter through the novel. There isn’t a lot of depth to the antagonists of the story save for the one that gets the whole chain of events starts, since they don’t show up very often. This is simply because the book is far more about interpersonal team dynamics and the evolution of the characters than it is protagonists vs. antagonists. Sure, there are some battles interspersed throughout the novel, but this is not an action packed book. The story is a very slow burn. The full team isn’t assembled until a quarter of the way in. You don’t get the big picture as to what all has transpired in-between the lines until sixty percent of the way in. You don’t get to the start of the actual climax until the last ten percent of the book. Again, these are NOT bad things. Think of it more as an adventure that is more role-playing than roll-playing or the difference between a hack and slash dungeon crawl and a narrative driven piece where the action is in the words rather than the combat. I personally prefer my novels to be more character driven and action-driven, so I really enjoyed Borrowed Time for what it was.


Now, no novel is perfect, and as much as I enjoyed this one, I did have a minor issue with the climax of the book. Now this isn’t a spoiler, but obviously Winterhawk’s side won (even though there were fatalities along the way), but even after reading the climax several times, I couldn’t really figure out HOW they won. I couldn’t tell if it was because of causalities suffered on the bad guy’s side, if the host body for SOMETHING wasn’t strong enough and things would have just fizzled out no matter what, if the team’s face (for this situation) managed a critical success negotiation-wise, or if the people he was trying to negotiate with had no intention of helping the main bad guy anyway and he was just deluded into thinking it was. It was never clear which of the following caused the downfall of the antagonists-side, if any, or even a combo of the events, and if I was unsure which is the correct answer to why we didn’t have a massive shakeup in the Shadowrun meta-plot, I’m not sure newcomers will either. This is a minor quibble though, as I have said before, and aside from my confusion on this particular plot point, Borrowed Time is a top notch novel from beginning to end.


So, after a streak of some bad SR novels, Borrowed Time proved that long form Sixth World fiction can be as good as the short stories and novellas Catalyst Game Labs has been putting out for a while. Borrowed Time is a fine read, even if you’re brand new to Shadowrun and might be a better way to get your feet wet than the core 5e rulebook itself. It’s good enough it has me considering whether or not I should pick up Dark Resonance and Crimson, which is a good sign, but I might just wait for Shaken since I have two core rulebooks and a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that needs to be reviewed. For now though, I’m quite happy with Borrowed Time and I think you will be too, even if you’re relatively unfamiliar with Shadowrun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Borrowed Time
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Forever Folio (May 2015)
Publisher: Forever People
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/13/2015 06:37:44

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/13/-
tabletop-review-forever-folio-issue-1/


Forever Folio is the new house engine magazine from UK RPG publisher Forever People. Now I’ve never played Wyrd nor EVP, which are the two games they produce, but you DO get a free version of the Wyrd Game Systems and Settings with this Magazine, so that’s a nice bonus. I love gaming magazine and since this is a “Pay What You Want” release, it means that anyone (or everyone) can get it for free if they are hard up for cash or skeptical about the contents and quality. Of course, if you like what you see, you can always go back and give Forever People a few bucks or, better yet, purchase some of their games.


Because this magazine is a house engine, you should expect Forever Folio to focus on Forever People’s games, not some other companies. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be articles about non FP products though. In this very issue, there is a piece on a film called “The Dwarves of Demrel that is trying to raise 40K via crowdfunding on Kickstarter. I was backer #64 and honestly, it was this piece that drew me to trying out the magazine (besides my love of RPG mags) and also got me to download an adventure for EVP, which I’ll review later this month as well. There’s only a week left to help crowdfund “The Dwarves of Demrel” and it’s three-fourths of the way home so, consider backing it.


Anyway, let’s talk magazine contents. First up, there is a transcribed interview with Wyrd author David Sharrock. This original was posted online at RPG.net, but Forever Folio has cleaned it up, given the piece a nice layout and some pretty artwork and made it easier on the eyes all-around. There are still some errors though, like “rill” instead of “roll,” but the piece gives newcomers a good idea about what they can expect from Wyrd in terms of both setting and mechanics.


After that comes “The Unsung Weave,” which is the start a free short serialized campaign for Wyrd. Of course to run “The Unsung Weave,” you will three different books, so while the adventure is free, the experience is not. This adventure does feel like it can be ported over to other systems with a little work and it’s designed for new players/character so it’s a great way to get a feel for whether Wyrd is for you or not. Further issues of Forever Folio will continue the campaign so if you like what you see, keep getting the magazine.


The third article is the piece about “The Dwarves of Demrel.” Then you get a look at Forever People’s newest RPG, EVP. This interests me far more than Wyrd, and although this article is only a page long, it does a fine job of selling people on the concept of EVP. As I said, I do have an adventure for EVP that I’ll be reviewing and for now I’ll just say it comes with a LOT of .wav files.


The rest of the magazine consists of two articles on Mazes, Maps & Monsters which is designed to be a fantasy RPG for young children. The first article is a breakdown of the rules, along with an accompanying character sheet. The second is an adventure for the game entitled, “The Ruins of Peril,” complete with pictures of the ruins made in Legos. Adorable. Dung, the Philosophical Giant is the best NPC I’ve encountered all year.


All, in all, this is a fun first house engine magazine from Forever People. It did what it needed to and got me curious about the various products the company offers and as I said, I did download The Salem House Haunting for EVP, so that right there shows the magazine did its job. Forever Folio does feel like a bit of a soft sell from beginning to end, and it’s certainly geared towards people who are completely new to Wyrd and EVP, but it’s the first issue of a magazine – it SHOULD be an introductory piece. Anyway, Forever Folio was a fun read and I’d definitely recommend picking it up to see if any of the three games covered in this magazine are worth your time and money.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forever Folio (May 2015)
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Shadowrun: Lockdown
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2015 07:46:00

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/12/tab-
letop-review-shadowrun-lockdown/


Shadowrun Lockdown is the tabletop tie-in to the new Shadowrun video game, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. For those of you finding Shadowrun Chronicles to be too much of a mess to play through, or prefer the tabletop game to video games, this is the probably your best way to experience the storyline. Oddly enough, there are three ways to pick up Lockdown. The first is by purchasing it as a $9.99 add-on to Shadowrun Chronicles through your Steam account. This was, until this weekend, the only way to get Lockdown. $9.99 sounds like a fantastic deal for a Shadowrun PDF, especially since CGL, along with Games Workshop and Onyx Path Publishing, tend to have the highest prices for their digital release. It’s not unusual for a 32-40 page supplement for Shadowrun to cost five bucks, so ten bucks for a full sourcebook – that might be the best deal the game has ever seen. Unfortunately, to get that $9.99 price tag, you do have to buy a $39.99 video game that is almost unplayable at times due to server issues (It’s getting fixed. Honest!). This is why I tend to refuse to buy online only video games, because they eventually shut down or don’t work well from the get-go. In essence, you’re just renting an online RPG, and god forbid it comes with a monthly fee to boot. Anyway, the only other way to get Lockdown is if you splurge for the SEVENTY DOLLAR “RPG SUPER DELUXE PACK” version of Shadowrun Chronicles and holy crap, it’s not worth that price tag. My advice is that, as good as Lockdown is, wait for a Steam sale and by the basic version of Shadowrun Chronicles and get the sourcebook that way. The cost for it will probably be reduced on that sale as well. Your last option is to purchase the book directly through DriveThruRPG.com… for $25. That’s a huge increase from the Steam price, but you also don’t have to buy a forty dollar video game to boot. So $25 for just the book, or $50 for the book and a video game. Again, waiting for a Steam sale is probably your best bet, as you’ll end up getting both for the same price as the DriveThru only options. You probably won’t have to wait long for a sale with the reviews Shadowrun Chronicles has gotten. However, Lockdown is arguably the best release for 5e so far, so it just depends on if you’re willing to play the waiting game or not.


I’ll be honest, I tend to LOVE Shadowrun, but Fifth Edition hasn’t done it for me. Oh, it hasn’t been the mechanics, although I know some people would love to play Edition Wars over that. It hasn’t been the writing. I honestly feel that Shadowrun has the best overall team of writers in the business right now. For me, it’s been the metaplot… which is telling, as it’s usually the best part of Shadowrun. Like a lot of people, I find the current CFD (a nanotech based “disease” where AI takes over carbon based lifeforms) to be terribly done. It has some potential, but quickly became the worst storyline in Shadowrun history. Yes, worse than the Aztlan-Amazonia war… which was something I didn’t think could be possible. Stolen Souls was horrible, and from looking at reviews from people besides myself and fan commentary across the net, my opinion on CFD seems to be the majority (It’s totally okay if you actually like the CFD metaplot though. It’s all opinion. I will not fault someone for liking something I hate or vice versa.) I’ve found it to be so bad I’ve stopped buying/reviewing Shadowrun releases for about a year. I get too many other review requests on a weekly basis, and I’d rather do something that slag on a game I otherwise love (and the poor authors stuck with some bad storylines).


However, Shadowrun is stuck churning out this part of the metaplot because they’ve backed themselves into a corner with it. It was Shadowrun‘s Roman Reigns. They put all their money on this one storyline and when the audience gave it a collective thumbs down, they weren’t really prepared for what that reaction. Unlike the WWE which hotshotted the title to Seth Rollins, CGL decided to run with the ball anyway and see if they could take their feces sandwich and make it the tastiest pile of poop they could. A good writer can’t salvage every bad editorial decision (Behold comics books as a great example), but they can make the bitter pill easier to swallow. Thankfully, CGL has the best collection of fiction writers in the industry right now (except for Fire & Frost and Hell on Water. Those are the exceptions) and that’s exactly what has happened here with Lockdown. This book takes the worst aspect of Shadowrun right now in CFD and even adds the things people have said would make the concept even stupider like going from a third rate cyber Invasion of the Body Snatchers to a third rate cyber Night of the Living Dead (We already have Shedim. We didn’t need nano-zombies). Yet somehow, the entire Lockdown sourcebook not only works, but it works really well. Perhaps it is because Lockdown is extremely isolated and closed off rather than being a world-wide epidemic. Perhaps because it is video-gamey and it’s easier to accept tons of two-dimensional cannon fodder in this. Perhaps it’s just the quality of the writing. Most likely, it is a combination of all things, but for the first time Shadowrun‘s CFD is tolerable. Who knows, this might finally be the catalyst to jettison it from the Metaplot (thank Cthulhu) and actually have me willing to review Shadowrun full time again.


