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Delta Prime
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2014 09:38:48
The first three books for Brave New World have concentrated on those superpowered individuals or 'deltas' who have chosen a path of freedom if not rebellion, refusing to comply with fairly oppressive government regulations regarding superpowers. But what of the law-abiding? This work looks at the other side, those who register and serve in Delta Prime. Of course, if your game is based on Defiance, this will inform you about 'the enemy' instead and provide the Guide (GM) with a never-ending array of well-rounded opponents.

We start, as usual, on an in-character website - but this time it's the official government one, not the DeltaTimes. Oddly, the 'voice' of the writer sounds remarkably similar, although it's supposed to be that of a law-abiding delta called Charge. After giving some personal details, it's on to the history of Delta Prime - the federal law enforcement agency staffed by deltas and designed to deal with rogue ones. Their present mission, joining up and training and more follow, all in an engaging style that is readable as well as informative. Given that it's presented as a public website, this is material that can be accessed by any player, whither or not he intends his character to join Delta Prime.

This is followed by a collection of new power packages, this time aimed at members of Delta Prime. There are also new quirks - the different ranks in the organisation - and notes on Delta Prime equipment. Each new power package comes with a ready-made archetype to use directly or as inspiration for your own character.

Next is something a bit new, a chapter on Gadgets and Gadgeteers. This explores concepts introduced in the core rulebook in more depth, including the introduction of a system for gadget creation as well as a selection of ready-made ones that you might care to try out.

The Guide's Handbook section then, as usual, lifts the curtain and explains what is really happening, as opposed to what has been said in the in-character section at the front of the book. There's a collection of new adversaries and the Author's Afterword as well. In this last, Forbeck talks about moving from Pinnacle Games (the original publisher of the Brave New World line to the Alderac Entertainment Group.

This book offers more options, particularly that of being a law-abiding citizen... yet paints it in such an unattractive light that it's clear that even characters who originally start out that way will end up Defiant in the end! Still, it is good to gain an understanding of what's going on within Delta Prime, and there can always be some crossover with defections and moles if that suits your style.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Prime
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Defiants
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2014 09:23:11
As is becoming established pattern, this book begins with a substantial chunk of in-character pages from the DeltaTimes website. As that's pretty much the mouthpiece for the Defiance organisation, it is extremely relevant in this case!

This time, we're looking at a secure area reserved for those within the Defiance movement, or at least seriously interested in joining it. There's plenty here from history (told with a decidedly anti-establishment slant, of course) to opinion pieces from several leading members of the movement. If your game is, as the original intention seems to be, about deltas who have chosen to stand against the government, it's essential reading. For a start, it is by no means a coherent movement, Defiance is a loose aggregation of deltas linked only by the determination not to register their powers with the government as the law requires. Some are happy to leave it at that, others want to campaign against the way deltas are treated, and there are plenty of other points of view as well. If you'll be playing deltas in Defiance, you'll have to decide what you want to do, choosing one of these paths or carving out your own. If political games intrigue you, you could even base the game around the interplay between various factions within Defiance!

The bulk of the book consists of this in-character material (and fascinating reading it makes, too) but eventually we reach Chapter 1: New Power Packages. Here there are several new power packages, mostly related to different Defiance factions and useful if that's what you are going to play. Archetypes are provided for each one, as usual.

The final section is The Guide's Handbook, intended for the Guide's eyes only. Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter lays out what's really going on behind the in-character stuff presented earlier as well as a lot more detail on the different Defiance factions. Some of them may be as much of a problem for the characters as the government forces are! Indeed, some are presented as adversaries. And there's an even more secret and hidden corner of the DeltaTimes website that reveals a few truths hidden even from most of Defiance. The section ends with the Author's Afterword, which includes errata for the first two books as well as the comment that following books will be even less rules and more about unravelling this Brave New World and helping you to find your character's place within it.

Another good read, even if it is a bit frustrating how everything comes out piecemeal. It is good, however, to see such a coherent vision of a game world and to be able to explore it so thoroughly.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Defiants
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Ravaged Planet
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2014 09:15:04
This, the Player's Guide for Brave New World, opens with in-character material from the 'DeltaTimes' underground website, setting the scene for the alternate now in which the characters live. It starts where the comic strip that opened the core rulebook left off: the capture of a delta called Patriot who'd been a leading light in Defiance, the dissident organisation opposed to the current state of affairs in America and especially the policies concerning deltas, as superpowered individuals are known in this game. This is followed by Patriot's autobiography which gives a good flavour of the recent history that leads up to the present day. It's a good tale, well told, and ought to give players enough of a feel to know which side - government, Defiance, the Mob, independent operator - they'd like their characters to be on. The clear implication, though, is that all right-thinking deltas will join Defiance.

Next, and still as pages from an in-character website, Crescent City is described. This is the base setting for the game, a city that arose on the ruins of what was Chicago. It covers the city layout, government, police and other things anyone living there needs to know about... notable buildings, public transportation, even a few locals. A city plan would have helped, though.

If you'd rather go further afield, the next section looks at the United States of America as a whole. This section (and we're still reading web pages!) is very city-oriented, but gives a run-down on the current state of affairs in the major cities that even non-Americans can probably name. It ends with an overview of the general state of the union and the sort of people you'll find there.

Next, we stray - still on that website, DeltaTimes - even further afield into A World of Hurt. Everything's been about America so far, here we can read about how the rest of the world is faring. It's a motley summary of various parts of the world in roughly alphabetical order and again biased towards cities in each country described. Deltas are urban animals it appears.

