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Fantasy Hero 6th Edition
Publisher: Hero Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2012 19:34:22
I've not had a lot of experience in dealing with the HERO system, but have a member of my gaming group who swears by it. That alone was reason to do some digging to understand the system and whether this product added anything to the host of other fantasy books out there. At almost 500 pages, this does qualify as a Tome though, and shows what I come to expect as a comprehensive and fulsome treatment from the authors of HERO.

If you are only to purchase a single book about fantasy role-playing, this is a good contender. It is clear from the outset that the authors are not just casual consumers of the genre, and know fantasy intimately. There is an impressive annotated bibliography which put me to shame and has now formed a core reading list for the future. They effectively and concisely analyse the different elements of fantasy and investigate the key features of the fantasy sub-genres.

The rest of the book is dedicated to rules. Everything from character creation, archetypes, combat, magic, geographical effects and even morality is discussed in stunning detail. Given that a lot of HERO is based on designing specific instances from a generic idea, there is an underlying discussion of rationale which flows through most sections. I'm sure that any GM/DM who has previously run an FRPG will find some enlightenment from this book. Most of us never question why something is so in a game, so being forced to think about it is always a good exercise. The scope of the magic section alone should give even the most die-hard fantasy player pause for thought.

Overall, this is a very impressive piece of work. The authors clearly show a mastery of the genre, and write with an incisive style which is rarely seen in the hobby. The layout and artwork are both of a consistently high standard and should appeal to a range of tastes. The main warning is that this is a companion volume to the core rules for HERO system, you're not getting a complete game here. That said, I firmly believe that with a copy of this, the main rules and a homebrew setting (or even adapt one of the hundreds already on the market), you'd never need to purchase another book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Hero 6th Edition
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A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2012 19:14:39
It should come as no surprise that with the success of HBO's adaptation of this series, we are now presented with the 'Game of Thrones Edition' of SIFRP. Having only looked at the quickstart rules previously, I don't have much of a comparison. However, after reading this tome a few times I'm left with the feeling that this is an incredibly comprehensive piece of work.

What should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the novels is that there is a need to focus on setting and character, and as such the story and gazetteer-style elements take up the most of the page count. In fact, I'd recommend that non-role-players consider picking this up simply as a companion to the novels. In no particular order the book provides:

- An overview of Westeros, containing geographical, political, theological and historical information on each of the Seven Kingdoms. Reading through this section will give Narrators and players all the information they need (and is somewhat shorter than reading all of the novels).
- A guide to all of the Houses, with histories of the families, notable characters and deeds and in-depth information about their holdings, powerbases and modus operandi.
- Quite extensive guidance for the Narrator in terms of crafting stories for Westeros and how this is different from most other fantasy settings. There is a great section which takes a number of key characters and describes what actual role they had/have in the story and what their inclusion teaches us about storytelling. The main warning I'd level here is that there are serious spoilers if you haven't read the novels. This section has been updated to include the events in 'Dance of Dragons' (the latest novel at the time of writing this review) and makes no qualms about mentioning character deaths and other event-based spoilers.

From the mechanical side, the game is simple yet incredibly decisive and brutal. The entire system is based upon a D6-driven mechanic (you'll need a maximum of ten dice to play). You roll a number of dice determined by skills and add-in bonus dice for situational modifiers and specialisations. Interestingly, once the dice pool is rolled, you remove a number of dice equal to the bonus dice and then tally up the score. The heart of the system is rolling as many dice as possible and then keeping the best results. A Target Number needs to be beaten to succeed in most rolls.

Combat is a relatively simple affair, and this is the first system I've seen which directly calculates damage based on the skill level linked to the weapon. Basically the idea is that if you are better trained, you'll do more damage. After reading over the rules for damage, defending and armour, I feel confident that most combats will not last long. Life is cheap in the Seven Kingdoms, and the system really reflects that.

However, the mechanical side of the book also gives the reader

- A workable system for Mass Combat
- A complete guide to building your own Stronghold, Fiefdom or Country. There are statistics linked to almost every aspect of a holding which allows players to almost play a 'game within the game' for managing their assets. I'm actually thinking that these rules could be ported over into other campaigns as a method of record-keeping. This exercise is quite important as it is directly linked to the Mass Combat rules mentioned above.
- There is also a very large module in the back of the book. 'Journey to King's Landing' was a free-to-download module with pre-generated characters and appears in very much the same format here. It leads to 'Peril at King's Landing' which is a much longer module. To be honest, I would have preferred Green Ronin to offer these as PDF material accessible with a purchase of the main rulebook for two reasons. One, it is a neat opportunity to offer the customer something that is perceived a 'free extra' with the book. Secondly, though is the question as to whether the page count on the modules in a core book is a good use of space. Weighing in at 81 pages (around a quarter of the total page count), one questions how much long-term value this would be to the reader. I make no argument that a module is needed for a game like this, even just as a way of showing the reader 'this is what a SIFRP module looks like', but think it could have been achieved better.