So now, let’s talk Lockdown proper. Like any Shadowrun release. If you’ve played the video game Boston Lockdown, then you have some idea of what you’ll find in this sourcebook. For those who haven’t played the game, Lockdown essentially does to Boston, MA what Bug City did to Chicago, IL. This is a huge game changer for Shadowrun as essentially, the Boston metro area is quarantined with no way in or out. Yes, even runners and Megacorps are finding entry and/or escape extremely hard, but it needs to be. CFD is running amok, there are three powerful dragons in the mix and although there are supply drops, Boston is essentially what you see in a post-apocalyptic game. Granted, if people wanted a post-apocalyptic RPG, they’d be playing something else, but it does work here. More importantly, it still feels like Shadowrun even though you are in an isolated location. You’d be surprised how many runs you can get out of a situation like this.


Scattered throughout the book are occasional pieces of fiction. They’re entertaining and set the tone for the section that follows each one. The common character in all of the fiction pieces is a runner named A.J. who shows up as the narrator for actual section of the book later. However, A.J.’s narration section is apparently posthumous so reading fiction featuring him after this point is a little odd. You’ll also notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. This can be a bit odd, especially for those who haven’t picked up the tabletop version of Shadowrun before and just got this with their game purchase. Being a long-time fan of Shadowrun, I knew the score, who everyone was and what was going on, but the layout of the book could have been a LOT more newcomer friendly. Being newcomer-friendly has always a weak spot with CGL’s version of Shadowrun, and so this is no exception. The book does assume you are EXTREMELY familiar with Shadowrun. and especially Fifth Edition which takes place during the 2070s. Again, this is not a problem for longtime tabletop gamers. However, newcomers or those that are only used to the previous video games for the PC, SNES, Sega Genesis and Sega-CD, will probably be quite lost, especially since those games take place during the 2050s and use first and/or second edition Shadowrun rules. It’s okay though. Most of CGL’s version of Shadowrun sourcebooks and supplements take the form of Jackpoint narratives – which is essentially a chat room where runners get together and swap stories, secrets and snark. As such most of the book reads like short inter-connected fiction stories rather than a manual of mechanics and rules. So at least newcomers will get a level of entertainment rather than a bunch of jargon and rules. Those are almost always towards the back of a book, making for easy use in an actual gaming session. So if you’re new to Shadowrun and you like the world and writing style of Lockdown but you feel you are missing something, you are. Considering getting the core rulebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition to get a really strong overlay of the Sixth World and the mechanics that run the game. God knows Shadowrun Chronicles doesn’t really play like the tabletop game – which is neither bad nor good. I just don’t want you to think it’s a straight rules-port.


Lockdown begins with “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” which some of you might remember from the truly terrible Boston Adventures PDF, which comes with some versions of Shadowrun Chronicles. I was pretty cruel to that PDF because it did so many things horribly wrong and was littered with typos from beginning to end. Here in Lockdown you get that same section cleaned up, formatter correctly and edited. Yes, there are still a lot of typos and grammatical mistakes in Lockdown. It’s a CGL book and admittedly, they have some of the worst editing in the industry but oh man, is there a night and day difference between Boston Adventures and Lockdown.


Besides the part of “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” that is in both Boston tie-ins, the Lockdown version adds Jackpoint commentary and a lot more content. You get an overview of the Megacorps and how they are dealing with the Boston situation, along with some AA and non-profit organization. There’s also a long section on the local medical scene. This is especially noteworthy due to all the mishaps and carnage going on in Boston at this time. Hopefully you have that platinum Doc Wagon card in Boston chummer. You’ll also get a quick overview of the political mover and shakers in the metro area, a look at what the local dragons like Damon, Celedyr and others are up to, and even the local gang scene, be it small-time thuggery or large scale organization.


I have to say I loved this whole part of the book. It was well written and fun, without a dry or dull moment to be had. More importantly, it was the first time I’ve laughed at out at an official CGL release for Shadowrun. Unless you count the April Fools 2013 release, Rigger 4, which was fantastic. There were two very funny moments to be had in the Jackpoint commentary. Lockdown reminded me of the one thing I miss most about the FASA era of Shadowrun and that was the wonderful sense of humour the game had. CGL’s Shadowrun is closer to Warhammer 40K‘s GRIMDARK in tone and worldview than first and second edition’s scathing satire and dry wit. As much as I enjoy CGL’s take on Shadowrun, things like Lockdown and the Harebrained Schemes 2050 era videogames remind that the Sixth World didn’t use to be pure doom and gloom. Things like Rigger 4 show that the SR4/5e team is capable of some great comedy. It just isn’t something that ever really occurs in an official release anymore. So yes, two laugh out loud moments make the Shadowrun‘s zombie (CFD) apocalypse the funniest release CGL has put out for Shadowrun, and that’s a really odd thing to say when you think about it.


The next section is “Lockdown Timeline” and it’s here where you start to get a semblance of substance regarding what it going on in Boston. In the previous section, things were just hinted at vaguely. Here you get actual names, dates and events. I think Lockdown would have flowed better if this was first, especially for newcomers, who will be lost with the allusions and assumptions. Still, it’s a well written section and vets of Shadowrun will probably appreciate spoilers of events gradually being unfolded. In this way, Lockdown does read like a novel stated in medias res, which is somewhat uncommon for a gaming sourcebook. As the source book goes on, you get more and more concrete data, which allows a GM to share the first part of Lockdown without giving any spoilers while also not having to spend hours setting up the backstory.


From there we getting “Locking the Hub,” which is more Jackpoint commentary but this time it’s on what (lies) the media is telling the general public compared to what runners and the Megacorps know. You get a very detailed look at security around the QZ (Quarantined Zone) with a pretty stark look at how insanely hard it will be to get in or out of Boston once drek goes down. From there you get a rundown of what Miles Lanier(!) knows about the incident and a lot of dirty laundry the Megacorps don’t want the average person (or any person really) to know about. Eight different top top top top top secret projects are named, along with what corporations are to blame for them. Fun stuff. “Who’s Inside” gives you a list of major NPCs that are in the QZ. Dragons, corp heads and even Tommy Talon show up in Boston, although the latter appears to be a bad fake. From there we move to “Street Legends of Boston,” which is ten pages that covers twenty-four+ runners in the QZ for your GM to throw at you, be they ally or antagonist.


The longest section in Lockdown is “Inside the QZ: A Wanderer’s Guide.” This takes up nearly fifty pages and is a district by district look at the Boston metropolis, told from the point of view of two characters. It’s an excellent read and by far, the highlight of the book. I do miss the old city guides for games that were so prolific in the 90s, especially the 2e Vampire: The Masquerade “By Night books. This was probably the best look at a single contained area in Shadowrun since titles like Bug City, Tir Tairngire: The Land of Promise and California Free State. I would love to see more city guides for 5e, especially with the writing staff they currently have. A new pure Tir book, a look at the Carribean, parts of France, Bhutan, and so many other places would make for fantastic sourcebooks. Seattle, Denver, Berlin, Hong Kong, London and the like and been kind of done to death. There’s more to Shadowrun then those five cities and this “Wanderer’s Guide is exactly the type of thing I’d like to see more often for the Sixth World. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it’s a great read, gives you some interesting information about the area, a look at the movers and shakers in the QZ and most importantly, a metric ton of plot threads for a GM to use with their gaming group.


This brings us to the four adventures in this sourcebook. All four work best as a mini campaign with your runners trapped inside Boston during the “epidemic,” but there is no reason why you can’t pick and choose from the collection if you don’t like some of them. The first adventure is “Beantown Bound,” and as you can imagine, it’s about your runners going to Boston. This run is before the Quarantine occurs though. It’s a completely separate mission. It just happens that drek hits the fan while you are in the middle of this mission. “Beantown Bound” makes a great intro adventure to a Boston based campaign and even nets you a nice NPC henchmen/Runner in training or an ally in Knight Errant if you play your cards the right. “Beantown Bound” is laid out nicely, using the Shadowrun MissionsLockdown or played Shadowrun Chronicles, it’ll be a huge swerve to find themselves trapped in the QZ. Even if they have played the video game or read parts of this book, playing a parallel adventure to the events of the game is always fun. Look at Green Ronin’s Dragon Age and how decently that sold.


The next adventure is “Trainyard Troubles.” Here’s you’ll be working for the Megacorp MCT or the mob (depending on how “Beantown Bound” ended), trying to clear out a gang from the trainyards. Unfortunately the gang isn’t a straight forward group of punks with pikes, chains and Ares guns, but what run ever goes as smoothly as planned, am I right? This adventure gives you your first taste of CFD head cases, but it’s also got a single scene that might be a trigger for some gamers. Remember, QZ + CFD = no real laws or rules and so some people get even more depraved that ever. As such the runner can stop or ignore a kidnapper/rapist. The scene is just kind of in there as an aside/sidequest and has no real bearing on the rest of the adventure, so if you’re not comfortable running it, or some of your players might dislike the experience, you can excise it with null sweat. There is also the possibility of running into some CFD sufferers that aren’t so bad for body snatching AIs and a young child in distress…that well, my team murdered pretty quickly because they felt it was obviously a CFD setup. Was it? That’s for them to live with.


Adventure numero three is “Digging Deeper.” This is a set of six “events” that are really short adventures bundled together as one connected piece. There are potentially three more “sequels” that can occur based on your actions. Essentially you break into the MIT&T Containment Zone to retrieve something and after the words gets around of your success, many other organizations are interested in hiring you for very similar missions. Because you’re hitting the same target over and over, there is a lot of room for comedy, and repeat NPCs. We had a lot of fun with this one, but admittedly, we ran parts of it for laughs, almost like a sitcom due to “AGAIN? REALLY? We just took ten steps out of the location.”


The final adventure is “Bringing Down the House.” This is not only the last adventure, but it’s the most important one as your team decides who gets all sorts of damming information about the outbreak (and who caused) it. This means your choice determines what the general populace learns and what Megacorp gets hit badly (if any). Your choices to give the info include Knight Errant (your original hirer), Aegis Cognito, Ares, Aztechnology (boo!), EVO (just as big a boo as Aztech this time around), Horizon, Lone Star, Mitsuhama, Monobe International, Neo Net (another big boo!), Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, Shiawase, Wuxing, and Zeta-Impchem. Obviously, the more evil the company or the more they were behind the events that lead to the QZ, the more they are offering your team for the info. There are a few exceptions to this rule but remember, in Shadowrun if the money is too good to be true, it usually is. My players were torn between Monobe and Mitsuhama. Either choice ensured that two vile companies would get hurt severely (one perhaps destroyed altogether!) and provide the public with a lot of actual knowledge instead of media hype. What can I say, my players are white hats, more or less. In the end, my players went with Monobe since they offered twice as much money (and a special awesome bonus) in addition to ensure an ending as close as possible to “bad guys get theirs.” I’m not trying to influence the vote amongst SR fans to ensure one of these two corps win, but really, these do have the most story potential for the writers, and I’d love to see what they do with the result if either Japancorp wins.


