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RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/23/2017 09:20:04

OK, we all know that the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage... but what else was going on? In this adventure, the Investigators - all travelling aboard and in First Class, no less - meet a gentleman who has a mummy (the Egyptian sort) that he's going to donate to an American museum but is eager to show it off to anyone who is interested. There's a legend that anyone who looks at this particular mummy's face is doomed, but that's all a silly superstition, isn't it?

The background for the Keeper explains how the being doomed stuff is not quite as silly as it sounds (with a little bit of help from the Mythos, of course) and provides a spine for the adventure. This begins with a luncheon date with the mummy's owner and ends (naturally) with a certain iceberg... There's some interesting background on the trans-Atlantic trade of the time, and a quite detailed timeline of the Titanic's voyage. Rather neatly, all the encounters and events of the adventure are included in the timeline, making it clear what is going on around the Investigators as well as whatever they are focussed on at the time. There's a goodly sprinkling of NPCs who do not have anything to do with the plot, another nice touch to remind players that the world does not revolve around their characters... subplots such as shipboard romances or gambling games are also encouraged.

There are vivid descriptions of scenes, the Titanic was noted for her luxury and there is plenty to draw upon here as you set the scene for your players. Six pre-generated characters are provided, or you can use/generate your own, but they will need a high Credit Rating to be in first class. Additional rules material is provided for everything from playing cards to surviving in icy waters. The actual sinking is handled well, and perhaps at least some of the Investigators will survive... or will something else catch up with them? There are some general notes about handling subsequent events should you have survivors on your hands.

Overall, it's a good exciting adventure which could probably be played out in a longish evening. Fact and fiction are woven together well but as always when dealing with real events, be aware of your group's needs - I have a role-player friend who lost an ancestor on the Titantic and was very upset and annoyed about the movie, I'd not invite him to play this... but for those without such a connection it makes for an excellent game and knowing what will happen adds a certain edge.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
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Trail of Cthulhu: Flying Coffins
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/22/2017 13:58:11

This adventure takes us back to the First World War, to early 1918 with the Investigators as intrepid pilots in the British Royal Flying Corps. The German pilots seem unnaturally successful... and of course, Mythos creatures are behind it all. How will our brave aviators get on?

The background material explains which Mythos creature is to blame - they're to be found in the atmosphere around 20,000 and resent these pesky impertenent humans in the flying machines intruding into 'their' airspace. At least they don't care if the intruders are British or German, they are annoyed by all of them! Or at least, not until one of the Germans paints a 'good luck' sign on his aircraft - unfortunately one suggested by a sorceror relative who showed him how to draw a Yellow Sign. The spine of the adventure is laid out, and with the help of no less a worthy as Arthur Conan-Doyle (currently working as a war correspondent) and the urging of Military Intelligence, the Investigators find themselves engaged in aerial duels with a leading German ace...

There is a section on aerial combat, both game mechanics and an idea of tactics, with quite an elegant system to handle an aerial dogfight between two aircraft. There's an example to demonstrate the system in action, and details of the aircraft used by both sides in the conflict. Anti-aircraft fire, attacking ground targets and other aspects of earlu aviation warfare are also covered. There is plenty here to empower some exciting combat in the air during your game.

It all begins with a sortie to destroy a German observation balloon somewhere over the Western Front. During the ensuing dogfight, the Investigators notice a flying creature hauling a pilot bodily out of his aircraft and flying upwards with him, casually tearing his head off as it leaves! From then on the adventure intensifies as the Investigators try to find out what is going on and then after several aerial encounters comes the climax of the adventure, with Allied forces making a big push on the ground with aircraft of all nationalities swarming overhead.

Six pre-generated characters are provided, and there are some good photographs of appropriate aircraft. If for whatever reason you don't want to play members of the Royal Flying Corps a few changes to names and backgrounds - and to the aircraft they fly, of course - will enable you to play American, French or even German aviators instead.

This adventure provides an interesting glimpse into how the Mythos can disrupt conventional warfare (even if it's almost by accident), a neat bit of alternate history that provides for an exciting scenario. The rules for aerial combat work quite well, even if you don't want to add the Mythos into the mix and prefer a 'straight' WW1 aviation game or campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Flying Coffins
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Trail of Cthulhu: Hell Fire
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2017 08:24:00

This a historical adventure, set in the 1760s mostly in England with a side trip to the Colonies. It revolves around preserving the reputation of the Hell Fire Club, an organisation dedicated to rational philosophy (God does not exist... in a day and age when everyone believed or at least gave lip-service to religion) and fine literature (as in, pornography) - not perhaps the most respectable body, yet many otherwise upstanding members of society belong to it.

There is plenty of background for the Keeper including what is actually going on and the REAL threat to their comfortable Club life, notes on the times and relevant rules changes: some alterations to skills and rules for adjudicating a duel. These are normally conducted with a sword, and all gentlemen should know at least the basics of wielding one. Fortunately pre-generated characters are provided, and it's probably best to use them. Unless you are really into this period of history, it will probably be a one-off adventure.

The adventure begins when the Investigators meet in a coffee house (consider the origins of Lloyd's of London, it's either that or a similar establishment) with a fellow Club-member who wants help. A lady is trying to force him into marriage, most unsuitable - I mean, she's the sort of person who's been posing as a life model - but has some letters of his she is threatening to use to take him to court in a Breach of Promise case if he won't. He's arranged for her to visit tonight and wants the party to go and purloin the letters whilst she is out at his place. Needless to say, it's not the letters they find when they go round... and what are those American fellows doing?

Events develop thick and fast, with an emergency meeting of the Hell Fire Club, various events on the streets of London and assorted avenues of enquiry to follow up all amply provided for... and there is an inquisitive journalist poking around, and some ladies of negotiable affection to deal with as well. There probably will not be too much combat (unless the party fights a lot of duels) but there is plenty of interaction, and to put matters properly to rest will involve a trip to Bermuda to deal with those Colonials! A suitably dramatic climax provides an opportunity to save the day, indeed the entire New World.

This is an interesting adventure that - like all good alternative history - blends historical fact with plausible plotlines, weaving the whole into something that might have been... it makes for a cracking adventure with plenty going on!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Hell Fire
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Trail of Cthulhu: Many Fires
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/17/2017 08:55:00

This is an unabashed Pulp-style adventure set in northern Mexico, with plenty of adventure and action, evil cults and wielders of magic to keep everyone on their toes. Basically, the Investigators are asked to accompany an ageing General Pershing to Mexico to finish what the Mexico Punative Expedition of 1916 began, dealing with rebels... but of course there's a bit more to it than that.

Pre-generated characters, with backstories that weave them into the plot, are provided and their use is recommended unless you want to run this as part of a larger campaign with existing Investigators. If you are doing that, some hooks to help you get them involved with the trip are provided. There's plenty of background on Mexico and the people involved available for Investigators to discover through the usual channels before they go - and a big section of Secret Background for the Keeper's eyes only: the lowdown on what is really going on... and what Pershing is really up to.

The adventure itself starts with the party leaving Cuidad Chihuahua for the Valle de Bustillos where all the action takes place. Plenty of material is provided about places to visit and people to interact with, this should help bring the adventure to life and fuel the action. There's all sorts of folk here from natives and even a bunch of Mennonites to rebels and members of a fire-worshipping cult. Following the clues should eventually lead the party to witness the climax of the adventure: a scene straight out of Indiana Jones with cultists enacting a ritual to summon their deity... will they manage to stop them?

Following this is a magnificent array of resources and information for the Keeper, with plenty more NPCs, weird drugs to sample and more. Finally, there are character sheets for the pre-generated Investigators. Each has their own background showing their involvement not just with the adventure at hand, not even just with Pershing, but with each other as well. This needs to be handled carefully as it has the potential to set them against one another - not all groups of players like that, but you know your players better than the authors! Amend as necessary. There are also some beautiful handouts (even if the list thereof refers to 'Page XX' several times - look it's about the only proofing error here apart from confusion between 'discrete' and 'discreet' in one of the character sheets!): maps, documents, newspaper clippings and the like.

