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Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 08:14:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/book-review-the-festiva-
l-at-glenelg-accursed/

The Festival at Glenelg is a new piece of fiction for the brand new Savage Worlds setting, Accursed. Like many RPG of this era, Accursed was a successfully funded Kickstarter project. Unfortunately for the game, it came out the same time as Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle, four different Werewolf: The Apocalypse releases, two Shadowrun supplements and a Numenera piece so I don’t know anyone who has really given the game a lot of attention. In flipping through it I have found it to be interesting, but not especially compelling. It feels rushed and disjointed but I do like the mix of White Wolf’s “You play as the monster” with a dash of Ravenloft‘s mood an atmosphere and a hearty dose of various monsters from across folklore. You have a world where at some point the Black Cauldron style undead of the UK met up with Russia’s Baba Yaga, for example. Maybe my opinion will change once I’ve spent more time with Accursed. However, this is a review of the novella not the game, so let’s get on with it.

The Festival at Glenelg is by Richard Lee Byers who is best known for his Dungeons & Dragons novels. He’s one of my favorite fantasy authors and I mainly picked this up because I had another month until his Sundering novel, The Reaver comes out, I needed something to tide me over. I should point out that unlike most RPG novels purchases that you pick up from DriveThruRPG, The Festival at Glenelg only comes in .epub and .mobi formats rather than offering a third version via PDF as well. This isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things, although because of the formatting, you can’t tell how many pages long the novella actually is. It took about 100 “clicks” on my Kindle to read through it, but since everyone sets up their e-reader differently saying “100 pages long” is far from accurate. I can however say that this is very long for a short story/novella, especially compared to a lot of Savage Worlds that I pick up like the Weird Wars Rome or Deadlands Noir dime novels. So although the price tag for this novella might seem rather high, you’re not just getting one to two dozen pages here. It’s a full on read in and of itself.

The Festival at Glenelg focused on a small corner of the world Accursed takes place in. It’s very similar to a Scottish town in our own world, using similar names, styles of clothing and jargon. Our main character is one Erik Nygaard. He is attending a highland games festival in the town of Glenelg, although he has not revealed his real name, nor his true nature to the locals. Interestingly enough, while we learn early on that Erik is a dhampir (although neither one according to folkloric tradition nor those akin to say Vampire Hunter D), we never are told the name the townsfolk of Glenelg know him by. The festival is off to a fine start until a band of undead in service to The Morrigan (the leader of this part of the world. Think a Darklord in Ravenloft) comes to town to join in the celebration. By joining in, I of course mean turn the games into an unwilling tryout for new members of their deathless legion, horribly scarring the brains of children for the rest of their mortal lives and at least one rape. It’s not pleasant by any means, but this is the world of the Accursed however, so you had to have seen that coming. I would like to read at least one story where a band of undead does indeed come to town simply to partake in the festivities. This is not that story though.

Erik, due to his quasi-vampiric nature has an opportunity to get out of Dodge before the dead realize what he actually is. Erik is not a hero by nature but as he is both a bard and a not quite vampire, he does have powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortal men. He also doesn’t feel like being fully undead either. By happenstance, Erik runs into a shadowy band of other like minded monsters with hearts of gold that call themselves the Penitents. It’s kind of like the Howling Commandos remake Marvel did a few years back or the Creature Commandos (most recently seen in DC Comics highly underrated: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). This team of characters just HAPPENS to highlight several of the different character options for you in Accursed, even if some of the choices seem more than a little out of sorts for the Scottish type setting of the story. You’ll mean Glynis the Scarecrow (a golem), Niels the Revenant, Yakov the Vargr (lycanthrope) and Sitamun the mummy. Sitamun quickly became my favorite character in the story and I’d love to get a full novella detailing her back story and how a mummy ended up in this part of the world. Sadly, the mummy is generally considered the least fleshed out of the classes in Accursed so it’s odd that the class Byers made me love the most is the one that needs the most touching up in the core setting.

I really liked how Byers was able to take the setting and make the inclusion of particular vernacular for the game feel natural instead of “LOOK I AM INSERTING GAME TERMS INTO THIS STORY SO YOU KNOW IT IS ABOUT A GAME. BUY THE GAME.” Like we saw with Devin Grayson’s recent train wreck in Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II. One of the reasons I love Byers’ writing is at no time do you feel you are reading a piece of licensed fiction. I could hand say, The Haunted Lands Trilogy over to my wife whose only exposure to Dungeons & Dragons are the Dragonlance novels and she wouldn’t have to ask me a single question about the Forgotten Realms setting. The same is true about The Festival at Glenelg. The story sells you on the game, or at least makes you curious about picking it up – even if you’re not a Savage Worlds fan. At the same time, you can read this story without ever feeling the story is doing a hard sell of the game. It’s a fine balance that a lot licensed fiction authors simply can’t pull off.

It was interesting to read a story by Byers where the entire tale is told from a single character’s point of view. I’m so used to him have a ensemble cast where the story goes back and forth between the characters that this was a bit jarring. I kept expecting the tale to go off to another character, especially when the Penitents came into play, but it never happened. It’s neither bad nor good that the story was written this way – merely a head’s up to other people who read (and possibly review) a lot of Byers’ tabletop based fiction.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Festival at Glenelg. It was a fine introduction to Accursed and it hits all the tropes and core aspects of the game setting. The story dragged a little bit at times, but for the most part it was a fun read and I found both the Penitents and the antagonists well written. I’d love to see more stories set in the world of Accursed by Richard Lee Byers, but then I also would love to see him writing something for Chill, Vampire: The Masquerade and Spelljammer, but those things aren’t likely to happen. Come on, you know you want to see Aoth Fezim on a Giant Space Hamster. Is this Byers’ best work? Well, no. Of course not. It’s his first time writing for this new Savage Worlds setting and so it’ll take time to get his bearings. Heck, Accursed is so new, that would be a problem for anyone taking on the same challenge. What I can safely say is that The Festival at Glenelg is very well written, a lot of fun to read and worth the cover price. Am I going to run or play a game of Accursed any time soon? No, probably not. Will I pick up more Accursed fiction? Probably, especially if Byers is the author.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
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Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 06:53:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/tabletop-review-blood-a-
nd-smoke-the-strix-chronicle-vampire-the-requiem/

Well, it took me a while to get this reviewed, but here it is. It’s a shame that Blood and Smoke came out so late in the year. It was hit with more delays that some video games. The key thing is that the book is finally out and V:TR fans can rejoice. At first I thought it was too bad that Blood and Smoke came out the same time as a glut of other releases like FOUR different Werewolf: The Apocalypse titles, two Shadowrun supplements, a new Numenera game, a Deadlands Noir adventure, the launch of Accursed and so many other titles. However instead of having its sales cannibalized by all the titles hitting at once, Blood and Smoke sold like it was the cure for cancer. It’s been the #1 seller on DriveThruRPG.com since it came out and is one of the 100 best selling titles of all time on that site – an impressive feat for a product that has only been out for a month.

It’s worth noting that even though Blood and Smoke is being sold as a sourcebook, it’s actually a core rulebook for Vampire: The Requiem in the same was you get a new edition of D&D, Call of Cthulhu or Traveller. It’s also worth nothing that for the first time in New World of Darkness history, you don’t need the World of Darkness core rulebook AND a second rulebook for the type of game you want to play, like Mummy: The Curse or Werewolf: The Forsaken. Nope, all you need is Blood and Smoke. It has all the rules you need to play the game. You don’t even need The God Machine Chronicle and it’s rules update from mid-2013. It’s about time the New World of Darkness did this and it’s long been a complaint I’ve heard about the system. It only took a decade, but it’s nice to see all the rules in one spot, and is no doubt a big reason why Blood and Smoke is selling as well as it is.

I’ll admit, I never really cared for V:TR when it first came out. Besides the having to double dip for rulebooks unlike the OLD World of Darkness line, the writing just didn’t seem as good (while the mechanics were improved) and the more the line went on, the more disjointed and piecemeal it seemed to become. Over the past few years, things have started to tighten up and flow better. There seemed to be more cohesion and continuity between products and a definite uptick in terms of writing quality. A great example was last year’s Blood Sorcery which dramatically improved Vampire based magic in the game. Then this year, between Reap the Whirlwind and The Strix Chronicle Anthology, I was actually excited for V:TR for well..the first time ever. The stories being told and the new rules that were showcased had me convinced that Blood and Smoke would be the overhaul Vampire: The Requiem desperately needed. It turned out that it was. I’ve never been happier with the new World of Darkness between this, Mummy and The God Machine and 2013 was definitely the best year for the NWoD EVER.

Although Blood and Smoke rewrites Vampire; The Requiem from the ground up, much of the book is a retelling of things longtime V:TR fans already know. It’s all new writing and there are twists on the history, timelines and different interpretations of things from previous releases, so that means even people who own dozens of V:TR releases can pour through Blood and Smoke and find it to be a fresh new read. I’m also glad that Blood and Smoke retells all the basic details, the most minute mechanics and explains that the core theme of Vampire: The Requiem is, because that means the book is extremely accessible and inviting to new gamers. One of the biggest detractions the NWoD gets is that the books have been written in such a way that they assume you already own everything that came before it. There’s no explanations for newcomers and thus the releases have tend to drive more gamers away than they have brought in, thus leaving the NWoD extremely insular and with a much smaller fanbase that the Old World of Darkness had in its prime. Again, Blood and Smoke is proof that OPP is learning from the mistakes the NWoD has made over the past 10+ years. The game hasn’t been this wide open to new and old fans alike since its inception and again, another reason why Blood and Smoke is selling like hotcakes.

For those new to V:TR, the book contains everything you need to play along with copious amounts of back story, description and content. You have the five clans, Daeva, Gangrel, Mekhet, Nosferatu and Ventrue. There are also short write-ups of the three extinct clans: The Akhud, the Juli and Pijavica. The Tremere don’t show up anywhere in Blood and Smoke even though they occasionally are referred to as a “Lost Clan” in some books. For newcomers, you’ll have to look to Mage as they show up there regularly (They’re considered Liches in the NWoD for people who only know the V:TM version.). You also get six Covenants and four “broken” ones. By broken they mean, died out in a figurative sense. Covenants are how vampires group their allegiance in V:TR. Again, if your only exposure is Vampire: The Masquerade, think of Covenants as much smaller organizations like the Camarilla, the Sabbat and the True Hand, except these organizations all work together (to varying degrees) instead of being at each other’s throats.

Much of the book is about the mood, theme and atmosphere rather than mechanics. Don’t worry dice chuckers and ruleslayers; there are plenty of mechanics in Blood and Smoke for you. But World of Darkness games have always been about the story first and so the newest version of V:TR is no difference. The book takes you through what it means to be a vampire and how the longer you stay a vampire the harder it is to hold on to your humanity. The core concept of humanity is redone for Blood and Smoke instead of basically being a chart where you compare what act you did to your humanity rating and then rolling dice to see if you’ve become more of a “monster,” humanity in this latest version of the game is more of an immersive role-playing experience. You have touchstones, aspects of your former mortal life which keep your grounded and your baser instincts in check. A Touchstone could be anything from your gravestone to the children you had when you were a mortal. It could be the baseball stadium that you always had season tickets to or perhaps an opera. Regardless these touchstones give your character something to work with in-game as well as story thread potential for the person running the game. Maybe a subplot of an adventure is that a character’s touchstone is a park and some unscrupulous builder wants to turn it into condos. Here then, the PC can protect the touchstone which makes the adventure a metaphor for protecting his or her slowly eroding humanity. Now, that doesn’t mean touchstones should always be in danger of being destroyed or tampered with. That’s only something a lazy or unimaginative Storyteller would do. Touchstones exist for the character first and foremost and help keep them grounded. Constantly attacking or threatening them just turns the game into the unfortunate “Storyteller Vs Player” setting where no one ends up happy and to be honest, is kind of spitting in the face of what White Wolf style games are supposed to be like.

It’s also worth noting that Humanity also effects how a vampire takes sun damage. The newer a vampire is to their unlife coupled with how high their humanity is, determines how much damage you take from the sun and how often. Higher Humanity levels can tolerate the sun for longer periods and the same with being a younger vampire. Now this is the inverse of V:TM or most horror games like Ravenloft where the older a vampire is the more sun they can withstand. Personally as a folklorist, I prefer the pre-1922 vampire where sunlight was an annoyance at best and never lethal. Stupid Count Orlock. However, the past century has pretty much cemented sunlight as a weakness for vampires (unless they are sparklepires…), so as much as I was hoping that sunlight would be downplayed entirely, I do approve of this reworking of the weakness. In a sense, sunlight damage becomes a metaphor not for a character’s purity or how good they were as a mortal, but rather how much they are able to cling to the being they used to be. Humanity in V:TR isn’t where a ten rating equals Lawful Good Paladin from Dungeons & Dragons, but rather how much you have held it together in the face of your new existence. When you lose Humanity, you lose what you once were. Memories, emotional, connections, empathy and the like all erode. The less Humanity you have, the more bestial or instinctual a vampire becomes until they are an animalistic predator with no thoughts but the most basic on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So in this respect the more sunlight you can tolerate, the more of yourself you are and the more damage you take from it, the more you have slipped towards the embrace of the Beast.