This flavour text, informative and enjoyable, fills over half the book - so it's a bit of a surprise to find Chapter 1: New Power Packages on page 109 of a 160-page book. A pleasant surprise, however, especially if you are finding yourself a bit limited by the selection of packages provided in the core rulebook. It also introduces the Covenant, a delta organisation run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Schism - renegade Catholics and others, Christian and non-Christian alike - who have shied away from Church teaching regarding deltas and the world as it is today. This of course gives plenty more options for what sort of character you want to play and the adventures he might become embroiled in. There's plenty of detail if fighting the good fight takes your fancy and you want to involve Covenant characters in your game. They have some interesting powers exclusively available to them, based on 'faith' and with interesting names that mean more if you know a little about Christian heritage. If religion's not your thing, though, there are quite a few more general power packages available to any delta. This section ends with some archetypes for the new power packages, and a selection of dramatic artwork illustrating various events and concepts touched upon earlier.

Next, we come to the Guide's Handbook and Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter. This lifts the curtain on all that has come before, presenting the 'truth' for the game master's eyes only. It is a bit dogmatic about what really happened, but whilst it is open to individual Guides to decide what's true and what's not in their game, it may make the following supplements less easy to incorporate. And there's enough comments about not being ready to reveal certain bits of information just yet to make you - if you like consistent game worlds - want to get hold of them.

Finally there's a Author's Afterword. This talks about the underlying concepts and inspirations for the game, and is again quite interesting especially if you are interested in how a game designer's mind works.

Overall, this is a good 'setting' book that will help everyone in a group get to grips with what the alternate reality that they'll be inhabiting is like.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ravaged Planet
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Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2014 08:23:20
The book opens with a comic strip showing a young girl, newly into 'delta' powers, fleeing pursuit and being rescued, a process that rapidly descends into a brawl in which she's by no means sure who is on her side - aptly setting the scene for a game which melds alternate history and comic book superheroics into a fascinating if grim reality in which America is no longer the 'Land of the Free'... at least, not if you have superpowers.

Still in character, this moves on to facsimile web pages of an underground site called DeltaTimes, a place for those superpowered individuals who do not wish to cooperate with a fascist state to hang out. Taking the premise that the readers are newly come into their superpowers and are trying to figure everything out, the articles here give a lowdown (accurate as far as the game goes, if anarchistic in approach) about what it means to be a 'delta' or superpowered individual in this setting. So an excellent and immersive introduction to an alternate history that begins with the first delta arising on the battlefields of the First World War, superheroes flourishing during the interwar years, World War 2 being quite different with superhero involvement from the get-go, McCarthy chasing deltas as avidly as he did Communists, and finally a new twist on the 1963 Kennedy assassination where JFK survived but his wife did not, leading to repressive laws requiring deltas to register and cooperate with government... and worse, as subsequently Kennedy declared martial rule and continued to govern as a dictator to the present day.

Chapter 1: What You Need to Know cracks the fourth wall with the usual information about what a role-playing game is and how you play one. It's written in a casual style that explains the basics without sounding patronising. It also covers the roles of playing and Guide (the Game Master ) and says that only d6s are used... but a whole bunch of them.

Next comes Chapter 2: What It Takes to be a Hero. This deals with character creation, and takes you through the process in a logical manner, highlighting the need to know who your character is and what makes him tick as he is more than numbers on a page... but those numbers are important so it explains what they all are by reference to the character sheet. Characters are described in game mechanical terms by traits, skills, quirks and powers. Traits are the basic statistics of smarts, speed, spirit and strength. Human average in these is 2, but as you can imagine deltas often exceed that... the number assigned is the number of dice you roll when using that trait. Each trait has a number of skills - things you've actually learned or been trained in - associated with them. Quirks are the little things that bring a character to life, and powers are - as you might imagine - whatever superpowers your character has. OK, all that explained we then get down to the fine detail of how you actually make a character. Two options are presented: use an archetype or build one from scratch. If you are new to the game or in a rush, using an archetype gets you started with a minimum of fuss as all the number-crunching and selections have been done for you. Building one from scratch lets you have a delta that's really yours, even if it takes longer.

If you are building your own character, you start by distributing Trait Points as you please between the four traits. You have 12 to play with, enough to have an above-average 3 in each... or you may wish to boost one or more at the expense of the others. For every point assigned to a trait, you have 3 points to spend on skills associated with that trait. Quirks can be positive or negative: a positive one costs you points you might have spent on skills whilst a negative one gives you extra points... or you may prefer to balance out positive and negative quirks instead. There's a limit of 10 points-worth of negative quirks for playability reasons, but you can have as many positive ones as you are prepared to pay for! Next you pick superpowers which are organised in bundles called packages to give some coherence, rather than just selecting a random assortment of cool powers that do not really fit together. This all explained, there's a two-page quick reference guide to the process. A blank character sheet and a selection of archetypes are followed by several chapters that present skills, quirks, powers and tricks - signature knacks your character has - in great detail.

Next, Chapter 3: The Basic Mechanic, lays out in detail the core game mechanics. Task resolution is based around a single roll, the number of dice used being based on character capabilities, against a target number set by the Guide or an opponent as applicable. The target number gets higher the harder the task is deemed to be to accomplish. It's all quite straightforward, although it places a lot of responsibility on the Guide to set realistic yet achievable targets in order to present sufficient challenge yet keep the story rolling.

The next chapter goes into considerable detail about the skills available, including how to use them and likely target numbers for common uses of each skill. This is followed by a chapter on quirks and how to use them to present a well-rounded character - there's plenty of material here to empower good role-play, although contributions to game mechanics are also signposted clearly.