It's a well-presented alternate history adventure with plenty of pulp action, neatly weaving Mythos fiction through known historical fact to provide something that proves extremely entertaining to run.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Many Fires
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Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Apocalypse Machine
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2017 09:18:47

This work contains advice and additional rules for running Trail of Cthulhu in a post-apocalyptic setting (as if either the Mythos or an apocalypse weren't enough to cope with on their own). This pitches the Investigators as some of the few human beings to have survived whatever disaster occurred, trying to cope with the situation... and finding that the Mythos has survived as well! Or may even have instigated the apocalypse...

Information here ranges from designing your own apocalypse to new Occupations, Skills and Drives appropriate to a post-apocalyptic world (and notes on how existing ones will work in the new setting). Apocalypse World assumes a Pulp style of play, although it may not be quite what you are used to. It also splits the setting into two periods: Aftershock, when the apocalyptic event has just happened, and Wasteland, set some time later when things have settled down a bit, or at least folk have realised that this is their new reality.

To start with, however, you will need to decide what happened to bring about the apocalypse, to destroy the world as you know it. Certain criteria are set. Humanity is well-nigh gone, some 99.99% of human beings have died in the event although the Investigators have survived (or their ancestors did if you have taken your Wasteland plot a generation or two into the future). The effects must be global, there's no scampering off to take refuge in an unaffected part of the world (well, maybe the Antarctic bases have survived...). Oh, and Mythos entities are taking the opportunity to arise, even if it wasn't them behind the apocalypse in the first place. So, the cause of the apocalypse may be human-driven, it may be the Mythos or it could be a vast natural disaster - the next dinosaur-killer asteroid, perhaps. Or a disease, or earthquakes or... get the picture? Life on earth is quite fragile when you start thinking of ways to wipe it out.

This is a thumbnail sketch, and there's even a diagram provided... but there are also whole sections on Causes, Disasters and the Casualties of the event to help you set it all up. Depending on your chosen Cause, humanity may or may not have any hope of surviving, see any prospect for a long-term future. Whatever the mechanism you decide on, the world ended on 2 November 1936 (if it was something that happened relatively slowly, like a disease spreading, it started earlier but things came to a head then). This means that if you want a nuclear holocaust, you will have to mess with history a little as research into atomic weapons did not begin until 1939. Some notes on how to go about this are provided.

Interestingly, though, you are encouraged to go beyond the suggestions, to redraw the diagram. To set the tone of your game, you are invited to visualise four dials. Their settings will influence what your game is like. The Humanity dial looks at how survivors relate to one another. Do they work together or is everyone they encounter a threat or a resource? The Time dial tells you how long ago the apocalyptic event happened. At zero, it's... happening right now and your Investigators have a grandstand view. If it's high, the Old Days are things of memory, or even forgotten. All people know is the harsh reality of now. The Weird dial is a measure of how strange things have become (apart from the collapse of civilisation itself, that is). Are there mutants or people with psychic powers wandering around? What sort of monsters are loose upon the world? The final dial is the Adrenaline dial. This measures the balance between madcap pulp-style adventures and grim struggles for survival. Will the Investigators watch the world they knew decay around them... or will their adventures give them the opportunity to do something about it? Either can work, or something inbetween, it all depends on the style of post-apocalyptic adventure you want.

Next is a survey of Occupations. Some are existing ones - what on earth is a Socialite to do now? - and others are new to the situation. All give ideas about how an Investigator with that Occupation can use his skills to best effect. Remember that it will depend on how long ago the apocalypse happened: if it's happening now Investigators can have modern Occupations that they will have to adapt to the new situation, but if it was many years ago when the Investigators were children or not born at all, they may never have had the chance to follow certain careers.

A section on Drives follows. What makes each Investigator want to actually investigate the horror around him, rather than hunkering down and concentrating on survival? Some of the regular Drives in Trail of Cthulhu won't really work at all in this setting, but others really come into their own. There are some new ones too, like Preservation of Knowledge and Witness (who wants to record what is going on, even if he isn't sure there's a posterity to record it for). Then comes a list of Investigative and General Abilities, honed to the apocalyptic setting. There's one change from the core rules: having an Ability does not mean that you automatically have access to whatever tools or equipment you need. Finding them can be part of the adventure, after all. There are examples of how to use each Ability, and suggestions for the Keeper as well.

Next comes Sanity and Stability, beginning with a look at Sources of Stability and how they work in this setting. With most human beings dead, this may mean - especially if the apocalypse has only just happened - that your Sources of Stability have died too. Perhaps it is their memory that keeps you going. Or maybe you don't know what happened to them and the search and hope is your motivation, what you cling to. Of course, this - and Pillars of Sanity - provide targets for the Keeper. There's plenty here to help you make use of them in the game. Mental illness and defence mechanisms round out this section.

The Equipment section comes next. Some things, hitherto rare, are easy to find - or to take at will (consider a jewellry shop - now you can pilfer it to your heart's content, with no store owner to complain, no police to arrest you!). Others will have to be scavenged for, you cannot go down to the shops to get them. And you might have competition for resources. There are rules for scavenging and for making equipment here, as well. Another way of getting hold of the things you need is barter. Find someone who has that thing, and bargain with him as to what he wants for it. Perhaps something else that you have (or can acquire for him), or maybe you can do him a service. A defining characteristic of the post-apocalyptic setting is that normal activities become much harder... but don't get too bogged down, unless the focus of your campaign is on actual survival.

The next section is The Afflicted. Of those who survived the apocalypse, some are... not the same any more. They may look different or have new and strange mental powers. Needless to say, 'normal' humans treat them with suspiction if not outright hostility - and many Afflicted hide their differences as a result. The cause of these changes will depend on why you had an apocalypse in the first place... and it may be that nobody knows just why (the Keeper should, but he might not be saying). Moreover, Afflictions can be acquired - and there's an interesting way to weave these into your Investigator, by giving him Affliction Points rather than Improvement Points: they are used in the same way to improve his capabilities, only now those increased capabilities have a strange origin, an unnatural expertise that cannot be explained in a normal manner. There are other weirdnesses as well, and of course all are pretty disturbing particularly when encountered for the first time. There's a discussion of psychic abilities and what can (and cannot) be done with them. For those who choose to use Affliction Points to improve Skills, there's an interesting discussion of how the way you use that Skill will change. All quite disturbing to behold, no wonder Stability checks may be called for!

This is followed by a section of Mythos Entities, remembering that with the apocalypse (whatever its original cause) they're now able to walk the face of the earth more freely than before. Here are notes on many of them, what they are after and what the might do now that they've been unloosed! Finally in the 'open to all' part of the book (although it's possible that the Keeper may restrict quite a lot to keep the underlying mechanics secret) is a very useful section of Tips for Players, which all prospective players really ought to read. Here it reminds them that each adventure has a core question, which the Keeper should lay out. Don't stop until it has been answered! There are thoughts on using Drives to best effect, investigating horror no matter what, not getting sidetracked (particularly by mundane matters like day-to-day survival... yes, it needs doing but that's not what the game is about), and building relationships. Read it and be mindful of it during play.

Moving on, Building Mysteries is designed to aid Keepers in devising and running a strong campaign in the apocalyptic setting. Starting with the basics, it walks through deriving a fundamental question for the Investigators to answer, building an adventure spine and weaving in people and events to make it all interesting. It makes for interesting and inspiring reading, and could prove useful for anyone planning post-apocalyptic adventures, even if outside of this particular game system (indeed this whole book would make good background reading!)

Finally, The Decaying Earth lays out a timescale for the collapse of civilisation as we know it. It can help you determine the state of affairs right now in your game, and provide a roadmap for what's going to happen down the line. It's unlikely that the Investigators will make much difference as nature reclaims everything. There's also a chart to help you determine how difficult it is to find things as time goes on. It may be surprising to see how hard it will be to find books... there again, they are made of paper and if you are short on fuel to stay warm or to cook, they may get repurposed.

