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Toys for the Sandbox 119: The Dread Pit
Toys for the Sandbox 119: The Dread Pit
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Landscape: The Manse
Publisher: Polycosm Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/20/2013 10:58:18
This is an interesting and potentially very useful approach to map/plan making... an array of components to create your own floorplan of a large house, a mansion even. Note 'plan' - this is not a tool for making a battlemap, but one for creating floorplans draftsman style.

Unless you happen to be a draftsman (and I used to have a GM who was, his maps and floorplans were always outstanding!) you normally have the choice of a purchased product which may not be exactly what you want or drawing your own as well as you can. Whilst the advent of computers and the internet have made life easier (especially if you run contemporary games - just raid a real estate/estate agent site) and mapping programs are available for house design and even specialised game mapping, these can still leave you with not quite what you wanted.

Here, in a single sheet, are all the components that would be used in drawing a floorplan of a goodly-sized house. Pick out the bits you want or use the simple d6 system provided to create a more random plan. Or combine the two, rolling dice but picking alternates if you don't think what the dice come up with looks right.

Being precisely to scale, you can enlarge everything to whatever scale you want so if it is a battlemap you are after...

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Landscape: The Manse
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/20/2013 10:23:07
This is a re-tooling of an adventure published by Goodman Games in 2009 for AD&D 1e, now amended to the Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset by its original author, Harley Stroh... but the cunning and enjoyable plotline remains unchanged.

The Tower of the Black Pearl is a first-level adventure involving the exploration of a tower only revealed at extremely low tide - something that happens once a decade, so grab your chance while you may. Good background material is provided for the GM along with several hooks to get the characters involved. Once in, it's a neat adventure, challenging without being overwhelming, and nicely time-limited... after all, you go there at extreme low tide!

If the traps and denizens of the Tower themselves and the incoming tide are not enough challenge, a pirate by the name of Savage Quenn also fancies his chances at getting his hands on the Black Pearl and any other treasure he can find.

A good solid adventure with that classic feel.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
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Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
Publisher: Fire Mountain Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/19/2013 12:04:44
Amazing adventure awaits in these beautiful pages (with printer-friendly alternative). Here is an epic tale of underground exploration and adventure, with plenty to engage characters in a diverse range of activities far beyond mere brawling. Moreover, there is enough of a 'sandbox' feel to enable the party to feel somewhat masters of their own fates, combined with sufficient direction for the GM such that the plot will not flounder whatever the characters decide to do.

The introduction lays out some of the thoughts behind this adventure, and the entire adventure path of which this is the first volume. One delight is the way in which two completely different plotlines weave through the whole, sharing some locations and notable NPCs. You can follow one or the other as you please and as the choices your players make dictate. This adds to the realism, the feel that this is something taking place anyway, and that whilst the presence of the adventurers will have great effect, if they went home events would carry on regardless. The fundamental choice you - and they - need to make is, are you good(ish) adventurers exploring the depths or are you a pretty nasty bunch of Drow hell-bent on dominating them?

The background is equally impressive and sweeping in scale. Two hundred years ago, the greatest dwarf city of all fell in spectacular black flames, and since then dwarvenkind as a whole has been in decline. In a quest to reestablish themselves the dwarves seek to reclaim their lost city, Dammerhall... and it is to the party that they have turned. This makes at least one dwarf character useful, indeed an all-dwarf party could be run with considerable justification... this is, if you have decided to be the Good Guys.

A full second background is provided for groups interested in becoming Drow overlords, with a mistress who has been 'promoted into obscurity' after losing a power struggle seeking help as she rebuilds her fortunes.

This parallel approach continues once you reach the adventure proper. Separate introductions are provided to lead the party into essentially a common situation: a deep gnome settlement struggling to remain free from Drow influences. Help them or take them over yourselves are the basic options depending on which track the characters have chosen to follow. Whatever they are doing, they have vast trackless wastes of underground labyrinth to travel through, complete with a massive fungal jungle - home to unimagined horrors, of course - and the dearth of anything much to eat, even if you do like mushrooms! It is an unfamiliar environment, an alien place where fine marble and metals are commonplace, firewood is rare and sunlight is never seen.

