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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call Of Catthulhu - ORIGINAL EDITION
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Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2013 06:09:49
Originally published: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/25/tabletop-review-hideous-
-creatures-mi-go-trail-of-cthulhu/

If there’s one good thing I can say about author Ken Hite, it’s that he’s not afraid to reinvent the wheel. This is especially true with Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos creations as even if you’re not a fan of his writing style or mechanics, you can really feel the love for these hideous beasties come through and you can’t help but respect him for that.

One of Ken’s latest efforts has been the Hideous Creatures series for Trail of Cthulhu. These small supplements are meant to help your DM/GM/Keeper/whatever you want to call it come up with some fresh ideas for Cthulhu Mythos creatures that have become overused and stale over the years. After all, Mythos oriented games are meant to be horrifying and frightening, but when players know what to expect or worse, crack trope based jokes about their would-be antagonist, much of the mood is lost. I applaud Ken for really trying to bring spooky cosmic terror back to these Lovecraftian races, but the end result of the Hideous Creatures line has been less than stellar so far.

As you’ve seen in my reviews of Deep Ones and Hounds of Tindalos, the quality of these supplements have been all over the place. The bad news is the previous pieces weren’t very good but the good news is that each one has been better than the last. This is true of the latest Hideous Creatures release in Mi-Go in that it is the best of the series so far, which leads me to believe it just took Ken a bit to find his groove. Sure Mi-Go has room for improvement, but considering the first two releases in the Hideous Creatures series were mediocre and/or underwhelming, I’m just happy to see some noticeable improvement in the line.

Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go spans eleven pages, but only eight of the pages have content on them. The first three are a tremendous cover, a title page, and an introduction slash table of contents piece. That’s not too big a deal until you realize that roughly 25% of the piece lacks any content. Ouch. On the positive even though this is a Trail of Cthulhu release, only two pages and one scenario are devoted to ToC content, so you could conceivably use this with other Mythos related systems like Call of Cthulhu, Age of Cthulhu and Realms of Cthulhu. Probably not CthulhuTech though…

The first section is simply “The Mi-Go” and it gives both a description of what the Fungi From Yuggoth look like, but also various ways to change their appearance and a whole host of motivations for them. After all, why are the mi-go so into putting human brains inside a jar? I like the attempt at explaining why this alien race from beyond time and space do what they do, but at the same time, explaining their actions and motivations also takes away from the alien horror and makes the creatures more humdrum – which is the opposite of what the Hideous Creatures pieces are meant to do. This section also gives Trail of Cthulhu stats for the Mi-Go along with weapons and potential powers and/or weaknesses. This section is by far leaps and bounds better than the Deep Ones or Hounds of Tindalos versions.

“Variations” plucks some aspects of the Mi-Go from various writers and sources. Some pieces are contradictory, but the idea is to pick and choose, not take everything from here and try to make the puzzle pieces fit. There’s a lot of potential here, but the Keeper has to put a little effort in to make things work. “Mythic Echoes” is the attempt to shoehorn a Lovecraftian creature into various myths from around the world. The Deep Ones version of this was terrible and the HoT was slightly better. Once again, this is the weakest section of Hideous Creatures with Ken either getting things wrong or making things up/drastically changing the legends to get them to fit with the Mi-Go. This section would be better off with a little more research, explaining the real legend and how one might make the Mi-Go fit into it, or just excising it altogether. Let’s just say folklore is NOT Ken’s best area.

“Investigations” is always a highlight of these pieces and it remains with the Mi-Go version. Here you are given a list of information or insights that can be gleamed by particular skills an Investigator might have. Then we have “Scenario Seeds.” There are only two this time, one of which is a direct continuation of something found in the core Trail of Cthulhu rulebook, which means you might have already finished that potential storyline off long before this was released. I can’t say either scenario is very good, and I wouldn’t use either. It also doesn’t help both play off some extremely common Mi-Go tropes and clichés, which once again is what the Hideous Creatures releases are meant to combat. Finally, we have a very nicely done “Bibliography”, listing some fine fiction to read to help you better design your Mi-Go related encounters.

All in all, this third Hideous Creatures release is a further step in the right direction as each one of these pieces is better than the preceding ones. However, what’s here still isn’t very useful and doesn’t quite achieve its goal of revitalizing a Lovecraftian creation. If anything, the piece does the opposite by relying too much on what has been done before and also basically saying, “Just rip-off X-Files and use Mi-Go as the aliens instead!” which is just tacky and lazy to me. I can’t say what is here is worth three dollars, but at least the pieces are getting better and that’s one positive worth focusing on. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm?

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go
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Exotic Encounters: Mummies
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2013 06:08:30
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/25/tabletop-review-exotic--
encounters-mummies-pathfinder/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vengeance

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

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

This Must Be A Game For Cigarettes

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

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

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

The Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
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Shadowrun: Parazoology 2
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2013 08:17:20
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/30/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-parazoology-2/

I know, I know. I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing the core rulebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, but that’s because I’ve been kind of swamped with all these other requests. Rest assured I will get to it, but this and Firing Line are first up as they’re brand new and it’s easier to write two short reviews than one mammoth one. So stop asking/whining for it already.

