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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I want more...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of Gaius
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B19: Tower of Screaming Sands
Publisher: AAW Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/11/2014 08:39:27
A simple and straightforward adventure: the party comes across an old abandoned tower deep in the desert and venture inside to loot it... or is it so simple?

The book starts with the adventure background, detailing how the tower - bored within an obsidian monolith rather than built stone by stone - came to be and telling the story of the deranged yet powerful wizard who made his home and last refuge here. Whilst the nature of the adventure is such that it can be incorporated into any suitable desert journey, several 'hooks' are provided to get the party headed in the right direction if you prefer that approach.

First, of course, they have to get there. Deserts are not safe places to travel in what with the heat, natural hazards and hostile wildlife... and some good advice is provided for running desert journeys which you'll want to hang on to for any time your players take it into their heads to have a desert trip. It's recommended that you use a mix of random encounters as well as the three provided, and that you keep the players interested by keeping time fluid, glossing over the long hours of plodding and highlighting encounters. Do not forget that the environment can be as much of an enemy as any monster - heat, thirst, the weather and the lack of landmarks can all take their toll on even well-prepared parties.

The encounters provided (by the way, there are THREE encounters, don't get confused by two of them being headed 'Encounter Two'!) give a good mix of excitement: with natural hazards, monsters and a nomad tribe to deal with. It's not all combat, interaction and thinking things through also play their part.

Provided the party survives mostly intact, they will eventually arrive at the tower. It may be by chance, or they may be here because of one of the hooks - or even after talking to the nomads during their journey. Here, there's a wealth of information to aid you in running this, the main part of the adventure - including two options that make things decidedly more stressful and potentially deadly for the characters.

The place is full of traps! Now, the background makes it clear why this is so, but it will not be obvious to the party - as some players do not care for lots of traps you may wish to consider if this is the right adventure for them, but you know your group... Many are deadly, so beware. There is loot to be had, so many groups will find it worth the risk.

The tower boasts three levels, and as well as the traps there are plenty of other threats, mostly undead. If run as a one-shot, having a cleric and a rogue in the party will be advantageous. The top level is the lair of the original creator of the dungeon and provides the scene for the climactic battle... one which must be won if the party is to escape alive.

The usual high standard of presentation from AAW is displayed, with copious amounts of information well-organised in colourful blocks that make it clear what's what: read-aloud text, information, trap mechanics, monster notes, skill checks and so on. This makes the adventure very easy to run, although like most some study beforehand would be a benefit. Appendices provide the mechanics for encounters in detail, using both Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rulesets.

Overall this is a good 'classic' dungeon crawl with lots to do and see, a good challenge for the intended level of party with the focus mostly on trap-solving and combat. An exciting time should be had by all!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B19: Tower of Screaming Sands
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The Genius Guide to the Dracomancer
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/08/2014 10:04:42
What, a new base class that casts spontaneously and looks to dragons for their power? Er, isn't that really a sorcerer? Not quite, as we shall see...

Yes, the dracomancer is a spontaneous caster. But that's about where the similarity to sorcerers ends. Dracomancers are linked closely not just with dragons themselves but with the source of draconic power - that's where their casting abilities come from rather than interesting genealogy, and moreover they take on other aspects of dragonkind as well. They are also able to acquire a dragon companion, who will grow with them as they rise in level.

In places where dracomancers are rare, they are often viewed with suspicion and there are many misconceptions about them. Where their powers are better known, they're often respected members of society and accorded high status.

Scene set, all the game mechanics needed to run a dracomancer up to 20th level are provided. There's an interesting discussion on the payoffs to the dragonic companion: while many choose wyverns or other lesser beasts, some have the company of true dragons who gain significant benefits from the arrangement - it's by no means a one-way street! Some of the dracomancers' special abilities are bound to the type of their draconic companion, and as they rise in level they are able to assume other characteristics of dragonkind - even wings or a breath weapon.

As draconic companions are important, a lot of detail is provided about them, with a wide variety being listed. An added bonus is that they are described in the same manner as dragonrider mounts (see the Genius Guide to the Dragonrider) so can serve thus if required... a bonus 30-odd mounts for dragonriders to consider.

Dragons ought to be an important and integral part of any fantasy game, and here's a way to use them that's fresh and innovative yet in keeping with tradition.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to the Dracomancer
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Out of the Blue
Publisher: Broken Razor Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/07/2014 10:55:17
This game bills itself as 'collaborative storytelling' rather than full-blown role-playing, with scope - indeed need - for three players: the classic 'buddy pair' of cops and a third person playing 'The Beat'. This last individual represents the setting and plot and plays everybody else who appears in the game, but is NOT a game master per se. The cop players may choose to be veterans, rookies, rogues or even a K-9, best each chooses a different one (unless you want two veteran cops or possibly two rogues!).