The adventure comes in three main stages: the deep gnome village, the fungal jungle and a Drow outpost. Each event is approached in parallel with notes aimed at both styles - tagged Explorer and Overlord for ease of reference. Once the scene is set it is up to the party how to reach and what they decide to do. All the details you'll need are provided in the event descriptions, making the adventure very easy to run. There is a tremendous amount to see and do down here, it should keep any party, Explorer or Overlord, occupied and entertained for several sessions at the very least, and there are wonders to be seen and surprises galore.

Given the sandbox nature of the adventure, there are some notes to aid in troubleshooting should the party depart completely from what has been intended... although in many ways, they cannot really go off the rails whatever they decide to do.

Map support is excellent. Players are provided with a virtually blank 'map' to chart their travels on, whilst the GM has copious maps and descriptions to aid in keeping everything straight. There's even a bunch of 'random map elements' you can throw in as appropriate. The illustrations are awesome and some will work well to show the players what their characters can see... and all the maps (unlabelled) and some images appear in a separate 'handouts' file for ease of use.

Adventure done (for the time being) there are appendices. One covers playing dwarf characters, including how to build an all-dwarf party that works coherently within the scope of the game. A second covers drow in much the same way, because if you have chosen the Overlord track, the party will be of necessity drow. Finally there is a fascinating Patron system to aid in creating a divine patron for a group of characters. Whilst aimed at creating some measure of party cohesion for a bunch of self-seeking drow, it works equally well for more conventional good-intentioned groups. A neat idea is that it is designed as a collaborative exercise for players and GM together.

Overall, an exciting start to what has potential to be an epic campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Throne of Night Book One: Dark Frontier
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Supplement 13: Starport Encounters
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2013 12:03:34
Remarkably useful to any Traveller referee, this product provides a whole bunch of resources to aid in the creation of rich background detail, much of which have the potential to become an adventure in themselves. It comprises three sections: Starcrews, Cargoes and Fellow Travellers.

Starcrews provides details on those who work in space. They can be used to fill out a crew, as fellow patrons in a starport bar or.. well, turning up anywhere that fills your needs. But before we get to them, this section begins with various notes about starships and their crews and even a selection of starcrew slang and material to help you flesh out the ones you choose to use.

The section is then divided into sections based on the ship each crew works, beginning with Scouts/Couriers and continuing with Traders, Naval Ships and a catchall Others category. Each entry gives the name of the ship itself and those of the crew (or the more significant ones in the case of those ships with a large complement). Then there is some referee information about that ship and crew, and adventure hooks should you wish them to be more than just another ship in the distance. The way in which this is done means that if, for example, one of the characters gets into conversation with a crewmember in a bar, you are equipped with the background information you'll need for a lively conversation rather than frantic head-scratching to come up with details to answer likely questions such as "Which is your ship?" or "What cargo are you carrying?"

Speaking of cargoes, that is the focus of the next section. This consists of information to aid you in fleshing out cargoes to far more than mere dtons and value. Is it dangerous, or does it require feeding? There are a lot of notes about using cargoes creatively to enliven or even comprise adventures with, in true Traveller tradition, quite a few tables on which to roll. The discussion moves on to different cargo types: natural resources, processed resources, manufactured goods, information and novelties. The initial discussion covers 'HazMat' style warning signs that may be affixed to a consignment, and these are used throughout the listings to indicate possible threats that they may pose in transit. There are notes for each cargo listed to make them even more interesting (and perhaps adventure-worthy). Finally, if nothing catches your eye or you are in a rush to come up with a cargo, there is a set of tables for generating cargoes in considerable detail from a few die rolls. Trade need never be boring again!

The final section is Fellow Travellers. These are the people who, like the character themselves, spend at least part of their time roaming the spacelanes. If the characters take passage on a ship, some of these may be fellow passengers; if their ship offers passage these folk may buy tickets to travel with them. (One of my characters is chef on a ship that offers a high standard of service - it is surprising what adventures you can have with this concept... and my referee hasn't got a copy of this book yet, the game's been going a year or so and as I write this has just been published!) Fellow Travellers are classified by the passage purchased - High or Middle - and by whether they are travelling in a group or by themselves. Each comes with UPP and copious notes about their background, reasons for travelling and even how he's likely to behave, making role-playing him extremely easy.

A very useful resource that ought to grace evey Traveller referee's bookshelf (or hard drive).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 13: Starport Encounters
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Villain Gazette, Volume 1, Issue 4
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2013 10:17:44
Fancy a spot of space piracy? Then this is for you, especially if you use the Victory System or Hot Chicks... but if you are happy sorting out the appropriate rule mechanics, it will work for any star-faring game.