The final section of the book is “Game Information.” If you’ve been waiting for mechanics, stats, gameplay and lists of things, you finally get it here on page 198. You get nearly thirty pages of content, which is pretty good for a Shadowrun book. Personally, I prefer the narrative, but if I didn’t enjoy the mechanics, I’d just buy the only novels from the 90s. In this section you’ll find a lot of info on CFD, although much of it is a rehash from Stolen Souls. There are some very interesting new options that a CFD sufferer can use in-game. We do finally get an answer for two quasi-cures, both of which are interesting. The game still strongly insists you don’t get a PC CFD though, which makes sense as it’s obvious CGL is still trying to work themselves out of the corner they boxed themselves into with Stolen Souls. There are also some new drugs, cyberware, devices, weapons and the like to use in your campaign. Everyone will love the “Crazy-Repller!” There are also discussions on a new dragon oriented ley line around Salem, Noice in the matrix and a trove of NPCs for use in your game. There isn’t a lot for a crunch fan compared to the amount of narrative in Lockdown, but what is here is pretty nice.


So there you go: Lockdown is easily the best gaming release for Shadowrun this year. It’s better than the video game it is a tie-in for (although give Cliffhanger a chance to fix the issues. Had the game been a non-online affair, it would actually be quite nice) and it’s relatively cheap for a CGL sourcebook. Now, is it worth getting the video game and the sourcebook for $50 or should you just get the book on its own? That’s up to you. Again, the Steam summer sale will probably see Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown with a nice discount, so you might want to get it then. No matter what though, you really should get Lockdown if you’re a fan of the current tabletop game. I’d love to see more city books like this in the future.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Lockdown
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Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2015 14:11:55

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan-
.com/2015/04/29/tabletop-review-castle-keepers-guide-castles-
-crusades/


Truly, the Castles & Crusades Kickstarter from last year is the gift that keeps on giving. If you’re a longtime reader of the site, you’ve seen my reviews of the new Player’s Handbook and Monsters & Treasure. I even showed off the first round of physical merchandise for backers, including leather versions of both of the aforementioned books. Now, with the release of the digital Castle Keeper Guide, the second round of content is getting ready to be unleashed on gamers, and I for one can’t wait.


A word before we begin though. The only real difference between the first and second printing is that the new version is in full colour. The old version of the CKG was essentially the same exact book, just in black and white. Sure some things have been cleaned up like grammar and formatting and some rules have been clarified, but if you already own the original printing of the book, be it digital or physical, this second printing it not something you need. Again, this is NOT a new edition of the game, just a much prettier version of the Castle Keeper’s Guide. I mean, it still has the original 2010 dedications intact. So if color doesn’t matter to you, you can stick with the old version of the CKG. If you’re new to Castles & Crusades or want to upgrade to a much snazzier version of the book, then by all means, keep on reading.


The Castle Keeper’s Guide can be divided into three topics: The Character, Worlds of Adventure and The Siege Engine. In many ways, the CKG is a combination of bits left out from the PHB and M&T to form the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Castles & Crusades. If you are familiar with first and/or second edition AD&D, you’ll see a lot of elements from those games rewritten here. Again, because the CKG is kind of a mash up of supplementary info for the PHB and M&T, it’s perhaps the least necessary of the core rulebooks for Castles & Crusades. Indeed, it is exceptionally easy to play the game without ever owning or even reading the Castle Keeper’s Guide – especially if you are experienced with other high fantasy tabletop RPGs.


“The Character” consists of four chapters. “Expanding Characters” gives you “new” ways to roll up a C&C character. By new, I mean all the methods found in your AD&D2e PHB. However there is much more than that. You can have attribute modifiers based on different versions of AD&D like 2e where a stat with a 9 would give you neither a positive or a negative, or 3e where a 9 would give you a -1 to rolls using that stat. This chapter also covers stats that reach 20 or higher, Beauty (Unearthed Arcana‘s Comeliness and new powers for high level characters. The chapter also includes new racial variants like Deep Dwarves or Orcs as PC races. Chapter 2 is “Magic” and it is just a brief overview of magic in the C&C world. It’s mostly filler like examples of starting spellbooks and the importance/costs of material components. The wizardry stuff is a bit dull but the clerical side is actually pretty interesting with topics like creating holy ground and holy symbols. Illusionists, a separate magic class from Wizards ala 1e AD&D get a really nice write-up here as well. As a big fan of the class I thoroughly enjoyed this. Sure it’s filler, but it’s FUN filler. Chapter 3 is “Expanding Equipment” and covers incidentals you might not always think of in a RPG like rations, room, board and encumbrance. I still remember when DMs would force you to adhere to those things but these days, most games don’t even bring up these concepts. This chapter is mostly just lists of knick-knacks for your PC. The final chapter in this section is “Non-Player Characters: and it’s simply a long look at how to make and play NPCs that will populate your C&C world. The chapter gives you a long lists of occupations along with rules and tips for designing henchmen. Most of what is in Part One is stuff you probably already know, especially if you’re an experienced gamer. It’s nice reading for those of you who like gaming books, but nothing in this first part of the Castle Keeper’s Guide makes this must purchase rulebook.


Part Two, “World of Adventure” makes up nine chapters and consists of half the book. Much like “The Character,” “World of Adventure” is mostly background and filler to help you flesh out your own personal C&C universe. “The World” talks about homebrew campaign design and items like topography, climate, vegetation and biomes. It’s very detailed and worth reading even if you’re not a C&C player due to the sheer amount of information on homebrewing. “The City” is similar to the previous chapter, except it discusses man’s impact on the world, specifically urban environments. Governments, diplomacy, economy and social order all brought up in this chapter. So are building costs, occupations, construction and income. “Dungeons” are the next chapter and like the previous two, the subject matter is really discussed in detail. Here you really learn what it is like to be undergrown. Light, temperature, vegetation, humidity, air quality and more are all things this chapter looks at. Unfortunately, most GM/DMs/whatever I know rarely take these things into consideration. Just a really great job on dungeon ecology here. Chapter 8 is “Air and Water Adventure,” which is an odd title. It talks about how hard it can be to not only write an adventure that takes place on a boat or in the air, but double so to make said adventure fun or enjoyable. I liked the stark honesty about air/water adventures. The only one I’ve ever really enjoyed was Ship of Terror for Ravenloft. This chapter tries to acknowledge the uniqueness of these types of adventure while giving ideas to make them fun and realistic. As such, you get info on ship movement speeds, how to do damage to ships, navigating and combat onboard vessels. The neatest part was fighting from canoes. Just a weird situation. The air section is similar but with an emphasis on flying creatures or spells that let a PC fly. Next up is “Equipment Wastage” which brings up the reality that some GMs let their players walk around or store tens of thousands (or more) of gold pieces along with a dump truck load of rare gems and magic items. Here we are given ways for the Castle Keeper to let’s say “relieve” players of all that treasure so the game stops being a Monty Haul campaign. It also talks about the wear and tear of equipment and how to roleplay it. Very nice! These are great optional ideas most modern games don’t even think about.


Chapter Ten is “Land as Treasure” and that really is the gist of what you’ll find in these pages. It’s about when and how to offer your PCs land and then how to use it as the springboard for potential stories and/or adventures. It even talks about what type of players probably shouldn’t have land. After all, if all they want to do is hack and slash roll-play rather than roleplay, there’s no point in design a duchy for them, right? Anyway, “Land as Treasure” talks about titles, nobility, and what to do with land once you have again. Again, yet another chapter you don’t need to actually play Castles & Crusades, but it’s still a fantastic in-depth look at topics most games just don’t think of, much less discuss these days. I love it. Chapter Eleven is “Going to War” and it’s here when you’ll learn to run large-scale battles. You get information of why kingdoms or people might go to war, and also how to roleplay such a scenario. Really, though, you’re probably here for the grand scale combat ala Battlesystem. Chapter Twelve is “Monster Ecology” and it’s a great discussion on actually roleplaying monsters rather than just using them as something for the PCs to attack. Why is this monster opposing the players. How does it think? What does it want? Those sorts of things are covered here. Way too many games use monsters as a one dimensional, easily exchangeable boogeyman to hack and slash. “Monster Ecology” reminds us that is the exact opposite point of a RPG. After all, if you wanted those type of enemies, you could play Double Dragon or River City Ransom, right? This is another section I think everyone should read, even if they don’t play C&C or even fantasy RPGs at all. It’s that important. Our final chapter in this section is “Expanding the Genre” and it simply brings up how to mix and match pieces from other genres into your high fantasy C&C game. Technology, horror, noir and even post-apocalyptic games can take place in Castles & Crusades. You’re not limited to Conan/LotR high fantasy with the system/setting. Here you’ll find suggestions on how to make things more interesting for your players.


Finally we get to the third section of the book, “The Siege Engine” which lasts for six chapters. The first, Chapter Fourteen, is “Advancing the Game” is about running a game. In many ways, this begins the actual “Castle Keeper” part of the book instead of just being good advice for gamers all-around. Here you get advice on forming a group, running adventures and most importantly, how to start designing your own plots, stories and hooks if you’ve only ever run store-bought adventures. There’s some fantastic stuff here, including ways to make the game runs smooth and what to do about handing out experience points. Chapter Fifteen takes the same name as the section – “The Siege Engine,” which is weird. For those of you who have been waiting for mechanics to rear their head in this book, well here you go. This is really a look at the inner workings of the system and how it differs from a d20/AD&D retroclone. It’s an interesting read, and it lets you see where the designers were coming from, but it’s probably stuff you already know if you’ve ever played a D&D style game before. Chapter Sixteen is “Treasure,” which is odd because two chapters have already talked about treasure earlier in the book. Here the book discusses how to properly balance treasure, so you don’t have a Monty Haul campaign, but also so characters are working for a few silver pieces at high level. It also talks about the different forms treasure can take. It’s not all gold and jewels, after all. Magic items are also discussed here.


Chapter Seventeen is “Iron and Sulfur: Combat” and this is more of an explanatory chapter. How much combat is too much? How much is too little? How descriptive should your combat narratives be? Things like that. It also discusses combat basics, gives you SIX different options for critical hits (rolling a 20) and how battle are affected by terrain, line of sight and surprise. It’s a fine read, but all stuff that might be better off in the PHB. Chapter Eighteen is “Skill Packages” and again, this is probably something that could be/should be moved to the Player’s Handbook. Much of this is a combination of AD&D 2e’s skill system with 3e’s d20 skill system. They even brought back Secondary Skills! It’s kind of nice. They also ad in Advantages, which gives you slight bonuses to specific skill checks. A Dwarf can take Stalwart Courage which gives them +2 to fear checks, for example. There are general, racial and class advantages, all of which have minor effects, but can really flesh out a character. Fun concept! Finally we get to the last chapter in the book which is “Character Death and Fates.” This is a nice summation of how to deal with PC death, be they a single character or a Total Party Kill. You get the classic “You’re not actually dead until you hit -10 Hit Points” from D&D, but also ways a character can die besdies combat. Disease, limb loss, old age, and even different types of infection are covered here. You’ll also find a section on insanity. Most of all though, the chapter talks about how some people might react negatively to a character dying and ways to deal with that. I appreciated that as some people take their gaming WAY too seriously or get attached to their PC more than they probably should.