Then Chapter 6: The Big Throwdown takes a look at combat within the game. It's interesting that this comes before superpowers, but this section looks at the mechanics of brawling - initiatives, combat rounds, actions and so on - rather than every last thing that you might do during a fight, so if you pick a power package that has elements which are useful for brawling (or even designed for doing harm) you will be able to see how and when you will be able to use them within the context of the combat mechanics. Other ways to get hurt and healing are also covered here.

This is followed by Chapter 7: Tricks of the Trade, which explores a wide array of tricks - special things that you can do if you get a LOT of successes on your roll, well in excess of the target number you were aiming at. Here's the opportunity to be spectacular and cinematic. Characters start out knowing three tricks, and can acquire more later on in the game. Most tricks are related to a particular skill, so can only be used when you have that skill and are doing something which utilises it, but there are others which are more general in application as well as ones which, although associated with a particular skill, can be taken and used even if you have not been trained in that skill.

And now at last we get to the really important bit - Chapter 8: What Makes a Delta a Delta. Here superpowers are discussed, and you get to find out what power packages are available. Up til now, everything can be applied equally to a regular human being as to a superpowered one, which is good on two points. Firstly, it shows that deltas are no different from anyone else except as regards their powers, and secondly it ensures that all characters are well-rounded PEOPLE, not a set of powers with a mere glimmering of personality tacked on! It also makes it easy, if you wanted to, to play a regular human - perhaps one which might develop powers later in the game or who works with deltas helping to keep them safe from malign forces in government or elsewhere. There are notes on how to develop your own power packages and the promise that there will be more available in supplements, but the main thrust here is a detailed analysis of the options available.

We're almost ready to go, but Chapter 9: Things Every Hero Needs ensures that characters have all the equipment and other possessions that they need. Costs are based on real-world prices for everything that actually exists, which makes it easy if your character wants something not listed here.

The final part of the player section is Chapter 10: Liberty or Death. This is concerned with the setting and how it relates to characters who are deltas. Scene set, we move on to GM territory, taking the view that people will only ever play or GM this game. Obviously you can only do one at a time, but in many groups people take turns to run the next game so it is difficult to be hard and fast about GM knowledge. This section, however, covers how to organise and run your game rather than revealing any dark secrets, although the next two chapters do reveal things that characters would not know (at least, not when they start out...). The main secret's a biggie... but you'll have to find it out for yourself! There's also some bad guys and other NPCs to round things off.

Overall, it's a fascinating premise repleat with potential, setting and mechanics rolled up into a tidy package that is well suited to those who would like a superhero game with a difference, a core purpose beyond beating up on any passing supervillain.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
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Book 10: Cosmopolite
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2014 08:16:00
If you choose a military or scout or merchant career for your character you have a wealth of options to choose from... but until now if you have decided that he is (or at least was before taking up adventuring) a Scholar or an 'ordinary' Citizen, you were a bit limited, at least as far as rules went, for what you could use to create your background - and that all-important skill set.

First, though, there's the question of education. Before you even start your career proper your character might wish to attend university. This replaces your first term in a career, and like any path you need to roll successfully to get in. If you fail, you have to choose something else or even submit to the draft. Characters who'd like to get some real-world experience first may take a couple of terms in a career before going to university - this could be an opportunity for a career change if you have, say, served a couple of terms in the military, then go to study before embarking on a quite different life thereafter.

Graduation confers a few benefits such as a bonus on entry rolls to certain careers and the option to make a commission roll if entering a military career. There is also the option to attend medical school, which takes another term but sets you up as a qualified medical doctor. Rather disappointingly, there isn't an option here to attend graduate school and 'pile it higher and deeper' to gain a PhD. There are several tables to help you write your character's backstory, the usual 'lifepath' events... and these, of course, crop out throughout the book as each career option is explored.

Next comes a detailed exploration of citizen careers. It covers just about every civilian occupation that isn't a merchant, a noble or an entertainer. Here is the backbone of civilisation, the people who make ordinary everyday things happen. There are three main areas: artisans (who make things), funcionaries (who administrate) and 'pillars of society' - these last include politicians, union leaders, diplomats, activists and more; those who feel that their ideas can make a difference to the common good. Each area subdivides enabling you to create a whole range of backgrounds from day-wage labourer to an architect designing whole cities (or starships) or the next revolutionary computer chip, the individual who runs a city to the fellow who comes to fix the plumbing, a rabble-rousing agitator to a lawyer or diplomat or an elected representative... just about anything you can think of doing can be covered by the rules in this section.

We then move on to the scholar careers. For some strange reason, the assumption is made that scholars study science of some kind... I'm sitting in a university writing this review in my lunch break as it happens, and even if I'm in Computer Science we have all sorts here from fine arts and history and languages through sciences and a large business school; and they'd all regard themselves as scholars! Anyway, there are various options from those who work in laboratories (or libraries) to field researchers who get out into the real world to pursue their studies to the lone genius following his ideas in isolation. Even here, oddly enough, you cannot gain a PhD but if you take the lecturer path far enough you might gain the title of Professor.

Then there's an interesting half-way house between Citizen and Scholar - the Teacher. It's a whole new career path for those whose burning desire is to pass on information to others as guru or instructor. We next come to mustering out benefits, handled in the same way as for any career, although there are some special options depending on which of these careers have been followed.

Next is a discussion of 'Scholar-Travellers' - how to use that scholar character as an adventurer and how to turn a member of another career into a scholar, perhaps later in life when he's ready to reflect on the world around him rather than react to it. This is followed by matters important to any scholar's heart: funding and publishing ('Publish or Perish' as they say in academia!) complete with the necessary rules to make it all happen. Scholars are funded by bodies given the catch-all title of Societies and Fellowships, these can be anything from wealthy companies or individuals to full-blown universities. Some examples are provided to help you get going, use them as is or as templates and inspiration for creating your own.