Another unusual aspect of V:TR is Blood Potency. While this goes up with age, it can also go down from entering a deathlike sleep called torpor. Blood Potency not only determines a PC’s power level but also drawbacks as well. For example, the higher the Blood Potency, the more limited your feeding options are. You might lose the ability to feed off animals and then humans, leaving your only prey option to be other vampires. At this point, you might choose to enter Torpor to lose BP and thus feed normally. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of benefit Vs drawback and I enjoy the concept, but I can definitely see where others would have a problem with it, especially munchkin/power gamers. Blood Potency kind of prevents the min/max’ing you see in other games, which I personally approve of.
So two things. First, notice how in the previous paragraphs you have rules and mechanics, but without dice. They are pure storytelling. I love this. Sure, the option to roll or whatever is still available, but Blood and Smoke does put an emphasis on as little rolling as possible. It’s proof you can have the rules without bogging a game down with check on the exact implementation or stopping the pace or flow of an adventure every few seconds with rolling dice. This is kind of a throwback to older RPGs rather than the 3.0/Pathfinder era of games where there is a roll based mechanic for everything. Again, I prefer the limiting of dice to big moments and letting the group of players and Storyteller control the majority of the tale. That’s just me though so again, enjoyment of this play style may vary. Second, notice how in the previous paragraphs I also commented how a play mechanic is a metaphor for something else. This is constant throughout Blood and Smoke. I love this. I love games where mechanics flow into the story rather than run parallel with them. It makes the game a more immersive experience overall.

We also see Conditions make their return from God Machine Chronicle. Conditions are similar to derangements in that they are mental states a character can enter. Unlike derangements conditions can be temporary as well as persistent or permanent. There are nearly fifty Conditions, and each has their own way they can be developed and beaten. I like this because it ties a specific mental state down to the character and make them actual act it out. Too often I’ve seen people gain derangements and pay them no mind. We’ve probably all seen the one person who plays a Malkavian without any specific derangement and just has them be “crazy” which everyone else interprets as “annoying to the point of PvP occurring.” Some gamers might not like having a specific Condition forced on them, but I feel it makes for better role-playing potential and ensures someone will act out their insanity. Conditions feel a lot like the temporary insanities, phobias or philia you can pick up in Call of Cthulhu. Plus, you can gain a beat for some of these, which is a nice reward a la the GM Intrusion from Numenera. Beats are fractions of experience points by the way. Get five and they become 1 XP.

Okay, I should probably move on to the titular aspect of the book, which are the Strix. Although in previous versions of V:TR supplements and sourcebooks, information about the Strix has been contradictory and oddly defined. At times it felt like all of the people writing about the Strix didn’t bother to read what anyone else had written and so their entire history felt very poorly done (as a whole, some individual pieces were quite nice), disjointed and kind of like a flesh golem if it were words instead of people parts. If there was one thing I was really looking forward to being overhauled and getting some much needed cohesion, it was the Owls. After all, the Strix represent all the bits of folkloric vampires that the more Hollywood/20th century style Kindred lack. The overwhelming hunger, the pure monstrosity, the bizarre weaknesses, the ability to go out in the sun. Hmm. Vlad Tepes can go out in the sun in V:TR, yet he is NOT an owl. Or is he? So many possibilities there! Anyway, with the Strix, VLTR pays homage to the vampires from yesteryear as well as the modern incarnation. Even better, they’ve shored up what the Strix are instead of making them unstoppable boogeymen that just kill PCs left and right. Now, they’re still fearsome SEEMINGLY unstoppable creatures, but there weaknesses and powers are better laid out and more thoroughly defined. What this means is that a Strix is still a monster for the monsters, but that they can be defeated in a similar vein to Call of Cthulhu where investigation and knowledge helps a mere mortal stop the machinations of an being utterly alien to our own form of existence. Hmm. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the changes to V:TR so much. I am a long time CoC fan…

There’s a lot more to Blood and Smoke than what I’ve covered. I mean, I’ve only written 2,500 words and the PDF is 311 pages long. I could touch on character creation, but it’s pretty much the same as any White Wolf game. Masks and Dirges are the equivalent of Natures and Demeanors. Disciplines, Frenzies, ghouls and everything else are similar to earlier incarnations of Vampire: The Requiem. Are they exact? No, but they are so close that the devil is in the details. Again, if you’ve never played V:TR before, this is definitely the book to get. It gives you all the rules and is as inviting to newcomers as it is full of references and telltale hints that only long time fans of the game will pick up. I honestly feel Vampire: The Requiem is SO MUCH BETTER than it used to be. The game has gone from my least favorite New World of Darkness setting to third or fourth (behind Mummy, God Machine and maybe Mage. I go back and forth on it. I absolutely think this is a step in the right direction and with these changes I am actually inspired to run a game of V:TR. I can’t think of the last time that has happened. This was just a fantastic job all around by the writing team. The question now is, where does V:TR go from here?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
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Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2014 20:06:04
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/22/tabletop-review-mummy-t-
he-curse-ready-made-characters/

Not be confused with the Mummy Interactive Character Sheets, which are customizable and editable free PDF character sheets, the Ready Made Characters pack features pregenerated characters, complete with a one page bio to help players run the characters. These characters are perfect for newcomers to roleplaying in general or Mummy:The Curse in specific, or those that haven’t had time to make characters and just want to play a quick pick-up session. Likewise, these pregenerated characters come with story seeds to make a Storyteller’s life easier. Writing an adventure for Mummy: The Curse is a daunting task because of the unique way a Chronicle of this game unfolds. This means the Ready Made Characters are pretty versatile. From using them to get a novice into a new game or to help you write an adventure for a convention, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line of products.

The five characters in this pack control a dance and fetish club known as Club Taboo. It’s hard to imagine any five Arisen working ala a vampire coterie, especially when the one presented here has a character from each of the five guilds, along with five different judges and five different decrees. That means there is absolutely no common ground for any of these characters, and one would think that would cause more problems than anything else – at least at first glance. Thankfully, the background of each character and the page of Storyteller seeds limits the potential group infighting and gives them a few allied tasks to work together on. In fact, there one very BIG group goal that is all but impossible to achieve, but it’s a great idea for an entire chronicle. It also helps that all five Mummies will rarely be active at the same time, meaning that you have an easy out for some of these characters if you only have a group of two to four people that can get together. One thing this collection doesn’t address is how all five manage their individual cults and get THEM to work together. That’s a pretty big oversight.

Each of the five Arisen has the own role to play. One is the money handler and long term thinker of the five. One is the face of the group (and the club) who has some severe family codependency issues. One is the meat shield who has transitioned from a force of mindless destruction into an anachronistic protector. One is an information broker with trust issues who sticks with the group only because he’s in love with the female Arisen in the clutch. One is a sneaky, cynical Jack of all Trades. Together they fight crime work together, furthering their own goals while continuing their mission regarding Lost Irem. The characters are very diverse in terms of stats, skills, powers, utterances and personalities, so players will each have their own moment in the sun.

The only negative things I can say about this pack are intertwined. All five characters have only a Memory of three, which doesn’t jibe at all with the level of detail in their biographies. Nor does a group of five Arisen coming together to work as a mostly organized family unit with that low level of Memory. This is hard to justify, especially since so much of Mummy is discovering who you are. With bios this detailed, there’s too much defined for the Memory level. It’s disappointing to see this getting by editorial. I guess it’s also worth noting that Neith is actually missing his Memory rating, but it’s easy to assume he’s at a Memory rating of three as well, since everyone else is. Besides, I can’t think of the last time I saw a release for ANY tabletop game without a minor error like this. Add these in with the lack of any real Cult discussion and the Ready Made Characters pack isn’t perfect, but these are minor complaints, and for a free Kickstarter backer bonus you won’t hear me raise any real ire here.

As I’ve said, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line so far. It’s nothing you need to play the game, like the core rulebook, or an optional piece that enhances the game, like Guildhalls of the Deathless, but as a freebie, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure if I’d pay money for this if there is a price tag attached to it once the piece is available to the general public, though, unless I was specifically planning to run games for people completely new to the concept of Mummy: The Curse or I wanted to run an adventure for a convention and make things extra easy on myself. Still, Mummy: The Curse is batting three for three so far, which is an impressive streak indeed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
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W20 Rage Across the World
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/01/2014 07:41:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/01/tabletop-review-rage-ac-
ross-the-world-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edit-
ion/

Rage Across the World is not a travelogue as you might expect from the name. Instead it’s meant to be a companion piece to W20 in the same vein as the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Companion was. Well maybe not the same EXACT vein as the V20 Companion was pretty reviled and cost Onyx Path a lot of goodwill with its fans (that it has since won back and then some.), while Rage Across the World is actually pretty good. It’s mostly a fluff piece with a few mechanics interspersed here and there, but it’s better written, better laid out and far more useful than the V20 Companion. Part of that is because OPP has learned from its mistakes (poor V:TM – always the testing ground) and partly because Rage Across the World was a free stretch goal to Kickstarter contributors while you had to pay money for the V20 Companion You’d be surprised how far free goes towards placating people. Would V20 Companion have fared better if it had been free? Almost certainly…

Rage Across the World is short and less focused that the original six “Rage” books from earlier incarnations of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The book touches on each of the classic locations: Egypt, the Amazon, Appalachia, New York Australia and Russia, but only briefly. If you want to get a more in-depth look at these locations, you’ll need to pick them up on Ebay or in digital form from DriveThruRPG, either in single volumes or in the three Rage Across the World volumes (Each contains two of the single locations in one big book). Although the original six Rage locations are only touched on briefly in this new Rage Across the World, they are updated for modern times. Those three pages on Cairo, for example talk about the Arab Spring and all the political upheavals that have been occurring in Egypt since 2011. Remember the original Rage Across Egypt is almost thirteen years old and as such is missing concepts like smart phones, 9/11, hybrid cars, drones, and other faces of life we regularly see today that simply didn’t exist back then. So if you own the original Rage Across XYZ books, the updates in Rage Across the World might be worth admission price alone. If you don’t own any of the originals, it’s not a problem – they’re not required and are more curiosity pieces at this point.

The introduction gives us a quick overlook about what the book is about, as well as a way to fast forward your characters in power and rank so that you’re not always starting off with Rank 1 characters. Similar to the Age background trait from V:TM, the increased rank gives you a lot of experience to spend on your starting character. Being a Fostern gives you between 45-75 experience to spend while an Elder gives you AT LEAST 600. Cripes. Imagine how over the top that would be if these were Freebie Points rather than XP!

Chapter One, “Life Among the Warriors” is told completely “in-character” until the very tail end of things. A young recently changed Garou wants to leave the cairn, finding the Garou Nation’s way of life to alien and stifling. He sits on the dock talking to a Silver Fang named Sarah, born and bred into Garou life, but ostracized because of her sexuality (Which amongst the Garou actually had a modicum of rationale behind it besides the usual straight up homophobia or religious based prejudice) . As such, she is the perfect candidate to explain to this young cub what are the benefits and drawbacks to Garou society. You get a solid look at the differences between sept, pack and tribe, along with the sometimes convoluted (by human standards) systems of laws and litanies the Garou live by. It’s an interesting read, and very much a quality primer for people new to W:TA, but it’s not a “must read” by any means, as it’s all information long time Werewolf fans (the vast majority of the target audience for this piece) are already well aware of.

Once we are past the in-game fiction, we are given a dozen pages of mechanics. These are not new rules that involve dice rolling or the like, but are instead all character creation based. Pack Status is a combined group trait where you can spend points on temporary things ranging from a tent to crash in on sept grounds all the way up to borrowing four or five dot fetish for a fortnight. This is a nice way for a Pack to make an adventure slightly easier for them and also cash in on their previous exploits. Sept Positions are specific roles a Garou can earn. Once obtained these roles become a part of who they are in the larger scheme of things and in return for taking the task on, they gain some mechanics bonuses. Take Keeper of the Land, which is a two point Sept Standing. This garou ensures the sept is kept clean, environmentally sound and occasionally dealing with local spirits. In return for taking on this role, the PC gets a +4 to its social die pool when dealing with the Sept’s totem and any other spirits affiliated with the location. Not a huge bonus, but a +4 bonus can come in pretty handy at times. Other than that, the chapter gives you one new rite and eleven potential caern totems.

Chapter Two, “Weaver” is all about the Garou’s take on well…the Weaver obviously. Told via in-game fiction by a Stargazer Galliard, you get a look at how the Weaver is affected the modern World and how the Garou have to deal with it. Locations covered in this section include Pittsburgh, Shanghai, Cairo (which is why this isn’t by a Silent Strider), Seattle and London. It’s an interesting read and it really showcases how dangerous the Weaver can be, as well as why some Garou consider it to be the true enemy rather than the Wyrm. Again, it’s a fun chapter to read, but it’s not something that is going to wow any long time W:TA fan or change how they look at the Weaver. It’s all common sense stuff regurgitated in a fun piece of fiction. Mechanics wise, you get five new fetishes and five new totems.

Chapter Three, “The Wyld,” isn’t about Gaia, but what the Garou nation needs to do to win the war against the Wyrm, as well as how to keep Kinfolk and wolves alike safe and healthy. Some of the suggestions make a lot of sense (more Lupus Garou need to be born as they can have more babies than a human and become Garou five times faster than a Homid born cub) while others are a bit harsh or dark to our conventional human morality (Breed, breed, breed as there is a war going on. Which explains the disdain Sarah gets from other Garou in Chapter One for being homosexual. Homosexual couplings can’t produce children and thus she is far less likely to make little garou babies so that the war against the Wyrm can be won. Hey, at least it’s better than “Bing Gay is evil for no vague undefined reasons based on an interpretation of a religious textbook that may or may not be in line with the point of view possessed by the deity in question!”) We’re also treated to a look at various wolf populations across the world and the threats they face. Locations include Minnesota, Ethiopia, Yellowstone National Park, the Australian Outback, the Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia (Specifically five ex Soviet Union nations). Besides the in-game fiction we get the concept of spontaneous Metis (created by radiation exposure), a new gift, a new rite, a new fetish, two new talens, and a quick write-up of caerns in the aforementioned locations. Again a fun read, but nothing that makes Rage Across the Worlda must-own by any stretch of the imagination.