Parazoology 2 surprised me, as it’s a release for Fourth Edition/20th Anniversary Edition instead of the recently released Fifth Edition product. I’m actually glad to see CGL still supporting 4e/20AE as it gives the people who are still in EDITION WARS mode or who haven’t had the chance or funds (or who are waiting for the physical version of the game) to pick up the PDF of 5e yet. Diehard to Fifth Edition can easily convert the stats to these creatures in Parazoology 2 with little to no effort, so everyone wins here with this supplement. I’ll admit I’m a big fan of all the “Para” releases for Fourth Edition as they’ve really showcased imagination, originality and a willingness to go outside the usual box of corporate espionage. Things like Parageology and Parabotany really showcase how unique, weird and vast the Sixth World is and these types of supplements should help GMs realize just how much they can do beyond the typical run.

Parazoology is a fun guide to thirty new creatures to populate your Shadowrun campaign with, along with a page of new rules for abilities some of these creatures have manifested. All creatures are sorts by type (Awakened, Toxic, Mutant) and then by alphabetical order, making the entire PDF easy to read through. This listing order also makes things exceptionally easy to find when you’re looking for a stats block or description. The layout and art simply add to the overall appeal of this product and make it a joy to read.

Of course, substance is far more important than style when we talk about an RPG supplement and I’m happy to say that I really loved Parazoology 2. There are so many fun and bizarre creatures here that I don’t know where to begin. There’s more than just a regular creature feature going on here through From Jackpointer Am-Mut weighing in on the Awakened Ammit to the return (and potential vindication of) Plan 9, the metaplot is still in full effect here. It’s interesting to note that perhaps FastJack was wrong about Plan 9 in Storm Front. Either that or “Plan 9″ is a far better manipulator and actor than anyone gave him (it?) credit for. I also noticed they turned my long running in-joke with my wife of Grandmaster P, the Awakened Parrot who only speaks in rap lyrics into a canon creature….although they did it via Slamm-O (My least favorite Jackpointer). Ah well, still hilarious and awesome.

So let’s talk a bit about the animals you’ll find in this digital menagerie. There’s an Awakened Manatee that can turn into a Metahuman and is carnivorous. Holy crap, look out Florida! There are adorable Awakened Flying Squirrels that are excellent little urban thieves. You can find a freshwater octopi, a Fiji Mermaid (which may be my favorite entry in the collection), an aquatic monkey (a literal sea monkey….groan), a giant badger, and perhaps a nod to the Vampire: The Requiem reboot, an owl known as the Strix. There are also some really interesting sidebars about an expedition to find the Napoleon Rex (mini T-rex!) and an essay about whether animals Goblinize at a certain age or are born that way. The creepiest are the Awakened diseases though. Can you imagine if Ares developed an Awakened Leprosy or Dysentery launcher? Eek. There’s a lot more to Parazoology 2 than just this snippet, so if your intrigued by any of this, well go ahead and purchase it already!

With a price tag of almost eight dollars, Parazoology 2 might seem a bit spendy for the forty-one pages it contains, but I feel it is a worthwhile purchase you will get your money’s worth out of. With some incredible full colour art of various creatures, some great stat blocks and thirty new beasties to add to your version of the Sixth World, if you don’t come away from Parazoology 2 with a bunch of new ideas for adventures, subquests or general scenarios, then I don’t know what to tell you. I love this thing and here’s hoping the Fifth Edition of Shadowrun continues to get Para supplements of the same quality that 4e has received.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Parazoology 2
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Numenera
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 06:22:57
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/29/tabletop-review-numener-
a-core-rulebook/

As seems to be the growing case with all major tabletop RPG releases, Numenera began life as a Kickstarter campaign, convincing 4,658 people to donate $517,255 to its creation. Then seven months later, the Numenra brand was paired with video game developer inXile Entertainment for the Numenera video game: Torment: Tides of Numenera. This time, the brand brought 74,405 people into the fold and raised 4.1 MILLION dollars. Holy crap. So as you can imagine, Numenera has a lot of hype to live up to and a lot of backers to please. I myself missed the original Kickstarter as there were six others I was backing at the time, but I definitely made sure I was a backer for the video game. I’m normally not a Sci-Fi person, but the way Monte Cook described Numenera and how easily it would feel like a fantasy game without actually being one intrigued me. In my head I was picturing thing like Jim Starlin’s old Epic comic series, Dreadstar and C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. Of course, I’d have to wait and see the end product to determine if my first impressions were correct.