The layout makes the book very easy to read, with plenty of full-colour illustrations throughout. The art quality is very average, but does work for the book. Characters from the novels are shown in most of the illustrations, and those familiar with the story will have no difficulty in recognising them.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality and breadth of the content in this book. It felt to me as though Green Ronin has respected the customer enough to give them a self-contained game in one book. If I was to run a game, I can't think of any aspect which is wanting in the rulebook, especially for the first-time Narrator - which makes it a very sensible purchase for someone looking for a new game. There will surely be other titles forthcoming, but I wouldn't think them necessary to enjoy the game. Given the PDF price, I see it as excellent value for gamers and enthusiasts of the novels alike.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
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Shadowrun: Damage Control (Boardroom Backstabs)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2012 22:07:02
'Damage Control' is the first of a new line of products from Catalyst entitled 'Boardroom Backstabs' and this definitely lives up to the title.
Shadowrun has always been about corporate machinations and this series looks set to take runners up close and personal with the (often violent and always deniable) political game played by the mega-corporations. In this case, it focuses on the brewing war between Hestaby and Lofwyr and offers the chance for runners to visit Dubai for a variety of jobs.

the introduction lists ten additional sourcebooks which would be useful in running the game, and whilst most are probably useful, I didn't refer to any whilst reading through the module. 'Corporate Enclaves' will probably be the most useful as it has a section on Dubai which you could mine for additional info; but I really don't think you'll need to.

I'm also led to believe that Catalyst is targeting newer GMs with these sorts of products, especially in light of the 'Six-step' action plan for running a printed module. As a seasoned GM, though, it was nice to be reminded of the basics and the issues I probably take for granted.

The module begins with a job interview in a memorable locale (one that I'll be poaching for other games - if you pardon the pun) and the need for etiquette (and results of failing) really go a long way to establishing the Johnson and the company. From here, it is a whirlwind trip to Dubai for jobs ranging from clandestine meetings and Legwork, through to wetwork and corporate sabotage. The adversaries in all cases are weighty and PCs will be forced to think carefully and strategically as they go about their business.

The thought of being far from home and away from contacts is a reasonable fear for runners, and one Catalyst does address. A host of new, helpful NPCs are presented, each with their own agenda and offering interesting roleplaying opportunities. There is a sidebar about turning this module into an extended campaign and the inclusion of new contacts and fixers suits that mood very well.

the only glitch in the entire product was the presence of a number of annoying typographical errors - a decent editor would have could these, fixed the sentence structure and made it more readable. Overall, these don't make the product unusable, but they are irritating. Perhaps the beauty of PDF printing will be that Catalyst can revisit the product, fix up the mistakes and put out a new copy.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this module. I think that more of a focus on corporate politics gives the players a greater appreciation of the scope of their characters actions, and this time they are playing in the big league. There is enough freedom for a GM to add extra flavour and scenes to showcase the interests of their own group whilst still maintaining the integrity of the 'run. I hope that each module in this series will focus on a different corporation and give some extra flavour to an already rich game world.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Damage Control (Boardroom Backstabs)
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Leverage Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 20:40:36
I discovered the 'Leverage' television show through the roleplaying game and as a matter of due diligence thought I should watch a few episode to understand the context, mood and feel of the game. Now, after digesting four seasons, it's time to come back to the RPG. In many cases, it is impossible to fully appreciate an RPG based on an intellectual property with only one of the two creative outputs - and 'Leverage' is no exception. I think that without an appreciation for the television show, you'll find it very difficult to grapple with some of the storytelling tools presented.

From the outset, I had high hopes for the game. I own 'Serenity' and 'Smallville' and have taken enthusiastically to not only the Cortex system, but the underlying philosophy of MWP's game design. Their games are designed to be played as a team, co-operatively, with fun being explicitly the responsibility of everyone at the table. Players are encouraged to identify when scenes allow others to shine, and to help everyone at the table achieve their full potential. 'Leverage' mentions in the character creation section that should players chose to create characters in isolation, the game will feel more like a group of 'prison inmates' than a team game; and I couldn't agree more.