Overall, if you want to bring the world as we know it to an end in your game, this is a very good manual. Of most use, of course, if you play Trail of Cthulhu but there are enough useful ideas and concepts that I'd recommend it whatever ruleset you run your post-apocalyptic world under. It looks at a wide range of considerations without getting bogged down in trivial detail, and makes for a thought-provoking read.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Apocalypse Machine
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Repairer of Reputations
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/10/2017 07:39:26

This adventure has an intriguing basis: it takes a piece of speculative fiction written in 1895 but set in 1920 and dumps the characters straight into the middle of its plot in a fine alternate history. The story is called The Repairer of Reputations by Robert W. Chambers, inventor of The King in Yellow stories about a play so warped it drove all who read or see it insane, which was adopted by Lovecraft and his followers and woven into Mythos lore.

The first part of this book is Chambers' story itself, well worth a read if you have not encountered it before and, of course, pretty-well essential if you are going to run an adventure based upon it! It tells the tale of a hideous conspiracy, one which is stopped (barely) in the story but in the adventure things are changed around a bit and it is the Investigators (naturally) that stand between a mostly-peaceful, idyllic even, alternate America and the machinations of Things That Should Not Be, a plot that would place a minion of Hastur on a newly-created imperial throne.

Next we read of the alternate history, giving America a surface tranquility but at a cost our modern minds would view as being far too high to bear. A truncated character generation system is presented to provide semi-pregenerated but personalised characters for your players who will fit in to the alternate America as it is their home. They are further developed during play, giving an almost story game air in places as once the Investigators have had a chance to introduce themselves, one is selected by the Keeper to begin the scenario and he then has to call on others as their particular talents are needed, with scope to define that Investigator's persona as they are introduced into the action.

As the adventure begins, all this is laid out clearly for the Keeper, but you will have to ensure that your players know what is expected of them. It is very much an adventure of interaction and investigation, the plot unfolding before their eyes... but violence lurks closely underneath the urbane surface, and there is ample opportunty for a brawl as the adventure reaches a climax. Various conclusions are provided, from which you can choose the most appropriate outcome based on character actions.

This is an intriguing and well-presented adventure, by its very nature a one-off, with a subtle nightmarish air to it. Pick your players carefully, with the right people it will prove a memorable game indeed.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Repairer of Reputations
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Trail of Cthulhu: Out of Time
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/09/2017 07:54:32

This is a compilation of four previously-published adventures - Not So Quiet, The Black Drop, The Big Hoodoo, and Castle Bravo... it's nice to have them all in one place, and at least one is no longer available as a stand-alone product. Each is set in a specific time, mostly outside the core 1930s setting used for Trail of Cthulhu - one from the First World War and two set in the 1950s - and all can be played Pulp or Purist, depending on your tastes. Due to this timeline, unless you've introduced time travel into your game it's unlikely that you will want to fit them into the same campaign and you may well want to make use of the pre-generated characters provided for each one.

Not So Quiet is a one-off scenario, with pre-generated characters provided, set in a military hospital located just behind the lines in Belgium during the First World War. It's written as a purist adventure, but if you prefer to go a bit more pulp some ideas are provided to enable you to run it in that style.

There's some background that explains what is going on at the hospital, then it's on with the action, with the opening scene being in an ambulance convoy heading towards the hospital. Those characters who are injured and who will become patients at the hospital should determine with the Keeper what wounds they have and how they acquired them, this can be dealt with in a flashback scene (which may be held in reserve by the Keeper to be run at a dramatically-appropriate moment). For those who have been posted to the hospital, likely as medical staff, there's a slightly calmer introductory scene... but everyone ends up in the same ambulance convoy, although they do not know each other at this point. Then it comes under fire...

Assuming they survive the attack, everyone arrives at the hospital. It's pretty chaotic. Injured characters will have to be assessed and assigned to wards, those who have come to work here need to report in and be assigned their duties. There's also a rather excitable chaplain to deal with. From then on in it is a case of trying to figure out what is going on, with a host of NPCs to get to grips with, and various events and encounters as they figure out what is happening and how it can be halted.

Designed for a single evening's play it has the scope to be intense and highlight how even worse war can become if the Mythos gets mixed in. However, the mix of characters provided may not be ideal - it's hard to see how they will gel into a team - and an endnote suggests possible solutions mostly based on creating your own characters. Intended as a one-off, there are no thoughts for a follow-up - although it might possibly be used as a 'prequel' to a regular game: this is where the Investigators met and first encountered Things That Should Not Be, then skip ten years or so and they meet again to commence their adventuring careers.

Next, The Black Drop. Cabable of working well in both purist or pulp modes (or a combination of both) this adventure is set in the remote Kerguelen archipelago (far south in the Indian ocean), which is just about to be abandoned. Oddly, just as the settlers depart, a German expedition arrives with mysterious purpose... and what lurks there, in the bleak rocks?

The background explains all for the Keeper and lays out the terrible choice facing the Investigators. You may decide to keep this as a one-off, or notes are provided if you prefer to weave it into an existing campaign (but bear in mind that this adventure may well be the party's last if you do). Pre-generated characters are provided and they are, of course, all embedded into the story. If you are using your own characters, assorted reasons for why they might be there are provided.

The adventure itself begins on the voyage to the Kerguelen Islands, and there's plenty of interaction to be had (and clues to be picked up) before the ship arrives there... and a bleak, cold and unwelcoming place it is, too. Everyone is dropped off, their ship has other matters to attend to and will be back to pick them up in a couple of weeks. There's a flurry of activity with the last few settlers packing up, the German expedition turns up having lost one of their number and again there are plenty of opportunities for interaction and to find yet more clues... and then things begin to go wrong. Murder and arson are the least of it...

The Investigators will be able to wander the main island pretty much as they please: there's plenty to be found... and a fair bit going on. And eventually they will find... well, the climax involves a dark and dreadful deity, cultists hell-bent on restoring his power and even greater fanatics trying to stop it. Anyone not ending up a sacrifice or in some other way dead will be very lucky indeed.

There's a wonderful sense of bleakness and approaching menace, a creepy cinematic atmosphere that thickens with every moment. NPC notes, handouts, a couple of photos of wildlife, and maps of the islands (and a ship plan) help you keep on top of everything and create a chilling adventure that will live long in the players' minds (there's a good chance that their characters won't survive to remember anything, though)... and all under the threat that if that deity isn't stopped things look bad for the entire world.

Based on the real-world demise of an early rocket experimenter in 1953, The Big Hoodoo messes with real events and people shamelessly, mixing a twist of Mythos madness into what is known about the demise of one Jack Parsons, who had been experimenting with rockets in his backyard and, according to the police, blown himself up through careless handling of rocket fuel. But the Investigators - his friends - suspect otherwise...

Pre-generated characters are provided for what is supposed to be a one-off adventure. Use them, they are embedded into the plot... even if the players may be a bit surprised at some of the names! Four are provided, but there are copious suggestions for additional ones if you have more players. It is intended to be played in the style of film noir, deep on background, with an array of faintly seedy characters following their own agendas. History has been messed with, however, and a few bits have been changed around. You may prefer to change them back. Here we have a Daedalus Vance Wimpole who runs a cult called Psychohistory. This is based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but you may know Psychohstory as the science or art practised in Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels - in THIS alternate history, Asimove wrote the Academy series using a discipline called Scientology. If you or your group find that too confusing (I do!), then change them back.

It all begins at the wake for Jack Parsons, which the Investigators are attending due to links with science-fiction fandom, in which all - including the dear departed - have been active. From then on in, it's a descent into a swirling morass of magick ritual that bodes ill to summon up something that really ought not to walk this earth... or are some such somethings already here, possessing NPCs or even an Investigator? As usual, victory will be achieved by preventing the climactic ritual from being enacted.

There's a lot going on, and hordes of NPCs with their own concerns and requests, an investigative journalist nosing around... and of course a host of clues to pick up. You will need to read through the entire adventure carefully before running it, but everything is quite well laid out down to the best mannerisms for bringing individual NPCs to life. There are several useful handouts and sidebars brimming with information - there's a lot for you (and subsequently the Investigators) to take in.

Although presented as a one-off, this needs more time than the standard 4-hour convention slot, or even an evening's play - there is really too much to pack in although it might be possible if absolutely necessary. It would be far better spread over two or three sessions. It's a low-combat, high interaction adventure, a delightful alternate history involving many names you have probably heard about.