That, my friends, is the second printing of the Castle Keeper’s Guide Castles & Crusades. It’s a fantastic book and I highly recommend it, although I can’t deny it might be better to divide the book up between the Player’s Handbook and Monster’s and Treasure to make C&C a game with just two core rulebooks. That probably won’t ever happen, which makes the CKG a fun but by no means necessary addition to your Castles & Crusades collection. Much of what is in here are optional ideas and essays about gaming and there is nothing in the CKG that is required to play Castles & Crusades. It’s still a fantastic book. I cannot say that enough, and I can’t wait for my leatherbound edition to arrive in about a week. We’ll do an unboxing of that when it arrives with the second half of the C&C goodies from the Kickstarter,



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
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The Secrets of Cats: Animals & Threats
Publisher: Richard Bellingham
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/23/2015 07:14:45

Originally published at: ht-
tp://diehardgamefan.com/2015/04/23/tabletop-review-the-secre-
ts-of-cats-animals-and-threats-fate-core-system/


SO I was a huge fan of the original supplement The Secrets of Cats when it came out. My review of it was glowing, and at the end of the 2014, it had picked up our award for “Best Gaming Supplement” in our 2014 Tabletop Gaming Awards. With the success of The Secrets of Cats it is probably no surprise that its author decided to do a follow-up. The second Secrets of Cats release, entitled Animals and Threats became a Kickstarter campaign. It was a modest success, with 123 backers pledging nearly 1100 GBP to make the second book a reality. It wasn’t a huge Kickstarter by any means, but it did triple the original goal, so while it might not have raised money on a Frog God Games or Chaosium level, it still did pretty well for what was essentially a one man show. I was one of those backers and was happy to see that not only did the project get finished nearly two months before the original estimated date, but it was another top notch affair, oozing with as much style as it had substance.


While only forty pages long, Animal and Threats packs a lot of information into those pages while also interspersing it with some truly terrific art. It’s divided into two sections – Animals and Threats. Which makes sense considering the title of the piece. Now although this is a release for The Secrets of Cats, you won’t find a lot of cat oriented stuff in the book. This is about expanded the supplement into a full-fledged universe. As such you’ll see how to play as other animal species and how they differ in powers and abilities.


There are five sections under “Animals.” Here you’ll find information on playing Dogs, Rabbits, Bird, several insects and arachnids and finally, Foxes. I’m pretty happy about the rabbits section as I remember postulating about this in my original review and the author, Richard Bellingham, actually wrote up a quick piece in response to said review and posted it in the comments section and on his blog. So I’m really happy to see the piece reprinted here, with some expanded ideas and fleshed out contents, of course. Remember though, sapience in species other than cats is very rare, so a game of all dogs or hawks is unlikely and outside the spirit of the game. These other species as PCs should be like other were-races in Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Corax and Mokole are most effective as concepts or if only a single player is one. If the whole party is made up of different animals, the original core concept of the game is diluted.


Each animal species has their own unique stunts as well as specific Character Creation rules that pertain only to them. There is also a sample character made for each species to show you what it looks like. For example, you have Pureblood the husky and an evil killer rabbit simply called “The Lop.” There’s some cute stuff here which not only highlights of flexible and versatile The Secrets of Cats is, but FATE as a system. Corvids are perhaps the most interest of the options, if only because their True Name hints at how they will die. That’s extremely creepy but it also has an incredible amount of potential for the GM and the Player to make a very cool endgame for the Raven character. I also loved that Snails were given their own section. Such an usual and potentially hilarious choice for a PC option.


The second half of the book is devoted to “Threats.” These are essentially NPCs and antagonists for a GM to use in their Secrets of Cats game. This gives the GM a little more to work with than what was found in the original supplement. This section starts off with the undead, giving the GM examples of Revenants and Devourers. Obviously you were probably expecting vampires, ghosts or mummies here, but that’s not what you’ll get. Instead the undead are grouped into these two categories. A Revenant is any incorporeal undead. Generally they are either raised by a necromancer or have some task on earth to still finish. Devourers are any undead that eat the living. Thus you can use this template to make zombies, nosferatu, lamia or ghouls – whatever suits your fancy.


After that you have The Invested, who are the spirits or otherworldly being who help sapient animals access supernatural abilities. These will be your nature spirits, angels, demons, Great Old Ones and whatever else falls into this category. Think of it like D&D where your animal of choice is a Cleric or a Warlock (depending on the nature of the arrangement) and the Invested are what your cat or bunny channels.


Finally, we have EVIL CATS, which are the Blackguard/Anti-Paladin of the game. These are cats who have eschewed the Parliament and have gone rogue for whatever reason. Here’s you’ll find a lot of mechanics for Evil Cats, especially some interesting Forbidden Magical Stunts. They even give a vampire cat as an example of an Evil Cat. Very cool!


Of course, we can’t really talk about a Secrets of CatsAnimals & Threats are fantastic and Crystal Frasier is fast becoming one of my favorite artists in the industry, right after Tim Bradstreet and the Shadows of Esteren crew. It’s a very different style but I love the cartoony yet serious style. It’s Batman: The Animated Series quality, but with animals instead of super heroes. It’s almost worth purchasing the book just for the art. It’s that good.


Animals and Threats is a fantastic follow-up to the original The Secrets of Cats. It’s a short little book, but it only costs as much as you want to spend. I paid about twelve dollars during the Kickstarter, but that was to get a write-up of my kitten Malice (15 lb. Kitten BTW…) in character sheet form to give to you the readers. Just click right here to download her for use in your games!


If you haven’t picked up the original Secrets of Cats supplement, you really should. It’s currently available in print or as a “Pay What You Want” release. Considering snagging this and the original off DriveThruRPG.com and enjoy a fantastic new way to play FATE core. Of course, you WILL need the core rulebook for FATE, but it TOO is “Pay What You Want” over at DriveThruRPG.com. Why not purchase all three if you’re brand new to the system. You can pay what you can afford and if down the road you want to throw Evil Hat and its writers a few extra bucks, you can! The system works. Either way, you really should give The Secrets of Cats a look-see, even if you’re just going to read it. It’s a lot of fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Secrets of Cats: Animals & Threats
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the awesome review, Alexander; I\'m so glad you enjoyed the book! Between you and me, snails are my favourite animals in here.
Horror on the Orient Express
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2015 09:56:39

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/02/tabletop-review-horro-
r-on-the-orient-express-digital-edition-call-of-cthulhu/
-


After more than TWO YEARS since being funded, a final version of the Horror on the Orient Express remake has been sent to the 1,374 Kickstarter backers that made it happen. Sure it was originally scheduled to come out in August of 2013, but it’s very rare that tabletop games make their estimated release date. It’s part of the industry. What matters is that it is here now – at least for Kickstarter backers who pledged at least $20 to the project. For everyone else, you can get this massive PDF collection for a “mere” $499.95. Now don’t worry – this price will drop after the official release of the physical product in a few weeks. This hefty price tag is to make sure that the Kickstarter backers (or those who have Sanity Points in the single digits) have a few weeks to themselves with this. Considering the physical product can be preordered for about $120, it’s safe to say the PDF collection itself will be under $100.


Now if you joined me back in January of 2014, you already know that I’ve extensively looked at the first four books in this collection (Chaosium sent me the proofs – that’s why I could cover it nearly a year before the actual release) and did a photo collection of some of the many ancillary items that can be obtained with (or separately from) the physical edition of the game. I won’t be rehashing those. Instead I’ll be covering everything but those parts of the collection in this review. For those interested in reading very long and detailed coverage of the first four books and some physical swag, here are the links:


Add-on & Ancillary Items (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/10-
/tabletop-preview-a-look-at-horror-on-the-orient-express-anc-
illary-and-add-on-items-call-of-cthulhu/
)
Book I: Campaign Book (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/03/tabletop-previe-
w-horror-on-the-orient-express-book-i-campaign-book-call-of--
cthulhu/
)
Book II: Through the Alps (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/10/tabletop-pr-
eview-horror-on-the-orient-express-book-ii-through-the-alps--
call-of-cthulhu/
)
Book III: Italy and Beyond (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/17/tabletop-p-
review-horror-on-the-orient-express-book-iii-italy-and-beyon-
d-call-of-cthulhu/
)
Book IV: Constantinople and Consequences (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01-
/24/tabletop-preview-horror-on-the-orient-express-book-iv-co-
nstantinople-and-consequences-call-of-cthulhu/
)


I should also mention that I will also do a review of the physical product when that is finally release, although that will be more a pictorial of all the bells and whistles. I will review the story collection Madness on the Orient Express that was a stretch goal funded by the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter as well. Man, you are probably getting sick of all the Horror on the Orient Express coverage I’ve done this year but honestly, I’ve been waiting for a new version to go with my Fifth Edition version since I was in high school, so I’m even more excited for this than the Seventh Edition books coming my way. Now, let’s look at what else is in Horror on the Orient Express besides those core four books we looked at in January and February.


Book V: Strangers On the Train. This is the final core campaign book for Horror on the Orient Express. I didn’t cover it in my original preview pieces, mainly because Chaosium had not sent it to me. Now I have a copy and can delve into some detail about what you’ll find in this ninety-four page booklet. As this is the biggest piece I haven’t covered, expect this to be the largest section of the review.


Strangers On the Train starts off with a look at famous people who could be found riding the Orient Express. This two page brief is broken into three sections: 1890-1900, Around 1900 and After 1920. From there, the book goes into a list of non-essential NPCs to populate the train with. This list of over forty characters (more if you count the “entourage” each NPC has with them) includes both passengers and staff and also can make for potential PCs once one of the original characters dies in the campaign. You’ll have to flesh the stats out a bit in this case, but if there’s a particular NPC a player gravitates toward, this might be a fine option for you. The “List of Passengers” is quite long and it’s arranged not by page order but by alphabetical order. Of course alphabetical order is by first name or beginning of a title, so take a good long look at the list or you’ll get confused thinking the actual layout of this section is in alphabetical order as well. Much of “List of Passengers” is a direct reprint from the original campaign, although the list was in a small loose leaf (Unstapled) pamphlet. There is new art in this re-release of the campaign though.