For those who want to play them out in detail, there's a complete breakdown of the research process complete with the necessary game mechanics - like a lot of Traveller, you can have a lot of fun playing through these on your own creating a rich background for a character who may never see 'play' in the accepted role-playing sense of the world. Again there are examples which could be used as the underpinnings for a game based around scholarly pursuits, or to inspire your own.

There are more options too: special advantages (and disadvantages) of having exception Education or Intelligence scores, rules for gifted amateurs, citizen options, a whole bunch of rules about teaching (and learning), the development of networks - a citizen advantage that helps you build up a network of contacts wherever you go - and more.

A thoroughly fun and detailed work that helps to round out the peoples of your Traveller universe with all sorts of different folk... if nothing else, something for the military to defend and the merchants to sell to!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book 10: Cosmopolite
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Ottolf's Handy Manual of Everyday Magic
Publisher: Land's End Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2014 12:26:08
Herein lies a delightful collection of low-level spells (indeed some are 0th-level cantrips or orisons) that should delight any spelluser who just plain enjoys using magic day-to-day. Leave aside the flash-bang showstopping spells in your repertoire, there are plenty of opportunities in an adventuring career to cast those, and play with some of these instead.

Written in a delightful style, ebullient and a bit verbose, these are the sort of spells that are just plain useful - like the Touch of Proper Musicality that will tune a bard's instrument instantly (or, as this is a 'reversable' spell, a malicious bard could untune a rival's instrument mid-performance!).

Many of the spells are either 'reversable' or 'augmentable', a couple of neat features. A 'reversable' spell can either do what it says or the opposite, the clever bit is that you only need to learn the spell once and decide which way round it will operate when you cast it. The 'augmentable' ones can have greater effects than the standard if you learn them in a higher slot than the regular spell, additional effects are mentioned in the spell description.

Most adventurers probably don't need Ottulf's Tavern Finder, but if they do they'd better remember Homeward Steed, which allows their mounts to find the way home without further direction. Those who have been on the road for a while might like to cast Refreshing Undergarments which render the undergarment of your choice extremely comfortable, keeping your person at the right temperature, soothing rashes, and even emitting a faint floral smell...

There's plenty more, all described delightfully (often with little snippets about their creators) and clear evidence of people who relish magic as something to improve everyday life.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ottolf's Handy Manual of Everyday Magic
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Firefly Echoes of War: Wedding Planners Cortex Plus
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2014 07:59:39
Designed to introduce players to the Firefly RPG as well as to give them a cracking good adventure, this work opens with an overview of how the game is played including an introduction to the Cortex ruleset. If you understand all this already, you can skip it, however it does make a good introduction if someone new to role-playing or to Cortex joins an existing group.

The adventure proper begins with full character sheets for several notable major NPCs including the would-be bride and groom. The assumption is that the players will be taking on the roles of at least some of the Serenity crew, but the adventure would work equally well with characters of their own creation if you happen to have the necessary rules. A neat trick is gamemaster hints scattered throughout the adventure, showing you how to maximise the fun.

The plot is simplicity itself. The party is hired to transport a young lady to her wedding. What could be difficult about that? Naturally there's more - far more - than meets the eye, with a fair few sub-plots and other twists along the way. Everything is laid out very clearly for the GM, indeed the whole thing is designed with a novice GM in mind, as well as being presented in such a way as to make it accessible for new players.

There are plenty of opportunities to use skills other than combat. The early stages, in particular, show the benefits of doing a spot of research on the people you'll be meeting and the places you'll be going to; with various snippets being available based on questions asked and how good your die roll is. Interactions are detailed well, with likely responses from the NPCs presented to whatever the party may say or do, often complete with a typical quote that you can use to make them come to life. There's a lot going on and nobody should get bored - at least, not if they are prepared to role-play. Opportunities for combat are limited during the opening stages... but as events unfold there is soon plenty of opportunity for heroics, with a boarding action to contend with before the Serenity reaches his destination, a rendezvous with a luxury liner.

Here the party will have to put on some good behaviour, but there still are plenty of opportunities for getting into trouble. There are lots of things that can happen, even alternate sequences of events based on what has happened so far or even what the GM prefers, plenty of scope to make this adventure your own. And shall we say that not all the guests at the wedding have peaceful celebrations of wedded bliss in mind? This is a wedding day that nobody will forget.

It's a nice adventure, well-rounded with plenty of opportunities to interact, investigate and scheme as well as occasions when violence is the best solution. Presentation is excellent, I only found one typo ('captures' instead of 'cameras' when the press turn up at an inopportune moment, but its easy to figure out what was intended!), and the layout is conductive to easy running. Good in its intended role as an introduction to the Firefly game, or indeed it would make a good adventure to add into an on-going campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Wedding Planners Cortex Plus
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101 Swamp Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2014 07:15:39
If ever your party takes it into its head to visit a swamp, you can make life very... ah, interesting for them if your swamp denizens have access to the spells herein. A spellcasting character who lives in a swampy area or came from/studied there might also wish to incorporate at least some of them into his spellbook, although many are not of much use if you are not in a swamp at the time.

Others however - like a huge array of fog effects - will come in handy wherever you are. Fancy a boiling or freezing fog, or one which has soporific effects on characters trapped in it? Or maybe you'd like to be able to relocate yourself from point to point within a fog bank... all these and more are here.

One of the most useful is a 0th-level Druid spell, Stepping Stone. This brings a solid foothold into existence just where and when you need it by causing a stone to emerge under your feet to give you somewhere to stand. There have been times when poking around in swamps when I would have found that useful!