In June, I got my first taste of Numenera with the short story collection, Tales of the Ninth World. I completely and utterly loved it. It was exactly what I had hoped for with writing that made the tales sound both magic and yet full of future science. Of course, a trio of short stories is a very different thing from a 400+ core rulebook and there are lots of times where the fiction writing around a game is top notch, but the mechanics are terrible and vice versa. So I would have to wait until August 14th, when Monte Cook Games sent me a review copy of the Numenera Core Rulebook to make that final call. When after two weeks of devouring the game, I can easily say Monte Cook has a tremendous hit on his hand that is sure to please a portion of gamers. I can’t say all, because Numenera does eschew certain gaming conventions that many assume are a trope of the genre (such as killing monsters = XP) and the book comes right out and says story trumphs rules and actually includes a bit to put rules lawyers in their place. So gamers that want roll-playing over role-playing, hack and slash dungeon crawls or a game that is heavily combat oriented should look elsewhere. Instead Numenera gives you a very story oriented game where combat should be rare but conflict is constantly in the air (sometimes literally!) and ensures the focus will be on discovering the world around you. It’s also worth noting that in some way Numenera takes the concept of the “Monty Haul” campaign, a term we older gamers use for games and/or adventures (usually with a bit of derision) where the PCs are up to their necks in loot, and it not only embraces the concept but while doing so turns it inside out and completely changes the reason why players have an opportunity to get scads of crazy items with a myriad of in-game effects. As a gamer who primarily plays Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Ravenloft, games that normally eschew copious amounts of high powered magic items in favor of more mundane equipment, this was one personal paradigm that I had to break. Unlike D&D games I played as a kid where paladins would just find a Holy Avenger lying around in a goblin den at Level 1, I found the way characters obtain potentially beneficial items on a regular basis to be well done, and also balanced out so that a Tier 1 character isn’t character a miniature black hole launcher on their wrist…and if they do it’s only good for a single use. So my usual disdain for Monty Haul style games went out the window here and I found myself coming up with all sorts of items to give my players and see how they experimented with them. The end result was great fun for both the GM and the players, which is how things should be.

Numenera takes place on the Ninth World, which is basically Earth one billion years in the future. Yes, I know, the sun won’t be around in a billion years, but remember that 1) this is just a game so you should really just relax and 2) that right there is a potential story arc in and of itself for you to write! By this time, Earth has been home to eight previous empires/dynasties/cycles of existence. So in some ways this idea of “worlds” is similar to the concept of worlds you find in Shadowrun, save Shadowrun has cycles of 2,500 years and Numenera‘s worlds are literally millions of years apart. Some of these previous worlds were populated by humans, while others were races that bore little to no resemblance to humanity. There is no way to know save for the things left of the planet littering the landscape. Some of these worlds had science beyond anything we can imagine, some of these worlds were the center of intergalactic empires and some of these worlds are completely lost to the sands of time. All we know (in-game and out) is that those empires have come and gone, never to return and all the Ninth World has are various objects and artifacts from those previous time periods. Sometimes a person can figure out what they do, while other times the item is so completely alien, experimentation is the only option. Perhaps the item creates bubbles that when popped release a jaunty little tune, perhaps the item is a piece of mirrored glass that when stared at long enough causes a sandwich to appear in midair. Perhaps the item is a weapon of great power. Perhaps the item is a piece of broken junk. It’s all up to the GM to decide what he wants to populate his world with and a good portion of the fun is placing these items for the PCs to discover and try to find a use for. I can’t stress enough that Numenera is a game of discovery first and foremost. Most of all those is that while the GM and the PCs discover the world of Numenera together, they’ll also discover ways to have exciting and memorable adventures – many of which will never have a single combat based roll to them. I love this.

I absolutely love how the game flows. Every roll of the die in Numenera is by the players only. The GM is there to tell a story and facilitate what happens. The players are the ones actually playing, so no DM screens with fudged die rolls nor any time where the game feels like it is PCs vs. the GM. As well, character and thus player cooperation is intrinsically tied into this mechanic. For example, whenever the GM wants to add a bit of conflict or chaos to the proceedings, it is called “GM Intrusion.” Say the GM wants the player to miss his attack so the antagonist can get away or decides to make climbing a sheer wall harder with a sudden torrential downpour. With this intrusion, the GM gives the player in question 2 XP. So you’re still getting experience points for conflict or overcoming obstacles but not for randomly going into a village and killing all the 0 level humans and justifying it because you are a chaotic evil cleric of death. When a player is given these two experience points, he or she immediately gives one of them to another player and must state why. So when a GM intrudes, two players benefit. You can see why this fosters a team cooperative environment rather than some games that end up having one dick PC who wants to do everything, be the center of attention or who just wants to antagonize the other characters. Sure you can still play an annoying twat who is trying to hurt the other characters if you want, but watch as you get little to no XP and are more than likely abandoned to something like the iron wind or a giant cyborg reptile with chainsaws for teeth. As well, intrusion can be blocked by the player in question if they are willing to say no to the 2XP AND spend 1 XP of their own. This is a great way of letting players maintain some degree of control and makes sure all people involved in a game of Numenera remember that they are telling a story TOGETHER. There are other ways to earn XP, such as completing an adventure, discovering new items or locations and accomplishing set goals the GM has in mind for you, but GM Intrusion is perhaps the most striking, memorable and frequently occurring in a Numenera adventure.

Roughly a fourth of the book is devoted to the world of Numenera such as the nine kingdoms, the Beyond and organizations within the giant supercontinent. There’s far too much to go into here but suffice to say, I was impressed by how much detail was packed into the world in the core rulebook. Many a game keeps this information spare or brief and then has you buy later releases to fully flesh out the game world. Not with Numenera. Everything you need to fully immerse yourself in the setting in within the 418 pages of this book. The same is true for various creatures/monsters you will encounter as there are a whopping forty pages devoted to those and roughly the same amount of pages are devoted to just a sample of the ciphers, artifacts and oddities you can dispense to players in this game. Now the game does strongly and freely encourage GMs to create their own as the only limits within Numenera are created by your own imagination. That said, the game has at least four other releases planned for the near future starting with The Devil’s Spine in October, which is a collection of adventures and it will be followed by The Ninth World Bestiary, which is an entire book devoted to new creatures and characters, the Technology Compendium which will offer hundreds of more Numenera for your campaign and The Ninth World Guidebook, which will be a supplement to the core rule book. Again, you won’t NEED any of these as Numenera is pretty self-contained with this one book, but for those that fall in love with the setting and/or prefer canon pre-created pieces and adventures over homebrewing it, Monte Cook Games has you covered.

