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CAH:S3 -- The Mighty Mirror Masters
CAH:S3 -- The Mighty Mirror Masters
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Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster's Guide
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:37:42
The short story here is that the M&M Gamemaster’s Guide is close to indispensable for M&M GMs, and large parts of it are very useful for GMs running other superhero systems. The long story follows, from the perspective of a GM in the latter group.

Chapter 1 takes a good long look at various potential campaign settings, using the “metal ages” trope common in comics: Golden Age, Silver Age, and so on up through the (not-yet-metallic) Modern Age. After this, various origin types (aliens, gods, mystics, mutants, etc.) are surveyed, followed by an excellent and engaging discussion of how super-powers and super-powered individuals might fit (or misfit) into a modern society. Both of the foregoing sections, especially the ones on origins and powers, are excellent resources not just for GMs, but for players as well. The cosmology section that follows helps GMs think through issues like alien worlds, parallel Earths, and so forth. The “History” section perhaps could have been better placed right after the “metallic ages” discussion, for it guides GMs through the process of considering the place of super-powered individuals in the world prior to the campaign’s present (and even into the campaign’s future, if time travel works in the GM’s universe). The penultimate section in chapter 1 also revisits and extends some material from earlier in the chapter, discussing such issues as the legal status of superheroes, their standing to make arrests, and even the existence and role of comic books in your super-powered setting. Finally, chapter 1 turns to organizations of various sorts, with advice about the characteristics and even naming conventions of typical organizations in a comic-book world. Except for a few weapons, there’s no M&M crunch in chapter 1; it’s a fun read for any comics fan or aspiring comics writer and a great resource for a GM running superheroic games in any system.

Chapter 2 turns to villains, a “necessary evil” in comic-book worlds. The discussion of villain “levels” is tied to M&M PLs, but the concepts can be adapted to any system. The good, though perhaps not entirely comprehensive, survey of villain “types” (typical actions), “roles” (relationships with heroes), and motivations is pure storyline, and will serve GMs well no matter what superhero system they’re running. The excellent section on villainous combat tactics obviously presupposes M&M3, but isn’t very “crunchy,” and could easily serve GMs running an earlier version of M&M or a completely different game. In particular, the subsection on “Singular Villains” addresses a common problem that even GMs running completely different genres might appreciate: the one-vs.-many setup of many superhero combats. I particularly liked the discussion of strategies for helping a villain escape from a losing battle, and I almost think that the subsection on “Why the Villain Loses” should be required reading for all GMs running superhero games. Similarly, the sections on “In-Depth Villains,” villain teams (like the Injustice League or the Masters of Evil), and villainous organizations (like Hydra) will help any GM flesh out a superheroic world.

Chapter 3 includes a lot of great M&M3 crunch. It starts with a helpful discussion of the ways in which villain creation differs from hero creation (for example, a villain’s PL is a result of the villain’s design, rather than a constraint on it). In the “Powers” subsection, the discussion of “stunned power capabilities” is short but critical. Paying attention to the advice, especially the mechanical (system crunch) notes, throughout the whole chapter can help save you a lot of time while preparing villains. Naturally, using the archetypes provided in this chapter (including the archetypes for minion, including nonhuman minions like dinosaurs and robots) can save you even more time.

Chapter 4 provides inspiration for villainous plots (as in “schemes,” not necessarily as in “storylines,” though these overlap to a significant degree. This chapter analyzes five basic super-villain plots—conquest, destruction, kidnapping, murder, and theft—breaking each one down into its various component parts, with plenty of attention to possible variations. A second substantial section on “Adventure Elements” offers various ideas for generic plot hooks and plot elements, such as using heroes’ own powers as focal points for adventures. There’s even a table of 100 adventure seeds that a GM can use to select an adventure seed randomly.

Chapter 5 begins with a section on disasters, supplementing the environmental challenges presented in chapter 8 of the M&M Hero’s Handbook. The second section deals with traps that villains might use to detain or even kill superheroes.

Finally, chapter 6 includes a bunch of rules options, including power point budget variants, custom-built fighting styles, reputation, knockback, and mass combat.

An appendix includes nine ready-made villainous lairs.

Every feature of the Gamemaster’s Guide is top-notch, aside from a few misspellings and grammatical errors. Well over half of the book is useful for GMs running any superhero system. The artwork, too, is excellent and really enhances the book. The PDF version includes a complete set of bookmarks. This volume is a fine addition to any GM’s library.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster's Guide
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Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:37:13
This book’s subtitle doesn’t exaggerate. The volume really does contain 1,000 NPC write-ups across three common RPG genres: fantasy, sci-fi, and modern. Within each genre, NPCs are sorted into three categories: villains, neutral, and allies. Each NPC takes up about half a column (at two columns per page), and follows a consistent “stat block” that briefly describes the NPC’s appearance, behavioral tics (under the heading “roleplaying”), personality, and motivation, as well as tagging the NPC with a list of traits. Aside from finding it a little annoying that characteristic behaviors are labeled as “roleplaying”—as if a character’s appearance, personality, and motivation were not part of the “role” that the GM is “playing”—I like the stat format and find it very effective and easy to use.