Anyone familiar with Cortex will have few surprises along the way - although it leans more to the simplicity of 'Serenity' than the more complex 'Smallville'. Players select one character archetype - Mastermind, Grifter, Hitter, Thief or Hacker (each archetype embodied on the screen each week) and then assigning dice types to each to determine priority. There are the usual Assets, Distinctions, Talents and the like which round out the character and it does appear to be quite simple to design and make a character. However, as there isn't a static list of traits (with the exception of Distinctions) players are encouraged to design descriptive traits for their character.

The balance comes in with the sidebar explaining that all traits should have a negative and positive side - and the other players and the Fixer (the name given to the GM) should determine if they are unbalanced or too broad. For example, in the TV show Nate (the resident Mastermind) has the trait 'Drunk'. Whilst this does have very negative connotations, it does mean that Nate could use the trait to assist in the roll to impersonate a drunk, or even name exotic alcoholic beverages. On the flipside, the Fixer could use it as a temptation to derail Nate whilst on a job.

Plot Points are included here too, and make for an interesting interplay between Fixer and players - essentially giving characters a kick-back when something bad is invoked against them, and then being able to be spent on certain perks during the game. Character advancement is relatively simple, with characters spending 'Jobs' (ie, one story) to purchase advances. Conversely, a character can simple leave the log of Jobs on their character sheet. By doing so, they can call into play experiences from previous jobs to give them either a boosted roll, or an attempted one, if they have an relevant experience. For example, if a character needed to ski down a mountain slope during one Job, they could recall the experience in a later Job to either give them an extra dice in the roll, or (if they don;t have a relevant skill) invoke it to get a roll.

Running this game will require a good working knowledge of the structure of an episode of the television show, as I mentioned before. The players and the Fixer are expected, during the game, to look for Flashback Scenes that can be used to wrap up the Job, or progress it. An example might be a scene where a character rifles through the Marks' desk drawer, and finds a gun and some paperwork. They might photocopy the paperwork whilst playing the scene, but during a Flashback Scene state that they also emptied the gun of bullets. When the Mark is waving his pistol at the team, the player announces the Flashback Scene to frame the action of pulling the six rounds out of the jacket pocket as a frustrated Mark tries to fire an empty gun. I would imagine that this aspect of the game will take a little time before it is run smoothly by all at the table. The main piece of advice that I'd give here is that the mechanic is present to advance the story and make for some really cool scenes - it is not designed as a carte blanche 'auto-win' and should be never used as such.

Overall, I loved the game and look forward to putting together my first Job. As my group have the knack of turning any game into one about teams, this will suit them perfectly. There is plenty of advice for the aspiring Fixer (being a Shadowrun fan, I'm looking forward to actually being called a Fixer), including a wide range of random tables for generating Marks' attributes, motivations and the reason for the Job. I have since noticed that MWP have produced an introductory module ('The Quickstart Job' at $1.99) and I'll definitely be investing in it to give me an example Job before I start to design my own. Given the pricing of 'The Quickstart Job' I'd consider it a no-brainer.

This leads me to my only gripe and that is the lack of the near-ubiquitous 'module in the back of the book' that we see with most core rulebooks. MWP did an excellent job of including one in the recent 'Marvel Superheroes RPG' which set the tone well, and helped to introduce players and GMs alike to the game. 'Leverage' would have benefited from this too.

The writing style is very light, is conversational in tone and does a great job in explaining all of the concepts on the first pass. All of the art is taken from the television show, and is used quite sensibly - it is always apparent why a particular still was used on a given page. I've printed out my PDF copy, and on greyscale it was not a great drain on my ink cartridge.

Despite the lack of intro module, I'll still give this five stars. From the group approach to making characters, the high-end narrative style of the game, and the fact that it forces all characters into the limelight at least once per Job makes this a winner. I can imagine in the near future that my group will be enjoying a 'Leverage' marathon on our DVDs, followed by a really fun game. I can't wait to see what more this product line has in store, and this type of product constantly reaffirms MWP as a high-quality publisher of gaming titles.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage Roleplaying Game
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Castlemourn Campaign Setting
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 07:01:08
You know that anything written by Ed Greenwood is going be a lavishly detailed immersion into high fantasy, and Castlemourn showcases his abilities (through the excellent MWP) admirably.

Castlemourn marries fantasy with one of my other favourite genres - the post-apocalyptic setting. Three hundred years ago, there was a cataclysm which destroyed the previous shining age, causing the gods to cordon off the realm. As such, none are permitted to leave, although some brave (or foolish) souls still try; and are never seen again. Don't let the idea of a contained setting fool you though; there is more than enough to keep players interested and enough political intrigue, open warfare, exploration and adventure to engage even the most experienced group.