The rules for Numenera are extremely easy to learn. Most of the time you don’t roll. If it’s a basic easy action, you just tell the story together as players and GM. It’s only when a task is required that you roll. There are ten levels for a challenge. A level one challenge requires a 3 or higher on a d20 while a level ten challenge requires a 30 or higher on a d20. Obviously the latter is impossible, but it can be done based on your character build. You might have an item that lowers the difficulty of a challenge or your character might be skilled enough in the task to lower it. These lowering bonuses stack, so if say, a character has an item that makes climbing easier by two levels, which level ten difficulty drops to a level eight. If you are trained in climbing, that difficulty drops to level seven and if you are specialized in climbing, it would instead drop to a level six challenge. Suddenly that impossible 30 you needed to roll is now an 18. Still quite hard to do, but it is now in the realm of the possible. You can further spend Effort Points to reduce the difficulty further. Like the item and skill, effort can reduce a challenge up to two levels and it also stacks, so if you spend enough points, this level ten challenge could drop even further to a mere level four. So the impossible task of 30 could be reduced fully to only needing a 12 if you have all the right gear and skills, as well as enough effort points. Hey, it might be less than a fifty percent shot, but I’ll take it over an impossible number to roll any day, right? There’s a wonderful play descriptor section in the book where three players name Bruce, Diana and Clark (please tell me you get the joke there) take their characters on a Numenera adventure. Not only is it wonderfully done in terms of showing how one rolls and plays Numenera, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

Character creation might be the weakest area in the gamer at first glance. After all, there are only three character classes and three stats. You also have to pick a character descriptor, but there are only twelve to choose from. The same is true for a character foci, but there are at least thirty of these to choose from. Finally, characters start at First Tier and the maximum one can advance to is Sixth Tier. When you read all this on paper, it looks like character creation options are extremely limited compared to other games and that if you play the game regularly, character builds might start to look a lot alike. After all, pretty much every game I can think of gives you far more options for character building. Yes, options are limited and no, from what I’ve seen there are no plans to expand this, but just because the options feel spare, doesn’t mean they actually are. After all, the character creation chapter itself is sixty pages long and even with what is provided there are still plenty of ways to customize your character so that it stands out even if two players decide to make a Mystical Nano that Employs Magnetism. There won’t be a lot of difference between the two, but their Stats of Might, Speed and Intellect will be different as these are customizable. The powers one gains with each tier and through character advancement will more than likely be quite different too as there are several to pick from. Finally, the personality and background the player infuses the character with will really make the two stand out from each other. So yes, while the options for character creation and advancement are far more limited than in a lot of others games, there are more than enough options in Numenera to make a character that stands out from the rest of your party.

After my two weeks with Numenera, I have to admit I am extremely hooked. I love the mechanics, the character creation process, but most of all I love the world and the almost limitless range I can have with it. If I want to write a horror adventure where something unspeakable is stalking the players, I can. If I want to do a more fantasy dungeon crawl type adventure, I can. Hell, I could even do a Shadowrun style raid or an adventure that is nothing but talking heads engaging in political intrigue and you know what – each of the above would fit the game perfectly and stay true to the world and/or setting. It’s a wonderful game in every respect and it has me extremely curious how the video game will play since video game RPGs are almost pure combat and Numenera is anything but. It seems like it the setting would work better as a point and click adventure game, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll admit that I’m still kicking myself for not having gotten the chance to back Numenera via Kickstarter (I did back the video game though), but I’m utterly in love with the setting right now and honestly, between Numenera and Mummy: The Curse, this has been one of the best year for brand new tabletop IPs in a very, VERY long time. I can’t recommend Numenera enough. The game is well done and so rules light that even someone completely new to tabletop gaming can play this with ease, while long time vets will fall in love with the fact the game is written so wonderfully and the mechanics are almost instinctual. You can get the core rule book for insanely cheap on Amazon right now ($36.85 instead of the MSRP of $59.99), so by all means grab it there if you would prefer a physical copy over the even cheaper ($19.99) extremely hyperlined PDF that is available at DriveThruRPG.com. At the end of the day, Numenera is a game of storytelling and discovery and is designed to help foster a cohesive and cooperative atmosphere between the GM (who probably should be called a Storyteller for this game but White Wolf might get grumpy if Monte did that…) and players. My only worry is that future releases won’t be as brilliant as this core rule book but between Tales of the Ninth World and the Numenera Core Rulebook, this fledgling brand is two for two in my book and I’m excited to see what is next.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera
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The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2013 06:51:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/21/tabletop-review-the-sen-
se-of-sleight-of-hand-man-call-of-cthulhu/

The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is a Call of Cthulhu campaign that takes place in the Dreamlands. It was originally funded by 403 Kickstarter backers and was scheduled for September 2012. Well, things spiraled out of control and what was to be a 128 page book ended up becoming a nearly three hundred page one and was released in July of this year – almost a year late. Personally, I’ll take a book a year late if I’m getting more than DOUBLE THE CONTENT for the money I paid for it, especially when the content is quite good.