Opening with some atmospheric fiction, the pirates are covered in detail with full backstory (replete with plot ideas if you wish to embed them into your campaign universe), character sheets for the boss pirate and her crew, and details of her ship and of the on-board AI. Plenty for a one-off encounter or to make her a regular feature plaguing the spaceways until dealt with.

This is followed by copious detail for starship design under the Victory System, which contains some useful ideas and features even if you are playing something else.

Finally, there is an interesting discussion of whether or not these pirates could be reformed, shown the error of their ways and a few adventure seeds to suggest ways in which you can involve them in your game. Interestingly, they are split into fantasy (with a spaceship? Why not...), near-future and star-faring ones so no matter what you are playing or when your game is set there are opportunities to make use of this.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Villain Gazette, Volume 1, Issue 4
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Colorado_Flood_ Relief [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Fainting Goat Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 12:28:30
Thank you for providing this convenient (not to say enticing!) opportunity to help this good cause.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Colorado_Flood_ Relief [BUNDLE]
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Fantasy Maps: Cistern Map Pack
Publisher: D20 Cartographer
by Megan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 11:50:07
A handy mapset showing a rather clean section of a city's underpinning waterworks... a splendid location for anything from smuggling and hiding out to monster hunting and other feats of derring-do.

There are a lot of options here, from passageways with a central channel containing water to an actual circular cistern, little stone or plank bridges, steps and hidden nooks that could make a good - if rather damp and potentially smelly - hideout.

If you run city based adventures and ever wish to delve below the surface, this could prove a useful resource.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Maps: Cistern Map Pack
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Rule Zero: Gem Magic
Publisher: Minotaur Games
by Megan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 11:12:24
Drawing on mystical tradition and weaving game mechanics skillfully through it, this is an interesting and fascinating addition to magic use, unlocking the potential of gems to be more than mere adornments on finely-crafted magical items becoming an integral part of their operation.

It can be a time-consuming process, crafting the gemstone itself and constructing a special socket in your magic item to hold it, as well as casting any relevant spells, but the results can be quite spectacular. Mechanically, there is a new feat, Craft Gemstones (Item Creation), that lets you perform the necessary procedures. There are also a few new spells that involve gems, related to their use in this manner.

The main body of the work is a list of gemstones and the properties with which they can embue the item into which they are placed. The spells required are based on the gem type, but interestingly the effects differ depending on the item type into which you fit them - armour, weapon, staff or anything else. Furthermore, you can use a chip, a shard, a gem or a jewel of your chosen stone - the cost increases with each form, but so does the potency of the resulting effects.

There's a lot of scope here, from questing for specific gems to create that custom magic item to even setting up a crafting business, or you may just prefer to purchase a few choice items for use in your adventuring career.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rule Zero: Gem Magic
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100 Unusual Academic Courses
Publisher: Lee's Lists
by Megan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 10:26:45
If you want a collection of really silly course titles (and some which are not quite repeatable in polite society), this should do you very nicely.

I mean, Course #91. 'The Making of Half-Life 3: I For One Welcome Our New Valve Overlords' sounds so much better than 'Understanding the Computer Game Industry' (the title of a real course I shall be delivering in a couple of weeks!).

Maybe 'Introductory Walking Upright for Business Majors' can replace 'Business Skills for E-commerce'.... I'd better stop this before it seeps over from my RPG files into my course development ones.

So I shall sympathise with #95, which reads 'KIDNAPPED AND FORCED TO WRITE COURSE CATALOG, SEND HELP' - good for a giggle, but look elsewhere when building course catalogues for universities in your campaign world, be it fantasy, SF or whatever.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
100 Unusual Academic Courses
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Urban Dressing: The Watch
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 06:05:04
Whether you run a lot of urban adventures or merely let the characters visit larger settlements occasionally to replenish supplies and sell loot, the average bunch of adventurers will at some point attract the attention of the Watch. Precursors of modern police, these were more or less organised civic-funded guardians of law and order, or at least keepers of the peace, patrolling the streets to maintain order and keep the place safe for honest inhabitants to go about their business unmolested. Paid by the community, they generally see their role as looking after the townspeople who pay them and visiting adventurers may not always get the benefit of the doubt...