There are all the mainstays of D&D in terms of character races, including two new ones - the Godaunt and the Thaele who do add a certain 'flavour' to the game by their presence and all the classes are present and accounted for. The only new class is the Buccaneer, and this is interesting enough (and balanced enough) to make it an attractive option (and who doesn't want to play a pirate).

There is also a host of new mechanically-flavoured items (including the ubiquitous Prestige Classes), but it is all very well written and presented.

With Ed Greenwood at the helm, you know the book will include the practicalities of daily life, and he doesn't disappoint. Calendars and crops, foods and festivals are all covered in varying degrees of detail and give GM and player alike a real insight into daily life - something I've always admired from his Forgotten Realms work.

Given that this has been reduced to $4.99, I cannot think of a single reason why this shouldn't be on every fantasy gamers' shopping list. Even if you are a 4e player, the narrative content alone will be useful. If you are looking for a new setting for your next campaign, give this a chance. You'll not regret doing so.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castlemourn Campaign Setting
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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Player's Guide
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 06:38:17
One of the core strengths of Games Workshop is that they really know how to develop an in-depth game world and they have chosen Fantasy Flight to translate this vision into an RPG. When I read the first offering of WH RPG, I was put off a little by the seeming novelty factor of the cards, funny dice and other accoutrements required to be purchased that only worked for this one game.

The Players Guide goes a long way to addressing this issue for me, and in many ways, makes playing the game a lot more enticing. Whilst this is essentially a 'big book of rules', the writing style is such that the concepts are usually understandable on the first reading and the conceptual flow of information in logical. It covers all aspects of playing the game and provides some sidebars for the GM (such as 'Encumbrance and common sense', a must read for all GMs). Everything from character creation, to playable races, gear, combat and healing and spellcasting are covered as well as some of the more exotic questions. Want a suit of Gromril armour (and what dwarf doesn't?) or dream to swing one of the blades of Hoerth? The rules are here for your pleasure.

Included are a ton of careers (both the basic and advanced careers) drawn from four other supplements and the cards are all presented in the Appendix.

The narrative elements are also included, giving an insight to the world of Warhammer (my favourite being the section which reinforces the 'Skaven Myth', which has been a great part of Warhammer since its' earliest days).

I did mention that the 'novelty factor' was the initial reason why I didn't become too invested in the game. Chapter 14 'WHRP Lite' has changed my opinion, as the designers have realised the players and GMs have probably had a wide range of reactions to the system. Chapter 14 not only recognises this, but offers some alternative methods of play scaled to taste. Given this inclusion, I'll be laying hands on a few other supplements and applying the ideas. It has quite seriously given me a new appreciation for an already great game.

As a Fantasy Flight product, you can expect fine writing, consistently high editing, and a canny eye for artistic layout. I've purchased almost every book in the 'Dark Heresy' line from the same company and can honestly say that they apply the same high standards to both game lines. I am glad to see the lower price has now been applied, and don't have a problem recommending it as good value at the $25.00 price point.

If you have been hesitant to jump into the game, consider this your 'jumping-in' point.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Player's Guide
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Shadowrun: Street Legends: Home Edition
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 06:11:03
It is good to see more gaming companies getting into the spirit of April 1st (and making the product free to all of us). For those familiar with the 'Street Legends' book, the basic premise is to cover, both narratively and mechanically, a wide range of NPCs for Shadowrun. As a gag title, this presents the NPCs which were left on the cutting-room floor (or tossed in a waste-paper basket, shredded or.. well, you get the idea).
Four entries are presented, covering six NPCs with the strangest of background stories. Experienced GMs may have even seen concepts like these passed across the table over the years (and canned them). Beyond a joke value, the book could be useful for urban legend style rumours or idle bar talk, but really little else.
As an April 1st release, the it does what it says on the cover.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Street Legends: Home Edition
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Shadowrun: Missions: Free Taiwan
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 05:55:47
This is a very interesting adventure and would have still been a great product at the usual Shadowrun Missions price point. Given that it is free, it is an excellent opportunity to showcase Catalysts' best game line - and an opportunity they have not wasted.

'Free Taiwan' is a fairly simple module, designed for convention play and the designers have kept the pace moving, the plot succinct and added notes as to which scenes can be dropped if time is tight. For those playing at home, this isn't an issue, but makes the module perfect for a one-night filler.