Most of the spells will be splendid if you are running a swamp-based adventure, all manner of effects to throw at the party that both fit their surroundings and which will be totally new to them. It's almost worth writing a swamp adventure to try them out!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 Swamp Spells (PFRPG)
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Town Backdrop: Deksport
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2014 12:01:33
The most hardy pirate has to come ashore occasionally - even the Flying Dutchman got ashore once every ten years! - and here's a suitably scruffy and dangerous place for them to visit. Most parties should feel right at home!

The work starts with a description of the town's location: in a valley on the shore of a big bay, with a good deep anchorage and harbour protected by a rather ramshackle breakwater. The population is mostly human, but there is a sizable minority of orc and goblin residents.

Town lore and notable locations come next with a clear map - hand-drawn sketch in style - that shows where everything is. There's a thriving marketplace, with items useful to pirate or adventurer alike, and loads of rumours.... complete with a note that it's up to the GM which of them is true and which a complete fabrication! Many, if you decide there is a grain of truth in them, might spawn a side-adventure or even a complete plotline of their own.

A description of the hinterland around the town follows, for those who wish to venture further afield, and then we move on to the history of the place. Everyday life is covered in some detail, with little in the way of festivals - unless you count public executions - and a typically brutal approach to justice that means that unless you annoy a powerful pirate it's actually quite a safe town to visit! There's a table of sights and sounds to use to create atmosphere, and a collection of events that again could spawn a whole adventure if you wish (and the party takes an interest).

Then we get to more detail on the buildings and businesses of the town, plenty for those who just have to know what's going on where. Thirsty visitors will relish several well-detailed taverns, and there are other places to visit and in which to do various business.

This section is followed by an extensive one on the people you'll find there - from individuals to various generics, all with detailed stat blocks. Plenty here to put the teeth into any action....

This may not be the best place for that summer week in the sun, but it should prove interesting to visit.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Town Backdrop: Deksport
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, Megan. As always, I appreciate the time and effort involved! It\'s jolly decent of you!
The Three Lives of Fantomah: Book One
Publisher: NUELOW Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2014 06:22:50
A fascinating glimpse into an early superhero - 'the most marvelous woman ever known' - who despite living in a jungle was more of a superhero than a 'jungle girl', at least in early issues.

She first appeared in 1940 billed as 'The Mystery Woman of the Jungle' but was not the typical female jungle-dweller as she displayed superpowers and a strict code of justice - defeating a pair of treasure-hunters intent on pillaging a wealthy hidden city in the first story. This is a faithful reproduction of the original black and white lineart, nice and clear and easy to read.

The second story is in similar vein, Fantomah defeats a mad scientist hell-bent on destroying jungle animals in revenge for a most unfortunate series of incidents during a hunting trip... using, of course, a crazy device that harnesses the power of the moon to create a tidal wave to flood the jungle. That sorted, she's off again to save a valley-full of pumas from another nut-job who plans to use them in his plot for world domination - all classic stuff, and nicely presented. The next story is again one of defence against someone who would damage the jungle and its inhabitants, this time by sorcery.

Then comes the 'rules bit' - with some new feats to model Fantomah's abilities, a starting occupation of Protector of the Wild and associated talent trees and prestige class, along with a full set of statistics for Fantomah herself. Mention is made of the odd fact that over time she became LESS powerful, possibly due to later authors not being quite as inventive as those responsible for the early stories, and this will be explored, we are told, in later volumes.

Lastly there's another comic, in which Fantomah thwarts yet another mad scientist, this one is trying to turn a man into an ape. Again her powers save the day, and the poor fellow is freed to continue his honeymoon safari.

If you get hold of this before your players and you like jungle/pulp adventures you might want to use these stories as the basis for your plots, but they'll only work if your campaign includes truly out-of-this-world superpowers and supernatural abilities that are never explained. A jolly good read, though.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Three Lives of Fantomah: Book One
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The Blue Book 2013
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/24/2014 11:23:02
It would be easy to dismiss this as advertising fluff, and in a way it is... however it is actually a very useful overview of the near one hundred mapsets released in the Blueprints line by 0one Games. However many of them you already have or if you are looking for just the right map for an adventure you have written, this will enable you to browse what there is and decide if any will meet your needs.

The Blueprints are categorised by the various series that have developed over time, and also - perhaps of more use - by the sort of terrain or buildings they include. So if you need, say, a lighthouse, there are four products that might suit your requirements - and with 0one's customary mastery of PDF technology each is hyperlinked so you do not have to search for them through the entire book.

Each one is treated to a full page description which includes bibliographic details, an outline of the contents and suggestions as to what you might do with it, all illustrated with a portion of the maps themselves to give you the flavour of each one.

A very useful summary - and one I could have used when building pages on RPG Resource about the various products in this range!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Blue Book 2013
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Mutant: Year Zero FREE Preview
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/18/2014 13:15:41
As a preview, this is a success: you are left wanting more!

Comprising the first two chapters of the core rulebook, lush and evocative artwork ushers in Chapter 1: The People at the End of Time. This opens with a short fictional account, in an engaging casual style, that sets the scene. After the usual 'What is role-playing?' piece, you get to find out what characters in Mutant: Year Zero actually get up to... and a lot is left to the characters to decide: hunt for food and other necessities, join with others to undertake projects, protect the Ark (your relatively safe home base) against threats from without and within, look after your friends, go exploring or even search out the legendary Eden.