The first table is designed to help you flesh out a watch patrol, with around 50 individuals each given a quick pen-picture you can use to describe the people the characters see or encounter. An excellent time-saver, and providing great scope for role-play, bringing encounters to life and empowering true interaction rather than the odd growled word leading to a brawl. Depending on your party, any meeting with the Watch might lead to a brawl... but if a conversation might result you now have something to base it on.

The next table provides some of the 'informants and watchers' that members of the Watch deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps the party will also find them useful sources of information or - if the adventurers are up to no good - they may be watching and informing on them! Again, all those little details that spice up role-play and interaction.

Common watchmen need commanders, and the next table provides the same level of detail on those who lead them. Most are around 3rd-level (as opposed to the mostly 1st- and 2nd-level ones of the first two tables) and the list includes some memorable characters who will be loved or feared by Watchmen and others alike.

Next up is a collection of the experts and specialists who either work for the Watch or at least can be called upon at need. Some have specialist knowledge such as a reformed smuggler who now helps track smugglers down, others provide healing to injured Watchmen or interrogate suspects... and some are just interesting characters which you can use as you see fit.

A neat page providing information on how to set up watch patrols comes next - looking at likely numbers depending on township size and perceived threat - and providing generic stat blocks for captains, sergeants and ordinary watchmen to fill out the details given in the previous tables with the game mechanics necessary should a fight break out or other tasks need to be resolved.

Finally there's a table called Hooks, Complications and Opportunities, providing a wealth of resources to create realistic encounters - after all, the Watch do not stand around waiting for the next party of adventurers to arrive. Some of the events listed are designed to cause trouble for the party, others may lead to employment opportunities.

Overall an extremely useful piece especially if you like city-based adventures.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Urban Dressing: The Watch
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Daring Dames Diaries
Publisher: Mini-Komix
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2013 05:12:58
Interesting and readable approach, comic-book characters with appropriate tales told in text form rather than in graphics, comic-style.

Linked by the common theme of female protagonists, there are ten short stories. Each has a brief note about the origins of the main character and a comic-style illustration to set the scene. The stories, whilst original pieces of work, have kept the flavour and style of the comic-book stories in which the characters once appeared.

One story - Jill Trent - Science Sleuth: Monkey See, Monkey Kill - is a particular delight as it weaves in those glorious advertisements that pepper the back pages of a comic book. You know the ones, x-ray specs, sea monkey colonies, itching powder and the like. This tale weaves them straight into the adventure and it all makes a wierd kind of sense - great fun as well as a neat twist.

A delightful read for any comic fan who doesn't mind moving out of the comic strip into text stories.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Daring Dames Diaries
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Dude, Run!
Publisher: Creepy Doll Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2013 12:07:49
A delightful send-up of the 'real paranormal' investigation shows that frequent the airwaves, a mix of role-playing and near boardgame which pits the players' Investigators against each other and the cold hard light of day provided by the GM or Skeptic.

The base concept is simple - the Investigators visit a suitable location and stuff happens. It is up to them to come up with suitable paranormal explanations for everything that happens, gather supporting evidence... and try not to scare themselves silly in the process.

As the game is supposed to last around two hours, gameplay is of necessity a bit mechanical. There is an initial call for investigation - hunters saying that they have spotted Bigfoot or someone saying that their house is haunted - and once the characters turn up there are hotspots to investigate and weird events (or are they?) to explain by collecting evidence.

The mechanics are fairly straightforwards although not completely intuitive. The wilder the explanations that the players come up with the better, though, as long as they can tie them in to their observations and the evidence that they have collected. However, play may become a bit mechanical as it is very reliant on rolling dice: this concept is possibly better played more freeform - provided your group is able to agree. Die-rolling is good for settling arguments, after all.

There is a useful summary of different kinds of paranormal events and creatures to draw upon both when constructing the setting and when trying to interpret the evidence. To round the whole thing off, there is a complete investigation episode to get you started.

Good fun but a bit mechanical in the actual playing out of the game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dude, Run!
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One Foot in the Grave
Publisher: Creepy Doll Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2013 11:08:31
OK, this is different. There are plenty of zombie games around, but in this one the live humans fending them off are... wait for it... senior citizens! Will their zimmer-frame assisted dodder be faster than a zombie shuffle?