The plot focuses on a snatch and grab, and offers enterprising and imaginative players a very broad sandbox in which they can play. Whilst the plot is moderately linear (as one would expect), the manner in which characters travel between plot points is surprisingly open. I'd highly recommend though, that a GM have a few contingency plans in place, just in case players freeze when given open choice, and the module does offer some advice towards this.

There is a GM note at the beginning about managing players which I do think is completely unnecessary. Anyone who plays Shadowrun, and is a mature human being shouldn't need to be managed, but I do understand the need to play to the lowest common denominator (especially at conventions).

That said, I'd highly recommend this for any Shadowrunning group with more than a couple of 'runs under their belt (it wouldn't be the best introduction to the game). I can't wait to run this with my group as this sort of freedom is just the sort of gaming they live for. The authors have produced another fine instalment to the series, and my faith in the quality of SR titles this year could not be higher.

The additional pictures included in this module are a brilliant idea. There are some creature and vehicle pictures included that add a lot of value to the story. I would like to see this sort of design incorporated into future modules, as they will come in very handy.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Free Taiwan
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Dark Heresy: The Chaos Commandment
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2012 23:44:21
'The Chaos Commandment' is, simply put, 40K at its' finest. Out of the three game lines from Fantasy Flight, I have always preferred 'Dark Heresy' for the tone of the game and the fact that the characters are often simple denizens of the forty-first millennium. It is from this perspective that the horror that is core to this system can bubble to the surface.

The first two instalments of this series were lively, spectacular romps through the 40K universe, hinged on classic icons of the setting that lent a feeling of dark gothic sci-fi infused with an almost Cthuhlu-like feeling of dread.

The themes of 'Church of the Damned' are continued in this tome, and any fans of the Eclesiarchy and the cult of the God-Emperor will find plenty to sink their proverbial teeth into. The authors have taken one of the most blasphemous possibilities and made it the focus of the final story arc - anyone truly immersed in their character (especially as an Agent of the Inquisition) will hopefully respond in appalled outrage. The role-playing possibilities are incredibly rich for the final scenes, especially in terms of the mop-up from this operation.

There is a strong action-adventure mood to all three interlocking adventures, from the assault of the Hive world (which offers characters the chance to 'get tactical', take command of squads and hijack vehicles in the service of the Inquisition). Those looking to indulge in high-octane, military/James Bond action sequences need look no further. this continues the tradition of 'Church of the Damned' which opens with a Valkyrie-assisted assault and I get the feeling that the designers have played through this several times before offering a final product - and have obviously made little tweaks along the way to ratchet up the excitement level.
This military bent is present in subsequent scenes, especially the final assault, and the cast of units in the battle lend an epic feel to the culmination of the series.

It is a difficult product to review in-depth without giving too much away, but rest assured that Fantasy Flight have capped this series off well. I mentioned in my review of Part 2 that I hoped it would end 'with a bang, and lots of fire' and someone at Fantasy Flight was obviously listening - and delivered.

I've found this trilogy to be much more exciting, horrifying and immersive than the 'Haarlock Legacy' trilogy, despite the high production value and attention to detail shown in the latter. The writers have hit their stride with this newest trilogy, embraced the 40K universe whole-heartedly and added - in my opinion - something which resonates as strongly as any GW canon.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: The Chaos Commandment
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Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
Publisher: M.A.R Barker's World of Tekumel
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2012 01:01:01
Empire of the Petal Throne is a manuscript which anyone interested in old-school gaming, or simply has a desire to revisit older RPGs must have. The fact that this has been able to be replicated (after an original print run of only fifty confidential copies) is fantastic.

Tekumel (the world of EotPT), is clearly a product inspired by the sources of its’ time. On the surface, this seems like a foolish statement; until you use it as a mental guide when reading the manuscript. Tekumel is the result of a utter collapse of an advanced star-faring society, who used science-fiction level technology to terraform the planet, subdue the native races and trade with interstellar partners. The ‘Time of Darkness’ destroyed this testament to progress and over the next few thousand years, humanity regressed technologically until this knowledge was revered myth . Meanwhile, the oppressed and endangered non-human races rose in number and prominence. Slowly, a new regime was established, with the current dynasty ruling from the Petal Throne for over two thousand years.

The writing style is very straightforward, but the history is not onerous to read. Imagined references presented in-text make the work seem like a monastic document rescued from a faraway time and lends some further tools which the reader can use to aid in immersion.