The Appendix, "Gaia" is perhaps the most interesting piece of the book and it also presents things from a different viewpoint than most players and/or in-game characters have. The fact the first section is entitled, "Why We've Lost" is probably pretty unexpected and jarring but it drives home the core concept of the W:TA (The end of days and the final battle are nigh) and it's a reminder that Gaia is much more than trees and rocks or water and air. Gaia is life and creation. Locations include New Guinea, The Arctic Circle and the one two punch of Tanzania and Kenya. The latter gives us a hint of things to come in the upcoming W20 release: Changing Breeds, which is a look at the other shapeshifter races across the world. We’re give a nice look at the fall of Black Tooth (a despotic werelion) in this book, something that will be touched on in far greater depth in Changing Breeds. Mechanics-wise you get some new rites, gifts and totems and then…the book just ends abruptly. That’s it. No conclusion or short piece to wrap things up. Just an odd for the eventual Wraith 20th Anniversary Edition promised for 2014 (Ha ha ha…now that’s a pipe dream) even though we’re still waiting on Mage.

Overall, Rage Across the World is a fun read, but by no means a must have. As a Kickstarter backer freebie, this was an excellent way to spend those stretch goal funds and there is little to complain about here. If you did miss out on the W20 Kickstarter, only time will tell if this is worth purchasing. It’s all going to come down to the MSRP Onyx Path saddles this book with. As there is very little content other than the in-game fiction pieces and all the mechanics pieces are optional and minor at best, only extremely devoted W20 people should pick this up and even then, that core demographic have almost assuredly gotten this as a freebie because they backed the Kickstarter campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Rage Across the World
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Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/31/2013 14:12:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/31/book-review-rites-of-re-
nown-when-will-you-rage-ii-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anni-
versary-edition/

It’s been a very good year for gaming fiction anthologies, even though full fledged gaming novels (like The Sundering series) have been a bit lackluster. Shadowrun Returns, The Strix Chronicle Anthology and Tales From the Ninth World have all been pretty solid. Now, Werewolf: the Apocalypse gets its own anthology to boot. I’ll admit, Rites of Renown has me wishing for a V:TM fiction anthology, but this particular book came about only because of the abundance of funds raised in the W:TA 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter. There are nineteen stories contained in this collection by as many authors, which is a lot compared to other White Wolf/Onyx Path anthologies. Like any anthology, the quality of the pieces are all over the place, from so bad I’d be embarrassed to be the person who approved the publication of the piece to worth the cost of admission alone. Of course, the problem is defining which piece is which. No two people will read through an anthology with this many stories and like the exact same ones, but as this is my review, we’ll have to go with thoughts and opinions on the specific pieces. Just remember one man’s opinion (no matter how well respected) is not the word of God coming down from on high, so pieces I utterly hated you might love and vice versa.

1.) Throated. Wow, this was really bad. I mean really bad. The worst way to start off an anthology is with a piece so utterly horrible in style, tone and flow that it makes you want to stop reading the entire book right then and there. Unfortunately, “Throated” is just such a piece. I really wanted to give it a chance because it was by Devin Grayson, who is one of the most maligned comic book writers of all time. Just bring her up to a collective of Nightwing fans and you’ll see a level of hate usually only reserved by X-Men fans for Chuck Austen. However, I’ve missed Ms. Grayson’s comic run and I really liked Chuck Austen’s run on Exiles, so I wanted to give her a chance, especially since the only thing I’ve read of hers is her novel Inheritance, which, admittedly, is not very good. In her defense, DC Super Heroes are very hard to write in novel form. Even Alan Grant, who I love, wrote a slight stinker with Last Sons, and the only DC novel I’ve enjoyed is by Roger Stern.

But I digress. Back on topic with why “Throated” is so terrible. Basically it reads like it was written by a person who has only ever flipped through the first edition W:TA handbook and is pulling out buzzwords left and right to prove they know something about the system. Throw in a very bad narrative style told by an extremely unlikeable and annoying narrator and a very implausible plot about a Kinfolk teenager saving his sister from Pentex, and you have a story that hits all the bases. Unfortunately, it was all the negative bases; this was just chock full of every one of my pet peeves wrapped up into a short story. “Throated” was so bad, I had to constantly put it down to groan. I really wanted to be positive here, but when I was done reading it, I couldn’t imagine a worse story for Werewolf: the Apocalypse. 0 for 1

2.) Unwind. Well, unfortunately for this anthology, they followed up the worst W:TA thing I’ve ever read by something EVEN WORSE. I guess that’s a feat in and of itself, because I didn’t think it was possible to get worse, but “Unwind” accomplished it in spades. You know a story is bad when you could take it out of the anthology and no one would realize it was a story about a Garou’s first change. Honestly, if one were just given this thing, it would come off as nothing more than an extremely disturbed and horribly written tale about a teenager running around killing people in gruesome fashion simply because they were insane. This is like the type of story someone writes in Middle School simply to freak out the teacher and get a chuckle out of their friends. Sadly, “Unwind” has the writing quality and narrative style of someone in that age group as well. It’s truly just terrible on all levels. At least with “Throated,” you could tell it was a W:TA story. “Unwind” is just someone’s extremely uncreative (and poorly written) ode to torture porn. Honestly, it’s so awful that I think we have a winner for the worst piece of RPG fiction that someone actually was paid money for. I’m honestly embarrassed that there are people at OPP that thought this was quality, and doubly so that someone got a paycheck for this. For shame. Seriously. There has never been a worse 1-2 punch to start of an anthology that I have encountered. 0 for 2.

3.) The Lost. Thank Nyarlathotep the entire anthology gets better from here. “The Lost” is a fine story about three homid Garou who underwent their first change by themselves and have found each other without any knowledge of the culture and history they are a part of. Together, they find their place in the world and come to terms with their new bestial side. It’s very well done. 1 for 3.

4.) Scar Tissue. This is a story about how nasty and subtle the Wyrm can be. The main character discovers she is a Garou… again. How does that work? You’ll have to read to find out. The entire affair is a pretty entertaining read, with some great descriptions of the Seattle area and a possibly unintentional reference to Twin Peaks. There are some extremely memorable characters here, and even though the entire tale wraps up nicely, I wouldn’t mind reading further adventures of Indria and Dr. Editon. 2 for 4.

5.) Why Old Wyrm Devours His Tail. I think this might be my favorite story in the collection. It’s a story about stories and their importance in the world. As a folklorist, I loved this piece. Aeden MacGowan is a Fianna trying to collect stories from all the tribes in an effort to keep them preserved. It’s a beautiful piece in all respects. There are some definite sad moments, but also some brilliant ones as well. The author is one of the few to actually get Black Spiral Dancers RIGHT. The vast majority of writers use the Dancers as poorly as V:TM writers use Malkavians – as nonsensical annoying loons. We get a really strong look at how sane, cunning and even noble a Dancer can be. It just happens that they’re on the Wyrm’s side. Corruption isn’t akin to madness, and it was a breath of fresh air to see that. This is definitely one of the jewels of the collection. 3 for 5.

6.) Hairshirt. The winner of the weirdest title in the collection, “Hairshirt” is a fun look at the old trope of multiple people telling the same story about a cub’s first change, a battle with Weaver spirits and the origin of the pack’s name, but from a radically different point of view. It’s a well told, and often times funny, look at how just because you are in a pack, it doesn’t mean you are bosom buddies. I also found that I loved the character named The Unlidded Eye… although he did seem more Hakken than Shadow Lord. “Hairshirt” was a really fun story, and it was great to see a W:TA take on an old classic setup. 4 for 6.

7.) The Magadon Job. The flow of this story is similar to “Hairshirt,” but slightly different. Instead of five retellings of the same story, it’s five different Garou telling one story in parts. The job in question involves a team of Garou being hired for a snatch and grab operation inside one of Pentex’s branch corporations. The catch is that the grab is the sister of the Black Fury that hired them. The story doesn’t have a happy ending by any means, but it’s a well told piece of fiction, and each of the five Garou are very clearly defined. You really walk away with a sense of who each one is. Another thumbs up here. 5 for 7.

8.) Tears on a Tainted Blade. I just didn’t care for this story. It was extremely cheesy on all levels, and I can’t say I cared for any of the characters in the slightest. The story is about three different sides of Garou all after the same item – the very first Klaive ever created. I hate when people go that route, as the end result is never satisfying and revealing the origins of the first ANYTHING is always underwhelming, not to mention forces everyone else to shoehorn in a badly done piece of canon. The Silver Fangs come off as more psychotically evil than slightly crazy aristrocrats. The Shadow Lord is more Hakken (a trend in this collection), and the story ends about as stupidly as it is abrupt. “Oh no, Wyrm! Let’s instantly put aside an entire tale of HATE to team up and fight them. The End.” Not very good on any level. 5 for 8.

9.) Straw Death. This is the tale of a Get of Fenris Garou near death and her decision to fight and die or run away to fight another day. The main character is not very likeable, but the author does a good job of showing her thought process, complete with her reasons for wanting to flee or fight. Although it’s not my favorite piece in the anthology, it’s well done. It’s also another piece that actually gets a Black Spiral Dancer correct. I know – two in one collection. I’m as shocked as you are. 6 for 9.

10.) That Kind of Kin. This tale is told from the point of view of a Kinfolk that doesn’t really like being Kinfolk. No, she has no plans to become a Skinwalker. She’s loyal to Gaia – she just hates the attitude and personality of Garou. This tale takes place at the tail end of a fierce battle between a pack and some Black Spiral Dancers, and gives you the aftermath of the event. The story is pretty dark and there is no happy ending to be seen here, but it’s really quire enjoyable. It’s also nice to see someone take a look at how shabbily a lot of the Garou treat their Kinfolk – almost similar to how Kindred treat their Blood Dolls. They are a means to an end and little more. A definite read, especially if you plan on ever playing a Kinfolk. 7 for 10.

11.) Moonshine. I just couldn’t get into this story at all. The plot of a Garou pack breaking up a wacky Wyrm conspiracy is fine and all, but I just didn’t care for any of the characters or the narrative style. If I want a tale about a hillbilly furrie jugband collective, I have Emmit Otter’s Christmas Special for that. I just couldn’t get into this piece at all. I had to keep putting the story down because my eyes were glazing over from boredom. 7 for 11.

12.) Rhymes with Food Truck. This was a very funny piece about a Garou (Bone Gnawer from the description) that drives a food truck, the Pentex scheme he uncovers and the Glass Walker he has a feud with. All these things come together in a pretty ridiculous but well written and highly entertaining story. It’s nice to see a light comedy piece in the bunch, as you rarely seem something like that in a WoD anthology. Even in the World of Darkness, not everything is overly angsty gloom and doom. 8 for 12.

13.) Gryphon, in Glass and Steel. A Garou stops what appears to be an everyday mugging, which of course turns out to be anything but. It’s a nice set up, but the end story not only ends abruptly, but without any real resolution. I liked the two main characters, but the story definitely felt like it was missing a few pages or that editorial made the author shorten things. I could go either way on this one, but I’ll be nice and count this in the positive column. 9 for 13.

14.) Tatters of Honour. The Shadow Lords and the Wendigo end a centuries old blood feud. It’s a nice look at how the Garou often hurt themselves worse than the Wyrm ever could. Are these two ancient but proud tribes able to stop the cycle of mistrust and violence between them? A fine read indeed. 10 for 14.

15.) Cleanup. I just didn’t care for this one. I think some people will be surprised to learn that the story’s description of immigration centres in England are actually more accurate than people want to believe (save for the WoD aspects like Garou after all), but the story just didn’t seem to gel together very well. A pack of Garou breaks into an immigration detention centre to help save a cub on the brink of first change, and it all goes to pot. The story is fine up until you get into the centre, and then the narrative just breaks down big time. It’s like two different authors are telling the story. The twist that comes at the midway point just doesn’t hold up, and the story never recovers. 10 for 15.

16.) Things Seen. This is a fun story. It’s W:TA meets The X-Files. A group of parapsychologist Garou track down a mysterious creature they identify as a Wog, but what is it doing in Pickens County, GA (A lot of the stories in this collection are set in GA and WA BTW…) and what does it have to do with the Croaton tribe? This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. You see the heel turn coming pretty easily, but not the other swerve the story throws at you. Really well told, and the author does a nice job clinging to the core tropes of W:TA while also giving us a more unique story. 11 for 16.

17.) The Stone is a Mirror Which Works Poorly. Another stinker. This story has an amnesiac protagonist – always a red flag that the tale will be uninspired drek. The author tries to present multiple chapters of dreamlike imagery and Dubliners style stream of consciousness, but it never ends up being more than chaotic, confusing babble where more of the story is between the lines and outright off the page than actually written down. Yuck. 11 for 17.