Although labeled as a Dreamlands campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is probably more accurately described as a campaign setting. There aren’t any actually adventures in this massive tome. Instead the book highlights a bunch of options for characters to engage in all around the dreamlands. It’s more a collection of plot hooks and story threads than a set of interlinked adventures, but Arc Dream calls it a campaign so just be aware of that fact if you were looking for something more like Masks of Nyarlathotep or Horror on the Orient Express. The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is nothing like your typical Call of Cthulhu campaign, or a campaign for any setting really. It’s closest to the Shadowrun books Catalyst Game Labs puts out where you have twenty or so rough adventure outlines where the DM (or Keeper in this case) has to really flesh things out to make them playable. Now that doesn’t make SoSoHM a bad book – far from it! You just have to be aware that the Keeper has a lot of work ahead of them and must craft the adventures themselves rather than rely on the book for such a thing. As such, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is definitely best in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, especially one who has made their own homebrew adventures before.

The hook for The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is that all the player characters are down on their luck opium addicts. The person who supplies their opium has decided to get their payment by hook or by crook and ends up sending the PCs to the Dreamlands. Unlike most cases where an Investigator’s dream self has been transported and keeps the same stats throughout, in this campaign the bodies and souls of the characters are merged, transported to the Dreamlands and implanted in human cadavers. Thus players will more than likely have very different physical stats in the Dreamlands than they had on earth and could even end up as a different gender. Character creation is also a little different where players will have higher than normal POW and lower that usual starting SAN. They will also gain extra skill and attribute points too. With all this extra buffing for the Investigators and the overwhelming amount of magic and magical items the players can get their hands on in this campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man almost feels like a D&D-esque Monty Haul campaign at times. It’s not a bad thing and all these little changes add up to make this campaign really stand out, even from other Dreamlands releases for Call of Cthulhu. Some purists may poo-poo the higher stat characters and the sheer glut of magical power a character can amass in this campaign but others will get a kick out of it. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience for this tome.

There is so much content in The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man, it’s all but impossible to talk about it all. The campaign covers every major location, denizen and race Lovecraft ever wrote about in the Dreamlands. You’ll encounter everyone from Randolph Carter to aspects of Nyarlathotep. In fact, the crux of the campaign is defeating the Crawling Chaos (or at least his minions and machinations) and finally finding a way back to Earth. However, that will take many play sessions for that climatic ending to occur, if it ever does. The book is extremely open ended and there is no set order for events to occur save for the initial setup in an opium den. In some ways this resembles a sandbox or open world video game, which is awesome for the players to experience, but it means the Keeper has copious amounts of work to do to make the campaign flow smoothly. The keeper will have to constantly be taken notes in regards to where the players have been, who they have met, what events have unfolded and the like. The vast majority of people who like to run Call of Cthulhu games, even gigantic published adventures may find the layout and format of The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man to chaotic and/or daunting to even try and properly run for their players. For example, The Ten Thousand Steps that lead to the Underworld and the start of events there are brought up on page 44, but then are not mentioned again until page 72. So the layout and order in which things are written could have used some tightening. In some ways, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man feels like it was edited for grammar and diction, but not for flow. Again, this is one of just MANY examples of how Keepers will have to take notes and spend a dozen, if not dozens of hours taking notes and writing down how best to make this campaign flow. Otherwise it will just fall apart and leave everyone who encounters it with a bad taste in their mouth. Please don’t think this is me poo-poo’ing the book. Rather, this is a warning of how labor intensive The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man will be. Again, this is less an adventure or even a campaign as it is a campaign setting with a set beginning and end, but nothing but hooks and possibilities in between. It’s going to take a VERY specific Keeper to make this work, but for those that play The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man under them, the end result will be a very fun, memorable and awesome gaming experience.

With a current price tag of less than twenty dollars, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is well worth picking up, even if you don’t bother to ever play. It’s simply a fun (but sometimes dry or even dull) read and is an obvious labour of love that showcases how awesome the Dreamlands can be. This one purchase will provide enough adventures for your Call of Cthulhu players to last them months or even over a year depending on how much they explore the “landscape.” It’s definitely not for everyone and for many Keepers, the work you have to put in won’t be worth the return you get, but for a very dedicated and detailed Keeper, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is arguably the best tabletop release to ever showcase this lesser used Cthulhu Mythos setting.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
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Gygax magazine issue #2
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2013 06:51:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/21/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-2/

So far, we’ve only received two issues of Gygax Magazine and I’d dare say it has been a mixed bag. The issues themselves have been a wonderful bit of nostalgia, featuring articles by big names for tabletop gaming’s past and present, beautiful covers reminiscent of the old Dragon magazine we all miss so much and so much more. On the other side, the fulfillment side had been lackluster at best. Subscriptions take forever to arrive (I had to nag for my own personal issue even though I paid for it and it took roughly two months to get to me – long after others received it), crazy international shipping rates, larger than expected delays between issues and non subscribers getting their issues before subscribers. It’s a new company and so there is always room for error, but when you’re taking on the name TSR and your magazine espouses arguably the bigger name in our industry, the errors you do make are going to be magnified and scrutinized. Basically it comes down to the fact that the magazine is splendid, but TSR needs a lot of work on the business and customer service side of things if the company is to survive. Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s hard to find a gaming periodical work with even the best versions in the industry like The Unspeakable Oath or The Rifter not even being able to put their product out on a quarterly basis. Some like Pathways and Savage Insider are able to make a regular schedule, but these also happen to be free and much shorter in length. Ah for the days of Dragon, Dungeon, Inquest, The Duelist and other tabletop magazines were able to meet a regular monthly or quarterly schedule, eh?