The rules as presented are inspired by the original version of Dungeons and Dragons, and there is a certain unflinching brutality in the manner of their presentation, which anyone familiar with Gygax’s style of writing will find recognisable. Interestingly, Barker makes comments about the superficiality of the alignment system (a discussion continued today), and includes basic stats, rules for hirelings, encounters per hex on the world map, psychic powers (which are the explanation of wizard and cleric spells) and only three classes (Warrior, Wizard and Priest). The in-built Monster Manual shows how much Barker adhered to an idea of internal consistency, with all of the creatures given either a short history, as well as some ecological information. For most creatures, relationships with other monsters are suggested. These suggestions could then be used by the DM to build multi-layered encounters.

Part Two of the manuscript introduces the idea of the Underworld (i.e. Dungeons) and provides rationale for their existence by urban renewal and the idea of rediscovering buildings and civilisations lost to the ‘Time of Darkness’. Creatures native to the Underworld are also presented here and they do range from the annoying to the truly and imaginatively lethal (there are more of the latter than the former). I’d love to export a lot of these creatures into my D&D game to shake up the players who think they ‘have seen it all’. Most are evocatively named, like the ‘Eater of Swords’, the ‘Demon of Bronze’ and the ‘Serpent-Headed One’. To me, a lot of the flavour text felt like a romp through the classic Howard-esque era of fantasy novels.

The spells are easily recognisable to anyone who has played D&D before, but Barker draws in technological devices known as ‘The Eyes’. These are gems left by a previous age which have innate powers (such as the ‘Excellent Ruby Eye’ which freezes people, or the ‘Eye of Advancing Through Portals’ which opens doors or blasts walls to create doors). In a previous note, the authors warns that any creature slain by an Eye generate no experience points for the party – so they can use these super-items to slay their way across the countryside, but won’t get a mechanical benefit for doing so. The merits of this system could be debated for hours. In total there are thirty-three potential Eyes a PC could lay hands on – another excellent part of the book which could be transported into almost any other system with ease. Other magical items certainly exists and are detailed over the next six pages.

The rest of this book is given to advice on running games, as well as linguistic advice and an in-depth examination of the political structures within which PCs should be expected to operate.

The actual layout is very well done, with the text presented in two concurrent pages. On the left of the document, you’ll see the original yellowed and fading scanned manuscript, on the right, a clean typed version (which has used the same font as the original). I simply resized my screen so that I could only see the clean version. Reading the other was enjoyable (and added to the immersion of this experience), but in some parts the text has become too faded to clearly read, or is smudged. I would imagine that this would be the rationale behind providing a clean copy as well.

In comparison to ‘modern’ games, EotPT may not have a streamlined play style, but this is indicative of the game which inspired it. In my opinion, this is part of its’ charm, and I am heartily glad that this game is now coming to light to be appreciated by a wider audience. The amount of setting information and dense detail which has been included in this manuscript is impressive, and one can tell that Professor Barker had a true passion in the design of this world. The only addition to this game which I would like are some detailed maps, but the book clearly points the reader to the Tekumel website (which I will be dedicating some serious leisure time to investigating soon). The fact that the website exists is great, as we may be seeing more material for this wonderful setting.

This was an excellent nostalgic trip through the type of product which littered my youth and my initial foray into RPGs, and for that alone I am grateful. Beyond that, the manuscript does present a world which is engaging and interesting, and whilst inspired by the original D&D already shows points of divergence. I would relish the opportunity to actually play this game, and firmly believe that anyone with an interest in the ‘old school’ should support Professor Barker and pick up a copy of ‘Empire of the Petal Throne’.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
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King Arthur Pendragon: Edition 5.1
Publisher: Nocturnal
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2012 23:02:14
King Arthur Pendragon has always held a special place in my gaming heart, despite the fact that I've not played it often. When I have, however, I am easily caught up in the sweeping grandeur that this game supports so well. It has a number of innovative elements that have stood the test of time, and are still concepts I have yet to see replicated elsewhere.

My review, however, is going to focus not on the game (which is fantastic, and every gamer should have a copy on their shelf; 'nuff said), but rather on the Print On Demand delivery of the product. This was one of the very early titles in the POD stable. When my copy arrived, I could not have been happier. The softcover has a fine, glossy finish and the quality of the printing is excellent. The binding is tight and has lasted the twelve months since purchase despite being carted about in my backpack and being read several times over. I honestly couldn't tell the difference between this and any other softcover RPG book on my shelf. A professional and quality job all round.