18.) Eyes Towards Heaven. This is a hard one to judge. The first five chapters of this story are exceptionally well done. The author does a great job of defining all the characters, giving them a surprising amount of background and personality for the page restraints, and it’s a really fun read… up until the W:TA aspect of the story shows up. Then the entire thing goes off rails and just falls apart. This is another story where it feels like the author combined two very different stories into one, hoping to make them work, but instead of a juxtaposition of Wyrm and Wyld, you get totally abrupt and almost nonsensical personality changes for the two main characters. The entire story loses that wonderful sense of imagery it had contained up until then, and you lose the entire suspension of disbelief. From a late blooming first changer and his friend taking down an entire pack of Garou to the really terrible portrayal of the Black Spiral Dancers, in the same way a lot of bad writers take the Sabbat and make them little more than psychotic Satanists, I found myself going from loving this story to just being utterly disappointed by it. I respect and like what the author was trying to do here, but it just didn’t work. 11 for 18.

19.) Vigrid. Although this collection started off really poorly, I’m glad it ended well. It’s the tale of Karl, a Garou Elder at the end of his lifespan, and how he spends the last bits of his existence. Of course, as a member of the Get of Fenris clan, you can pretty much guess how that goes. The story is a pretty touching one, which is all the more impressive considering the level of violence in it. You get a really great look at the family structure of this Get sept (perhaps even a full Caern by the size of it) and it’s one of the most balanced and in-depth looks at Garou structure and thinking that I’ve seen in a piece of W:TA fiction. A really excellent read, and while not my favorite story in the collection, it is definitely the best way to end things. 12 for 19.

So a thumbs up to twelve stories and a thumbs down to seven. That’s a sixty three percent quality rate, and the good obviously outweighs the bad in this one. While Rites of Renown won’t be a contender for our “Best Tabletop Related Fiction” award this year, it’s still worth reading through and picking up if you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Again, my opinions on each of these stories are just that, and the ones you like in this collection may very well differ from mine. The one thing that is for sure, though, is that there are some very good stories to be had in this collection, and that WoD fans will have a fun time reading through this one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
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Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2013 06:20:50
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/30/tabletop-review-artifac-
ts-and-oddities-collection-i-numenera/

Similar to the Cipher Collection I, Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a list of objects that a GM can throw into their Ninth World campaign for players to find and use. Where Ciphers tend to be items good for only a single use, Artifacts are longer lasting items, and thus can have a more powerful effect on a adventure, or even a campaign. As such, it’s harder to design one without risking the balance of a game. Oddities, meanwhile, are just super strange things that have no real use or benefit to players, save for being weird and puzzling reminders of the previous worlds that came before. To help GMs out, Monte Cook Games has created this ten page collection.

There are thirty-three Artifacts and fifty Oddities to be had in this piece. That’s a lot of new items to pack into ten pages, isn’t it? Well, the Oddities only take up two pages in this supplement, and one of those pages is merely descriptor text about the concept of Oddities. The last page is the Oddities in a single list, each getting only a sentence of description. I was a bit disappointed in that respect, but the Oddities do live up to their names, with the level of weirdness I keeping hoping to find on every page of a Numenera release. These include things like a piece of cloth that is oddly pleasing to touch, a small jar that fills with one ounce of green paint every morning at dawn, a glove that makes your voice extremely high pitched and a metal rod that makes anyone who touches it sneeze. These are great and really showcase the billion years of history that came before the Ninth World. Just drop one of these into an adventure and players will agonize over the original purpose and how it can help them on their quest du jour. It has to have a purpose, right? WRONG! It’s flavor, pure and simple.

The thirty-three artifacts are far less weird, unfortunately. Each of the thirty-three items gets a paragraph of text to describe their use, so they are pretty fleshed out. Like many of the Ciphers, though, these items seem to be more run of the mill dungeon crawl loot than things that truly help to define Numenera as something new and different. Indeed, many of the items merely feel like scientific versions of Dungeons & Dragons mainstay magical items. The Handy Hollow is a Portable Hole variant, for example. The Interceptor is simply a Protection Against Missiles spell, but in tech form. The Spider Harness is a more literal version of Spider Climb, and the Skin of Water Breathing is like any magical item that gives you a water breathing effect. I was a bit disappointed that the team behind Artifacts and Oddities Collection didn’t get more creative or bizarre with their artifacts, as too many of these items feel too similar to your standard hack and slash fantasy loot – which is not what I (nor really anyone) wants from Numenera.

That’s not to say that all the Artifacts fall into fantasy loot trope town. Some are pretty innovative and outside the box. Take the Foldable Coach for example. This is an interesting little vehicle that is sure to make characters stand out wherever they go. There’s also the Obedient Rope, which is a semi-intelligent (perhaps sentient) piece of cable. The Yesterglass is perhaps the most out there item. When held before a user’s face, this glass panel will show the last major event to happen in the general vicinity, even if it happened hundreds of years in the past. That’s pretty crazy and can, in and of itself, set off many an adventure.

All in all, the Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a nice little collection. At $2.99 I’d say it’s probably one or two dollars overpriced, especially if you’re good at homebrewing your own items for PCs to find. If, however, you like to stick to only published material, you’ll probably get your money’s worth out of this collection. Again, I’d personally like to see some weirder and more nebulous items in these collections, but opinion may vary on that one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2013 Holiday Module: The Old God's Return
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2013 06:20:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/30/tabletop-review-the-old-
-gods-return-dungeon-crawl-classics-2013-holiday-module/

Tabletop companies really like to release items as close to Christmas as possible. Goodman Games is no exception. This 2013 Holiday Module, entitled The Old Gods Return is full of homages and nods to Christmas. The main antagonist has a reindeer’s head. The tontuu resemble Santa’s elves. There are some seriously screwed up evergreen trees and the joulbok is reminiscent of the Krampus in design if not personality. This is a cute little idea for an adventure, and it’s well done enough that you don’t have to play it around the holidays to get the full effect.

The title of the piece is a bit misleading. The Old Gods do not in fact “return.” There is only one god, a fraction of its former self and near the end of its existence due to a lack of worship in this piece. That said, it IS the principal antagonist of the adventure, and even weakened, a god is a pretty powerful enemy for Level 1 characters to be taking on. Even with a party of six characters, expect some, if not all, to fall as you strive to complete this. Even if you beat the god, there is still a very large chance of a Total Party Kill after the fact (no spoilers as to why), so GMs might want to run this as a one-shot rather than risk beloved characters.

The plot of the adventure is pretty straight forward. Villages around the area are seeing their children struck with a strange illness for which there seems to be no recovery – magical or otherwise. The children fall comatose and appear to be suffering from symptoms akin to frostbite. Thankfully it has not affected the village of the PCs – until the adventure is underway. Attacked by strange gnome-like creatures with a perchance for murder, the PCs and their home village repel these invaders, only to discover at least one child has been struck by the malady. The PCs are chosen by the High Priest of Lopitar (god of fire) to smite the menace plaguing the land. In a sense, the conflict becomes more than PCs Vs. antagonists, but that of fire Vs. ice and old gods Vs. the new régime. Characters participating in the conflict will receive a special bless from Lopitar that allows them a wide range of fire based abilities. These powers are not permanent and will almost certainly exhaust themselves during the adventure, but they will be a lot of fun to mess around with while the players have them.

From there, the players will have to deal with a flying iceberg, three levels of dungeons, figuring out the mystery of the evergreen grove and do battle with an ancient god itself. It’s a pretty daunting adventure, and as mentioned previous, it’s not a question of IF a PC will die, but how many. Hey, if you’re reading this, you’re more than used to the DCC death toll by now, and this shouldn’t surprise you in the least, right?

There isn’t a lot more to the plot here. After the players leave there village, The Old Gods Return is fundamentally a straight forward hack and slash dungeon crawl experience. The emphasis is on roll-playing over role-playing, but again, you kind of expect that going into a DCC adventure. The adventure is quite short, able to be played in a single session. Although the dungeon is three levels deep, there are only three real combat encounters to be had, four if you count the one that sets up the adventure, and a fifth optional one that most players won’t run into unless they are poking their heads into everything.

As always, the art in the first party Dungeon Crawl Classics pieces are fantastic. Doug Kovacs does an amazing job, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the map for this adventure was a two page spread. DCC has the best maps in the industry, so you’re getting twice as much of the thing they do best. That’s a holiday present in and of itself! The other drawings are also a lot of fun, as they really help to showcase how much of this is an homage to various Christmas characters and themes. Without the visuals, a good portion of the piece may be lost on gamers, to the point where they might not realize this has an undercurrent of a holiday theme going for it.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Old Gods Return. Although I’m not a person who celebrates any of the assorted December holidays, this adventure really blends the season with Dungeon Crawl Classics tropes, and the end result is a very memorable adventure you and your friends will no doubt talk about for some time after. Is it the best DCC adventure I’ve ever played? No it’s not. The Old Gods Return is a lot of fun, though, makes for a great addition to any DCC fan’s library and is well worth playing through. This is a great way for Dungeon Crawl Classics to end 2013, and if you have a DCC playing friend, this would make a great late Christmas present for them – plus you’ll be able to share in the experience as well!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2013 Holiday Module: The Old God's Return
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2013 06:16:25
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/26/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-coyotes/

..and with this, I believe I’ve cleaned up my backlog of reviewables that came in while I was on vacation. Except for White Wolf’s Blood & Smoke: The Strix Chronicle of course. That’s a big one. Anyway, Coyotes is the latest supplement from Catalyst Game Labs. Unlike Gun H(E)aven 3, which was released the same day, I really liked Coyotes, even if the price tage may give you some initial hesitation as to whether you should pick this up or not. Eight bucks for thirty pages of content is a bit high to me, especially for a PDF, but at least there’s actual CONTENT to this piece (all of which is really well done) compared to say 50% blank space, a picture of a gun, line of mechanics and three to four sentences of Jackpoint snark. Best of all, the content in Coyotes is wonderful and you’ll easily get your money’s worth out of this release. Let’s show you why.

In the Sixth World, the term “coyotes” is slang for smugglers. This might throw you for a loop because of the emphasis the game has on Native American folklore and culture. In many NA tribes, the coyote is the symbol of the trickster god. So why use this term for smuggling? Well, it makes sense if you think about a smuggler being a trickster itself. After all, they have to use wits and many a clever scheme to get their cargo to their destination as well as past corporate and government snoops. In this sense the trickster version of coyote is somewhat applicable, at least more so than the animal itself that bears the name. I’m not sure if that is the same train of thought the writers of Shadowrun used to come up with it, but I’d love to see the process. A book showcasing the process for Sixth World slang would in and of itself would be a great read….but I’m going off topic. Let’s talk Coyotes.

Like a lot of supplements for Shadowrun, Coyotes is a multi-faceted piece. You have some short fiction (three pages) to start things off and then it goes into a Jackpoint discussion post. Unlike most supplements of this nature which have the metaplot piece first and the mechanics at the tail end of the book, the crunch and fluff are seamlessly integrated into this release. It’s a bit jarring for those used to the old way these types of pieces were done, especially when you go to flip towards the back for a piece of mechanics and find it’s not there anymore, but it’s well done and if this is the way these pieces are going to be done for Fifth Edition, we’ll all get used to it. Finally, the piece concludes with an adventure, which was a nice little surprise. This is rarely done in Shadowrun supplements, so I loved seeing this at the end of the piece. The adventure, which we’ll look at in depth later on in the review is written with the Shadowrun Missions format, which I loved seeing, as it’s my favorite adventure format, regardless of system/setting because it’s so inviting to GM’s of all skill levels. All in all, you’re getting an amazing amount of content jammed into these thirty pages and I’m really impressed by this release.

“Transporter” is the name of the piece of short fiction that starts this piece off. It’s about a coyote named Tim (Who also appears to be a Rigger BTW) and his unfortunate dealings with a less than professional team of runners. The story is a fine read and makes a great warning for what happens to PCs that think all NPCs are disposable idiots. The story ends a bit abruptly and I’d have liked to learn more about Tim (especially how he gets away with using a “real” name) and Pax, but that’s what sequels are for, right?

The core metaplot content is done in the usual Jackpoint style. The author here is one Timothy Movo, presumably the same Timothy from the previous short story. It’s a great look at the ins and outs of human trafficking (which is mostly what this piece is about, not cargo) and it’s one of the more faceted pieces I’ve seen CGL do on a particular Sixth World profession. You are given examples of what is needed to survive as a coyote, why it’s hard to get out of the job once immersed in it, and the big mistakes people make in the field, which leads to them dying. This section also tries to differentiate between a coyote and a routine smuggler, but it mostly came off as semantics for me.

This piece also covers the various type of situations where PCs might encounter a coyote. Are you in a game where all the PCs work for a specific corporation? There is a section on corporate coyotes. Want to make a Coyote a big NPC contact for your PCs? There is a lot on how to contact and eventually befriend a coyote. There’s a ton of information on border crossings ranging from “very easy” to very hard” along with the types of security, both mundane and magical that you are likely to encounter. These sections really blur the line between metaplot and mechanics, so you would do well to go over this area several times if you plan on making use of it. Of course, where there are descriptions of security measures, there is also commentary on how to get by them, so you’ll want to read that as well, especially if you play Shadowrun rather than run it.

The metaplot bit just kind of tapers off without warning or any real conclusion. It just suddenly goes into six sample NPC coyotes for use with your game and then into the adventure. Three are riggers, one is a guide, one is an adept and one is a technomancer. If you don’t like any of these, at least you’ll come away with an idea for how to design one of your own.