Lastly, Castle Bravo is set in 1954, rather more modern than most of Trail of Cthulhu, and it sets the Investigators as sailors and scientists off on a cruise to watch an atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Needless to say, after the first test shot in the series, strange things begin to happen and it's up to the party to save themselves and their ship... if they can! As this is likely to be a one-off adventure, pre-generated characters are provided.

There's no real need for a hook, the Investigators are aboard the ship whether they like it or not. There's a backstory that explains just what is going on, and then the pre-generated characters are presented. There are six (a naval helicopter pilot, a meteorologist, a naval chaplain, a medically-qualified research scientist, the ship's master-at-arms, and a corpsman) although it's recommended that the adventure works best with four players. They are presented in narrative format, so it's probably worth transferring them to character sheets before the game. Then it's on to the adventure...

This begins very early in the morning (it's still dark) with the ship on station 38 miles from the test site, about five minutes before the test shot is scheduled to take place. The Investigators can get to know one another and key NPCs at this time. Neatly, each character has a personal chunk of 'background knowledge' which it is suggested that you hand out at this time. A map of the area and a basic blocky plan of the ship are provided to help everyone get orientated. There's also quite a lot of scene-setting detail so those unused to naval operations can get the feel of it, and know where and who the important individuals (like senior officers) are. Then the bomb goes off...

There are real-world issues to deal with as a matter of urgency, but that's not all what with spooky visions and several crew members behaving oddly. There's lots going on and as time progresses it gets weirder and weirder. Investigators who retain their health and their marbles will be kept busy. Saving the day - at least as far as the world in general is concerned - may require drastic measures... and there is a remarkabky eerie ending if they fail!

This adventure has atmosphere and mounting horror in spades and could make an excellent movie, it's pretty cinematic. In style, it's mostly 'purist' but with a bunch of military around might trend towards 'pulp' depending on character actions. It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, but one to be relished to the full.

They are all good adventures, and this is a useful collection to have if you enjoy one-off adventures exploring specific aspects of the Mythos. They are all exciting and character-driven, with the usual risks to life, limb and sanity any Investigator expects.



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Trail of Cthulhu: Out of Time
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Rending Box
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2017 07:48:22

This adventure comprises the final revelation in Graham Walmsley's series of Purist adventures. This may sound a little strange, each adventure has been presented as a one-off with the recommendation that you use the pre-generated characters provided with each one (given that they will probably be mad or dead by the end of the adventure anyway). However, as a group of players (rather than as their characters) your party may play all of them and so see the underlying strands that culminate in the revelations of this adventure.

It all concerns an antique box, which the Investigators are asked to take from London to a contact up in the Lake District, a professor who studies folklore. Put it this way, this box makes Pandora's Box look like a benign ornament. After explaining the background, what there is to be discovered and the 'spine' of the adventure, we meet the pre-generated characters. You'll have to transfer them on to character sheets before distributing them to your players, but they do come with ample background material that gives them ready-made reasons to get involved. Finally before the adventure itself, there are notes on the main NPCs including their background and notes on how to role-play them to effect.

Then it's on with the adventure, detail upon detail, clue upon clue, leading the party inexorably on to their fate. At some point, probably, they will open the box. Don't push them (most Investigators will not need to be persuaded to take a peek), although there are some hints to help whet their curiosity if they seem reluctant. That's when the fun really starts. Delightful suggestions are given on how to present just how weird the contents (and their effects) are: this is something you can have a lot of fun playing out. Everything builds to a climax, out in the woods... and however the party deals with it, the ultimate ending is the same. You ought to have players, never mind their characters, freaking out.

A fitting climax to the series, with good backlinks, and an excellent adventure in its own right. There are a couple of errors a good proof-read ought to have caught, otherwise presentation is excellent, with some interesting handouts linking in the previous adventures.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Rending Box
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Coriolis Atlas Compendium
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/06/2017 10:17:46

Introducing some of the places the party might visit within the Third Horizon, the first part of this book is suitable for both players and GMs. The descriptions focus on the main planet of each system covered, and on one city on that planet. The GM's part contains an overview of the history of the Third Horizon, a good look at who actually built the Portals that enable interstellar travel and provides a system for creating systems and planets of your own.

We then dive directly into the first section. Six systems are described: Algol, Mira, Dabaran, Sandaal, Zalos, and Odacon. For each, there is plenty of flavour text describing what sort of things you are likely to find on a visit - although somewhat more hard-hitting than the average tourist brochure... even the Rough Guides don't tell you where the slave market is in a place where slavery is prohibited! On a more pleasant note there are festivals, interesting sights to see and places to visit, as well as notes on the current political scene and other opportunities. Continuing the themes presented in the core rulebook, this section presents rich and strange worlds that prove fascinating in their own right, even before you consider the plots that have brought you there.

Moving on to the GM's section, we begin with an overview of history with a particular focus on the Third Horizon's troubled relationship with the First and Second Horizons... something that has been mostly forgotten by the denizens of the Third Horizon. The First Horizon is Earth (Terra), the Second Horizon is the first round of colonies and ended up dominated by a bunch of Mystics. Both Horizons viewed the Third Horizon as a good source of natural resources, a view that inevitably leads to trouble when the people living there decide that they are being exploited! The odd spelling mistake (that a good proof-read ought to have caught) doesn't detract from the sweep of history that takes us through several thousand years of strife right up to the present day in a few short pages.

Next we hear about the Portal Builders, or Predecessors as they are sometimes known. Nobody's quite sure who or what they were, just that they departed a good time ago but left a lot of interesting stuff behind. We read of some of these wonders, and of the theories and opinions that have grown up around them. All is still left quite open and vague: a neat move in that should the GM decide that the party is going to discover something about the Portal Builders, he is free to invent it for himself.

A system for creating new worlds comes next. The Third Horizon is a big place, and most of the worlds and systems in it are unknown... so here's the chance to come up with your own locations, stamp your own mark on the universe. There are thirty-six known systems, but even those - if you've flipped through the relevant portions of the core rulebook - have not been described in any detail apart from a few, so there's plenty of scope. (The records might be incorrect as well...) Gas giants, asteroid belts and those rocky planets that you might be able to actually land and walk upon are all covered here, as well as advice as to how to weave the bare bones into a coherent story, describing your new place as somewhere the party might want to visit.

The final two sections consist of ideas for creating missions based on the group concept underpinning the party and notes on travel. The 'mission generator' doesn't produce adventures for you, but it does get your mental wheels turning in appropriate directions - useful if you are struggling to come up with an idea. As the tables are based around the group concept you're using, it's quite hard to get inappropriate reults. By the time you have worked through the process (rolling on various tables) ideas ought to be beginning to spawn - you may well have come up with one before you complete the process, so don't worry, just put the dice away and get writing! Finally, the Travel suggestion is packed with ideas to make travel more interesting (the party may disagree).

Overall, this has the feel of 'Stuff we would have put in the core rules but ran out of space for', which as the core rulebook is almost 400 pages long is quite understandable. It's all useful stuff and fits well with what has already been presented, well worth adding to your game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Coriolis Atlas Compendium
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Coriolis - The Third Horizon core book
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/04/2017 13:50:43

This massive tome, lushly illustrated, hurls you headfirst into a game billed as the Arabian Nights in space. Mixing myths with starships, exotic cultures and interstellar travel, storytelling and technology, it puts an exciting spin on science-fiction and provides a setting that just calls out to be explored!

First up, we learn that this is a new version of a previous game, co-produced by Free League Publishing and Modiphius, and using a modified version of the latter's Mutant: Year Zero game mechanics. Free League Publishing, interestingly, were fans of the original game who started off by writing supplements for it. Then it's on to the first part of the book: RULES. Chapter 1: Introduction lays out in broad sweeps what the game is about (this is identical to the overview in the Quickstart Set) and explains the setting as being the Third Horizon, commonly just 'the Horizon', which consists of 36 star systems joined through space and time by mystic portals. The Horizon of today is a melting pot of different cultures, peoples and factions.