Now then, it’s been six months since the first issue of this magazine. Justin Jeffers reviewed it for us then, but he’s got a tiny tot to take care of now, so I’m more than happy to handle the reviewing duties of this issue, especially since I do tend to review a lot of gaming magazines for the site. I have to say that like the inaugural issue, Issue #2 is an incredible read and a lot of fun to peruse, especially if you’re a gamer of accelerated years like myself. From that striking cover of a red dragon tending to its young, to the magazine ending with an Order of the Stick comic, I felt like I was a kid again. It was also interesting to see what a range of articles there were in this issue. Instead of being strictly old school and looking primarily at AD&D and the origins of this most wonderful hobby (although it did have some bits on ICONS and Pathfinder, this issue contains pieces on Cubicle 7′s Doctor Who game, Savage Worlds, The One Ring and more! I’m really happy to see such a fine spread of articles, although I would like to see some older games that are still going strong like BRP, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and more. Perhaps even a look at games that dies long ago but are still loved and fondly remembered ranging from Chill to TSR’s FASERIP version of Marvel Super Heroes. Heck, maybe I should pitch that to Jayson Elliot myself! With nineteen articles to talk about, I suppose it’s time to get started!

1. Editorial. This one page intro by Jayson Elliot explains a little about the contents in this issue. It does what it needs to and sets up the magazine nicely. Even through it’s an introduction rather than an editorial, I suppose there’s not actually much TO editorialize just yet. 1 for 1.

2. Tactics in Samurai Battles. I have NEVER played Samurai Battles and after reading this article, it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to play in the first place. That said, I learned a LOT about the game from reading this article and if I ever did choose to give it a whirl (always try something new, right?), I would have some tactics and knowledge that should (hopefully) give me a leg up on other newcomers. Unless of course they too read this article… Hopefully this article will help Samurai Battles find its much needed (and deserved) audience. 2 for 2.

3. The Evolution From Wargaming To Roleplaying. Ernest Gygax’s articles are always a highlight of these magazines, and this was no exception. It shows how the Gygax clan went from Avalon Hill wargames to Chainmail to adding fantasy aspects to said game and finally the eventual creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Of course there is a LOT more to the article than that quick summation, but it’s a really fun read. I loved hearing about that first dungeon crawl and how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson collaborated to make their seminal product. I also liked hearing about Ernie’s character Tenser (whose name you should all recognize) and stories like how he came up with the cone of cold spell. A wonderful article indeed. 3 for 3.

4. Hitchhiking in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. I’ve never gotten the appeal of Doctor Who, so much of this article was lost on me. That said, fans of Cubicle 7′s licensed game should find that this hodgepodge of an article provides them will all sorts of new things to bring into a game or campaign. There are three new races and ten new gadgets most of which are homages to Douglas Adams, of which I highly approve. Although I’d never use this, this was a really fun article to read and I think fans of both British Sci-Fi classics will have a blast seeing this quasi-crossover. 4 for 4.

5. Leomund’s Secure Shelter. This is an interesting look at death in D&D/OD&D/AD&D. Usually we think of death in D&D as being at -10 Hit Points, but here we get a bunch of charts which randomized death. Now, if your con is high enough, you can hold on until you are at -15 Hit Points. Of course this first chart is only about when you are instantly dropped to a particular HP total. This article also includes a chart for losing consciousness as well as a list of actions a PC can take when clinging to consciousness. Obviously, if you’re having a hard time staying conscious due to pain, blood loss, a concussion or whatever, you’re not going to be able to run that 100 meter dash at your usual speed. These optional rules are a lot to take in and while they make the game more realistic, some players will balk at not being able to say, use their Vorpal Sword at full capacity or cast Chain Lightning when they only have a single Hit Point remaining. As well, these charts only seem to apply to high level characters. What about those first level characters unlucky enough to have between one 1 and 3 Hit Points? Perhaps this idea would work better if it was percentage based instead of a specific set number based. Still it’s an interesting article. 5 for 5.

6. A forgotten grimoire, and its curse. Yes, there’s no capitalization in the title except for the opening article. Odd, isn’t it? This article is by the author of Playing at the World and his quest to find the oldest written version of D&D. This mysterious MacGuffin was believed to be penned by Dave Arneson back in 1974 late in stages of D&D development. In the end Peterson feels the Dalluhn Manuscript is indeed post Blackmoor and Chainmail but pre D&D. Is it an early draft by Arneson, or something else? We may never know, but the article is a fun and fascinating read and complete with plugs for Peterson’s book and for his website, where he goes into more detail about the manuscript in question. 6 for 6.