You also find out what you need to play - which is based around a special set of dice (although there are notes on how to use ordinary d6s if that's all you have) AND a special card deck. Again, if you don't have the cards you can roll dice and look up the same information in tables. I generally find non-standard dice and card decks rather offputting, but they've done their best to show how they are game-enhancing rather than game-necessary by laying out alternate ways to access the mechanical functions that they provide for the ruleset.

On to Chapter 2: Your Mutant. Make no mistake, you're all mutants in some way or another, and like real-life mutations these are determined randomly. Most of the rest you get to choose, with a point-buy system for attributes (strength, agility, wits and empathy) and skills to choose over and above those abilities conferred by the 'role' (or class) that you've chosen. Frequent examples are given and there's a sample character sheet to show you what goes where. You also get to read about the different roles available.

The interesting bit is when you get to Relationships and Dreams. Here you start to flesh out what makes your character tick. What (and who) he cares about. There are some quirks here. Firstly, all characters are young adults. There's an Elder running the Ark, an NPC, but otherwise everyone is young. There are no children, though - apparently people have lost the ability to reproduce. Animals have not. No mention if the, ah, urges which drive people have remained... but if the situation is not remedied soon, you'll be the last. That's a great driver to get folks out of the Ark and exploring their surroundings, something most have been reluctant to do up til now, having been hiding away since the Red Plague that caused the apocalypse.

Now I want more...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mutant: Year Zero FREE Preview
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The Lazy GM Single Shots: Barghests
Publisher: Creative Conclave
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2014 07:10:55
If you need barghests for your next adventure herein you will find a wealth of options and detail to make them a lot more than just the next monster for the party to beat up.

To remind you, a barghest is a shape-changing fiend that usually presents as a wolf or a goblin and which has the disturbing ability to increase in power if it eats whatever it kills. At the hardcore mechanical level this works somewhat differently depending on whether you are using the Pathfinder or the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 ruleset, so if this detail is important for you both are dealt with in exquisite detail. As far as the party is concerned, it starts nasty and gets nastier... and when the dice hit the table, precise ruleset-based differences pale, you could actually use either to effect whichever set of rules you are using.

This is very user-friendly, particularly if you are reading the PDF onscreen rather than printed out. After the initial preamble that explains what a barghest is and how you might want to use its particular nature in an encounter (or even as the focus of a whole adventure) there's a set of lists (one for each ruleset) that gives a range of options ordered by CR. Click on the one of your choice and a hyperlink takes you to a full stat block. No messing with a generic stat block and notes telling you what has been changed, you get a full block for each and every option!

So once you have chosen the variant/CR you need, everything is to hand to enable that barghest to be dropped straight into the encounter that you have planned. Even if it survives and increases power during the course of the adventure, it will be straightforward to select the right set of stats for the next encounter - even during the course of the game if you keep your notes on a laptop or tablet! A nicely done GM aid.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lazy GM Single Shots: Barghests
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Campaign Guide: Plight of the Tuatha
Publisher: Mór Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2014 13:15:01
This Campaign Guide for the Plight of the Tuatha Adventure Path presents a wealth of information about the setting as well as background to the AP itself, and is well worth getting if you want to run this campaign. Even if you are not, it presents a rich setting ripe for conflict, a place in which adventurers will thrive, the world called Aeliode.

It's all based around the expansionist Avitian Empire. Sometimes they are after rich pickings, but they have been heard to claim that they believe it is their mission, obligation even, to spread the light of civilisation to other lands. And sometimes they just grumble about how wild and untamed the lands beyond their borders are, and want to do something about it.

The first chapter looks at the peoples found here, with four main groups: the Avitians of course, the Ceravossian Republic, an ancient bunch from Tir Ydrail and the Ostmen who live on remote islands in the northern seas. For each there is useful information on favoured professions, how different races fare and the like, background that will be useful to those who come from there or should adventuring take the party into each group's territory. Languages, society, arts, history, physiology - all laid out in concise yet copious detail. There's a lot of variety here, such that an elf, say, from one region, might be quite different from an elf from somewhere else - and yet distinct from a dwarf, gnome of human even from the same region. This creates a feeling of a vibrant community with a rich spread of distinctive groups - much like the real world - which helps to add an air of realism.

Chapter 2: The Gods of Aeliode deals with the deities venerated by all these different peoples. The Ostmen and those in Tir Ydrail each have their own pantheon, whilst the Avitians and Ceravossians both worship two pantheons (the same two, I mean). Then it gets a bit complicated. There are Multi-Planar Religions and the lesser Prime Plane ones. The Multi-Planar gods are more powerful, and tend to pop up in more than one pantheon maybe under different names or worshipped in different ways; the Prime Plane ones are tied to specific locations. And then there are the Natural Religions, which venerate spirits inhabiting the world rather than 'gods'... theologians' heads must hurt! Mechanically, however, clerics gain their spells in the same way as other Pathfinder clerics - this is more deep flavour for those who wish to dig into what is going on behind it all.

Within the Empire, there are gods and saints, and a strong tradition of ancestor worship - not to mention the odd emperor who has proclaimed himself a god as well as specifying which other gods are worthy of worship. This has led to a split between the Orthodox Church and the New Church who both, quite naturally, declare that their belief is the one and only true one. Then there's the True Church, which accepts the emperor as a deity... and has wangled its way into being the state religion. If you enjoy religious conflict or debate, there is plenty of resource material here. Each of the major deities is described in detail, including symbols, beliefs, practices and everything else a regular worshipper or a priest of that deity would be expected to know.

Chapter 3 looks at the Lore of Aeliode. An ancient tale, the Mysteries of Eshu, is recounted. Like many such myths and legends, it is an attempt to explain the world and people's place in it in terms of powers beyond their control. It's quite fascinating, and probably something that any well-educated person will be familiar with.