In a supplement of this scope, the biggest hazard is undue repetition, and Masks occasionally does fall victim to that hazard. The “barely socialized geek with amazing computer skills” crops up in the modern genre rather too frequently, for example. The repetition that exists seems to result from multiple contributors offering similar NPCs, and I think the editorial staff would have done well to reject some of the doppelgängers and impose more variety at the editorial level. Other than this small complaint, I have nothing but praise for Masks.

The proof is in the pudding: Masks is a supplement that I’ll be keeping nearby and consulting frequently as I plan and run RPG adventures of all sorts. Indeed, as I read through the first time, I marked several entries for inclusion in a shared-world supers campaign that my sons and I recently started. Although the NPC write-ups occupy the bulk of the volume, the book begins with a few pages of indispensable GM advice. The Gnome Stew gang has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, and Masks easily lives up to the standards set by Eureka (which you should also get if you run any RPG game at all).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game
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It's Crime Fightin' Time
Publisher: Bailey Records
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:36:48
With its funky, disco-like beat and riffs, this tune reminds me of cop shows from the late 1970s and early ’80s. If you like that sort of thing, you should be very happy with this track. If not … then you probably won’t be. This piece does have a fairly distinct beginning and end, but if you can adjust the endpoint (in iTunes, choose File : Get Info, click the Options tab and set the End Time to 3:52.5 or so), you can get the track to loop pretty well.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
It's Crime Fightin' Time
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Villains and Vigilantes: From the Deeps of Space
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:36:26
There’s nothing quite like an alien invasion to bring superheroes together (just think of the Justice League cartoon from 2001, or the JLA origin story in the New 52), and this “classic” module for Villains & Vigilantes does a good job—for the mid-1980s—of dressing an alien invasion up in spandex and dice. Well, mostly. The space invaders themselves, the Capellans, are a really stupid-looking race, with green reptilian bodies and brown, furry canine heads. Their initial strategy, though—establish a beachhead in a relatively “unimportant,” undefended area—is reasonable enough. Although the adventure is called “From the Deeps of Space,” it actually has two roughly equal parts: “From the Deeps of Space” and “Into the Deeps of Space.” Not only does author Stefan Jones introduce interstellar travel rules (modified slightly, according to editor Scott Bizar, by Jack Herman and Jeff Dee), but he also provides a starmap of the systems “near” Capella, a good aid for GMs who take their heroes into that region of space. Bill Reinhold’s artwork fits the V&V style to a T. This new PDF version of an old print product does have a very few OCR problems. Overall, the adventure is good, not great; the best part may be the interstellar travel rules.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Villains and Vigilantes: From the Deeps of Space
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Fantasy Maps: Lightning Train Map Pack
Publisher: D20 Cartographer
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:34:58
Obviously, this map set is tailor-made for fantasy RPG campaigns in Eberron or very similar high-magic settings. The artist has done a great job of depicting both the inside and the outside of the engine and the caboose and everything that goes in between, including cabin cars, a dining car, and various types of cargo cars. The artwork is very nice, and it’s provided in both color and black-and-white, in both letter and A4, and in both PDF and JPG. It’s hard to ask for more. Well, okay, I could ask for better proofreading; some embarrassing errors (like “your party is have dinner with the captain” and the consistent misspelling of “incorporate”) slipped through the editorial process. If you’re using the letter-sized pages, you’ll need two pages to print the interior of one car, and four pages to print the exterior.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Maps: Lightning Train Map Pack
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The Sea Dragon Sailing Ship
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:52:37
Thrill the players in your nautical fantasy campaign by setting this beautiful cardstock model on the table. You’ll need pretty good modeling skills, as this is no easy model to build. Once it’s done, though, the results are terrific. I’m not sure, though, why Fat Dragon broke out water tiles individually, and omitted a grid from them (even as an option).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Sea Dragon Sailing Ship
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The GM's Planet-Building Handbook
Publisher: Draken Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:52:17
If you’re running a sci-fi RPG that involves interplanetary travel and you, like me, don’t know all that much about the details of planetary physics, then you owe this resource to yourself and your players. You’ll need to track along with some science and math, but author Mark Wightman keep it simple, always with an eye on helping the GM create interesting yet basically realistic planets. Aspiring sci-fi writers would benefit from this book, too.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The GM's Planet-Building Handbook
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Ruined House #2
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:51:48
Like Ruined House #1, Ruined House #2 features great artwork and customizability, but requires at least an intermediate level of paper modeling skill and a substantial amount of free time to put together well. You can choose from four different wall styles, add snow to everything, and even add bullet holes to the outside walls, making Ruined House #2 a perfect companion for Ruined House #1. In all, it’s a great addition to LZW’s 3D offerings.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ruined House #2
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Ruined House #1
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:51:31