Book V then concludes with “Investigators.” There are twelve premade characters here for your use. The first six come from the Bradford Players recording of Horror On the Orient Express, which can be found over at Yog-Sothoth.com and the other six were created by Kickstarter backers. All characters are given Seventh Edition stats, so you’ll have to do a bit of converting if you want to use with an earlier edition.


Book VI: Handouts for the Investigators. This is a 196 page book and a new addition to the campaign from previous printings. Previously the campaign was only numbered up to Book IV and the handouts pamphlet was about sixteen pages in length. This is a greatly expanded booklet with a page count worthy of being considered a full campaign book in its own right. The production values are also greatly increased. It is all stuff you have seen before though. It’s just a collection of all the handouts and maps in the first four books, collected for easy use and printing. After all, you don’t want to show the players one of the handouts in a campaign book and let them see snippets of content they aren’t meant to view! I really like this addition, especially the PDF version, because I don’t cut up my books and I hate folding/creasing them on a Xerox machine or scanner to make actual handouts for players. This is a great move by Chaosium.


Le Guide du Voyageur: The Traveller’s Companion. This is another new piece for the updated and expanded 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu version of Horror on the Orient Express. This fifty-two page supplement is meant to really enhance the look and feel of the campaign for those that want a more immersive experience. The piece is written completely in-game and it acts as a little booklet from the Orient Express and its concierge to its travelers. You get travel advice, menus, information about the routes, sites to see and so much more. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the Horror on the Orient Express remake as it’s so well done. Sure some gamers won’t appreciate or even make use of this, but this little travelogue is pretty fantastic and it’s something I’ll give to each player who takes part in this campaign the next time I run it to really help them get a feel for what the level of class and care the Orient Express was known for in its heyday.


Air Routes of Europe in 1923. This is a one page PDF and it’s exactly what the same suggests. It is a map of Europe complete with air routes that were used back then. This should help players who are trying to circumnavigate the region or who might have missed the Orient Express and are trying to catch up quickly. It’s worth noting that Italy, Portugal and Ireland lacked air routes at this time – at least according to the map.


Routes of the Orient Express. Another self-explanatory one page PDF. This is a full colour piece showing the routes of the five different Orient Express routes throughout Europe, along with a sixth “lesser services” route. Each route is assigned a different, distinct color so you should be able to follow the map quite easily. Unless you are colorblind or only can see in black and white. Then you’re screwed. The map also a nice little legend details major cities, capitals, and locations important to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign. There are also close-ups of three regions to let you and your gaming troupe better see these areas which will come into play as you go through the campaign.


Orient Express Bumper Sticker. Exactly what you think it is.


Sedefkar Simulacrum. A print and play version of the McGuffin that the campaign revolves around. A VERY different version from the one in my old 5e set. I like the new design.


Train Car Plans. Five pages of diagrams showcasing the layout of the Orient Express cars. You have a dining car, a sleeping car, a cathedral car and more. Everything you need to give a visual representation of the train is right here.


Scroll of the Head. This is a one page PDF describing what the Scroll of the Head is and how to use it in the campaign. It also gives some neat ideas on how to make the scroll look aged and weathered. It also references a “How to Use Supplemental Items” sheet that should be in the boxed set, but unfortunately, it’s not in my PDF collection. Boo-Urns.


Overall, the updated and expanded version of Horror on the Orient Express is truly fantastic. If you missed out on the original back in the day for whatever reason (Age, lack of funds, didn’t play the game), you really need to pick this up to see just what an incredible job Chaosium has done on this boxed set. Sure the original version was terrific in its own right, but this new expanded version really makes the overall experience that much more immersive and entertaining. Unless you are dead set against Seventh Edition for whatever reason. Even then, it’s worth picking up Horror on the Orient Express because it contains a conversion guide. It’s also cheaper than trying to buy an unused version of the original edition on the second hand market. Of course, you’ll want to wait for a price drop on the digital because five hundred dollars is insane, even for a terrific job like this, but once the Kickstarter backers have everything in their hands, expect the price to drop to something far more reasonable. Of course, you can still pre-order the physical version if you missed out on the original Kickstarter campaign. You won’t get as many bells and whistles, but it’s still a fantastic deal for anyone even remotely interested in Call of Cthulhu. I can safely say that Horror on the Orient Express has been worth the wait.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Horror on the Orient Express
Click to show product description

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Unleashed Tales: Blood in the Water
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2015 06:22:24

Originally published at: http://dieha-
rdgamefan.com/2015/03/26/book-review-iron-kingdoms-unleashed-
-legends-blood-in-the-water/


I’m not really a fan of Warmachine, Hordes or Iron Kingdoms. The miniatures, I mean. I just don’t find them aesthetically pleasing (Only the Gatormen look remotely fun to paint/play with) and Privateer Press’ webstore is god awful ($10 shipping for a single mini???) so I’ve mostly stayed away, preferring to stick with Reaper, Games Workshop, Mantic and Knight Models for miniatures and games that use them. That said, I enjoyed Richard Lee Byer’s Murder in Corvis story set in the Iron Kingdoms, so I knew it was just there was definitely something good to be had in the setting. That said, I came across the chance to get the Iron Kingdoms Unleashed – Role Playing Game Adventure Kit, and it looked fantastic, especially since I snagged it for only $30. This would give me a chance to discover the RPG side of Iron Kingdoms and I absolutely loved the miniatures for Longchops (Gatorman with a big gun) and Lurk (shaman fishfolk!) so I thought this would be a good gateway to maybe appreciate the work Privateer Press does. After all, it was the RPG version of Warhammer Fantasy that eventually got me to pick up the Fifth Edition boxed set and look where I am now! Maybe this would have the same effect. It also looked like a quasi-board game to try with my wife, who enjoys those.


Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for my Iron Kingdoms Unleashed boxed set to arrive, so in the meantime I decided to pick up Blood in the Water. It was only $1.99 and set in the same game-verse as my boxed set, so this would be a good chance to get to know the characters better. I also downloaded the FREE Introduction to Savagery pack, which contains a digital version of the rulebook, game scenarios and the pre-generated characters that will be in my Boxed Set of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed, so that I could get a head start on understanding the game. It’s FREE so you should download it even if you’re only minutely curious about the game. Commentary on that though will have to wait for another day as it’s time to talk fiction.


Although the PDF for Blood in the Water is forty-nine pages long, the actual story is much shorter. The first nine pages are filler. You have the cover, title page, a page containing the Skull Islands Expeditions graphic (and nothing else), a table of contents(???), a map and a four page overview of the Iron Kingdoms world. The last seven pages of the PDF are devoted to an author bio and then lots of ads. Yuck. That’s sixteen pages of filler in all – a full THIRD of the PDF. Not cool. The story is only thirty-three pages long, which isn’t bad for the two dollar price tag and thankfully – it’s a really good one.


Blood in the Water is a prequel to the boxed set scenarios and features only two of the four characters in that piece. Thankfully it was the two characters I was most interested. You have Longchops, the honourable but constantly hungry Gatorman who is as crack a shot with his teeth as he is with his fists (and teeth). You also have Lurk who is a powerful but slimy shaman. Sure, I mean slimy in a literal sense, but also in a figurative sense. Think Thanquol from Warhammer meets Dr. Druid with a healthy dose of Starscream thrown in for good measure. There is a third protagonist in this story, a human monster hunter named Alten Ashley. Alten doesn’t appear in the boxed set version of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed, at least not in miniature form or in any of the free booklets. So I’m surprised he was used instead of one of the other two protagonists. It’s not a bad decision though as this means the author can focus on two of the main characters from the game instead of all four, while also creating their own piece of the IKU world. I’m pretty happy that the story focuses on the two characters that made me pick up the boxed set and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Even with only thirty-three pages to tell a story, author Aeryn Rudel really makes these two demihumans come to life. They are full fleshed out with quirks, notable personality features and obvious flaws that make them relatable to readers, even if they aren’t the biggest fans of humans. Alten is a little less nuanced as he’s just a monster hunter in things for the thrill of the kill and getting him name even more out there, but he’s a fun addition to the tandem of Longchops and Lurk. Alten also gives readers a human character for them to play off as well as a character more relatable to us. I mean, how man gator people or Deep Ones do you know, am I right?


The story’s plot is a simply one, but it’s very well told. A small fishing village is being terrorized by a sea monster. The village hires the duo of Longchops and Lurk, but also sends out one of their own to hire Alten. Hey, it doubles their odds of being free from the beast. The two sides decide to work together to defeat the creature (purposely not naming what it is BTW) although all three have different goals in mind. Lurk plans to use the creature’s remains to power his spells, Longchops plans to eat it and honor it via the glory of the hunt. Alten wants the renown for killing it. The fact all three are being paid by the hamlet is just gravy.


It’s not really a spoiler to say that the protagonists succeed. After all, we know at least two of them are in the boxed game in some fashion. However it’s the journey rather than the destination that makes this story worth reading and it really is a great short little read. Sure I’m still waiting for my boxed set of the game to arrive but if playing Iron Kingdoms Unleashed is even half as much fun as the story I just read, then I’m confident I made the right choice to give Privateer Press’ products another try. Who knows, maybe the Adventure Kit will spur me on to buy the core RPG book for Iron Kingdoms Unleashed. At worst, I’ll definitely enjoy painting the minis that come in this set. It’s too bad Privateer Press’ website doesn’t have a full catalog of what all they produce. I wouldn’t mind a Gatorman regiment of some sort. One thing is for sure, even though I haven’t cared for Warmachine or Hordes, I’m really enjoying the Iron Kingdoms fiction I’ve picked up.


Tags: Iron Kingdoms



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Unleashed Tales: Blood in the Water
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Shadowrun: Dark Resonance
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2015 06:36:31

originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/03/19/b-
ook-review-shadowrun-dark-resonance/


My second dip in the Shadowrun novel pool was a bit more to my liking. Where the first was focused on a single run and team, this one has a much larger cast of characters and a bigger mystery to solve with bigger stakes. It also delved into technomancers, which I’m not nearly as familiar with since my experience with Shadowrun is back on the Genesis and with Shadowrun Returns and, if I remember right, Third Edition. Technomancers are more from the newest edition of the RPG, so it was a little confusing, at first, as to where they fit in and what they could do, but Phaedra Weldon does a great job of giving someone new to the technomancer some idea of what they’re capable of throughout the novel.