Once roles are decided, you need to determine the setting by deciding which city you're operating in, the name of the unit our cops work for and even a few details about the Chief; as well as determining a criminal organisation and its leadership. That gives The Beat something to work with, whilst the other two players get to grips with their cop characters, again with a series of questions to help you flesh them out. Then they'll need to decide how good they are at various skills necessary to a cop's life: bureaucracy, combat, dialogue, investigation and pursuit. Rank them in order from 1 to 5. There are a few other things as well but every mechanical advantage has to be described in narrative during the game to take effect.

The way that The Beat differs from a classic GM is that, despite devising and running the plot, he shares narration with the two Cop players, rather than them solely talking about what their characters are doing. With use of die rolls and the skills previously determined, they take hold of part of a scene describing the action in its entirety - what they are doing AND what everyone else is doing as well. Interestingly, a key difference between this and classic role-playing is how essential die rolls and game mechanics are to driving the story forwards, rather than merely resolving tasks when someone is attempting something for which the outcome is open to question. The person who takes charge at any point during the game is determined by passing a physical token, the Badge, to them. At certain points - like setting the initial scene - the Badge should be in The Beat's hands, but most of the time it is just passed clockwise around the table so that everyone gets a turn.

There are plenty of examples to show how the different rules can be applied, and if collaborative storytelling and police procedurals are your thing, this is a good vehicle with which to tell a few shared stories.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Out of the Blue
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DN-02: The False Prophet
Publisher: Drunken Nerdery
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2014 12:01:38
This adventure presents a straightforward investigation and 'puzzle dungeon' aimed at mid-level (8-10) characters. Set in an arid desert environment, it begins with an encounter where passing nomads save the day, and then invite the party to visit their village.

Everything is well-described and atmospheric, with the scene being well-set by clear details and plenty of those little details that make everything come to life. Naturally, just as the party is getting to know people, something goes wrong during a traditional religious ceremony. Opportunities are presented for them to investigate and to talk to villagers before they are inevitably led towards the dungeon that awaits them... indeed, in many ways this is pretty 'old school' in concept.

The dungeon itself is laid out in considerable detail, and hangs together well (essential if a 'puzzle' dungeon is going to work for the party). The GM is provided with an overview map and more detailed ones of particular areas, whilst a mappack full of battlemaps and further plans is provided with the download to make life easier for those who like to use miniatures or at least show the players what their characters see rather than merely describe it to them. Due to the nature of the dungeon, however, it is suggested that the party be encouraged to map it for themselves.

If the dungeon itself is not confusing enough, there's an ingenious puzzle room buried in its depths which should challenge even seasoned adventurers. When all is explored and the reasons why behind what is going on have been revealed, there are a few options for continuing the plot - or, of course, the party may prefer to take their loot and continue the adventure elsewhere.

Well-presented (although the background is at times a little dark to provide adequate contrast to the text) and well-resourced, the adventure is a little bit linear, and not everybody likes puzzle dungeons - although at leaast this one makes overall sense both in structure and in the rationale for it being there - but ought to provide good entertainment.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DN-02: The False Prophet
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Sunken Ship
Publisher: DramaScape
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2014 11:14:15
Fancy a swim?

This battlemap (presented in the usual multi-page print out and stick together format with no grid, hex grid or square grid plus a massive single JPEG for virtual table top use) shows scattered debris of a suken ship for your party to explore. The accompanying text describes it as being deep but the colourscheme just doesn't work for that, it looks far more shallow. Light tails off pretty quickly when you dive - 10 fold with every 75 m of descent if I recall my training correctly - yet the colours look like no more than a metre or so of water over sand in direct sunlight! If this is a deep wreck the scene needs to be darker and more blue.

The wreck itself is lying on the surface of the sea bed, and is remarkably debris-free although there isn't much left. There are also six sea mines scattered around, so care needs to be taken when moving around the area. A devilish GM could be inventive with underwater currents pushing divers or the mines around even if they are (as shown in the cover illustration) tethered by chains to the seabed.

Useful if your plot involves retrieving something from a wreck or finding out why a ship sunk... lay in a supply of shark miniatures or perhaps a few octopi!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Ship
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Dwellers In Nightmare
Publisher: Aegis Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2014 10:37:54
This is a collection of pre-generated characters mostly suitable for use as NPCs in a Glimpse the Beyond game. One or two could be used as player-characters if you need one in a hurry, but most are more suitable to NPC/monster use.

The introductory notes, as well as harbouring a small rant about respect and consent, suggests that these are just a framework, a basis which can be messed around with as much as individual players or the Talespinner (GM) might want before using them.

A standard layout is used. There's a page giving the character's backstory including how their life has been changed by the magical chaos that struck the world, showing both what they did before and what they are doing now. Brief notes about how each character might fit in and what you might want to change (generally mechanics rather than story) are included, and then there's a full-page character sheet ready filled out. There is also a sketch of the character.