To me this is a perfect marriage of an excellent classic game, now in a print format that is equally as good. From this experience, I'll be gladly plugging holes in my collection with other DrivethruRPG Print On Demand titles

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
King Arthur Pendragon: Edition 5.1
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Shadowrun: Jet Set
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2012 21:12:00
‘Jet Set’ from the outset is a GM book only. Whilst the first chapter may be of interest to players, I’d suggest that they stop reading there. The book aims to introduce the concept of the ultra-elite, those with the wealth to literally change the course of human history. Whilst traditionally, Shadowrunners wouldn’t be calling these folk omae, they certainly do offer the temptation of ‘the one big job’. The first chapter gives an overview of the jet set from a Shadowrunners’ perspective, as moderated by FastJack. It covers some of the key personalities and offers some setting-enhancing material (spot the SOPA reference) with echoes to our world. This in particular is quite well-done and continues SR’s fine tradition of making the world a lot more than just rules – there are diverse agendas being explored, and the writers have paid careful attention to ensuring that each NPC offers something distinctly different from their counterparts. A ‘run working for the Villiers should be different to working for Johnny Spinrad, and it does show in the flavour text.

The rest of the book is given to a new format of story ideas, and there are plenty of these to suit the palate of almost any shadowrunning group. The basic structure is a BBS-style intro with a little backstory, followed by an overview and a series of plot points. Each point serves to walk a GM through the key events occurring in the story, and does so in a very loose fashion. Strung together, the plot points do tell a story, but it does require some planning and fleshing out by the GM to work properly. As said, there are a wide variety of scenarios from Matrix-runs, to mad aeroplane bombers to a story which makes use of the material in the Shadowrun War! supplement. On the whole, the writing for these is concise and again attention has been paid to making these distinct experiences for the characters, and keyed to a range of play styles. However, the link between the jet set and the plot points in some cases was quite tenuous, and I felt that some had a much more generic SR feel than the authors may have intended.

On the note of War!, the introduction to the book does note a few titles which would be useful if you intend to use the material in Jet Set. I’d agree that whilst those books are not absolutely necessary, you will have a better feel for the source material if you do own a copy. I’ll leave it up to individual readers to determine if this dependency is a problem.

The final section of the book contains stats for all of the major NPCs mentioned in the book, and whilst interesting, isn’t an essential part of the book. I might refer to it from time to time, but the preceding chapters is where my attention will be firmly placed.

In summary, Jet Set does offer up new material and background for the Sixth World, but it may not be to everyone’s taste. The Plot Point structure is interesting and I could see some solid development work which could be done to extend this through other titles. My main gripe was that I would have liked to see less of these ‘adventures’ and more of the type of setting information found in the first chapter. If the book had focused exclusively on setting info, with a GM Advice chapter on designing games revolving on the influence of the Jet Set, this would have been a stronger product.

That said, I certainly enjoyed it, and this title has more than enough ideas for me to loot and pillage for my own Shadowrun game.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Jet Set
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-07: Burn
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/11/2012 17:46:05
'Burn' is the latest instalment in the Season 4 of Shadowrun Missions and acts as a way of starting to tie-up the Ork Underground plotline which you'll find through most of the other S4 modules. It is primarily investigative in nature, with minimal chances for combat (unless the runners take rather foolish actions) and will best suit a team that has a wide range of Contacts and a Face. Any Hacking skills will also be useful.
The module deals with the repeated firebombing of key areas in the Ork Underground, and this time the targets will be enough to get even the most jaded Shadowrunner involved. As I mentioned, there is a lot of legwork which needs to be accomplished, and there is definitely the feeling that the story will be finished elsewhere. This will be a challenge if you're running this outside of a convention as a dogged group without the pressure of a convention timeslot deadline may spend a lot of time chasing down leads to try and 'close' the module. The GM will need to put some serious thought into how their group would approach the job and how to wind down the module without meta-gaming.
That said, it is consistent with Catalyst's high standards for Shadowrun Missions. The pricing if perfect, the writing strong, the modules engaging and the art is usually of a good quality. As I have mentioned before, the SR2 part of my gaming soul rejoices to see the module format has been kept and this sense of familiarity (in all SR products) always makes me comfortable when cracking open a new title. This module taps into those nostalgic leanings even more by the nature of the Johnson in this run - but I shan't ruin the enjoyment by saying any more.