Focusing primarily on Kazuma Tetsu, Soldat online, the novel deals with his search for his sister, Hitori, who went missing months back without a trace. He’s a technomancer and hides it as well as he can using basic gear without really using it to hide his ability to connect to the Matrix without actually making a connection using gear. Technomancers are both feared and hated, and in this instance, wanted and dissected to see how their abilities work, so they keep underground to keep their abilities and whereabouts unknown. His sister was also a technomancer and he fears she’s vanished for good this time with only a name, Caliban, linking to her disappearance for a second time. Finding that name on a routine cleaning job for an old server, Kazuma decides to break in on his own and swipe the data to see what’s in there, only the PCC are interested in the data as well as the original owner of the data who wants it back before the servers and building are demolished. That’s when his personal investigation go sideways.


A shadowrunning team, operated by Mack Schmetzer, hired by the PCC hits the building up the same night Kazuma does and two security guards and the teams shaman are murdered in the building and at first the murder is linked to Kazuma by the team’s lead as Kazuma’s partner and girlfriend, Silk, scrambled the team’s getaway van. Things have gotten worse as the shaman’s body has disappeared and their other runner has gone off the grid. Mack’s not ready to take this lying down and wants the data back, especially since his contact is an undercover agent with the PCC. The worst part is no one seems to know what data was being kept on a server that was about to be shut down that’s worth killing for.


Another of Kazuma’s online friends has gone missing, last seen sampling an online game called TechnoHack that’s supposed to paint being a technomancer in a good light and show what they can do to try and bring things around for the maligned group. Not wanting to seem out of place, Kazuma heads back into work and is ambushed by a dwarf named Mr. Powell comes calling on Kazuma with a pet technocritter which Kazuma barely escapes from and the chase is on from there. Not only does Kazuma need to get the data before a shadowrunnning team and now some private security guy with a thing for technomancers, but he also has to piece together how it ties in with his sister and a video game that keeps making the news for dying servers.


I think one of the big points I liked about this was the descriptions for the Matrix and the actions within. Especially with how the technomancers access and deal with the Matrix. It’s a big part of the book and probably wouldn’t work nearly as well in any other medium. The technomancers are probably the biggest stars in this one as far as classes from the game system go, so if you don’t like dealing with the Matrix as much, this might not be the book for you. Overall though, I loved it. There’s enough real world interaction to keep everything grounded with the characters and to make sure the reader has that kind of reference even when dealing with the Matrix. We get some nice touches with the characters about keeping in shape or keeping up your body while you spend so much time online. The usual big bad corrupt corporation is ever present and as usual nothing is ever quite what it seems.


While I don’t necessarily think this would be an ideal introductory novel for people new to Shadowrun, there’s enough explanation and detail that anyone not into it could get by. For people familiar with it there’s a lot here to go with but it also makes use of characters from past Shadowrun novels that I didn’t catch as I’m haven’t hit the previous books in the Shadowrun set. Dirk Montgomery and Netcat are two that I found while I was doing some snooping as to who’s been used before, but from the way Mack and his group are written they either have a past that haven’t been explored in novels or sourcebooks yet or they’ve been active in them before. It’s a nice mix here and broadens the scope of the novel really.


This is a great mystery novel on top of being an excellent cyberpunk novel and a fast-paced and involved Shadowrun story. It’s a compelling set of circumstances and I like that even while we get some behind the scenes with the main villains, we’re still left to piece a lot of this together with Kazuma, the police and Mack’s team. We get a lot of different viewpoints and while it does jump around and play a little bit with the timing, the reader never really gets lost with the large number of characters. They’re each really memorable and have depth and motivation to them, even if it’s in brief. This has a great pace to it as well that had me burn through it pretty quickly when I got a chance to actually sit and read it. So don’t let the page count fool you, this moves at a nice brisk pace that’ll keep you flipping pages.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Dark Resonance
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Cthulhu Britannica London Boxed Set
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2015 06:18:18

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.c-
om/2015/02/20/tabletop-review-cthulhu-britannica-london-boxe-
d-set/


From the same publisher that’s been putting out the Doctor Who Adventures in Space and Time RPG that I thought was fantastic, comes another entry in the ever expending Call of Cthulhu settings options. This one tackles 1920s London, and like Achtung! Cthulhu before it is so in depth and well done that you could use it just to run a 1920’s RPG set in London even without the Cthulhu mythos attached. Like Achtung! Cthulhu I’m also really anamored with this set which has some really nice collections of maps and handouts on top of the adventures and two sourcebooks. I’m reviewing the PDF versions here, but just going by the PDF copies, the actual physical set has to be even more amazing. Before I get into gushing too much about this, I will say the $90 price tag might put a few people off. Even if you couldn’t get it for almost half that, which you can, I’d say the physical version would be well worth it. The PDF price tag at full price would be pushing it, but if you wanted to run in this setting, this would not only be recommended, I’d have to say it’d be essential. The books look fantastic and are packed with great material and almost no filler at all and even when there is it’s generally artwork that fits with the books completely. These are solid and well put together sourcebooks for the Cthulhu games and anyone who plays there should pick these up.


02Aside from the three books you get in the set, there are also a few side goodies that can be useful for any campaign. The first up is a set of maps that are actually from the period the game is set in. The first three aren’t print resolution but look decent enough on a computer screen. My only complaint with these maps are that they’re pretty much only good for flavor. To be able to read them on the PDF you have to zoom in up to 400% and that’s when the text starts to break down. The first map is a layout of the London Underground or what’s referred to as the Tube today. The second map is a layout of country bus routes. The third map also looks like it could be for the London Underground but is zoomed in a bit more than the first. The last map for London is a bit more plain looking, but the detail is a bit more impressive especially close up. The last map’s full print size would be 22 by 17 inches and the details remain when you get in close on it even on your computer or tablet screen. All in all I like the inclusion of vintage maps, but I would have liked the first three at a bit bigger resolution with the PDFs to be able to be used a bit more than just fluff or props at the table. That last map is fantastic though.


With the maps, six pages of handouts are also included, all tying into the adventure included with the set which means not having to print them out of the book instead. If you had the physical copy I’m sure this would be more important. It’s less so with the PDF version. They all vary in design and color, so if you want to cut these out and pass them around with your gaming group you’ll need a color printer to get the full effect. They look well-worn when they need to and for the most part definitely feel like 1920’s London. There’s a little too much in a few that looks far too clean lined to be from the time, but they’re for flavor more than anything else as well as conveying some information to your players. That they do beautifully.


01The first of the three books in the set is a set of adventures that runs for ninety-six pages appropriately titled Adventures in Mythos London. There are three adventures inside each of varying length plus the stats you’ll need to finish them along with their handouts. Out of the ninety-six pages that make up the book, eighty-six are direct content and seventy-nine of those are just the adventures minus some of the stats for Sixth Edition Call of Cthulhu. The first adventure takes up the most amount of pages in the book between the NPCs and handouts, but is also the most linear and probably the shortest. Terror on the Thames is meant as an introductory adventure to introduce new players or just to bring a group together so it is pretty straightforward. Set on a riverboat that’s been converted over to run the Thames, things get a little tricky and it goes from there. The second adventure, Those Poor Souls Who Dwell in Light, gets a bit more involved and gets players active in an investigation into a murder and something dark going on tied to that murder. At only twenty-two pages, this one takes up a little over half the pages of the first adventure but there’s far fewer handouts and your investigator’s will be thinking a bit more with this one. This one doesn’t really seem tied to the first adventure in the book at all, but the third adventure, the Non-Euclidean Gate, can and does tie into the second adventure depending on how the player’s got through the second one. The last adventure is dealing with some of the same forces as the second adventure and has the investigator’s looking into some pages stolen from the Mortlake School for Girls and they’re being hired to retrieve them. Things are never simple and there’s a lot of investigating in this one which may not sit too well with player’s who like to engage with their guns or fists. There’s a good variety to the adventures, not just in the events surrounding them, but the way you have to go about trying to solve the problems at hand and make it through them. While I’m more ho-hum about the first adventure as it uses a few game master mechanics I hate doing to player characters but also given that it’s a completely linear adventure I understand why. I really like the other two quite a bit. Either way it’s a good source of NPCs to use on your own and a few fleshed out settings within London if you’re so inclined to make your own adventures to start with.


The second book in the set, An Investigator’s Guide to London, is mainly for the player’s but there are a few pop-out boxes here and there that a game master might want to check out. Sitting at one hundred and eighty-four pages, this is a very well thought out and thorough book that will really help get your player’s into what life was like in 1920’s London. It reminds me a lot of how the Investigator’s Guide to Achtung! Cthulhu would have worked really well as just a World War II RPG. You could honestly do the same with An Investigator’s Guide to London and run a whole RPG session just set in 1920’s London without even touching the Mythos. I’ll give you that might bore some players, but I know just the right group of people that would get an insane kick out of it at the same time. Know your audience. The book is well written, is pretty engaging for a sourcebook, and has some great design work to it that makes it feel like something you’d pull off the shelf in that time along with some great artwork and sample advertisements and maps that really help sell the mood. This is a great looking book and I’m actually sad that I only have this set in PDF form because the printed versions would be amazing to own even if I never get a chance to play it.


03Breaking the book down a bit, the first section, London in the 1920s, explores the basics of what’s going on in the city at the time and the circumstances that have led to get London where it was at the time. They talk about current currency and where it ended up in the modern setting, different factors at play throughout London including what happened in the war to get them there along with plagues, and then of course making money. They follow this up with The Twenties: Year by Year which is exactly what it sounds like. They go over major events that happen throughout the Twenties up to and including the start of the Great Depression. Getting to London details exactly how one might go about getting to the city and from a variety of locations as well as what you can expect when you actually get there weather wise and where you might be able to stay once you’re in London. Getting Around London details the six different ways to make your way around, including the Underground and taxis, without simply using your two legs which would take a while.


The People of London is where they start to mix in actual game mechanics and descriptions in with the essential details you’d need to realistically play the game. Before they dive into that they break down the Class system for you, how nobility ranks into things, proper forms of addressing someone and degrees of familiarity to help navigate the social scenes, what roles women play in all of this and the fact they had just one a hard fought battle for some very basic rights, and then of course playing a minority in what was an advancing time. All of that before you even hit on what new and modified occupations your character can partake in. There are twenty-one occupations listed here of all sorts of vocations and skill sets. They do offer breakdowns of several of them to better differentiate them. The Religious Official breaks down starting stats for five different religions, the Soldier is broken down by rank and file, and the Spiritualist gets a nice extra section on Summoning and Communing with Spirit Guides. No matter what kind of character you were thinking of playing that’s really associated mainly with this setting, most of what you might find to make that character interesting at least as far as what they do for a living you can find here. The New and Modified Skills only really give options for three new skills including Boxing, Photography and Etiquette. Lastly covered under The People of London are the Notable People of 1920’s London that breaks down thirty three of the more famous London dwellers in the 1920s which includes their birth years along with when they died and a brief summary of who they were and why they’re notable which is good to have if you happen to have an Investigator who’d probably bump into some of the more famous people in their tours around London.