7. From One Geek to Another. This is an etiquette guide for gamers. While I admit that I’ve encountered a lot of gamers who are lacking in the social skills, common sense and personal hygiene categories, I can’t really say this article was all that useful. Don’t get me wrong; I think an gaming etiquette piece would be highly useful. The problem is the author spend very little of the article actually covering the proposed topic at hand. Instead it’s mostly rambling. The majority of the article is on introducing yourself to others or friends that have not met to each other. I guess this would be helpful if I or the target audience of Gygax Magazine were in elementary school, but honestly, if you’re an adult and you need a gaming magazine to tell you how to introduce yourself or others, then you probably have more than a few issues on your plate to resolve. This is just kind of a nonsensical article to me and makes me sad that the author and the editors thought this was something actually needed. 6 for 7.

8. Building a Winning Spell Book in Mage Wars. I don’t play Mage Wars but I enjoy seeing the wide range of games and systems being covered in this issue. Much like the article on Samurai Battles I learned a lot about this game, but unlike that article, I didn’t feel this one was written very well. The article tries too hard to sell the game (Note, if you actually refer to a product as a “Gamer’s Game,” you’re doing it wrong and coming off as a fanboy – not a journalist or critic), the information is too mish-mashed and the article just…ends. There’s no closing paragraph or summation – it literally seems to end with the author having more to say but the text is just missing. I actually went skimming through the magazine to see if the article was simply missing the “continued on p.XX” piece, but it wasn’t. This simply isn’t written very well and although it was educational, it wasn’t quality and not something that endeared me to trying the game. 6 for 8.

9. Heroes, Kings, and Champions. I love Ken St. Andre. I love Tunnels & Trolls and I’m one of the few people that review that game’s releases regularly. However, I just didn’t get this article. I guess it’s because it felt more like a blog entry than a review, treatise or journalistic piece on gaming. It’s all over the place, starting off talking about classic heroes in literature and how some writers like Fielding and Chaucer wrote about common people (although in both cases cited, neither book named in this article actually features common people or even common situations, which kind of kills the point he is trying to make) and then it abruptly shifts into a weird conversation about what type of character are you making and/or are you writing the adventure for. It’s a little rambly and I honestly don’t get what the intent of the article was or what the author was going for. It’s just not very coherent. 6 for 9.

10. The Old School Renaissance. In a nutshell, this is an article about helping younger or less experienced gamers discover older editions of D&D along with their retro-clones. Personally I’ve never understood Edition Wars. Do I like 1e and 2e better than say 4e? Yes, but that won’t keep me from playing or running 4e if something from that line catches my fancy. At the same time I really like how some dedicated passionate gamers have kept old editions alive. This article does a great job of explaining why those people do what they do and also highlighting the difference between the two styles. I will say that the article does make new games sound like they are about roll-playing over role-playing and I have to say, I think every edition of every game has equals amounts of players who play both ways. I know a lot of OSR gamers who just roll dice and barely give any depth to their character and 4e players who spend more time with their characters talking rather than fighting. It’s all about who you game with more than the system. Still, it’s a great article and really highlights why some of us stick to the older games. 7 for 10.

11. Weird Vibrations. Any article that starts off by citing Lovecraft and Ashton Smith instantly gets my notice, I’ll tell you that. This is a fun look at changing the Bard class in Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea into something more Call of Cthulhu-esque. More specifically, using the short story The Music of Erich Zann as a bard template, which I think is a wonderful idea and something I did with a Bard back in 2e AD&D’s Ravenloft. What’s here isn’t just for S&S though. The article can be applied to any system that has a Bard or even systems like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess as it is all ideas rather than stat blocks. Anyway, I just loved this article, and the full page piece of art that went with it. 8 for 11.

12. The Inkubus. This is a weird little article written as a fiction story about a new monster for the Savage Worlds system. I love seeing SW covered here, but Savage Insider obviously does a better job on that system because that magazine is geared solely for it. I didn’t think the fiction here was very good at all and the new monster did nothing for me. Bleh. 8 for 12.

13. The Blighted Lands. This article is by Luke Gygax and is all about his new fantasy setting of Okkorim. This is a great look at a new setting, although the article doesn’t say what edition of D&D or AD&D it is for. Obviously it’s for an older one, but some clarification would have been nice. Okkorim isn’t a full world, but it’s meant to be a supplement to your already existing setting. It’s a dessert slash Arabic setting, so you might start to think of Al-Qadim which was an AD&D Second Edition setting. In fact, Okkorim is more of a low fantasy setting and players will find that having enough fresh food and water is perhaps a bigger challenge than any sword wielding antagonist. You get a full adventure, a few new monsters and, for print versions of the magazine, there are two foldout map insert. Just a lot of nice work from beginning to end here. 9 for 13.

14. The Hare and the Hill Giant. It’s odd to see Shane Ivey writing about The One Ring instead of Call of Cthulhu, but I’ll take it as I’m a fan of both systems. This is a full length adventure and easily the longest article in the magazine. It’s a pretty simple conflict where your heroes will have to do battle with trolls, but it’s well written and a lot of fun. 10 for 14.

15. Super Science in Fantasy Games. The title says it all. This article basically gives examples of futuristic scientific devices for use in fantasy settings. Force fields, ray guns and the like are here. The article doesn’t specifically say what system these are for, but the text and the appearance of the OGL (along with the fact it’s in the “Kobold’s Den”) should tell you it is either for 3.0, 3.5 or Pathfinder. Thankfully the table of contents specifically calls it a Pathfinder article, but a good editor (and writer) would specifically state it in the article or via a sub-heading so this is slightly sloppy here. At least the content is good. 11 for 15.