I'm extremely interested to see the next module and look forward to the resolution of the current storyline.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-07: Burn
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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2012 20:30:13
MWP's iteration of the MArvel RPG represents an intertesting method for running games in general, not just this one. As with other product lines (most notably Smallville), there is a massive responsibility for all of the players and the GM to reach accords, discuss gameplay rationally and also look to the the 'bigger picture' rather than remain selfishly introspective - which may not suit all gaming groups style of play. That said, the game is about playing superheroes, so the premise that you need to work together, think about the whole plarty and have fun aren;t at odds with the chosen genre. I'm very keen to use this game with my group as it does offer a conceptual challenge, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

Character creation is a process which will require some thought, but it is relatively streamlined and essentially revolves around picking descriptive aspects of your character and assigning a dice value to them (as a side note, if you don't want to play your own character, there is a datafile in the back with a lot of recognised heroes ready to play). These are Distinctions (what your character is well-known for) and Specialities (the skills at which you are adept). Different modes of play are supported by the Affiliation stat which governs whether your character is best at Solo, Buddy or Team play. The only downside to this, is that I can see those characters with Solo rated the highest being a little frsutrated given that most scenes will be a co-operative team effort, so the dice will let them down a little in those circumstances. However, this is something the GM will need to consider when deisgning play opportunities for their group.

The Power Sets are quite well-developed, but the GM should take a guiding role in development at this point, as it is easy (as with most supers games) to build a character with a single, extremely over-powered speciality. I was glad to see that most of the powers I'd expect in a supers game to be here (including sorcery so I can play Stephen Strange!).

Gameplay, as I mentioned is highly collaborative, and those with experience in the Smallville RPG will feel right at home. The dice mechanics will take a bit of time to fully grasp, and in a newer group you should expect that any event requiring dice rolling will take time due to the number of variables that can be assigned to the roll. I would have liked a much more streamlined system (like Serenity) as this would support the 'fast and furious' action that comics represent. Only time (and a lot of play) will see if I can move my combats at the optimum speed. Outside of Cortex, I can't think of any parrallel experience to which players will be able to relate; as each set of variables is assigned at the point of rolling. Add to this that you can be rolling upwards of seven different dice which contribute to your pool for very different reasons and you can see what I mean.

The layout of the book was great, and it was nice to see a collection of Marvel art running thorugh the book. Marvel has (for me) very much a 'hit or miss' with their art of late, so it was good that MWP hadn't hinged the entire book on one artists' output.

Finally, game comes with the ubiquitous and expected 'module in the back of the book'. This two-act adventure is based on the first few issues of Bendis' run on The Avengers and I'm not convinced that designing a module around already printed comic plot was a good idea. Those familiar with the first few issues of this comic won;t find too many surpirses in store. I would have preferred to see something original in this place instead.

Overall, I've not had a lot of experience with supers RPGs, mostly because the systems for these games are almost uniformly complex. I'm not sure what it is about the genre that incites mathematical complexity in game designers, but Marvel seems to be at the lighter end of the spectrum. Given its' high attention to story, drama and coi-operative play, I should be able to sidestep my initial feelings about the system and play it with great excitement - and I recommend you do as well.

Excelsior!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
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Dresden Files RPG Preview: Nevermore
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2012 04:25:16
I've been a fan of the Harry Dresden novels for a few years and Evil Hat's RPG has piqued my curiousity. After reading the free taster, I'll be investing in the whole game. Whilst other reviews I've read have pointed to the system being extraordinary, I'll focus on the section available for download here.
This is part of the RPG book, and provides an overview of Baltimore. At 39 pages, it contains an awful lot of informatio including an overview of Baltimore, the mundane community, the source of supernatural conflict in the city (a Ley Line of great power), and an indepth look at the supernaturals. The White and Black Courts are covered as are renegade wizards (proving that not all wizards need conform to the White Council), the Fae, a mortal secret society (dedicated to the supernatural knowledge of Edgar Allen Poe) and the White Council.

As well as a host of NPCs with full stats, the authors have included three potential PCs which could be played straight from the page. They are well-developed enough to build some in game relationships and attention has been paid to forging some links that will keep them together.

However, what truly shines is the reparte between the fictional authors of the section. There are side notes which poke fun at NPC names, reveal that Thomas (Harry's brother) is a goth LARPer (whilst also ridiculing some stereotypes of LARPers), running supernatural political commentary, Star Wars references and some other insights which make reading this a very pleasant experience, and cementing it as pure Dresden.

The last section is a more comprehensive narrative of the locations in Baltimore likely to create interest and tension in your chronicle. There are clear links back to the NPCs in the previous section showing that the authors have invested time in planning the chapter. The linkages are logical and interesting, and could be transferred to almost any other supernatural-themed game.

As I said, I'm going out and buying the RPG as soon as possible, and I'll look forward to collecting (and hopefully playing) the entire Dresden product line. Even if you don't intend to get involved in RPGs, this is worth getting just to read.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dresden Files RPG Preview: Nevermore
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