The included adventure is entitled, “Piping Hot” and it’s a one shot adventure designed to introduce new players to the game (or just Fifth Edition). The adventure is for Fifth Edition only, but with some slight modification, I have no doubts it could be played with previous editions of the game. The adventure takes a bit of explaining. The PCs are all unrelated to each other and are called by a Mr. Johnson individually. It seems he needs someone smuggled into Seattle but his usual coyote has up and disappeared. The good news is that the coyote left a set of instructions on how to do the run. The bad news is the runners, all totally new to the concept of human smuggling, are tapped for the job. It SOUNDS simple enough – drive a van into Salish-Shidhe, pick up the client and come on back to Seattle, but when is a run ever as easy as it sounds? The adventure gives characters and players alike a chance to taste the coyote lifestyle and see if it is something that they would be interested in pursuing further. If so, the GM and PC get a chance at exploring a very different aspect of the Sixth World. If not, hey, it was a one-time experience they wouldn’t otherwise get, right? Either way, the adventure is pretty interesting and a nice change of pace.

Overall, Coyotes is a nice purchase that gives you a taste of everything – a fleshed out concept, some short fiction, a full adventure, some Jackpoint material and a decent amount of mechanics (far more than we normally see in a supplement of this type). Basically it has something for everyone. I’m very pleased with Coyotes and can happily recommend it to Shadowrun fans across the board. Definitely pick it up if you haven’t already.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2013 06:15:49
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/26/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-gun-heaven-3/

Oh, Shadowrun. Leave it to you to release two supplements the very day I go on vacation for a week without any internet. So these reviews are later than I am comfortable with and then my readers would like, but at least they are getting reviewed, right?

Thankfully Gun H(e)aven 3 is an exceptionally easy product to review. It’s a thirty-eight page supplement in the same vein as the Para series, Mil Spec Tech and Used Car lot. Each page is devoted to a specific item. You get a piece of art to showcase said item (in this case, guns), some snarky JackPoint commentary and finally mechanics. It’s worth noting that the mechanics side of this piece gives stats for both Fourth/20AE AND Fifth Edition. Catalyst Game Labs has been doing this a lot lately and it’s nice to see them supporting the most recent version of the game as well as the previous version which some gamers have been slow to adapt for reasons ranging from limited disposable income to edition wars drama. This way fans of both versions can purchase this supplement and it also gives CGL more potential profit than if they only released this for a single system. WotC’s Dungeons & Dragons has been doing a similar thing with their Sundering line, but CGL has been giving mechanics while D&D has been going systemless. Point in the favor of CGL.

Unfortunately, Gun H(e)aven 3 is insanely priced. Eight dollars for roughly thirty guns? Without the art and copious amounts of white space, this supplement would be about ten pages tops. Hell, you can go to the last two pages of the collection and see the mechanics are repeated in a condensed fashion and each edition’s stats are less than a page. There’s so very little content, perhaps a paragraph PER PAGE, that it’s hard to justify the price tag on this, especially when similar releases like, say, Parazoology 2 has more pages, better art and a ton more content in terms of both mechanics and Jackpoint jargon. I realize there isn’t much that one can say about a gun without starting to get repetitive, but man, you are basically paying for a supplement that is more than 50% blank space per page. That’s just wrong to me.

Another big problem I had with Gun H(e)aven 3 was this following paragraph: “Not all of the standard modifications listed with the weapons in this book are detailed in Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. A book with more weapons and combat options called Run & Gun will be released shortly after this book, providing details on these modifications.” Why does this bother me so much? Because this means Gun H(e)aven 3 is incomplete and you need to purchase a SECOND SUPPLEMENT to actually get full usage out of this one! That’s insane. What’s worse is that said second piece isn’t out yet, meaning you have to wait to actually use this properly with Fifth Edition. So not only has there been some bad editorial decisions here, but Gun H(e)aven 3 comes across as a cheap cash grab that only the most devout (or stupid) Shadowrun fans will pick up. It’s kind of insulting and I feel bad for the author because I’m pretty sure this is editorial all the way.

Now aside from these two big quibbles, Gun H(e)aven 3 is a nicely done piece. The mechanics are solid, the Jackpoint banter is fun to flip through and you get thirty new weapons to add to your game, not that you probably needed them. I did find it a bit odd than some of these guns were complete junk that the Jackpoint crew ripped on. At first I was like, “Why devote an entire page to a weapon you’re basically saying players shouldn’t use?” but honestly, it would be weird and unrealistic if every firearm was a must have piece of awesomeness. By having crappy weapons in addition to high quality ones, the Sixth World becomes just a little more fleshed out in ways other games aren’t. If you’re really unhappy with all the gun options presented to you throughout both 4e and 5e or you are unable to stat out new items yourself, then yes, you may want to pick this up because now you have several dozen new options for your players and NPCs to equip themselves with. My personal favorites in this collection are the Krupp Arms Kreigfaust, the Winchester Model 201, and the Shiawase Arms Incinerator, the latter of which is probably going to be the favorite of many who pick this up because hey, flamethrower.

Overall, let’s give this supplement a thumbs in the middle. It’s deeply insulting to be told that you need to purchase another supplement in addition to the one you just purchased because the team behind it couldn’t be bothered to throw in a bit more mechanics, especially when so much of this release is blank space. It’s doubly so to do it at such an inflated price. There’s no way you should be paying more than five bucks for Gun H(e)aven 3 and even then, it’s really more of a curiosity piece than anything which will truly add something new to your game. I mean, if you want to spend eight bucks on a bunch of guns you could come up with yourself in a few hours and fit the stats into two or three pages of Microsoft Word, knock yourself out. I’d personally be pissed if I had spent money on this thing, though, considering how little you get for the price tag.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
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Deadlands Noir: The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/25/2013 11:16:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/25/tabletop-review-deadlan-
ds-noir-the-case-of-the-jumbo-shrimp-savage-worlds/

Wow. I honestly though 2013 was going to be the year of Deadlands Noir when it was first released at the tail end of 2012. The core rulebook was simply amazing, and then it was immediately followed up by a high quality adventure in The Old Absinthe House Blues. After that though, the campaign setting rather dried up. We had three “dime novels (short stories) released for Deadlands Noir and the less than impressive Deadlands Noir Companion…but that’s been it. In fact, only a single eighteen page story was released for the setting in the second half of 2013, until now. The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp might not sound like something you’d see for a 1920′s noir/horror mashup tabletop RPG, but it covers all the bases: Mob bosses, cannibal cults, crooked unions, murders, a frame up for a crime characters didn’t commit, backstabbings, double crosses, triple crosses (maybe even a quadruple cross!) and so much more. Sure, the name of the adventure is a bit wacky, but it helps to lower the guard of your players and suck them into an ever escalating scenario where multiple sides want their heads and the only way out may be to decide who is the lesser of several evils.

The adventure begins with players being hired by one Travis Evans, a young man running for the leadership role in the local teamsters union. The current incumbent is Simon Beauregard, who Evans believes has mob ties. Evans feels if these are exposed, he can secure the nomination. At the same time Evans’ assistant , Chelsea Golden has a father who has died (and believed murdered) and the players will have to look into this as well. Both paths lead the investigators down an ever growing path of depravity and weirdness that they may never recover from.

Much of the adventure is mundane, such as doing Legwork for information, checking ledgers for embezzlement and racketeering, interrogating/questioning NPCs and the like. It’s a dry adventure compared to what most people think of when they hear Deadlands. It’s much like a Call of Cthulhu adventure without the Mythos aspect. I really enjoyed that this was more or less a straightforward detective piece, but those who want a little more blatant supernatural experience or some monster bashing may be a bit disappointed. That said, it’s not as if the supernatural is completely absent from The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp; merely that it is exceptionally subtle. In the back story there are references to spells of prolonged life and of course, some occult circles believe that cannibalism gives one extraordinary abilities. As the players investigate the crimes before them, they’ll also discover the use of a spell to snuff out a critical NPC’s life. So again, there is supernatural occurrences in this adventure (It wouldn’t be Deadlands otherwise) but it takes a trained eye, ear and nose to spot them. There is one big blatant potential supernatural threat, a Swarm Man, at the tail end of Chapter 2, but it doesn’t really seem to fit the adventure, so my advice would be to excise it unless your players are really aching for combat and/or monsters at this point. It does kind of change the dynamic of the adventure for a single experience though, so I think you’ll find the mood, theme and flow of the adventure is better off without it.

Of course all this talk about subtle supernatural elements goes out the window with act four of this adventure. There, PCs will be travelling to a creepy bayou island full of bloats, voodoo zombies (as opposed to the Romero style zombies) and trying to end the reign of an ancient cult. This is the most action packed and violent part of the adventure, and if PCs are going to die, it will probably be here. Thankfully though, even if a TPK (Total Party Kill) occurs, the PCs can still win. It’s a nice touch and considering how the characters are going to be thrown through the wringer here, I was pleased to see how death is far from meaningless in this piece.

The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp takes place over four chapters, each of which could be considered their own adventure. As such, that makes this more of a mini campaign than a single adventure. It will take you multiple play sessions to get through all of this (more than likely with one or more PCs meeting a grisly demise if they aren’t careful). This helps to offset the $9.99 price tag, which would be a bit high for a single adventure in digital format. As such I think the sheer amount of content The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp ensures players and the GM will get their money’s worth out of picking this up. The adventure works especially well as an introduction to the Deadlands Noir setting due to how the emphasis is on investigation and discovery over combat or supernatural horror. Of course, there are only two published adventures for the setting outside of the core rulebook and the Companion, so it’s not like you have much of a choice if you prefer to run published adventures. Who knows? Maybe Pinnacle will throw more Deadlands Noir content our way in 2014.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir: The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp
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Gygax magazine issue #3
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2013 08:28:23
Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/06/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-3/

Well, this was a nice surprise to get in the mail. With the previous two issues of Gygax Magazine, I didn’t get my issue until well after a month after non-subscribers had received theirs and only then after asking TSR’s customer service about the whereabouts of my copy each time. Now, I get the magazine before it’s even announced on TSR’s website, Facebook or G+ accounts. That’s pretty awesome. I had to check and see if I missed an announcement, but no, the digital copy isn’t out yet and from only a few comments on the Facebook page for Gygax Magazine, this really was a stealth release! I’m happy to see early subscribers getting their issues well…early, as that’s a nice touch of customer service and even happier that issue three is out three and a half months after issue two. That’s pretty close to the quarterly schedule they are aiming for. Compare that to the six-seven month gap between issues one and two and you can definitely see that each issue of Gygax Magazine is getting better in terms of turnaround and customer service. Of course the contents of each issue might vary in quality depending on what type of articles you are looking for, but that’s the point of these reviews, right?

Issue #3 does have only sixteen articles compared to Issue #2′s 19 but that’s because we’ve got a huge dungeon for first edition AD&D taking up a lot of pages. This dungeon is party of the giant Mega Dungeon that was previously only playable up at TSR’s Hobby Shop. This inclusion is actually a tease for The Hobby Shop Dungeon which will be released by TSR at the tail end of 2014. So yes, you have to wait a full year for the release, but hopefully this will tide you over until then. Plus this way you don’t have to experience a Lake Geneva winter. Brrr.

1. Editorial. Jayson Elliot gives us a quick rundown on what’s in this issue, why they use (BOO! Boo, I say!) sentence case for article titles instead of Title Case and how annoying it is for a magazine to have a URL in it only to have readers go to the link weeks, months or years later and find it no longer leads to anything but a 404 error. There’s also a tiny bit of errata (Hey, it was only the second issue) and overall the Editorial does what it needs to. 1 for 1.

2. How Do You Stop a Space Amoeba? Well, that’s definitely a title that grabs your attention. This article is for a game called Federation Commander, which is apparently an officially licensed Star Trek game. I’m not really a Star Trek fan (or anything Sci-Fi really), so it was fun to learn about a game I didn’t even know existed. This is exactly what I wanted to see from Gygax Magazine – a nice blend of articles for games I know and love, and some that may introduce me to something new and nifty that will suck away some of my disposable income. Anyway, you get a full solo scenario for the game in this article (although you do have to download the First Missions rules either directly from the Federation Commander‘s Website, or from http://gyg.ax/firstmissions….which I don’t provide a hyperlink to as it gives me a 404 error. Oh the irony when paired with Jayson’s editorial, eh?

The article is well done, although the author’s narrative style felt a little too rambly/rushed and not explanatory enough for my liking. You know when someone is SUPER EXCITED about a topic and they start speaking a little too fast and a little too loudly because of their passion for it and you find yourself a bit lost? That’s what this article reads like. I can tell the editor of the article felt a little similar since it’s the first and only time I’ve seen an editor explanatory note to the readers in one of these magazines so far. Even though I had to read the article twice, I understood how to play the game. Did the article or the First Missions download make me want to purchase Federation Commander? No, but I think if you ARE a Star Trek fan, the one-two punch combination might make entice you to pick up the full game. Two small issues I had with the article though. I HATE when a magazine splits an article up. The article is on pages 5,6 and 64. Why not just go pages five through seven? As well, the article gives two different “continued on” page numbers. The top of page six says it is continued on page 62 and the bottom says that the article is continued on page 64. Believe the bottom – page 62 is an ad for GaryCon. 2 for 2.

3. The Dwarven Rune Priest. Hey! An article for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Now this was right up my alley, as often times I feel like I am the only person reviewing this awesome line from Goodman Games (and third party companies like Brave Halfling or Land of Phantoms). This particular article is about a new character class called…the Dwarven Rune Priest. You probably didn’t see that one coming, eh? I really liked this article, but then I’m a big fan of DCC and will be happy to try out this class in a game down the road. I’m not sure how it will fit in as a player goes from Level 0 to Level 1, but I’m sure I can explain how a lowly Cheesemaker becomes one with the earth elements. Now if you’re looking for this article to explain DCC to newcomers, you’ll be disappointed. This is written specific for people who know the system, which make it a niche piece. However that’s true of any article in a magazine that covers all forms of gaming. About the only thing I, as a DCC player, could ask for is more rune options! I really hope to see more DCC articles in future issues. 3 for 3.