You’ll need at least an intermediate level of paper modeling skill and a substantial amount of free time to put this complex piece together well, but the results will look great on your gaming table. The model offers more customizable features than I first realized; you can choose from two different wall styles, add snow to everything, and even add bullet holes to the plastered/stuccoed walls. In all, it’s a great addition to LZW’s 3D offerings.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ruined House #1
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Kill or Be Killed #1
Publisher: Neuroglyph Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:50:59
Kor-oggo-rok, the central threat in this single encounter for early paragon-tier D&D characters, is an interesting variation on the typical earth archon. Author Michael Evans has given not only Kor-oggo-rok but the encounter as a whole some distinctive features that add fun to this encounter and are worthy of emulation in other encounters. One of Evans’s best innovations is the inclusion of “taunts” that the DM can use as lines of dialogue each time Kor-oggo-rok uses a new power. On the “con” side, the formatting isn’t very attractive, and the grammar and style could use some help. Also, Kill or Be Killed seems to predate Monster Manual 3, so DMs using this encounter may want to update the “monster math” (actually, Neuroglyph Games should consider issuing an update to reflect MM3 power levels). Even if you end up not using Kor-oggo-rok at all, you can get a lot of good ideas from the way Evans has laid out this encounter.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Kill or Be Killed #1
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Fantastic Maps - Illfrost: Temple Approach
Publisher: Illusionary Press
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:50:16
This large (40" x 26", if I counted correctly) map depicts a small inlet on a frozen coast, with stairs leading up to an ancient temple. (For the temple itself, get Fantastic Maps — Illfrost: Ancient Temple.) This exterior map would make a great stage for an initial incursion into the temple (if the temple is defended) or for an attempted escape from the temple (if that escape is hindered by enemies). You don’t need the Illfrost setting to use the map; you just need an ancient temple in a snowbound or tundra-type setting.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Maps - Illfrost: Temple Approach
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Errigal of Dunlewey
Publisher: Bailey Records
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:49:45
This is a nice piece, with the feel of an energetic Irish reel and a great rhythm. However, it has a very distinct ending and beginning, so it doesn’t loop well—a liability for a gaming background track. If the looping issue doesn’t bother you so much, use this track as the score for a lighthearted, or at least non-threatening, tavern scene.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Errigal of Dunlewey
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E-Z DUNGEONS: Expansion Set 9
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:48:41
This small expansion set includes eight easy-to-build sarcophagus models, variously decorated. The largest version has a removable lid and cleverly accommodates four inserts to allow for different things (skeleton, treasure, map, pit) inside. The printable pages have been divided into five different PDF files to make use of layers, but the only thing you can customize is whether or not each sarcophagus has a blood spatter on top. For maximum reusability of your models, omit the splatter (which is turned off by default).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
E-Z DUNGEONS: Expansion Set 9
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E-Z DUNGEONS: Expansion Set 7
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:47:55
That’s a funny subtitle there—“Lava, Water, and Poop”—but it’s accurate, since Fat Dragon leverages PDF layers in this product to let you choose whether lava, water, or sewage flows through the recessed spaces on the 2D tiles in Expansion Set 7. You can also turn off all the “fluids” and just have stone floors if you wish. Those 2D tiles, by the way, come in 6" or 8" squares, giving you additional flexibility. This pack also includes some 3D elements, chiefly an ornate set of double doors and a dragon-headed fountain embedded in a wall; again, you can choose (using layers) whether the fountain spews lava, water, or sewage. This isn’t a set for complete beginners at cardstock modeling, but it’s not difficult to put together, either. You’ll want to practice on a couple of more straightforward models, probably, before tackling the fountain.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
E-Z DUNGEONS: Expansion Set 7
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Battlemap - Pirate & Ghost Ship
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2012 21:46:53
You get two sailing ships for the price of one in this nicely-done pack by LZW. As in all LZW products, the artwork is quite good. Due to the nature of the maps, this pack doesn’t include isometric views, nor would they be especially helpful. LZW did, however, include exploded views to help you see how the decks stack up together. You can choose to print the ships with or without water, and with or without a grid in both cases; you cannot, however, get rid of the cannon. The ghost ship is essentially the pirate ship redressed with glowing green furnishings. Unfortunately, LZW hasn’t yet taken steps to improve the English in the instructions and annotations; a product published in English needs to use good English. In the ship diagrams, for example, the bowsprit is mislabeled as the “bowstrip.”

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Battlemap - Pirate & Ghost Ship
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Publisher Reply:
Dear Christopher, Please download the Pirate Ship again, we've updated the description with our friend, Rich Crotty, who lives in Seattle and his English is much better than ours ;) There is no bowsprit in the new version. And yes, you're right about our English, we started to update all of our products a few weeks ago. Thank You! Antal Kéninger Lord Zsezse Works
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Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
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