It's a useful resource, particularly if you don't enjoy character creation, but the characters themselves - or at least their backstories - are quite limited. Of course, those are open to being changed!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dwellers In Nightmare
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Into the City: Map 3
Publisher: Crooked Staff Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/02/2014 08:33:32
This comprises a very nice and detailed single building suitable for any fantasy city or town, presented in a diversity of ways to make it very usable in your game. There's a single page plan which is numbered and has space for your notes, a multi-sheet version to print out if you want to use miniatures and a large JPG version suitable for use with virtual table tops (or if you can get use of a poster printer).

Although it's not mentioned anywhere, the building appears to be a public bath house. Centred around a large pool area, there are what appear to be steam rooms, a couple of chambers with a smaller pool each, a changing room (complete with communal privy), reception area and a meeting room with a table and chairs. Unless your campaign setting encourages mixed bathing, you'll need to set hours as there are no facilities to provide separate changing (or in an extravagant town, there might be TWO bath houses!).

The notes page is designed for use after you have printed the plan out, unless you are adept enough with PDF technology to add your notes (if you use Acrobat, click on Comments and choose Add Text Comment then type in what you wish to say).

You can imagine all sorts of intrigue going on here, even a literal backstabbing or two... or perhaps it is a place weary and grubby adventurers might go to refresh themselves before celebrating their return in a tavern!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the City: Map 3
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Bastards of Foreven Fleet Book 2: Starships
Publisher: DSL Ironworks
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/02/2014 07:58:09
Any Traveller universe, be it the original one (OTU) or an alternate one (ATU) like the Foreven Sector, needs loads and loads of starships. Space travel is mature enough to have lots of vessels out in the black and it beggars belief that they are all built to the same design, so I relish the addition of yet more starships to ply the spacelanes.

This collection includes a variety of craft designed for various purposes and allowing for considerable variation. Each comes with copious flavour text, designed for use in the Foreven Sector ATU but capable of use in any Traveller universe with minimal modification. There are delightful sketches redolant of the original Traveller books, deck plans and various exterior views as well as full specifications.

First up is a luxury yacht or VIP transport, which has a distinct VIP suite as well as space for both crew and the VIP's entourage. You could create a whole campaign around a travelling diplomat or noble and his retinue, have the party running a VIP vessel for hire or run a one-off adventure involving an attack or rescue mission. And that's only the first one!

Next is a specialist mining/survey rig. It's designed for use in an asteroid belt, to search out mineral resources and evaluate them. Designed for long-term deployment, it is roomy and comfortable for the crew of pilot, engineer, geologist and a couple of mining specialists - and even boasts a laboratory for the geologist. It's not big enough to conduct full-scale mining operations on its own, but could be used in conjunction with a shuttle craft such as the Skipjack (described later) and some long-haul cargo containers, also covered in this work. Again, if not running a mining/exploration campaign, you could encounter these craft during a visit to an asteroid belt.

The next craft is an ingenious answer to the question of what to do with old X-boats... mate them to a Vagrant class service hull, of course. This annular structure provides extra space and manoeuvering drives, while the X-boat provides Jump capability. An interesting and versatile concept.

Then there's the aforementioned Skipjack class system shuttle. Intended to be used in-system, it needs a crew of three and has plenty of cargo space. It can skim fuel for its manoeuvre drives and is a good 'workhorse' craft to have buzzing around a busy system. Variants exist that can be used as landing craft, and the large cargo spaces can be reconfigured for carrying personnel. Apparently one has been tricked out as a spacefaring brothel...

If you need additional cargo capacity, a Longhaul class cargo container can be attached to your Skipjack - a relatively simple task, so you can travel around picking them up and dropping them off as needed. Again these can be configured in a range of ways including colony transports, cold sleep personnel, or even as a basic system defence platform with weapons and crew quarters.

Next is a high-performance courier ship, the Kankur class frontier courier. This is another versatile vessel and suitable for the classic Traveller party (yes, it has a smuggler's hold!). There is a military version, an advanced scout craft (with stealth capabilities) and even a luxury transport version - each of these is described complete with deckplans showing how interior layout is changed.

If the luxury version of the Kankur does not meet your needs, try the Astoria class executive transport, which has enough space to carry a large crew to tend to your passengers' every need as well as to fly the ship. They even feature a battery of escape pods should their admittedly powerful defences prove inadequate or other difficulties arise. Apparently they are also good for corporate strike teams, if such operate in your neck of the woods.

Finally, there's the Saliant class patrol frigate, a powerful military heavy escort which can carry a marine unit and is capable of Jump-3 - and packs a heavy punch in its own right. It can land and also has a g-carrier with garage bay. A nice vessel for military/mercenary use.

So, a good range of well-designed and versatile craft, ready for use around your universe.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bastards of Foreven Fleet Book 2: Starships
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