Now we are excited about visiting the Horizon, Chapter 2: Characters provides us with the tools to create characters with which to go there. As characters are assumed to be part of a group (with a spaceship) it is recommended that the group of players get together to create their characters, beginning with choosing your group concept from Agents, Mercenaries, Free Traders, Pilgrims and Explorers. There's advice on the sort of roles that need filling in each concept, as well as variations around the core theme: Pilgrims, for example, may not be particularly religious, the concept would fit itinerent workers or even travelling entertainers just as well. You will also need a Patron and a Nemesis...

Next we get down to individual characters. You start off by coming up with a background and a homeworld as well as a personal concept. Based on upbringing - Plebian (ordinary planet-dwelling folk), Stationary (raised on a space station) or Priviliged (the elite and wealthy) - you get varying points to spend on attributes and skills. There are two types of skills - general ones that everyone has a chance at and advanced ones in which you need at least some training - and five skill levels from novice to master. Each skill is associated with an ability, as the task resolution system (explained later on in the book) requires the rolling of a number of d6 based on the sum of the appropriate skill and its associated ability... and hoping for lots of sixes! There are other things to work out here as well, including which Icon - the local deities - you were born under. Just about everyone believes, at least a little, in their power. There are also some beautiful pages illustrating each character concept and providing further options to enhance and personalise your character. The next two chapters cover Skills and Talents - tricks, cheats and abilities that give you an edge over others - in great detail and show you how they are used.

Characters done, we move on to how they use the rules, and what they have to help them. So there are chapters on Combat, Weapons & Equipment, and Spaceships & Star Travel. Well-resourced and with plenty of examples, the whole system is quite easy to pick up yet elegantly powerful in what it allows your character to actually do. Task resolution is performed by adding up the points in the appropriate attribute and skill for the thing you're attempting and rolling that number of d6s - a single six means you've just managed it, three of them means you've done well, a critical success. The skill descriptions explain what all that means in terms of using that skill. If you don't get any sixes at all, you've failed and the GM needs to come up with some consequence of failure. When everything looks really bleak, you can always pray to the Icons. This pious act allows the re-rolling of all dice that didn't come up with a six. However, praying has its own dangers - every time you do, the GM gets a 'darkness point' from the religion's devil figure, the Darkness Between the Stars, these can be used against the party in a variety of ways. Combat is dangerous, think carefully - if you have the opportunity - before participating in a brawl. It's a turn-based system, with initiative established at the beginning of a fight by each participant rolling a d6, highest goes first... you can choose to lower your initiative by waiting to see what others do, but you are then stuck with a lower initiative for the whole combat. Various actions may be underaken in your turn, and a whole range of options are discussed. Associated matters like injury and healing are included and there's a delightful critical injury table for those who like to get more graphical than mere points of damage. We also find out how to fight with star ships, and about the vast array of equipment and weapons that are available.

Next comes a section THE HORIZON, where a wealth of setting information is to be found. We start with Chapter 8: The Third Horizon, which is where the game is located. It is a cluster of thirty-six worlds connected by ancient portals and the use of more conventional space travel. Our study begins with the region's history and then looks at the current state of affairs and the various factions which vie for power and position. Early space explorers barely knew where they were going, but eventually one group discovered the first star portal and colonisation really took off with the First Horizon and then the Second Horizon being explored and settled. It seemed a golden age but as such things do, something went wrong... and the discovery of the Third Horizon seemed a blessing for those who wished to escape the stultifying monolithic cultures that had developed. These, the Firstcome, spread across the Third Horizon building a beautiful and tolerant culture, and bringing the worship of the Icons with them. Then the fighting began, what history has termed the Portal Wars... although there are many opinions as to why the Wars started or what they were intended to achieve. They culminated in a kind of victory for the Third Horizon, but at the price of not just the loss of an entire system but also of all portals back to the other Horizons. Now isolated, they must forge their own future.

Even within the Third Horizon, there was a bit of a dark age with little interstellar commerce or even contact. Then things were stirred up by the arrival of an ancient generation ship, colonists from the original homeworld of Al-Ardha (this is apparently the name for Earth, although on Earth it's a town in the far south of Saudi Arabia...) who had been travelling for, well, generations direct through the black, having left before the portals were even discovered. As the vessel was called the Zenith these newcomers adopted the name of Zenithians. They explored for a while wondering quite what to do, but eventually set up above the planet Kua, creating a spacestation called Coriolis as a meeting place for all the peoples of the Third Horizon. Slowly it's bringing the Third Horizon back to vibrant life.

Needless to say, there's plenty going on that threatens to destablise this fairly fragile peace. Strange Emissaries have emerged from a gas giant. People have begun developing strange new powers. One of the Emissaries has declared himself the living embodiment of an Icon, which has upset a lot of the faithful. And one planet has been attacked but nobody knows by whom, because vessels sent to investigate don't come back. So amist this maelstrom we move on to Chapter 9: Factions. Here is a wealth of detail about the main factions - perhaps your party will join one, or they may provide customers, patrons, allies or enemies as the campaign proceeds. Those who love intrigue will find it here, be it the public face of official diplomacy or more behind-the-scenes action. As if that were not enough, there are small-bit players as well, groups and organisations operating at a lower level than the factions themselves, never permanently allied to a faction... and a likely source of employment for the party. Small wars for mercenaries, trade contacts, interesting excavations for those of an archaeological bent, there's plenty here.

Next is Chapter 10: The People of the Horizon. Even the true humans are quite a diverse lot, and then there are the Humanites, despised modified humans who have been altered to perform certain tasks or survive various extremes. We read of daily life in diverse places, and how the Icons are all-pervading, with virtually everyone believing in them (or at least saying that they do) and many being devout. A discussion on culture in general is followed by notes on the Icons and what is believed about them. Oddly, belief in the Icons themselves predates the foundation of the Church of the Icons, which has codified beliefs and practices, laying out various commandments that must be obeyed... and outlawing some traditional customs. Not surprisingly, there are many schisms and factions within the faith. To add to the mix there are myths and superstitions galore, and of course the djinn.

The next three chapters introduce and describe the Coriolis station, explore the planet Kua around which it orbits and present a gazetteer of the Third Horizon. For Coriolis, there's a timeline and details of many locations aboard. Much of it sounds like a North African or Arabic souk, teeming with merchants and food stalls, where just about anything can be had for a price. Whole adventures could be run here without ever setting foot off the station. However, reading about the Kua system - or indeed the entire Third Horizon - may change your mind, there's loads to see and do there as well!

The final part of the book contains a chapter on Beasts and Djinn, which is somewhat more than a mere bestiary, and one on the Campaign. As can be imagined, this is GM territory, and players are advised to avoid these two chapters. Mysteries are explained (or suggested), and there is loads more background and flavour to aid the GM in writing adventures and running the game. The Campaign chapter is a mix of advice and game mechanics, notes on the science and art of running a game... and how to use the Dark Between the Stars to good effect as a terrifying evil force that balances the good the Icons do. There's also a mini-scenario, The Statuette of Zhar to get you started, and two 'scenario locations' that can be used in your own plots.

This is an exciting book that leaves you itching to go visit this rich and complex setting, which is reflected beautifully in the sheer visual impact of the tome. The simple elegance of the game mechanic ensures that it will not intrude but facilitate your storytelling. Overall, this promises the potential of a particularly fascinating game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Coriolis - The Third Horizon core book
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Coriolis The Third Horizon - Quickstart
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2017 08:07:04

With lush illustrations to tantalise, this work provides an overview of the setting as well as rules information, pre-generated characters and a complete adventure to play. The Introduction sweeps you up from the outset with quick summaries of what players and the gamemaster in a role-playing game do and an outline of what characters will do: now, crewing spacecraft, exploring and carrying out missions are to be expected in any spacefaring game, unravelling secrets and plotting and scheming even... but there's mention of a space station called Coriolis and the intriguing thought that religious belief and worship are still part and parcel of most people's lives. Clearly this is a distinctive setting to explore, one where technology and myth are wound together in a manner befitting a game billed as 'the Arabian Nights in space'.