BTW, the ad across from the start of the Dwarven Rune Priest article? It’s for a Kickstarter that happened back in October. It’s now December. Whoops.

4. The Airlancer. Here we have another new character class for a system, but this time it’s for AD&D, First Edition. Unlike the Dwarven Rune Priest though, the Airlancer is more than a little unbalanced. I hate to be so blunt, but man, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of AD&D can take one look at this and tell it’s got Mary Sue issues. First, it’s meant to be a warrior option. However, it keeps getting d10 hit dice until Level 12 when it starts to get +3 HP per level. Fighters and Paladin stop getting full hit dice at Level 9. Rangers stop at Level 10. Right there, you know something is up when this new class gets noticeably more Hit Points than the original. The Airlancer gets Illusionist spells, a Hippogriff at fourth level (then a griffon at level nine), special armor (along with penalties for not using said armour), an enhanced version of a Ranger’s favored foe status (or what we’d know as that ability from 2e on), the ability to instill fear (basically turn) in that favored foe and the ability to use and make poisons a la the Assassin. Oh, they can also spend a round to recover from any intoxication or non-magical mind altering substance. Ouch. All while using the Ranger’s XP table. Oh man, this is not well thought out. The class even requires one to stay true neutral although by every bit of descriptor in this piece makes it clear there are anything but the 1eAD&D definition of “True Neutral.” Man this was a stinker. If you want to do an air-based combat class, why not focus on actual things that revolve around that? Jettison out something like the poison and give them a bonus to altitude or low oxygen based situations. That’s more fitting to the concept. Maybe switch out Illusionist spells for animal based Druid and Cleric ones as that would still give them spells but also pare down how overpowered the class currently is. It would also relate back to their mount, being thematically correct. Yep, this is our first stinker in this month’s issue, and it’s a doozy. You might get more out of the article than I did though. 3 for 4.

5. Artifacts to Impart Ancient Lore. This is a fun little article that talks about five different magic items that can give your character some boosts to skills or non-weapon proficiencies. None of these artifacts impart anything major or game-breaking, which is nice, and no player is going to turn down any new abilities, even if it’s gaining Knowledge (Religion) or a +2 to Craft (Siege Weapons). Sure it might not be that Holy Avenger they were after, but ever little bit helps. Even better, the article gives ways to use these artifacts in Pathfinder, every version of D&D except Fourth and even generic applications so you can use them with something like Chaosium’s BRP. Nice job. 4 for 5.

6. Master Mariner. I had totally forgotten about Pirates of the Spanish Main until this article. I know fellow DHGF staffer Matt Yeager was really into that game for a while though. This four and a half page article builds off of and replaces much of the old Heroclix rules for this game. Of course ?Pirates of the Spanish Main and its subsequent sets have been out of print for a long time, so I’m not sure who will get much use out of these. That said, the rules are really well done and I loved the art in this article. I tried the rules out with Games Workshop’s Dreadfleet ships and they still worked pretty well. These rules probably aren’t something I’ll ever make use of again and this might be the most niche article out of all three Gygax Magazine issues, especially as you’ll need mini pirate boats and the original WizKid rules to make use of this article. I think I’d be afraid of the Venn diagram results showing the portion of gamers that have pirate ships minis, PotSM rules and this magazine. I’ll be kind though and give this a point although it was touch and go due to usability for a while. 5 for 6.

7. Nuffle’s Academy. This is a two page article on Blood Bowl league play. I’m kind of surprised Games Workshop didn’t get its feathers ruffled over this. Anyway, this is a pretty straightforward article. Fantasy Football is a popular game and there are Electronic Football leagues, so why not do a Blood Bowl one? I never really cared for the game (and the video game version was pretty terrible) but this article does a great job of introducing the game to newcomers and giving them some ideas for their first team. As a long time Lizardman army owner for Warhammer Fantasy, I was happy to see their Blood Bowl equivalents get a plug. Honestly though I’m so out of the loop on Blood Bowl, I didn’t even remember there was a Lizardman option for the game. Fine piece and the type of article I wish White Dwarf would do. 6 for 7.

8. Argyle & Crew’s Scavenger Hunt. Holy crap! I never thought I’d see an article about Argyle & Crew in a gaming magazine, much less Gygax Magazine, which tends to talk about older gamers and have an older audience. Argyle & Crew is a rules-lite game designed for younger gamers and it uses sock puppets. I’ve picked up a few of the free pieces Troll in the Corner has put up on DriveThruRPG.com and found it quite adorable. This article lets kids, parents and whoever jump right in and play without any of the core pieces already made for the game. This particular variant of the game revolves around a Scavenger Hunt and trivia content. As such, it’s not an exact 1:1 of the tabletop game, but it makes for a really cute one-shot when there is a big gathering of tots, say a birthday party or as an after-school activity. A&C lets kids gets really imaginative and creative, but it might not be for everyone. I mean, when I was at the recommended age for Argyle, I was playing TSR’s FASERIP Marvel RPG, but I still bet I would have had fun with this too. I’m not sure how much the audience of Gygax Magazine will get out of this piece, but it’s well written and it’s great to see this game get covered. 7 for 8.

9. How to Split Up the Party. Oh god, another one of those terrible “Dear Abby” style articles I railed against in the review of issue #2. Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea? All it does is perpetuate the myth that all tabletop gamers are socially awkward wimps that can’t handle normal everyday issues. In this case, it’s about dealing with someone in the group they don’t like as a person or a gamer. How sad do you have to be if you can’t nut up enough to tell someone what you think of them in an honest and forthright but respectful tone. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you have to say, “You suck. Die. I hate you.” However, it’s not that hard to say, “I think you are acting like a bit of a putz when you do XYZ. What’s up with that?” Or, “When you do XYZ, you kind of are bringing down the game.” Chances are they might not realize what they are doing is offensive. They might not even be conscious of it. If they are doing it purposely, then you have to realize they are intentionally being a dick and stand up to them. Look at that. A whole paragraph to do what a two page column does – and I did it for free. Seriously, these type of articles are embarrassing to the reader and they drag the overall quality of the magazine down. Yuck. 7 for 9.

10. They all Died at the International Space Station. Wow, talk about bringing back a dead system. I’ve never known anyone that played Metamorphosis Alpha. Hell, I belong to some pretty active online gaming communities (especially ones for old fuddy duddies like myself) and I never even see this game get brought up. That said, it’s pretty cool that the creator of the game, James M. Ward, penned a full length adventure for the system this mag. DriveThruRPG.com has a few MA items, including the core rulebook (1st and 4th Edition), but this magazine is really rocking the lesser known/played games this issue.

So I’ve mentioned I don’t really do Sci-Fi but this was a pretty neat adventure. I’m totally ignorant of the games’ rules, so I had to do a lot of inferring and educated guessing, but the plot sold me on the adventure, if not buying the game. In a nutshell the ISS goes a little HAL and tried to kill the PCs. How the ISS became alive (or if it even is…) is one of two problems the PCs have to solve. The other is trying to stay alive as the very thing keeping them alive is also trying to murder them. There’s no set solution to the adventure and the author doesn’t even try to write one in. it’s merely a set of problems and solutions which the GM will have to string together until the PCs figure something out or they all die horrible. 8 for 10.

11. The Hobby Shop Dungeon. This is a one page essay about the history of the Hobby Shop Dungeon which sees print next year. It’s short, entertaining and crammed with a lot of information. 9 for 11.

12. The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat’uul. This adventure for first edition AD&D not only takes up eleven pages of the magazine, but it also include a very nice gatefold map showcasing just how vast (and deadly) this location is. The adventures is designed for characters between 1st and 3rd level, but there is no mention of how many should be playing at a time. The adventure is primarily a hack and slash dungeon crawl where you’ll roll-play rather than role-play, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t be looking for some grandiose plot or overarching mystery to solve. PCs are going into a tomb for adventure, riches and danger and that’s just what they will find. The adventure is very solid and although it might be too simplistic for those that like a little more intrigue or investigation (Say CoC or V:TM gamers), old school D&D fans will really enjoy this piece. Heck, including a Horla pretty much won me over. 10 for 12.

13. Order of the Knights Incorporeal. Although I know a few people who love 13th Age, the system hasn’t really done anything for me, similar to how Fourth Edition D&D hasn’t captured my interest. That said, this article about a new set of antagonists for the game was pretty interesting. Although obviously heavily influenced by ring-wraiths and death knights, these undead have a pretty cool backstory and there are even rules for allowing PCs to play as Ghost Knights. Neat. 11 for 13.

14. Savage Charms and Monstrous Fetishes. This is an article for Pathfinder and I really wish it wasn’t in the magazine. It’s not bad – just that we already have multiple Pathfinder publications and it’s space that could easily be out towards a different game that already doesn’t get much time in the sun. If I want to read a Pathfinder piece, I could pick up Pathways or literally dozens (maybe even hundreds) of other options. I get this is Kobold’s section and Pathfinder is primarily what they do but I’d rather see some systems covered with this space like Shadowrun, BRP, Cryptworld, and other systems that don’t have regular articles written about them elsewhere.

Anyway, this article talks about the fetishes used by primitive cultures and barbarians. It tells how to make them and also gives mechanics, feats and a list of nineteen sample fetishes. It’s interesting and I can definitely see some Druid, Barbarian, Kobold and goblin players using these, but I don’t see many people actually following through. Still, it’s well thought out and is an interest option to flesh out your Pathfinder PC. 12 for 14.

15. Full Frontal Nerdity. Eh. I just didn’t find this comic funny. I generally like it, it’s just this particular strip did nothing for me. Sorry. 12 for 15.

16. The Order of the Stick. A nice one shot by Rich really ripping on the reboot trend in comics, as well as the “No More Marriage” trend we’ve seen hit characters ranging from Superman to Spider-Man. It’s a few years late to be topical, but still funny. Plus V has a gender change. Cute. 13 for 16.

So this was a pretty good issue. 81.25% quality rate compared to issue 2 being at 74%. That’s a nice jump. Interestingly enough, while issue #3 has the least amount of content pertaining to the games I actively play, I do think it’s the best overall issue yet in terms of article quality. This is a great sign for the magazine as each issue gets better in all ways. We’re seeing better editing, faster turnaround on issues, better customer service, a wider range of articles from all aspects of gaming and more. I’m more than happy with what this magazine contained for the $8.95 cover price. Now that it’s obvious the magazine is sticking around for the foreseeable future, I’m hoping more systems from throughout tabletop gaming’s history get to show up here. Chill, Earthdawn, Spellfire, All Flesh Must be Eaten and many other games could stand to have an article in Gygax Magazine. I’ll definitely be renewing my subscription to Gygax Magazine but as always, reviews are a matter of opinion. Mileage will vary based on your interest in the games talked about in this issue. If the only thing you like to play is Savage Worlds, you’re a bit out of luck here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #3
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Cypher Collection 1
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/04/tabletop-review-cypher--
collection-i-numenera/

Sometimes a review practically writes itself, like when you cover a set of random tables, a name generator or a supplemental full of some specific type of equipment like guns or cyberware. Such is the case with this latest supplement from Monte Cook Games for its hit Numenera setting. Within this digital only release, you’ll find seven pages dedicated to fifty different ciphers of all shapes, size and powers. The other three pages that make up Cypher Collection I are a cover, interior page and of course, a random cipher list.

If you’re new to Numenera, know that ciphers are one-shot items that may do just about anything. They could turn someone into a kitten, heal a PC, or shoot monkey shaped confetti into the air. You won’t know until you find and experiment with them based on your GM’s description of the item. Numenera is a game of exploration and discovery first and foremost seeing that a billion years of technology litter the world the PCs reside. So if the GM gives you a cipher that looks like a hypodermic needle except it glows in the dark and occasionally vibrates when held up to a black light every Tuesday, it’s up to you who or what you want to inject with it. It’s worth noting Cypher Collection I reminds gamers that there are two general types of Cyphers. An Anoetic Cypher is a simple tool – something you press a button on, chew up and swallow or flip a switch on to activate. An Occultic Cypher is more complex but generally also has a more impressive effect. Note that impressive doesn’t necessarily mean helpful.

Oddly enough, for a game whose core rulebook embraced the idea of the weird and unusual, all of the ciphers in Cypher Collection 1 are pretty routine items. They are things you would find in any other RPG ranging from Dungeons & Dragons to Shadowrun. I was hoping this collection would really let Monte Cooke Games throw the mundane and obvious ideas out the window and give us a collection of some pretty strange items, like a cipher that causes any plant with 100 yards to excrete a viscous substance that if rubbed on your skin, allows you to perform repetitive actions such as climbing or sleeping without getting tired. Maybe a cipher that turns anything with a blade into Formica. Things that really promote the weirdness factor of the game and also make players wonder why some past civilization would invent something like a device that releases a sentient pile of earwax into the world. Something that replicates Tenser’s Floating Disc or that gives a character simulated X-Ray Vision isn’t all that unusual and when a character finds a pair of wearable wings, it’s obvious what the function will be.

That isn’t to say that Cypher Collection I is poorly written or not worth picking up. Far from it. It’s just the collection isn’t as imaginative or bizarre as I wanted it to be. This is similar to the people who were let down by The Devil’s Spine adventure collection by the fact it was pretty much standard dungeon crawl style adventures, which is what most people felt Numenera was going to try and avoid. What is in this collection are fifty straightforward and rather useful devices a less imaginative GM can let his players find to help them make it through adventures set in the Ninth World. It’s very reasonably priced at only $2.99 and it’s handy to have when you don’t have the time or desire to make up stats for a bomb like cipher or you feel that you can’t get your own idea for a cypher balanced.