05So we have some of the history, people, occupations and the like covered, but what about equipment? Enter Shopping in London. They cover some of the exchange rates, the economy in London, then dive into some of the more well-known shops along with what you’d be expected to wear as far as a hat, whether you’re in the country, and if you’re a female character how fancy your dress should be, especially if you’re attending something that requires you to be fancy and you’re wearing a dress right off the rack which is a no-no. Auction Houses get a nice blurb and rules for running an Auction for the Investigator’s to attend. Last but not least are the open air markets before they go into the goods and services price guide which includes actual prices from the 1929 Harrod’s catalogue which I thought was a great touch. They cover just about anything in here item wise and also including hiring people to work for you. My favorite side-bar though covered the invention of the gas-powered hand-held chainsaw and when it was available for sale because you never know when you’ll have to drop into a pit of zombies even in 1920’s London.


If you’re new to the world, you may not realize that we didn’t always have television and cell phones, so the section on Technology, Communication, and News will open your mind to the new inventions of the corded home telephone, the radio and the BBC which didn’t have a twenty-four hour broadcast cycle, telegrams and the good old Post to deliver messages in writing by hand, messenger boys and then of course actual newspapers that relied on pulped paper to deliver the goings-on in the world. There are some neat write-ups here on how to use them effectively and what you could and couldn’t do with them in 1920’s London along with a way to use the classifieds to your own ends. Always good to have options. So along with technology, you have to know what’s available to keep your characters engaged without that smart phone, and that’s where Entertainment in London comes in. They cover the popular sports from the time, and yes football, soccer for those in the U.S., is one of the huge ones. Theatre and the new cinema are covered with a rather extensive list of theatres and a bit about how the cinema was choking the life out of the Music Hall which used to be the more popular venue for the poorer people of London. If those aren’t to your characters liking there’s always the Gentleman’s Club with a rather extensive list for those and summaries of what the clubs actually allowed in and what they tried to do. Still not finding something to your liking? Well how about the exorbitant nightlife with clubs catering to the rich because of their questionable legality with out of date laws still on the books from the War? Well then there’s the Pubs and the London Season where people would descend on London for different events in the 20s because it was the in thing to do during the times.


04I mentioned the questionable legality of nightclubs, and well that leads right into Law and Order which covers a range of topics in 1920s London. You get sections on the London Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, the City of London Police, the ranks of the Police there, who was in charge, the corruption within the different departments, and then of course what they carry. From there we get a rough overview of the English Legal System including some of the criminals of the day and what punishments you might incur for not exactly being a law-abiding citizen as well as some of the more cozy locales you’ll be held in should you be convicted. This is the first 111 pages of the book. There isn’t much filler at all. I can see you using most of this. The next section though is going to be used a bit differently as you may not need swaths of it if you never go there.


The London Guide section of the book covers sixty-four pages and is the single largest section of An Investigator’s Guide to London. This is probably also the more important one in figuring out where you want to go, or if you’re from London, where you’ve lived. They’ve broken the city down into sections in this, Central, North West, East End, South West, South East, and then a section on Expanding London that goes into the growth of the city and differences in how it’s grown and how fast. Each of these goes further into different places within those areas and pulls up the big London map and drops numbered markers that correspond with what they’re talking about within that particular section which is helpful to both the players and the game master. They cover estates, museums, anything and everything you might need to deal with during a session. The book also goes into Royal Palaces, the University of London, Graveyards, an overview of the River Thames, and then a quick dip into the Sewers and Lost Rivers of London. An Afterword, some references and Recommended Reading and the Index follow. I do have to say I’m enamored with the book and what they’ve pulled off with this. Like the previous World War II addition, they’ve been excruciatingly thorough with this and the effort shows. But wait, there’s more. I haven’t even tackled A Keeper’s Guide to London yet.


A Keeper’s Guide to London is fifty-six pages shorter than An Investigator’s Guide to London, but don’t let that get you down, because much like the Investigator’s book, they haven’t wasted space and you’re getting a lot of information in that one hundred twenty-eight pages. So if the Investigator’s Guide is for your player’s, the Keeper’s Guide is all about the person running the show. There’s lots of great information in here. Where they went super accurate with the Investigator’s book, this one gets into what the Mythos side of London is getting up to during the 1920s. It follows the same aesthetic as the Investigator’s book, but the artwork is certainly more gruesome.


06The book is divided into sections again, although these are far more broad than the Investigator’s Guide. The Introduction is pretty straight-forward but has a great three page short story in it to help set the mood. I really recommend reading it. Great stuff. From there we go into the basics with a section on Bringing Mythos London to Life with some great titles that go from London’s Dreaming to London’s Screaming. They discuss some of the ways to bring the real threats to London in line with the Mythos threats as well as some great examples to broaden or even kick off a campaign or session with. The last chapter in this section covers what might happen in an area based on which of the Mythos big bads are involved.


A Keeper’s History of London is the other side of the coin from the brief history and chronology we got in the Investigator’s Guide. It’s far more in depth and deals with a lot more things leading up to the 1920s and of course the Mythos end of things. This detailed history starts back with the founding of Londinium with the Romans and heads all the way up through the 1920s. This is important because they’re always digging up something from the past in London. I just read an article about them discovering something as they were working on a new roadway now, so I imagine in 1920s London this would be just as prevalent as they’re building new roads, homes, sewers and so on. This gives you a massive amount of history to pull from and really opens up your options with what you might infuse your game with. There is a detailed chronology with the major Mythos events up until the 1920s that includes the major normal events as well as a better gauge of where things happened. From there they move into the Notable Historical Occult Figures in London which includes past and what was then present figures in London. In all you get sixteen of these to learn about and any number of them may have some kind of effect on your game should you choose to include their teachings or maybe there was some clue to some kind of artifact in their writings. The write-ups are mostly summaries but cover the important topics of what they were all about. From there we get the Mythos events from the 1920s to cap that off with.


07Unusual Locations is precisely what it sounds like. These are locations that were purposefully omitted from the Investigator’s Guide because they can be strange and unusual places and can have their own fair share of mysteries or secrets that should be left up to the Keeper. They cover the old homes of notable occultists, a railway designed just to move corpses, plague pits and even Tower Bridge. It’s a smaller but decent portion of histories for the locations along with an idea or two for using them in a campaign. The People of London section though is the biggest of the book weighing in at thirty-one pages. It starts off listing your standard occult organizations you’d have running around London, because it’s the Mythos, you need those. These wouldn’t all have to deal with the Mythos in general but could be a thorn in your Investigator’s side or be allies. There’s a section later just for the Mythos. They cover a lot of the clubs, even a section on what the Chinese traders in London may have set up to deal with. There are a few people noted within the organizations, but it mainly covers the organizations. From there, they move into potential allies or associates for an Investigator. You get nineteen different NPCs that you can use with full stats and write-up for each of them along with portraits to put a face to the name. It’s a really good range and I’m sure the stats will be welcome for anyone needing to add one of them on the fly. The last and probably most important part of the People of London is about two of the clubs you’d probably end up using more in your campaigns as they deal directly with what your player’s will be trying to do. They go into resources for each as well as how to use them and ideas for putting them as the focus of a campaign.


08Mythos Threats is the chapter that gets more into things that go bump in the London night and people as well as creatures your Investigator’s will want to be dealing with before they become a bigger problem than they already are. They outline nine specific groups or threats with a few people and monsters mixed in there with each. It’s the tenth one that gets the most attention as it can be used as both something as a benefit to and as an antagonist for the Investigators and that’s the Society of London for the Exploration and Development of the Esoteric Sciences. The Society gets a full ten pages dedicated to it, talking about its scientific and not so scientific pursuits, Fellows of note in the Society, their experiments, and then a few scenarios seeds you can use to get this rather interesting group involved in your campaign. I really love the SLEDES write-up. It’s a great evil group that you can have go either way on your players. They are trying to better mankind by any means after all. That can’t be all bad can it?


Mythos Spells and Tomes covers some of the new spells they’ve created for this setting. It’s not a big section detailing seven tomes which mainly means a brief history and the spells you’d find within, and then the five new spells specifically dealing with this setting. There are some great things to use here, but most of the meat of this volume is in the setting and people and not new monstrosities or magics to throw at your players. The last section, the Appendix, covers all the Call of Cthulhu Sixth Edition Stats for every living named person with a pulse that’s listed in the Keeper’s Guide. I really like this addition to the back of the book as you won’t have to flip pages to find them when they’re all just listed there at the back for ease of use. That’s a great design choice right there. That’s of course followed by the Index.


Overall, I am in love with this set. The PDFs are fantastic and are marked just where you need them to be for actual use by an Investigator or Keeper. They look amazing, the art is fantastic, and they’ve done an incredible job gathering everything you’d need to just crack these open and play along with your Call of Cthulhu main books. I’d love to have a set of these physically and I don’t even have a gaming group in my area that would regularly play the game. If you’re looking to try a really detailed and thought out setting or just a change of venue and time for your Call of Cthulhu game, then you really need to give this a look.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Britannica London Boxed Set
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Castles & Crusades Death in the Treklant
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2015 06:23:57

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefa-
n.com/2015/02/09/tabletop-review-death-in-the-treklant-castl-
es-crusades/


Back in December I did a feature/unboxing on the leather-bound copies of Castles & Crusades‘ Player’s Handbook and Monsters & Treasure. The unboxing included many of the Kickstarter extras from crowdfunding those releases including the Death in the Treklant trilogy. If you click back to the unboxing you can see all three physical releases. Now Troll Lord games has bundled all three together in a digital collection and given the titles a shockingly low price of $6.99. That’s pretty incredible. I’m glad other people will now be able to get these adventures as they’re really quite good and every Castles & Crusades fan should get a chance to enjoy them, even if they missed the Sixth Printing Kickstarter.


Death in the Treklant contains three adventures. Together they comprise a nice mini campaign to introduce new players to the Castles & Crusades system. Vakhund: Into the Unknown is for characters Levels 1-2. Dzeebagd: Under Dark & Misty Ground is the second adventure and it is for characters Levels 2-4. Felsenthein: Dogs of War is the third and final adventure and is designed for characters Levels 3-5. Each adventure is designed for between four and six players and it is suggested as least two characters be warrior types and at least one be a cleric. Of course, this is good advice for most low level adventures, so take heed you newcomers. All three of these adventures were originally released in 2000-2001, but have been out of print until the PHB Kickstarter. So long time Troll Lord may already know or have these adventurer. To be honest though, I’ve been playing C&C since its first printing and this was my first time experiencing these adventures, so maybe not.