We're soon diving into history and learning about the Third Horizon, a group of thirty-six star systems linked by portals which have been colonised in two waves. Interestingly, the first arrivals (the Firstcome) set out after the second wave (the Zenithians): the original Zenith was a generation ship sent out to establish colonies, but when they arrived they found that in the meantime the folks back home had discovered an ancient portal system and got there first! The two groups still bicker, but not to the extent that others did - the people of the First Horizon tried to take over the settlements of the Second and Third Horizons but were eventually defeated in a massive war that has left its mark all over known space.

The central system in the Third Horizon is called Kua, where there's a jungle planet of the same name orbited by the Coriolis space station. Founded by the Zenithians, Coriolis is intended as a place where all the factions of the Third Horizon can meet and trade, establishing peaceful relations with each other. That's the idea, but it's not quite as peaceful as was initially intended. Strange Emissaries, from a nearby gas giant, have everyone a bit baffled as to their intentions, not helped by one of them declaring he is one of the Icons, the deities widely worshipped here. This situation is replete with opportunities for adventure... and here we are in the middle of it!

We now move on to the rules part, with Chapter 2: Skills explaining how attributes (strength, agility, wits and empathy) work together with skills (of which there are two sorts, basic ones anyone can do and advanced ones that must be learned) to enable characters to accomplish whatever it is that they want to do. Task resolution is performed by adding up the points in the appropriate attribute and skill for the thing you're attempting and rolling that number of d6s - a single six means you've just managed it, three of them means you've done well, a critical success. The skill descriptions explain what all that means in terms of using that skill. If you don't get any sixes at all, you've failed and the GM needs to come up with some consequence of failure. When everything looks really bleak, you can always pray to the Icons. This pious act allows the re-rolling of all dice that didn't come up with a six. However, praying has its own dangers - every time you do, the GM gets a 'darkness point' from the religion's devil figure, the Darkness Between the Stars, these can be used against the party in a variety of ways.

After copious details on the various skills available, we come to Chapter 3: Combat. It's dangerous, think carefully - if you have the opportunity - before participating in a brawl. It's a turn-based system, with initiative established at the beginning of a fight by each participant rolling a d6, highest goes first... you can choose to lower your initiative by waiting to see what others do, but you are then stuck with a lower initiative for the whole combat. Various actions may be underaken in your turn, and a whole range of options are discussed. Associated matters like injury and healing are included and there's a delightful critical injury table for those who like to get more graphical than mere points of damage. Naturally there are other ways to die as well as combat - fire, drowning, starvation and vacuum also feature here. A note about vehicles rounds out the chapter.

The rest of the book is devoted to the adventure - Dark Flowers - and the pre-generated characters provided for you to play it. It tells the tale of a long lost space station, a search for a fabled plant, and a scientist obsessed with completing her mission - even unto death. The backstory explains what's been going on, covering an hundred years or so, for the GM then the party is brought into the picture. They are tasked with getting into the space station and exploring it, and will be faced with a difficult decision to make. The adventure is well-resourced with everything you need to make it come to life provided in the text. It's an excellent adventure with a long slow creepy build up...

This quickstart certainly achieves the aim of picquing interest in the full game. The game mechanics are straightforward and easy to understand, and the setting is rich with promise. Put aside any thoughts of this just being Babylon 5 retooled with a bit of help from Firefly and Aliens, this is a vibrant and exciting setting in its own right, a place in which epic tales can be told.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Coriolis The Third Horizon - Quickstart
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Vehicle Handbook
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/27/2017 07:43:16

Spacecraft are all very well, but once you reach your destination, how do you get around? Having the appropriate land, sea and air vehicles can go a long way to making other planets feel real, alien, exotic... or whatever impression you are trying to get across. Vehicles can also be a source of adventure: perhaps it is hard to get hold of one when you need it, or maybe offworlders have to use a specific form of transport. Indeed, they can end up being the adventure: many years ago, a spectacular Traveller adventure was spawned at a Games Fair convention in the UK when a bunch of players decided that they weren't staying around for the riot that had broken out and stole a groundcar... unfortunately none of them knew how to drive it, and their exploits on the way back to the starport became the stuff of legend!

The Introduction lays out the purpose of the book clearly. The design system is simple and straightforward, but fits in with everything else so far published. The emphasis is on what the vehicle can do, how fast it goes and what it can carry. That's what you need to know as far as game mechanics are concerned... most of the rest is window-dressing.

Chapter 1: New Rules provides some additional rules that you will need to make it all work. There are notes about resupply and maintenance, sensors, detection of vehicles and even things like can the vehicle tow something else (or indeed, be towed)... and of course the pleasures and perils of the used vehicle market! They also may be specifically designed for a purpose: combat, say, or off-road operation.

We then move on to Chapter 2: Vehicle Design. It's a seven-stage process, very streamlined, and once you are used to it you can crank out new vehicles in a matter of minutes. Actual construction times and costs are likely to be a little more, though there are advantages to mass-production. Most parties will be looking to buy (or rent) rather than make their own vehicles from scratch, however. Starting with chassis type and tech level (stage 1), you then decide the number of 'spaces' the vehicle has (stage 2, which determines the basic parameters for the vehicle), add weapons and armour if required (stage 3), customise it if you want to (stage 4), work out how many crew are needed and passengers can be carried (stage 5), allocate cargo space (stage 6), and finalise your design (stage 7)... and you're done! This is a toolkit rather than hard and fast rules, and the Referee is always at liberty to deviate if desired. An example (a fairly ordinary-looking ground vehicle, a rugged van basically) is worked through in detail to demonstrate the process, and the next four chapters go into more detail about chassis types, armour, weapons, and customisation.

Grouped by basic chassis type - light ground vehicle through gravitics-powered and unpowered ones, then boats, submersible and aircraft - there are loads of options to help you come up with exactly what you need. You can even have ornithopters and walkers if you want. Armour is generally a case of strategically-placed plating, then on to weapons, as many and as varied as you can imagine. Weapons can be mounted in various manners, and a wide range of generic ones are provided... and then comes customisation. Your imagination is pretty much the limit, although there are suggestions galore and an in-character advertisement for a vehicle design consultancy!

Next, things get a bit exotic with Chapter 7: Biotech. This may or may not be commonplace in your universe, or it may be very localised. The chapter assumes that it is rare but possible, and assumes it needs at least a TL10 world to create biotech vehicles, but that the biotech vehicles themselves operate two tech levels lower. If biotech is commonplace, you can ignore these restrictions. Again, maintenance and repair may be problematic if biotech is unusual, but straightforward if such vehicles are readily available. Some exotic versions of chassis types and weapons are provided, but feel free to go wild!

This is followed by Chapter 8: Drones. These can be remotely piloted or autonomous, and there's an interesting sidebar about whether you should use robot rules rather than these drone ones to create them. The conclusion (apart from leaving it open to the Referee to decide) is that a drone is specifically an unmanned vehicle, a robot can do most anything. Perhaps drones are a subset of robots? (Maybe I should ask the computing ethics class I'm teaching after lunch!)

If your head is swimming with all the choices, never fear... the final section is Jayne's Guide to Vehicles of Charted Space, a vast array of pre-generated vehicles of all sorts that you can use straight off... or customise a bit, first. Each one comes with a description, cost, appropriate statistics and an illustration. Conveniently, each occupies a single page so PDF users may print off just the pages they need. There does seem to be rather a lot of military vehicles, fine if you are equipping some mercenaries but of less use if you've just landed and want to go sightseeing!

Overall, a robust system which meshes well with the rest of this ruleset... but in some ways a little uninspired. Consider the science fiction books you've read or films you have seen. Describe the vehicles in them... sometimes troubling to codify everything bogs you down. OK, so you need to know how fast it goes and what it can carry, how much damage its weapon does... as for the rest, let your imagination run riot. This system will let you slot in whatsoever numbers and game mecahnics you need.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vehicle Handbook
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7th Sea: Heroes & Villains
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/22/2017 09:10:14

Billed as a collection of Heroes and Villains, this manages to be more - it gives added shape to the world of Théah, filling it with giant personalities and exploring new corners of potential within the setting, and backing them up with appropriate game mechanics.