My favorite ciphers in this collection include: the Helping Hand, which is basically a floating seven fingered hand that acts as a third appendage for a character, the Stealthy Serpent which gives you a two foot long metal snake as a sidekick and a set of metal discs that repel water. These are all pretty outside the box and will delight players as they try to figure out how to use them as well as debate upon their original reason for existing. As I’ve said the vast majority of these ciphers are for dungeon crawling, which means they are for offensive or defensive measures. This is fine and you’ll definitely be able to make use of them, be you player or GM. I am hoping that if there is a Cypher Collection II, Monte Cook Games really lets its imagination soar and give us some items that are no apparent usefulness or are so strange PCs can’t help put discuss them (in and out of character), thus making a regular item drop become something truly memorable. Again, what’s here is great if you’re looking for bombs, devices that give a character limited telepathy or that make holographic duplicates of the user. Everything is well designed, balanced and the overall piece is a great supplement to the core Numenera rulebook. If however, you’re looking for something canon that lets a PC communicate with cheese or allows a party to breathe lava, you won’t find it here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher Collection 1
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Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/04/tabletop-review-ghosts--
of-dragonspear-castle-dungons-dragons-next/

Note: The review was originally written when this was a convention exclusive and a physical release only. I'm EXTREMELY happy to see a digital release made available to everyone as this was one of my sticking points back in September when I reviewed this. CONVENTION EXCLUSIVES BAD!


I’m not a fan of Convention Exclusives. In fact, I outright hate the very concept of them. Why have an item that could easily make a company a lot of money and make a lot of fan happy by giving it a general release, but then limited production for a few thousand people that feel like going to a convention. No, whether it’s a Heroclix miniature, a core rulebook variant, a Botcon Transformer exclusive or something else, there is something logically and ethically shady about convention exclusives to me. At least some companies like Catalyst Game Labs make their convention “exclusives” available digitally layer on (like the award-winning Elven Blood, so the exclusivity is only on format rather than the number of people who can get their hands on it. This thing is already going for $75-130 on the secondary market and that just makes me sick.

Here I am though reviewing Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle. Why? Because it’s the first physical release for Dungeons & Dragons Next aka Fifth Edition for the world’s oldest tabletop roleplaying game. I felt it was very important, both as a journalist for the tabletop industry and someone who has been on the ground floor of D&D Next since before it was announced to the general public to see how the first purchasable version of the game holds up. One of our staffers, Matt Faul, attended GenCon 2013 and grabbed me a copy (which I paid for in advance – this is not a review copy unlike 99.99% of what we do here) and I’ve spent the past few weeks reading, playing and most of all comparing this version of D&D Next to the many versions I have saved to my hard drive after a year and a half of helping with the rules revisions. I wanted to see some sort of end result, even it is actually a midway result.

I’m happy to say that while D&D Next still does need a lot of work (especially regarding class balance and design), Ghost of Dragonspear Castle is a worthwhile purchase as it contains everything you need to play a long running D&D Next campaign. It contains four adventures that will bring your PCs from Level 1 through Level 10. Best of all, these four adventures only make up half the book. The other half includes things like a quickstart set of rules so that even if you’ve never played ANY form of D&D before, you can still play Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle without any trouble. The quickstart rules are roughly twenty-two pages long and cover combat, initiative, stats, progression through the game and are simply wonderfully done. Sure any fan of the previous four editions of Dungeons & Dragons will find things to pick apart or outright dislike, but they will also find things that remind them of “their” version of the game. I was really happy with the QSR in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle as they show that even with a long way to go before D&D Next in truly ready for a wide scale release, what’s here is useable, playable and fun.

The four adventures in the book are interconnected, with the first three having players trying to keep three elemental keys out of the hands of the Red Wizards of Thay. These adventures lead into the 2014 D&D Encounters season, so they do kind of end on cliffhangers in regards to why the Thayans want the keys and the eventual ultimate goal for them are. The fourth adventure is a final encounter between the players and a running antagonists that ISN’T a Red Wizard who has annoyed them through the previous adventures. Of course you just may get a climactic battle with the Red Wizard’s big gun (No, not Szass Tam. That’s too big). I really liked the first and third adventures (especially since the third has a very large Twin Peaks homage that the adventure revolves around), but the second and fourth just seemed a little underwhelming to me. The adventure balance seemed way off as well, as often, the enemies seemed far too powerful for the character level. A lich with multiple mummy bodyguards is not an appropriate encounter for characters between levels four and five, for example. The lack of a Challenge Rating seems to have stymied the writers of the adventures and the end result is that combat and the challenge of the encounters seems to be a bit too off, meaning the DM will have to scale things back with alarming frequency. Still, I liked the way all four adventures interconnected and the story they told when all was said and done. Again, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is meant to be an example of a work in progress and so noticing things like class and encounter imbalance is bound to happen.

Another twenty-four pages are devoted just to a magic spell compendium for wizards and clerics. Every spell locked in for the game so far are provided here, which is nice. It’s a short list, but the book contains every spell a NPC, PC or monster would want to cast in your playthrough of this campaign. It’s interesting to see some of the spelling changes like Burning Hands and Chill touch are now considered cantrips (One of many reasons I consider the new Wizard to be the most powerful and unbalanced the class has ever been)or how much damage Fireball now does. Again, everything you need to run the campaign is here, although once your characters get past Level 10, you’ll be stuck.

The next chapter in the book is Equipment and it’s another dozen pages. Here you’ll find all the armor, weapons and equipment a PC will need to go dungeon crawling. It’s short and sweet but all the basics are here and a DM will only be lacking a list of magic items, weapons and the like. Unfortunately the book is missing a section for those, but you do find a dozen magic items in the next section, the DM Guide. This chapter is done akin to quick start rules, but for the DM instead of the PC. Here is where you will find a host of ability checks, information on traps, advice on doling out experience points and/or treasure. As mentioned earlier there ARE a dozen magic items listed, but there are only two weapons (a flame tongue sword and a javelin of lighting) followed by four potions, a wand, a staff, a bag of holding, gauntlets of ogre power, dust of dryness and a horn of blasting.

My favorite chapter is the sixth which is the Bestiary. Think of it as a mini Monster Manual/Monstrous Compendium. It’s crazy how many monsters they fit into this thing, and the layout is similar to the old 2nd Edition AD&D style, which made me happy. There are close to 100 different monsters for your PCs to face down here, ranging from the cannon fodder goblins, zombies and gnolls to powerful creatures like liches and death knights. This section really runs the gambit and with roughly fifty pages devoted to all these antagonists, the Bestiary is well worth the sticker price on the book alone.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle ends things with the six pregenerated characters to use. While the Bestiary was the high point of the book or me, these characters are easily the low point. I’m find with pregens, except that the pregeneration goes from Level 1 through Level 10 with everything laid out for your characters path. Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the character classes weren’t exactly the same in terms of growth and distribution. The Dwarf Warrior and Human Warrior get the same exact changes at each level, meaning the only thing separating the two from being carbon copies of each other are the racial bonuses and the character background options (think Secondary Skill from 2e AD&D). This is also true for the Human Wizard and Elf Wizard, although at least each one gets different spells in their spellbook to make the two slightly different from the other. I’d have liked to have seen something else differentiate the characters that have the same class. Perhaps The Elf Mage could have had something different than Brew Potions at Level 6 or Overchannel at Level 9. They’re just too wooden for my liking and character customization is one of the most important things about a game system for me, so anyone like me who hasn’t been taking part in D&D Next playtest and rules-writing will be instantly turned off by the character class system presented here thinking you have no real path or control over what your character gets at certain levels. That thankfully isn’t the case, but this is one area where the team behind Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle fell way short and could have done so much better. I also really don’t like the layout of the two page character sheet that comes with the book. It’s far too busy, with things jumbled up and the lines for writing/typing things out being far too much for 99.99% of people. Supposedly this thing won a contest for best designed character sheet but holy hell – if that’s true, I’d hate to see the losers. Seriously, it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen, especially for D&D. Here’s one thing I really hope gets retooled before the official edition launch.

Finally, a word on the art. I liked that much of the art used in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle was taken from previous editions of D&D and AD&D. There is some really good (and bad) classic artwork proliferating this book and it was fun to see what I recognized and what was new to me. The book also includes faux post-it-notes with sarcastic or comedic commentary about the book, which is a nice touch as much of the WotC versions of D&D have been lacking a sense of humour and/or took itself FAR too seriously.

So as you can see, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is pretty well done. It’s not great, and as the first physical beta test of D&D Next I’m pretty happy with it and would happily recommend it to everyone at the MSRP on the cover. Unfortunately, Wizards made this a GenCon only and it’s already going for more than double the cover price, which disgusts me. Wizards could have made so much more money by making this publicly available while also making D&D fans everywhere happy by letting them have unfettered access to this release and keeping the secondary market gougers from making a mint off the people who really love and care about the game but couldn’t go to a four day convention for whatever reason. At least the contents of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle will keep you and your gaming troupe busy for months as you play through the adventures, read through the weighty tome and get a real sense of where Wizards of the Coast is heading with D&D Next. What’s here is far from perfect with a terrible character sheet, cookie cutter pregens and some horribly unbalanced encounters for PCs in the adventures, but for the most part, what’s here should satisfy the curious and D&D faithful alike. I’m pretty excited for the end result myself, and my thought is that between this and Murder in Baldur’s Gate, you will be too.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
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Transylvanian Adventures
Publisher: Land Of Phantoms
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2013 07:00:16
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/11/26/tabletop-review-transyl-
vanian-adventures-dungeon-crawl-classics/

Back in July I reviewed an adventure entitled The Winter Home for the Dungeon Crawl Classics system. This adventure, set in a quasi-homage to 1950/60s Hammer Horror films, was for an upcoming campaign setting known as Transylvanian Adventures. I really enjoyed the adventure and it made me excited for the eventual release of the core product. Now that it’s been in my hands for a few weeks and I have thoroughly devoured it, I have to say you will more than get your money’s worth. After all, it’s 300+ pages for only thirteen dollars. That’s an insanely good deal. Is it perfect? No. There are a few minor strikes against it, as we’ll see throughout the review, but for the most part, this is a wonderful addition to any DCC fan’s collection and it’s arguably my favorite release for the system yet.

When you see the name Transylvanian Adventures, I’m sure your first thought is to think of it as Dungeon Crawl Classics‘s Ravenloft. Well that’s not quite the case. Ravenloft was merely a campaign setting. There were no new classes, races or major rules change. Sure, Ravenloft added three types of checks (fear, terror and powers) and slightly modified some spells, but Transylvanian Adventures does far more than that. In fact, it almost reinvents DCC from the ground up. You have only one race (humans, since it’s set in a quasi-real world). You have entirely new classes for use with this game, but none of the original DCC classes are compatible. You don’t have any spellcasters in this book save for some classes that can read scrolls (the equivalent of mages/clerics comes later in a different release). There are lots of rules changes, some major and some minor, and by the time you are done, what’s here has some resemblance to Dungeon Crawl Classics, but it’s still a very different beast. I’d say a better simile is Transylvanian Adventures is to Dungeon Crawl Classics what Street Fighter: The RPG is to World of Darkness or Know Your Role: The WWF d20 OGL RPG is to Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. This is neither a bad thing nor a good thing, just a clarification that a DM really has to pay attention to, and keep track of, the myriad changes that occur in a Transylvanian Adventures game. At times I wondered if Land of Phantoms would have been better off just creating their own rules set from scratch rather than trying to modify DCC, as now you have to have two large weighty tomes instead of just one to play a game.

Which brings me to the next disclaimer I have to give about Transylvanian Adventures. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you’re going to need to buy two large rulebooks in order to play TA. Unfortunately, though, you will still eventually need one or two more books to get the entire rules set. The Hanging Judge’s Guide to Transylvania and The Transylvanian Grimoire will contain monster stats, spells, a new character class than can cast magic and a lot more. Unfortunately, those aren’t out yet, so you’re really kind of sitting on this book (and DCC if you bought it just to play TA) until those come out. This also means you’re going to need to buy another one or two books to actually have Transylvanian Adventures fleshed out enough to play and/or homebrew some adventures for it. That’s a lot of books, a LOT of reading and more importantly, a lot of cash being spent before you can optimize the game. Most RPGs only require a single core rulebook (New World of Darkness and Dungeons & Dragons are notable exceptions though) and so, for gamers on a limited budget, Transylvanian Adventures might not be for you. Personally, I’d have rather seen some more magic and a few monsters instead of thirty pages of superfluous tables, but at least it’s only thirteen dollars? To me, that’s still a great deal. Unless, of course, the next two books cost like $25-30 for a PDF version. Then I’ll start to get annoyed.

So let’s talk about the actual game now that we have the petty concerns out of the way. Transylvanian Adventures has a unique narrative. The author is speaking to us, instead of the usual “in-game” narratives you see with games like Shadows of Esteren or Shadowrun. It also lacks the more professional but lecture style tone you see in most core rule books. Instead, one would call the tone of Transylvanian Adventures conversational. The author cracks jokes, makes puns and can be outright flippant towards his audience. It’s far from the gloom and doom atmosphere you’d expect from such a game, but then, it’s an homage primarily to Hammer Horror, and many of those films were more than willing to take the piss at themselves. The end result is where the book feels like an actual person trying to describe the game’s rules and mechanics to you. This is both bad and good, depending on what you like to personally read. For the most part, I found it a pleasant change of pace.