Vakhund has your beginning characters acting as bodyguards for a caravan. A wealthy merchant and his daughter are travelling with the caravan, but one thing leads to another and the daughter is kidnapped. The merchant hires the PCs to get her back. It’s a pretty straightforward plot hook for introductory characters. What follows is primarily encounters with goblins and hungry animals. Hey, this is for Level 1 characters after all, so you won’t be fighting werewolves or flesh golems. Much of the adventure is set up for the Castle Keeper. It is filled with many NPCs who all have basic stat blocks and a detailed back story. Because of this, the adventurer is pretty evenly split between talking heads, narration and combat. This even split allows gamers to experience all aspects of a RPG instead of being a straight up hack and slash dungeon crawl or nothing but intrigue and politicking. The adventure culminates with tracking down the daughter and saving her from the band of kidnappers and also a race of monstrous creatures known as the Urk. There’s a pretty powerful end boss in this piece and an even more powerful monster called Pejznog that you might want to avoid if possible. With these two, expect the mortality rate of the PCs to be high. Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the basics of C&C and the dungeons are small enough to see interesting without turning into dungeon crawls.


The second adventure Dzeebagdcontinues the story if you decide to play the campaign instead of making Vakhund a one-shot or stand-alone. With this adventure it is implied that the merchant’s daughter is still in the clutches of nefarious evil doers and you must journey farther into the goblin kingdoms to rescue her. Dzeebagd also starts to fill in some of the blanks missing from the first adventure such as why the young woman was kidnapped. Dzeebagd really fleshes out the story of Vakhund further and helps players see how adventures can interconnect as well as the difference between a campaign and an adventure. Again, these adventures are really great if you are introducing C&C to a group of newcomers, while veterans might find them a little hand-holding for their experience level.


Besides the continuation of the kidnapping plot, there are several other interesting sub-plots that come up in Dzeebagd. This including a goblin warlord getting too big for his britches, and group of refugees being systematically wiped out that have gotten so desperate they are hiding in a dungeon. Players will have to contend with both of these problems in addition to the original plot hook that brought them this far.


Much of the first half of Dzeebagd revolves around random encounters. If, like me, you eschew this concept, the adventure will be pretty short. I’m not a fan of stock filler, but at the same time, if you want the PCs to be able to survive these three adventures, a bit of grinding will be needed. My advice is a bit of a comprise and structure when and where characters will encounter potential threats or allies. Many of the random choices are one time affairs that add color to the overall adventure, which is one of the reasons I like C&C so much. Their random encounters tend to be meaningful and not throwaway hack and slash. Unlike Vakhund though, much of Dzeebagd is a straight up dungeon crawl, so be prepared for the dynamic shift between the two adventures.


Finally we come to the third and shortest adventure in the set Felsentheim. This adventure has a significant increase in difficulty for the both the Castle Keeper’s and the players. Not only is there a lot of combat, but the PCs will be taking part in a large scale battle, which is something that be hard for even experienced gamers. As such the Castle Keeper has to really do a lot of prep work to ensure this adventure runs smoothly. Thankfully Felsentheim gives truncated rules for running a large scale adventure towards the back so that should hold a less experienced CK’s hand SOMEWHAT. Again though, this is one you’re going to want to read several times and take copious notes for to ensure it plays properly.


There isn’t a lot more to that adventure than fighting. You have a chase scene, a couple of set encounters and some minor NPC discussions, but this is pretty much one big fight. It’s a fine climax to the previous two battles, but for those looking to use Felsentheim as a one shot, you might be a bit disappointed.


Overall Death in the Treklant is an excellent collection and the $6.99 price tag makes this an unbelievable deal. In print, each of these adventures would cost you $7.99 so you’re getting the set for more than two-thirds off by purchasing digitally. That’s a must buy for any C&C fan. These adventures still hold up fifteen years later, and if you’re looking for something new to use with your C&C troupe or just looking for an excuse to try Castles and Crusades as a system, you should definitely consider picking up Death in the Treklant. You’ll get your money’s worth and then some with this one.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Death in the Treklant
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Castles & Crusades A Druid's Lament
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2015 08:30:36

Originally posted at: This year’s Free RPG Day release from Troll Lord Games is an adventure entitled A Druid’s Lament. Note that the title page calls the adventure, “The Druid’s Lament,” but the cover reads “A Druid’s Lament.” Not a big deal, but you’ll probably be able to do a search for either if you look for a copy down the road. A Druid’s Lament is designed for a party of four to six characters between Levels 6 and 8. That’s a pretty high character build for a gateway adventure, but the adventure is pretty short and easy so newcomers shouldn’t have a problem if guided by an experienced GM or player in the group. The adventure also comes with six pre-generated 7th Level characters, so you don’t even need to bother with character creation. As this is NOT a set of Quick Start Rules, you will need someone who has access to at least the Castles & Crusades Player’s Handbook. Either that, or you’ll have to pick it up at the same gaming store where you got this year’s free adventure.


Like a lot of Castles & Crusades adventures I seem to review, A Druid’s Lament is a lot easier if you have a Druid and or Ranger in your party. The pregens contain one of each so you’re in luck there. The core adventure revolves a good NPC and their good intentions going disastrously bad. So bad in fact, the PCs will have to come in and clean up the mess. In many ways the adventure reminds me a lot of Ravenloft and how curses worked in the old AD&D Second Edition setting. Retro gamers may find it ports well to that system. C&C and AD&D are pretty close to each other, so it shouldn’t take a lot of work on the part of a DM/Castle Keeper. Anyway, the adventure has the PCVs having to put a bunch of clues together, starting with a strangely murdered family, a haunted forest and a spirit of rage and revenge that did its duty and then some.


A decent part of the adventure will take place in the town of Sherwood where you’ll meet NPCs and be pointed in the right direction. From there you’ll wander through a forest and engage in a small dungeon crawl. There isn’t a lot of combat to this piece, with six or seven battles at most. There isn’t a wandering monster table either. I personally never use those, but I know some people do, so you’ll have to make your own if you want to pad this adventure out. One of the things I think is interesting is that the boss of the adventure is not the hardest opponent in the piece. There is a tougher antagonist but you don’t have to fight it. Heck, it might even befriend you if you use your mouth instead of your blade. I thought that was a really nice touch. It’s a fairly easy adventure over all, and the PCs should be able to breeze through this thanks to always having a numbers advantage unless they get really unlucky with their die rolls or just randomly attack things. The focus of A Druid’s Lament really is on the story and the characterization of the NPCs the players encounter, so while the adventure does balance hack and slash and talking heads nicely, the Castle Keeper should take care to keep the emphasis on characters over combat if they really want to get the most out of this piece.


In the end, A Druid’s Lament is a very short adventure that can be played in a single session. The adventure itself is only six pages long, with the rest going to the cover, a title page with legal mumbo jumbo, a full page drawing, a map of the dungeon type location players will have to find and tread through and a page for two new magic items and the pre-generated characters. Yes, the pregens all fit into a little under half a page, which saves space but the Castle Keeper running this might want to spread the stats out into a full character sheet for easier reading.


For a free adventure, A Druid’s Lament is quite nice. It’s short and sweet, giving newcomers a great look at what they can expect from Castles & Crusades while also being quite fun for long time fans of the system. With the seventh printing of Castles & Crusades coming out later this year, you might just want to pick up A Druid’s Lament now and use it when the core rulebooks get released in full color (and for some lucky few, with swanky leather covers to boot!) Be warned though, each Free RPG Day 2014 box only comes with three copies of this adventure, compared to five to fifteen copies of everything else, so this will be hard to get, especially if you live in an area with a lot of C&C fans. You can’t go wrong for the price point, and if it leads you or some of your friends to try out the C&C system as a while, so much the better.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades A Druid's Lament
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Castles & Crusades Reaping Bones
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2015 08:29:42

Originallyy posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/20-
14/06/04/tabletop-review-castles-crusades-reaping-bones/
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Reaping Bones was originally a convention exclusive to those that attended Reaper Miniatures ReaperCon 2014 earlier this year. However, Kickstarter backers for the extremely successful crowdfunding campaign Troll Lord Games did for their sixth printing received a digital copy as well. Now there are some differences between the two. Apparently the physical ReaperCon version came with pregenerated characters and some basic rules on how to play, while the Kickstarter digital copy was just the adventure. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but I would definitely track down a physical copy of the ReaperCon version for all the bells and whistles if you really want to get a copy


The name Reaping Bones is a play on Reaper Miniatures Bones lines of Minis. Get it? Reaper Bones – Reaping Bones? Ho ho ho. Well, at least there are plenty of skeletons to fight in the adventure so the title isn’t just a play on words. A horde of the undead isn’t the core focus of the adventure, so the title may through off people who think this is where clerics and paladins will shine brightest.


Reaping Bones is designed for three to five players who have characters between Levels 4 and 6. The adventure advises that an elf, druid or ranger will be extremely useful here and I have to agree. Tracking and woodland knowledge will really help you get through this short but tough adventure. As a big fan of Druids, I always love how C&C has several adventures giving them the spotlight.


The core story has your players being hired to track down the kidnapped son of your leader, Lord Brian of Helliwell. In exchange for money, title and land, your party has to find the orcs that kidnapped the young boy and do away with them. Of course, since this is a convention adventure, you might expect Reaping Bones to stay that straightforward. It doesn’t. As players will discover a third party who wants the boy gets involved and so the party will have to figure out who actually has the child. There are also some subquests and potential NPC allies or enemies to be had. In the end you do have to face several dozen skeletons and a pretty unexpected end boss. Completing the adventure should only take a single session lasting a few hours (There are only eleven pages of content, after all) and it’s a nice blend of hack and slash combat with actual role-playing. There’s nothing here really out of the ordinary (although there are two new spells introduced here), and you’ll walk away with a nice understanding of how Castles & Crusades plays coupled with a nice look at some classic monsters and how different C&C adventures can be from the typical high fantasy tabletop RPG. Now some longtime C&C fans or veteran tabletop gamers might fight this piece a bit too simplistic, but you have to remember it was designed to introduce miniature painters and gamers to a tabletop RPG, so the target audience was a bit different with this one.


Overall, Reaping Bones is an excellent, if short, little freebie. Hey, I’ll take good and free over bad but long and pricey any day, wouldn’t you? GMs can definitely pad this out if needed with random encounters and even turn the piece into the start of a full campaign. After all, once you collect the child, there is still the core reason it was kidnapped in the first place. A clever GM can make several adventures out of the dangling plot threads in this one. Would I actively scour the third party market for a physical copy of this? No, I wouldn’t. Am I happy with it as a Kickstarter backer freebie? Most definitely. It’s certainly an adventure I would use with new and veteran C&C players alike. It’s well thought out, light enough to give new comers a taste of how the game works and it is fun. You don’t really need much more than that.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Reaping Bones
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