Chapter 1: Introduction sets out its stall, talking about the role of Heroes and Villains within the game. The sample ones given here have been catagorised beyond just whether they are good or bad into five types each, based on their style, the way that they go about things. For style and panache are all-important in 7th Sea, a deliberately-cinematic game where how you do something is almost as important as what you are doing! Heroes and Villains, however, are distinguished by the choices they make, so what they choose to do is also of great importance. Faced with the same background, the same situation, you can rely on the Hero to do the right, the good, thing whilst the Villain will invariably take the wrong or evil path... but both do it in style.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that even the blackest of Villains has the potential to turn his life around, and so the concept of redemption is introduced and each of the Villains presented here are given - when possible - a path out of the dark place they are in presently... and there's a new advantage, Saviour, for those Heroes who seek to find that path and guide Villains down it. GMs are encouraged to use the Villains in their own plots; the Heroes can serve as exemplars to aid players in creating their own characters, and might show up as allies... or even be played if one appeals or time is too short to create your own.

Chapter 2: Heroes contains detailed notes on some forty Heroes, but begins with a discussion on how to play a Hero as well as one on how to run a game for Heroes. Useful advice for those on both sides of the GM's screen. The player advice, in particular, should give players a few things to think about and are applicable whatever you happen to be playing. The Heroes themselves are grouped as being Indomitable, Deft, Tacticians, Steadfast or Tricksters... but they are all good guys, who can be relied on to do the right thing when it comes to a pinch. Each Hero comes with a portrait and character sheet, on a single page so that PDF users can print it out if needed for a game, along with a second page that covers backstory, goals, and role-playing advice. They make for a fascinating read, showing the wide range of characters that can be played, and the vast potential that this setting has.

Chapter 3: Villains follows a similar pattern, although the preliminary essays are aimed mainly at the GM. The Villain sees the world in terms of how it can best serve his needs and, comments about possible redemption aside, there are no shades of grey here. Villains are bad, and that's that. The discussion looks at ways of weaving Villains into your stories, and incorporating what they want to do in such a way that there is a direct impact on the Heroes' lives. This gives them all the more reason to want to go after the Villains, after all. There are also comments about duels, with a lengthy example of how one such might play out. Then on to the Villains themselves, who are grouped as Beasts, Chameleons, Masterminds, Juggernauts and outright Deranged. Each category comes with some notes on how to use that particular type of Villain in your game. Each Villain has two pages dedicated to him, including a portrait, character sheet, and notes that not only give a backstory but look at the sort of schemes he might be hatching and how to weave them into a plot. An excellent resource that spawns ideas for adventures even as you read through them.

Finally, an Appendix contains new game mechanics and short-form Hero and Villain character sheets. There's also a comprehensive Index.

Of most use to GMs, this book is a handy resource especially if you are a bit short of time or seeking that killer idea (or at least, Villain) for your next adventure. If you run 7th Sea 2e, this book has a place on your shelf.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea: Heroes & Villains
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7th Sea Core Rulebook (Second Edition)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/21/2017 13:36:22

The opening fiction sets the scene for the sort of epic swashbuckling action this game inspires... indeed the cover layout, looking like a film poster, suggests the cinematic exploits the party can perform. Wit, swordplay, acrobatics, poise and sheer adventurous fun is what this game is all about!

Chapter 1: Welcome to 7th Sea sets the scene. Swashbuckling, sorcery, piracy, adventure, diplomacy, intrigue, romance, revenge, archæology and exploration all have their place in this almost-17th-century-Europe where new ideas challenge accepted dogma, lost secrets are coming to light, and dramatic swordplay carries the day and often wins fair lady too (unless she's the one waving a sword around...). There's a brief explanation of what role-playing is all about, and how the party are designed to be Heroes with a capital H - they may be rogues or rascals, they may dice with the law, but they are not evil people. We'll leave that to the Villains, thank you very much. There's a very brief overview, a summary, of major powers in Théah, the world in which this game is set, then it is on to more solid material.

Chapter 2: Théah is a glittering sweep of the world, introducing the various nations, an essay for each seeking to encapsulate the national 'spirit' - even if the concept of a nation is quite a new-fangled thing, Théah's only had them for the last hundred years or so. Culture and clothing, currency and customs, art and music and religious belief are all covered. We also learn how each nation is governed and defended, and how they get on with the other countries. It's an overview, whole books can be written about each one, but it serves well to give an idea of what each nation is about. If you are familiar with the first edition of 7th Sea, much will be familiar... but read it through anyway, this is fresh and well-written (and beautifully illustrated), and there are of course changes, some subtle others more blatant, to make this a wholly-new game in a similar setting. There's also a wholly-new nation, the Sarmatian Commonwealth, which sounds a fascinating place to visit. Here you can also read about the Church in all her various forms, pirates and privateers, secret societies and even monsters...

Next, down to business with Chapter 3: Making a Hero. You've already read about the nations, here are one-page summaries explaining what Heroes that come from each are likely to be like. You don't have to stick to them, of course, but may find yourself a stranger even in your own land if you stray too far from the expected (unless you have an exceptionally good backstory, and even then that relies on people knowing it!). Then there's the nine-step process for creating your Hero. (It's billed as eight-step, but with a Step 0 that involves coming up with a concept before you start in on the game mechanics stuff!) To devise your concept there are twenty questions to answer which should help you understand who your Hero is and what makes him tick. You may not want to answer them all, you may not choose to share the answers with anyone else, you may even change them as you get to know him better: but it provides a starting point.

Once you have a handle on your Hero, you move on to getting some numbers onto that character sheet. We start with five Traits (Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits and Panache), and use a point-buy system to discern strengths and weaknesses. Next, stir in the appropriate bonus for the nation that you call your own before deciding on your background - the stuff you did before you became an adventurer. These are your past, the things you were and did. They'll give you knowledge and skills, contribute to your backstory, but they are not likely what you are now, as the game begins. Note that Sorcery occurs more than once in some of the lists you can choose from under various backgrounds. It looks odd but it's there for a purpose: if you want to be a powerful sorceror you can choose it as many times as it appears. You then pick skills, again via point-buy. There are also advantages to be purchased, they help round out the character as well as providing, well, an advantage under certain defined circumstances. All straightforward so far... then comes arcana. Consider a Tarot deck, or at least the Théan equivalent, a Sorté deck. You choose (or may draw... John Wick Presents sell Sorté decks if you want one) a Virtue and a Hubris based on the twenty character cards in the deck.

Step 7: Stories is quite unusual and rather neat. This is where you work out, with the GM, the story you want to tell with your Hero. What aspect do you want to explore? What do you want him to accomplish? You can tell multiple stories, but only one at a time. For each, you need to decide on appropriate endings (there may be more than one), and decide on the first steps that you'll take to resolve the situation. From then on in, it becomes part of the ongoing plot. There are loads of ideas and sample stories here, but the best ones are probably those that you come up with for yourself. Finally, in Step 8: Details you put the finishing touches to your character. There's also an outline of a very abstract system for determining wealth (agonising over every last penny is inappropriate for a swashbuckler, after all), and a slightly flippant section on how character wounds are handled.

Character done, we move on to Chapter 4: Action and Drama to find out how everything works in the game. Task resolution uses the character's Traits and Skills to overcome a Risk - the action taken in response to a threat, or one which has a consequence for good or bad depending on the outcome. It all starts with a situation... and like all game mechanics, sounds more complex on paper than it is once you get the dice out and try it for yourself. There are plenty of examples to help you get your head around it. The complex bit is that you roll handfulls of d10s (based on the points you have in appropriate Traits and Skills for the task in hand) and then seek to get the most Raises, or 10s... but it's not just rolling a 10, if you roll a couple of 5s, you can add then to give yourself another Raise. Raises can be used to accomplish the task, ameliorate the consequences (e.g. if you'd get a wound you can cancel it out with a Raise) or take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. There's a discussion of how rounds work, for when more than one character is involved in whatever the Risk is (a swordfight say), and all manner of additional bits and bobs... but no 'dodges' - viewed as a bit unheroic, if you want to avoid being hit take action to get out of the way and describe that rather than saying thay you are dodging! You can fail on purpose, too, getting a Hero Point and not rolling any dice at all.