Transylvanian Adventures describes itself as “Gothic Ass-Kicking Horror.” Of course, it’s set in the late 1800s/early 1900s, so it’s more Victorian, as Gothic Horror actually starts in the mid-1700s, but feel free to play with the time period. You’re the one playing/running the game after all. Influences besides Hammer Horror include M.R. James (which I wholeheartedly approve of), Polidori, Le Fanu, Castlevania video games (primarily “mine!” Whoo!) and the Vampire Hunter D movies, but not the original books by Hideyuki Kikuchi… probably because the author doesn’t read Japanese and the English translations are awful. Still, I approve of all the motifs and inspirations for the game, aside from Babylon 5 and Buffy, but again, we see that these sources are very different from Ravenloft, which more or less plagiarized Shelly, Stoker and some other authors without trying to hide it.

There are many big differences between Transylvanian Adventures and Dungeon Crawl Classics, so we should cover them. First up, the 0 Level characters you start as. DCC advises four characters per player because of the high death rate. TA is a lot kinder to PCs, and so you only really need two 0 Level characters per player at the start. You can’t use any of the previous 0 level classes, like the Cheesemaker in TA, but there are SEVENTY new 0 Level classes to choose from. You can roll on a random table to see what you get or just pick one. Then, when you hit Level One, you can pick from one of eight base classes to advance in for the rest of the game. It’s worth noting that, while DCC only goes up to Level 10, TA goes to 11 (It’s a Spinal Tap reference, but I was hoping it would be a nod towards Working Designs). It’s also worth noting how important turning undead/unholy can be in this game. Some 0 Level classes let you turn, which is very nice. Of course, what if the Level 1-11 class you want doesn’t let you turn? Do you lose that ability? Well, it’s your choice. You can either lose the turn power or you can keep it in exchange for lower two ability scores (which are all the same as regular DCC by 1) and permanently raising your Ruin score (more on what that is below). Depending on your rolls, this might be worth it.

Core character classes are interesting, but I wouldn’t say balanced. Depending on your alignment, a class may get more or less abilities. For example, only a Chaotic Exotic (a non-white character, more or less) can cast Level 0 rituals. This doesn’t make sense to me, as any anthropologist would tell you most shaman/witch doctor like figures tend to be the lynchpin of societies that have them, and thus they’d be more inclined to Lawful. Of course, there’s nothing in return that Lawful or Neutral Exotics get, so why would you give up a huge power? No, there needs to be something to balance out that a Chaotic gets an ability but other alignments don’t. We see this in just about every class. The Neutral Valiant (everyman type of hero) gets +2 to his High Save, while Chaotic and Lawful Valiants only get +1. Why does a Neutral Valiant get a better save? The game doesn’t say, nor make any attempt to justify the imbalance. So on and so forth throughout the classes. Basically, the game seems to push you to a very specific alignment per class, and I really don’t like that. If you want alignment restrictions for a character class, you need to make them hard and fast, ala a Paladin or “No Lawful Scoundrels.” Character classes could have used a bit more work before release, and I definitely see this section getting picked apart and/or house ruled like crazy.

Perhaps the biggest change to DCC with this campaign setting is the Ruin score. Ruin is a somewhat flexable attribute that helps a character survive the usually extremely brutal world of DCC. 0 Level Characters start at a Ruin of 0 and when you hit first level, it drops down to 1. Lower is better like old school AD&D Armor Class. Each time a character drops to 0 Hit Points, a point of Ruin is added while a point of stamina is decreased. Now, instead of outright dying horribly ala DCC, you go through a slightly complicated procedure to stay alive. First you roll a number of d6 equal to your ruin score. So if your Ruin is 4 (0 Level Character + 1 for being down to 0 Hit Points), you must roll 4d6. The result you roll is the target you must roll on a Luck check. So in the previous example if you rolled a 7 with your 4d6, you would then need to succeed on a DC of 7 with your Luck roll. If you had rolled a 24 on your Ruin Check, you’d have to make a DC of 24 with your Luck check. So once again, lower is better. If you succeed, you live but are unconscious. If you fail, you die. It’s a little complicated and there are probably ways to streamline it, but I like the idea that you can survive a brush with death. As well, the DM can subtract points from your ruin ala a Numenera GM Incursion. If the DM wants to give a bad guy an advantage on an attack, he can subtract Ruin points from players and for each Ruin point he removes, the antagonist gets a +1 to his move of choice. So don’t feel Ruin is a slippery slope ala Sanity in Call of Cthulhu

Another big change involves healing. There is no magic healing in Transylvanian Adventures, which will make some of you balk at first. After all, DCC is extremely lethal to begin with, so no magic healing just ratchets up the threat of a horrible demise. Thankfully though, TA has lots of new ways to heal naturally. You can take non permanent hit dice damage instead of Hit Point damage for one thing. After each battle you get 1d4-1 Hit Points back. You can also trade in a point of stamina for 1d6 Hit Points + your character level. This can be done as an instant action which is very nice indeed. You also gain Hit Points by having a good night’s sleep and the Heal Others skill (Which everyone seems to take right away for obvious reasons). I really like the new ways to heal and it does balance things out in the long run. It is a bit of a mind shift to get used to the idea of magical healing not being available, but the new ways are pretty useful. I mean, if your players are really unlucky with their rolls, you can always throw an exceptionally easy encounter at them to get them a Hit Point boost (and a tiny bit of XP!)

Transylvanian Adventures comes with an adventure entitled “Starkweather Mountain.” Unlike most rule books that place their complimentary adventure in the back, this adventure is in the middle of the book, which is an odd placement to be sure. Having an adventure in the back makes it much easier to find when you want to use it. Instead you have to hunt for “Starkweather.” The adventure is a very atypical dungeon crawl, especially for DCC which tends to be more about rolling dice and combat rather than storytelling. Not so with “Starkweather” or the previous TA adventure I reviewed in July. Here players have to explore the horrible machinations of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the results of one of his experiments. Here players will kill monsters, evade traps and discover that perhaps humanity is a far greater evil than the sin against nature they will also find within the laboratory walls. It’s a lot of fun and a nice 0 Level adventure to introduce the setting and system with.

After the adventure you have a little bit more content and roughly 100 PAGES OF TABLES Yee cats! Random rolling tables are fun, but no game needs THIS MANY TABLES. Still, they’re optional and clever, so you can definitely make use of them. I just wish the sheer number of tables had been confined to a supplement instead of some core rules like magic and monster stat blocks.

Overall, I really loved Transylvanian Adventures. Sure it’s far from perfect, but my issues with the game are minor and have to do with either the organization/layout of the book, character class balance or the spreading out of rules across three rulebooks instead of one. The rules provided here are solid, the setting is fantastic and you’re getting a veritable truckload of content for a fraction of what you would pay for most RPG books of this girth. It’s definitely my favorite release for DCC so far and with a little fine tuning, I can definitely see this becoming a hit for fans of the system or those looking for a good horror game that feels more like D&D instead of Chill or Call of Cthulhu. Again, thirteen dollars for all you get here is a phenomenal deal and I’m looking forward to the next two planned rulebooks for the system. I’m just glad all of these are digital releases instead of physical, especially if they’re going to be as big as this one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Transylvanian Adventures
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RR3 Van Richten's Guide to Vampires (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/25/2013 06:27:57
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/11/25/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
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Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires is not only my favorite supplement for Ravenloft, but it just might be my favorite for all of Second Edition AD&D. More importantly, it’s easily the single best release about vampires in the history of Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, It’s hard to think of a release for any other system that matches up to the sheer quality of this one, and that includes White Wolf’s Vampire games. It’s the magnum opus of the late, great Nigel D. Finley, and considering he was the mastermind behind such products as The Tome of Magic, Draconomicon, Shadowrun Second Edition, Tir Tairngire, and multiple releases for games I love like Vampire: The Masquerade, Chill and Earthdawn, that should tell you just how amazing this release is. It’s something all Second Edition AD&D fans should own, and honestly, if you use vampires in your tabletop game at all, for whatever reason, you should own this too. Now, if you need concrete, specific reasons as to why you should purchase this, read on. Otherwise, just go purchase it now.

There are fourteen chapters to Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires. Each one of them is more narrative and descriptive rather than filled with stat blocks and mechanics. This is for the best, as AD&D and Ravenloft in particular already had tons of mechanics for vampires, but the problem was most Dungeon Masters were just using them as generic monsters to fill dungeons with. The disgust from seeing DMs use vampires inappropriately or as cannon fodder is what caused Ravenloft to be born in the first place, and Findley definitely uses this book to ensure readers can get inside the heads of the most iconic of undead. How they think, what drives them, how they differ from mortals now that the subside on the life force of the living. So on and so forth. It really is a must read for anyone even remotely thinking of using a vampire, especially in a high fantasy setting.

Chapter One is “Introduction,” and it is a narrative by the character Rudolph Van Richten, explaining why he is writing this book (yes, the entire thing is in character rather than third person, and it works beautifully), along with background information on why he hunts monsters. Chapter Two is “The Background of Vampirism,” and it tells the possible origins of vampires, the general genetic makeup of this type of undead and a bit on different racial variations, like dwarven or elven vampires. Chapter Three is your first chapter that is devoted to stats and mechanics. “Vampiric Powers” starts on with in-game narrative about the most common powers vampires have in AD&D. The ability to Spider Climb or assume Gaseous Form at will, hypnotism, shapeshifting into animals and the like. It also introduced Salient Abilities, which are powers unique to a specific vampire. This idea helps a vampire from becoming generic and also lets you customize a creature to throw players off while also making your vampire a memorable antagonist. After this narrative, you are given a ton of charts and stat blocks to help you customize your vampire. You get to see how a vampire’s stats improve with age, and a list of eighteen salient abilities that range from being able to charm while in Gaseous From to draining four levels with each successful hit. Yikes to all.

Chapter Four is “Creating New Vampires,” and it’s mostly self-explanatory. It gives multiple ways a vampire can be created rather than just the old “killed by a vampire drinking your blood” motif. Chapter Five is “Vampire Weaknesses,” and this too is rudimentary. Findley gives us a list of common AD&D vampiric weaknesses, like running water, holy symbols and sunlight, but also expands this to possible other weaknesses for unique vamps, ranging from classic folklore issues (such as having to count poppy seeds) to mirrors keeping a vampire at bay as well, instead of just refusing to show their reflection. Chapter Six gives us “Destroying the Vampire,” and this is basically a continuation of the previous chapter.

Chapter Seven is entitled “Magic and Vampires,” and it covers multiple spell groups from AD&D, like Illusion/Phantasm, Enchantment/Charm, Necromancy and so on, listing how spells may have different than intended effects on vampires. It also talks a bit about vampires wielding magic items, but not much. Chapter Eight, “Life-Blood: Vampiric Feeding Habits,” talks about ways vampires feed, how much blood they need versus how much they WANT, and also why they must do it. It also talks about alternatives to blood (again, to make a vampire unique) and also what the victim feels when being drained. Chapter Nine, “The Sleep of the Dead,” talks about what passes for slumber amongst vampires. Why they must do it, whether or not they need to sleep in a coffin or have their tomb lined with native soil. Things like that. You also get mechanics for a sleep deprived vampire, which is neat. Chapter Ten, “Hibernation,” continues this discussion by going into details about long sleeps, or what V:TM called Torpor. This chapter helps to explain how vampires can survive many centuries as well as gives you a way in which they can be especially vulnerable at the same time.

Chapter Eleven is by far the most interesting chapter in the guide. It is called “Relationships Between Vampires,” and it talks about not just how a vampire embraces another, but also the relationship that forms between those two vampires afterwards. There is the common master-slave vampire dynamic, but this chapter also gives you a new way for a vampire to create an equal, such as a vampire mate (as well as how to engage in a vampire based divorce). Of course, not all vampire relationships are positive ones, so this chapter discusses how to run combat BETWEEN vampires and how age comes into effect. Perhaps most interesting is that the chapter does delve into homosexuality amongst the undead, but very briefly and as a side note. Still, that was pretty progressive for 1991 and especially for AD&D at the time.

Chapter Twelve is “The Mind of the Vampire,” and it discusses the psychology of being undead. Why does a vampire do what it does or think what it thinks? How does immortality change one? The chapter also talks about why vampires are generally listed as Chaotic Evil by AD&D alignment terms. It also discusses how a vampire can indeed hold its original alignment for a while, but why Van Richten believes they all eventually turn to Chaotic Evil. Mainly this is due to a long life and a growing detachment from mortals and the way they think. It also discusses the ego and arrogance of a vampire and also what to do with an insane one.

Chapter Thirteen is “The Façade,” and it talks about how vampires may pose as a human or mortal in a local area, and how they are eventually discovered by some foolish or nosy person. It also discusses WHY a vampire might want to have a public life. Finally, Chapter Fourteen is “Retained Skills,” and it talks about what abilities, spells, powers and the like a vampire can retain if they had class levels before being embraced. More importantly, it also tells how they can level up! Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? The chapter also ends with a warning to not make vampire PCs and why. This is also the note the book ends on, and it’s a very smart one indeed.

All in all, Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires is one of the best supplements for AD&D Second Edition ever written, and it’s certainly the crown jewel of all Ravenloft supplements. I know I’ve said this multiple times throughout this review, but if you’re thinking of running a vampire against your PCs, regardless of system, you should really have this book on hand to use. This is a must have for almost any gamer. It’s truly a joy to have this publicly available for purchase again.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
RR3 Van Richten's Guide to Vampires (2e)
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