16. Dueling Through the AGEs. A look at various forms of duels. This article uses the AGE system rules. It’s not a system I use, but the article is well written and the information is both interesting and potentially useful for those that do. 12 for 16.

17. Lost Wonders of Calemarath. This article is for use with the Midgard campaign setting and I just didn’t care for it. Poor writing, poor layout, poor formatting and it really needed to be fleshed out more. I think this might be the worst article in the magazine. 12 for 17.

18. Full Frontal Nerdity. This was a humorous two page comic that takes a nice satiric look at some of the things gamers will do to get more cash for their characters. In this case, it’s serving up the remains of your slaughtered enemies as delicious meals. Soylent Green is Black Pudding I guess. 13 for 18.

19. The Order of the Stick. OotS is the best fantasy gaming comic today, bar none and it’s great to see it back in a magazine. Roy and Haley meet a good or neutral aligned wererat. Hilarity ensues as they try to help him. 14 for 19.

So there we go. A 74% quality rate, which is pretty good for a magazine which has only seen two issues and is still working out a lot of kinks. I’d be remiss if I did not note a lot of editorial mistakes, especially with heading capitalizations, which is a shame to see in a professionally published magazine. Here are also an insane amount of ads in this issue, which was also something that many people remarked on in this first as well, but you have to pay the bills somehow, right? Overall, the good definitely outweighs the bad in Gygax Magazine, but there’s no denying that there is room for improvement. It’s still a quality magazine and it really is between this and The Unspeakable Oath for our “Best Gaming Periodical Award.” We still have a quarter of the year to see if either puts out a third issue. Fingers crossed there.

The bottom line – Gygax Magazine is worth the cover price and the team behind it will only get better. The articles are generally quite good and it’s fun to flip through this. If you’re nostalgic for the gaming magazine of the 80s and 90s, you should definitely grab this and maybe even contemplate a subscription.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #2
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Better Angels
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 06:37:28
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-review-better--
angels/

Written by Greg Stolze, Better Angels is the newest game from Arc Dream Publishing and uses the One Role Engine or O.R.E for short. I am, unquestionably, a fan of superheroes and the comic book genre in general so this game is right up my alley. If it has a cape and a fancy leotard, then there is a good chance I have read it. This type of idea has always held a place in my heart. The battle of Good vs. Evil, the mighty powers and city-smashing brawls have added spark to my imagination for as long as I can remember. Of course there was also the desire to play the black hearted villain, and the idea of being the foil to the hero always intrigued me.

Better Angels is definitely not a game based around constantly doing the “right thing” or living a life of Truth and Liberty. It is a game about dealing with your inner demon (literally) while exploring the limits of your ill-gotten powers. As one begins to read this PDF they are greeted by a several page story that begins to give you a feel for the setting. This part is followed up by a description of real world EVIL versus the over-the-top EEEVIL of Better Angels.

It is at this point that, at least for me, problems arise. The most basic precept of the game is the use of Strategies and Tactics that work to represent the internal conflict between the human host and the demonic force that inhabits them. This is where things start to get complicated. While the Strategies and Tactics are not directly tied in with the dice mechanic, it figures in incredibly heavily into the character concept. It is nice to see that the struggle between the demon and human side of the character is emphasized, but it just feels too complicated for me.

The thing one learns as they continue reading, is that the Player is not the one that controls or even creates their demon. During character creation the choices for each characters demon are made by the Player sitting to their immediate left. Once play begins, it is this same Player that controls their friend’s demon.

Now, while this is a great idea in theory, I can’t help but wonder how many problems this could cause in a group. I know from experience that there are players out there that enjoy making things difficult for the others at the table. Aside from that I worry about players who don’t fully understand the interaction rules, or simply don’t care, are not going to get the most out of this game. I understand that this is a group-to-group situation, but I feel that it is important enough to mention.

The mechanics of Better Angels are easy to understand and will be familiar to anyone with experience with this company’s games. These mechanics do a good job of representing chance while still allowing for versatility in actions and consequences. Additionally there is a section that details what should and shouldn’t be rolled on.

The next session goes into great detail about how to use the variety of Strategies and Tactics and how they can be used in different combinations to achieve different effects. This does go a long way towards helping to add further layers to the conflict between the character’s internal struggles. Unfortunately this can make things even more confusing to novice Players and Game Masters.

The list of powers is compact but does an excellent job of detailing what the different demonic abilities are. There are enough of them to create different types of characters which I do believe is an important feature in any game representing super-hero activities.

Admittedly there is more to the game than I have written about. It would be impossible to truly expound on every bit of Better Angels without making this review insanely long. All in all I admire the writer’s work and his obvious love of the genre, but for me it misses the mark. This game, while well represented, will be difficult for many readers to understand and get the “feel” of.

I understand that while this game may not be for everyone it will certainly fill the niche for some. Those who really enjoy in-depth characters, with all manner of repercussions for their actions will find this game enjoyable. Those who want a quick and easy supers-game will be better served to look elsewhere.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Better Angels
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