The set up is simple. The seniors are residents in an assisted-living facility, and have decided that watching TV is more interesting than playing bingo. Then one of the aides turns up, having been attacked by zombies on the way to work, and things start to get lively...

The game system is simple too. It is turn-based, with both zombies and seniors having but one action per turn. Neither is capable of moving fast enough to do more than that. For this is a game in which the physical limitations that accompany old age play a major part - doing anything is tiring for the seniors and so they have to portion out their energy carefully to survive. Worse, virtually nothing comes with automatic success. Young whipper-snappers may be able to scamper upstairs without a thought, but even the simple things can be a challenge once you get old enough.

The task resolution system uses handfulls of dice (all D6s), and includes a neat mishap mechanism - a roll of 1 on a special 'Ooops!' die which can result in anything from the urgent need for a bathroom break to mishearing something or falling over.

There is also a creative use of bingo cards - a roll that comes up all sixes allows the player involved to roll two dice to generate a number, and everyone checks their bingo cards for that number. If in the course of the game anyone fills a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) they call BINGO and at that point the military storm the building and kills everybody - zombies and seniors alike - apart from whoever called BINGO.

All this explained, next we find out how to create our Senior characters. That's quite straightforward and descriptive. There is a similar and even more simple section for the GM that explains how the zombies function. A word or two about the assisted living facility, and you are good to go.

Neat concept, nicely executed. Some - perhaps older gamers or those who have elderly relatives - may find it a little distasteful, but it's fun if you don't take it all too seriously... and after all, not everyone who encounters a zombie horde is going to be a combat-ready sprinter!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
One Foot in the Grave
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In The Company of Fey: A 1st-20th level Player Character Racial Class (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2013 12:01:01
Opening in delightful style in the words of a captured fey, this work tells of the nature and culture of the fey as they themselves see it, for this enables you to make fey characters should you wish to take these enchanting yet often foul and grim beings out of the realm of the 'monster' to mix with an adventuring party.

Here we read of how fey have three different forms: their natural one, their 'seeming' and another unique one which is the monstrous aspect, the appearance of which gives rise to tales of boggarts and wil'o'wisps and the like. The 'seeming' is the one used to walk amongst normal folk and can look like a human or an elf. There's plenty more detail too about fey outlooks and behaviour and attitudes.

Then we get down to the rule mechanics of creating a full-blown fey character. There are racial traits galore, favoured class options and a couple of archetypes which go some way to giving background to just why a fey has chosen to live in mortal realms long enough to take up adventuring. Also there is a 'paragon class' that blurs the lines between race and class for those seeking to be the epitome of a fey. Truly potent beings, a paragon fey is a force to reckon with... treat with care lest one unbalances your game. But with a strong role-player this could be intriguing indeed.

The product rounds off with a collection of feats for fey alone. This is a fascinating concept - stories abound of fey coming to live amongst mortal men. Now you can make this happen at your table!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Fey:  A 1st-20th level Player Character Racial Class (PFRPG)
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#1 With a Bullet Point: 5 Magic Diseases
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2013 11:20:56
Here's a fun one. If you are tired of inflicting injury with spell and blade, but feel that telling a character he's eaten something that disagreed with him or even has contracted plague somehow doesn't fit well with your fantasy world, why not try some magic diseases?

The five diseases presented all have magical as well as mundane effects. They can be contracted in the usual manner - ingestion, contact, injury - but there is a suggestion at the end that says that if a character is affected by a spell, spell-like ability, or supernatural ability from an infected creature he also has a chance of catching whatever disease that creature has: rather neat.

Ashenblood is an interesting one, getting it actually increases your fire resistance - until you die and turn into a fire elemental - but if cured, you lose this resistance. Barrow Plague, on the other hand, reduces your defences against the undead and if you die of it you come back as an undead creature yourself. Fury Fever has an effect on its victims a bit like a barbarian's rage, but with less control.

Green Guts causes nausea and the spitting of a green slime which is (I think, the text is a little unclear on this point) the infectious agent. If the character dies, he spawns a gelatinous cube which eats his remains before moving on. Hmm. I'd always wondered when gelatinous cubes came from...

Finally, no spellcaster wants to catch Spellblains as this ailment makes it harder to cast your spells.

An original little collection...

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
#1 With a Bullet Point: 5 Magic Diseases
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