Chapter 4 is a bit more mechanical, it's a look at Player Options. Things like languages, details of different races, traits (campaign, racial and regional), prestige classes and a few new feats, spells and even a skill - that of interrogation. This covers any kind of questioning from friendly questions and subtle inquires to aggressive questioning under torchlight, or even more aggressive means of questioning (which, I'm glad to say, are left to your imagination. I know what my players would come up with, they can be a nasty lot sometimes!).

Chapter 5 covers Gamemaster Options. You may want to share at least selected bits of the earlier parts of the book with your players, but keep this bit to yourself. It provides all manner of ideas to develop the world further and make it integral to your adventures rather than a backdrop, however fascinating, to adventures that you could run in any campaign world you have to hand. There are some really neat ideas here, well worth studying especially when you are planning your campaign. Many are linked to game mechanics, so giving you a way to administer and adjudicate what is going on as well as spin ever more interesting tales in the shared alternate reality that makes up your game. This includes the War of Words, a way to mix game mechanics with what the characters actually say to make diplomacy and debate something more than mere die rolling yet not leaving it purely down to player eloquence either. There's a whole bunch of well-developed NPCs all ready for use as well.

Finally, Chapter 6 provides some recipes. Described as some of the typical dishes you'd find on Aeliode, these are recipes that you could knock up yourself and eat around the gaming table - perhaps not during the game, but as a social activity before, after or during a break in play. Well, some of them. The one involving the consumption of a whole Ortelan, a bird native to Aeliode, might be a bit hard to arrange, although it's based on a known French recipe in which diners hide under covers to divert the gods' wrath as they consume an entire ortolan bunting, bones and all...

If you are after a rich and well developed world in which to adventure, try this one!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Guide: Plight of the Tuatha
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Servants of Gaius
Publisher: Bedrock Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2014 11:52:58
The Introduction recounts some of the inspirations for this game, the chief being Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God novels, brought to the TV as a mini-series 35 years ago... just when I was taking a classical literature course in high school and discovering the pleasures of Roman history! Based in an alterate history world, this game aims to recreate the intrigue, adventure and mystery of the Roman Empire in its heyday, a heady mix to explore.

Chapter 1: Servants of Gaius goes into more detail of what the game entails. Set in Rome, the core concept is that something threatens the well-being of the Empire and of Caligula the Emperor, and the characters are tasked to deal with it... once they have discovered what it is! City-based intrigue and investigation come to the fore, although the ruleset is suited to any activities in any part of the Roman Empire if such is preferred. History paints Caligula as a self-indulgent cruel madman, but no: he was a great Emperor and indeed a god! Who would not flock to his service, seek to defend him from all ills? With a brief overview of this core plot, the discussion moves on to an outline of the game mechanics, based on those used in other Bedrock Games games - the Network System - but modified to suit this particular game. The core mechanic involves a dice pool of d10s, rolled against a target number (or another dice pool if the attempted action is being opposed by someone else). The number of dice rolled depends on how skilled you are at whatever you are trying to do, and the highest number rolled is compared to the target to determine success or failure. That explained, we hear about the general things that will have to be considered as you create your character and prepare to get to grips with Ancient Rome. This includes matters that may jar against modern minds, a fairly rigid class system and a tendency to view males and females as different. The game has been written according to generally accepted historical principles of what is known of the attitudes of Roman society - but naturally it is up to your group to decide just how historically accurate you want to be.

Next, Chapter 2: Character Creation dives right in to the detailed process as introduced in the overview last chapter. Most works by allocation of skill points, the number you have depending on the Social Class you choose once you have decided on age and gender. You will need to decide what your primary and secondary skills are, as well as a wealth of detail showing just where your character sits within society - the priviliges and obligations of the chosen class, starting money, ancestry, occupation, religion and so on. The chapter then goes into detail on each stage, beginning with a discussion on Roman names and the complicated way in which each individual had a whole string of names. This is followed by the simplified class structure suggested for the game, in which there are but five social classes ranging from Senators to slaves. Each have their advantages and disadvantages, and your choice will depend on what the game master has in mind as well as what sort of character you are thinking of playing. There's a complex system of titles - normally, starting characters will not have a title but may earn one by their efforts during play, but if preferred more experienced characters can be created who already have a title or two.

Skills, which are pivotal in determining what each character can do, come in six groups: Defence, Combat, Knowledge, Specialist, Physical, and Mental. Most are pretty obvious, but Defence is used to protect you against attempts to influence you mentally as well as against physical attack. Moreover, unlike other skills, you do not roll them, instead they provide the target numbers that others need to roll against to attack you. Then follows detailed discussion of every skill available, including notes on when and how you might want to use it. Characters unskilled in an area are not precluded from having a go, they roll 2d10 and take the lower roll as the result. As well as 'mundane' skills, magic works in this reality, and there are a range of magical skills that may be taken based around divination, ritual and sorcery. The first two are perfectly acceptable in polite society. Note that there are no 'attributes' per se, everything is mediated via the skills you choose for your character. For those who want to specialise, to be particularly good at a given area of a skill, there is the option to spend extra points to gain an Expertise, which gives you an extra 1d10 to roll when appropriate.

Another interesting feature is the way in which Allies are handled. Roman tradition includes a network of Patrons and Clients, where those of higher status or wealth took others under their wing. Both parties incur benefits and obligations from the relationship, and each character starts out with a single Ally although he can gain more in the course of play. It is also bound up with Auctoritas, the system whereby you exert influence, gain favours and so on. Starting characters have zero Auctoritas and this develops as he gains experience and renown. A Patron should have more Auctoritas than his Clients. Characters may also select Vices, disadvantages that add to role-playing potential and garner extra skill points.