All this has the potential to make what should be a thrilling action scene horrendously mechanical. Just remember that the key is in the descriptions you give of what your character is doing, and once the group is used to the game mechanics and you don't have to think about what you are rolling when it all becomes much more fluid. When engaged in a scene other than one that produces a flurry of action, you can use a Dramatic Sequence instead - similar mechanics, but played out over a longer period, such as character actions during a party, attempting to charm or impress people. Or you may prefer to role-play this, but it does give a chance to those who maybe find it hard to come up with good lines to still have their character be impressive and witty! The chapter ends with some Game Master rules for things like handling Brute Squads - those hordes of minions villains always seem to have around - and Villains themselves as well as monsters.

Next up is Chapter 5: Sorcery. Denounced by the Vaticine Church, feared or hated by many... yet beguiling to those who seek power other than that of the sword arm. Many Théans have some kind of magic in their bloodlines, and although it is lumped together as 'sorcery' each type has its own specific rules and methods of operation. Most of it is associated with particular nations, woven deep into their culture and psyche, and most is extremely powerful. Handle with care, or you'll find yourself a Villain before you know it. There is a wealth of material here, some familiar to players of 7th Sea 1e but there is a lot of new stuff: it's more elegant and organised, more diverse, balances a blessing and a curse: that awesome power comes at a price.

Swordfighting is the lifeblood of 7th Sea so it's no surprise that Chapter 6: Dueling is devoted to every aspect of sword play. This covers the Duelist's Guild, the trade body for sword-waving folk, and the myriad of Academies where they learn their art. There are many different styles of sword-fighting, and keen fighters can learn several, mixing and matching styles to fit the occasion. Each confers a specific advantage when it comes to combat.

Next up, the other staple of swashbuckling adventure with Chapter 7: Sailing. This chapter provides information on everything from the skills needed to man a ship to the organisation of a crew and the difference between a pirate and a privateer. To get into true sea-dog mood there are nautical superstitions, then details of different types of vessel and notes on the different seafaring nations. Ships have histories too, mostly for flavour but they can confer game mechanical advantages as well. Information on carrying cargo and engaging in sea battles, as well as the monsters of the deep round out this section.

Then comes Chapter 8: Secret Societies. Most other things tend to be centred around the various nations of Théah, but the secret societies spread their tentacles across the known lands, embracing individuals of all nationalities and backgrounds who agree with their cause. Joining one confers benefits and obligations upon a character, and should never be embarked upon lightly. Characters may join a society during character creation or in the course of play if the opportunity arises. It adds loads of flavour and many ready-made opportunities for adventure.

Finally, Chapter 9: Gamemaster which opens by talking about that magical moment when a player stops talking about his character and says 'me'... and continues with ideas about how to make that moment occur in the games that you run. There are standard tropes here, the golden rule of having fun (with its rider that if someone isn't having fun, find out why and sort it out), prior preparation and planning, and the GM wearing three hats (author, storyteller and referee). These are all explained and used to provide ideas about how to run games of 7th Sea to best effect (and often will work whatever game you are running, so make for a good read anyway). There are loads of ideas for themes and plots, a look at how to take that plot idea and turn it into a well-crafted adventure and much, much more. It also touches on improvisation, character death, enforcing rules and other thorny matters. There are even suggestions for how to be mean to the characters, making the players feel that there are real risks to be taken even in a game where it's quite hard to kill player-characters off. There are ideas for handling players too, rewarding the good ones and coping with uncooperative or otherwise disruptive ones. All in all, it provides an excellent textbook for being a good GM.

Overall, this is a masterful retooling of an already enjoyable game. All the good bits of the original are here, but it's been refined into an elegant coherent package. If you want to swash your buckle in a mix of Musketeers and Captain Jack Swallow style adventuring, this is the game with which to do so.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Core Rulebook (Second Edition)
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Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/18/2017 12:29:38

This is a collection of seven adventures for Conan, each designed to be played individually as suits, spanning the known world and providing opportunities to explore different aspects and themes. They are deliberately designed to be episodic - Howard's original Conan stories were, after all - and can be mixed up and messed about with if they don't suit your needs as presented here. The adventures are presented as seven chapters with an eighth one devoted to a collection of short adventures and plot seeds to inspire you further.

The first adventure is Devils Under Green Stars. The party has somehow got to Zukundu, a lost civilisation in the Southern Kingdoms beyond Stygia (several suggestions are provided for the exact location), where they find a high-walled city/palace covering an entire island. It looks pretty overgrown, but those venturing in will find that it's not completely abandoned! The idea is that they've found the place almost by accident, but local wildlife makes the thought of going in more palatable than being eaten where they are. Oh, and at least one of the tribes within has lots of gold. Surely that makes it all worthwhile? With warring tribes and hideous monsters, yes, this one has caught the spirit of Conan well.

On, then, to The Pact of Xiabalba, which begins with the party going about their own business at sea when a storm strikes... and ends with them fighting to escape a mysterious city that's about to be sucked back into a nightmare realm somewhere out of time and space as they know it. The city, you see, belongs to a race of Giant-Kings thought to have died out sometime in pre-history... only they are very much around, at least here. The city at first appears ruined, then a timeslip takes them into a siege...

Next up, The Caves of the Dero gives the party a treasure map and, well, you know adventurers. Given a treasure map they'll need to try and find the treasure... the quest leads them into a decidedly unstable mine. The loot may be stupendous, but is it really worth the potential cost to retrieve it?

The next adventure is The Ghost of Thunder River. This starts off in Velitrium, a border town in the Westermark in the Bossonian Marches, the buffer Aquilonia maintains between its border and Pictish territory. The Picts are proving troublesome under the leadership of a weird pale devil risen from ancient days (or so it is claimed). To introduce the backstory, the players can undertake a prelude in which they forsake their regular characters for a bunch of Picts whose hunting trip has ended up with them forming a war party who end up visiting a strange tomb... Once this segment has played out, they can resume their normal characters to start the adventure proper. The prelude can be omitted, but it does add an interesting twist and is rather more fun than just being told what happened in the past. The adventure itself begins with the party enlisting in the Velitrium militia - it's left up to you to decide how they came to be there - and helping to take the fight to the Picts... but there's something odd going on. Plienty of wilderness adventure in this one.

The Thousand Eyes of Aumag-Bel follows, beginning with the party enjoying a well-earned rest in a city when they get robbed of a specific item. Just how they came to have said item is left up to you - anything from an inheritance to loot picked up in a previous adventure will do. This leads to all sorts of fun and running battles through (and then under) the city.

This is followed by The Red Pit which starts with the party as slaves... and it's time to lead a revolt! Again, how they got to be there is left up to you, although a few ideas are provided. This one is a straight-up all-out brawl as the slaves - armed with bare fists and loincloths to start with - fight their way out of the Red Pit, an opencast mine in which they've been put to work.

The final full adventure is The Seethers in Darkness, which sees the party hired to escort a scholar on a quest for a lost ruin in the desert southwest of Zamboula. Needless to say, nobody's heard of the ruins and nothing is quite what it seems. Plenty of classic adventure here with ancient races, cities buried in the sand and other typical Conanesque themes.

Finally we have Chapter 8: Seeds of Glory. This provides a myriad of ideas about running adventures and campaigns, including suggestions for stringing the adventures presented in this book into a coherent plot starting off with The Red Pit - you don't start much lower than being a slave after all - and gathering wealth and power progressing through the other adventures. Or maybe they start off in reasonable comfort and things go badly wrong as their adventures progress... yet such a coherent story arc was not Howard's way of telling a story, even if it is more expected in a role-playing game. Many possibilities are discussed here, it will be up to you to decide how you want to use this material. The chapter ends with several paragraph-long seeds from which you can build further adventures. Who knows, maybe Conan himself will make an appearance, but remember: the player-characters are the heroes of THESE tales!

It's an excellent collection of adventures, and their episodic nature is handled well in the advice given in Chapter 8, with ample suggestions on how to use them whether or not you want them to be a bit more coherent in terms of a plotline. These are probably not adventures to just pick up and run, they will repay careful thought and planning to make your group's experience of the Hyborian World as epic and exciting as the original tales... but the spirit of Conan lives on in these pages!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth
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