Next comes Chapter 3: Equipment. It starts with currency and typical wages for different occupations. Next weapons and armour are discussed. Unlike many games, they are not easy to get - only if your occupation is Soldier or Gladiator will you even know where to go, everyone else must role-play finding someone to make what you are after... and they tend to be expensive. Still, most characters get into brawls, so assuming you have got hold of weapons you can find out here how much damage they do. Hazards such as poisons follow, then modes of transportation. This section seems a little jumbled and it can be hard to put your hand on the rule you want in the heat of the moment. The chapter rounds off with clothing and footwear, and other everyday items.

Chapter 4: Rules describes the game mechanics in detail, concentrating on combat and on the use of skills for task resolution. In combat, there are various options depending on how deadly you want combat to be, such as allowing an automatic wound BEFORE you roll damage if a 10 is rolled when you make an attack. There are notes on healing (and dying) and the expected amount of detail on how actual combat proceeds. It is a round-based combat system, with order determined by a Speed Skill roll. Each round you may make a single Skill roll and a move action. The Skill is normally whatever attack you wish to make, Defence does not count as an action (as it is a target, not something you have to roll). If you wish, you may forego a Skill roll to take two moves or to add +1 to your Defence. Whilst combat is covered in fair detail, it is not regarded as a major part of a game that is more about interaction: intrigue and investigation however will upon occasion result in a brawl, however, or of course a bout in the arena may feature in your adventures. Gladatorial matches and chariot races are included (a must for all lovers of Ben Hur!), as are environmental hazards and more normal skill use. There's even a mechanism for abstracting Senate votes, for when the matter is not one for which characters want to make speeches, or if it is a background event when characters are engaged elsewhere. There are also notes on modifying the rules to allow for a particular gritty or an heroic, larger-than-life campaign.

The next chapter - Chapter 5: Running Servants of Gaius - is aimed at the game master, and opens with a discussion on alternate history and how to run it effectively. The default alternate history is that Caligula was a just emperor who had to defend against supernatural threats, and the game is designed to accommodate intrigue, exploration and investigation to that end. Naturally, if you want more combat, conquest or lots of arena action, you can include them. One thing that needs to be avoided is allowing too much real-world knowledge of the history of the Roman Empire to affect events in your game. Things may not happen in this reality in the same way, or according to the same timescale, as they did in the real world. Player-characters may alter the course of history, but cannot, should not do so by using their own knowledge of who did what in the real world. Change events as necessary so that avid historians are as baffled as everyone else! There's plenty of advice on melding history and imagination as you manipulate events; as there is some details on how to ease your characters into the campaign - especially if you choose to use the specific supernatural threat presented as their main opposition in your overarching plotline. The focus on investigation and intrigue do require a fair measure of preparation on the GM's part, after all it is hard to investigate something that isn't there! Intrigue works by understanding the people involved and what they are trying to accomplish, so the work for an intrigue-heavy game will be developing an array of NPCs for the characters to interact with. Ideas flow, and plenty more will be spawned, as you read through these notes as they give the GM quite a lot of food for thought. But be warned, this is not something you will be picking up and playing, this game will repay careful planning and preparation. To aid that, this chapter rounds out with a wealth of resources to mine for ideas and flavour alike - drawning on everything from modern fiction, movies and TV series to the writings of eminent Romans like Suetonius and Tacitus (which are available in translation, you do not need to learn Latin!), as well as historical texts and more.

Chapter 6: Servants of Gaius delves in a lot more detail into the core plotline of the characters being recruited to aid Caligula against a specific supernatural threat and is most definitely GM-only material. It introduces the eponymous organisation that the characters will be recruited into, outlining its structure, ways of working and resources. The mechanics of the organisation are such that it is easy for the GM to direct characters to investigate or get involved in whatever it is that he has prepared for them - very neat! There are plenty of ideas for various sorts of missions that you may wish to assign.

Next, Chapter 7: Characters provides you with a ready-made cast of important figures, drawn from history and laid out with full game statistics ready to take their place in your world. It's followed by Chapter 8: Minions of Neptune, which provides an array of ready-made servants of the opposition forces to counter your characters and their fellow Servants of Gaius. A neat element is that, whilst the threat and opposition is real, its precise nature is left to the GM to determine. Is it a foreign power? Or an individual rival for the Imperial throne? Or is it indeed a god seeking to interfere in the realms of man? Or something else entirely? You decide. And of course, they are not enough on their own. Read Chapter 9: Other Threats for everything from the forces of law and order to wild animals, politicians and gladiators to pit against the characters.

Naturally, in Ancient Rome you do not have to contend merely with other people, wild animals and more exotic monsters. Chapter 10: The Gods is a timely reminder of the interfering ways of the deities of the time. The Romans believed that they often took a personal interest in mortals and, as far as this game is concerned, that is indeed the case! Even if you do not care to have them strolling around, religion played a major part in Roman life, so here is all the information you need to run the cults and temples that feature in everyday life in the Empire.

Chapter 11: Caligula's Rome not only gives an overview of the city which may provide a base for your adventures, it also explains the history and casts an eye over what the future may hold (unless your characters act to change it). The game is set to start in 38AD but of course by then Rome had already amassed a considerable history, which the characters - as good Roman citizens - should be aware of. So here is the sweep of history, as well as notes on what life was like in Rome and indeed the rest of the Empire.

This game bodes fair to provide some exceptional entertainment. It combines a love of the period, one I've shared since schooldays, with a light touch that provides fast and unobtrusive gameplay.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of Gaius
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