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River Village
Publisher: Ars Phantasia Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2015 08:01:15

If your plot is going to take the characters to a river village, you could do a lot worse than send them to this one.


In the download you get a wealth of resources. Big JPEG images, and PDF files which include labelled and unlabelled versions of the full map in full colour and greyscale, as well as larger versions that you have to print out and stick together.


The labelled versions number the main buildings, and provide a legend with fairly generic information about what they are. For a small village there's quite an impressive array of shops, but apart from a baker no food shops - maybe people mostly grow their own. There's a mill, complete with a mill race to drive the wheel, and the river seems to be fairly fast-flowing (judging by the white water around the odd rock in it).


Naturally, if you prefer you can label up the unlabelled version of the JPEG (colour or black and white as you like) with your own designations. The unlabelled versions are also good for showing to your players as they won't know what everything is until they have explored a bit.


The JPEGs are huge - 8.5 x 11.5 inches - and could be used with a virtual table top or printed if you have access to poster-printing facilities. There are four, labelled and unlabelled, colour and black and white. There are two PDF files, one in A4 and one letter size. So however you like to present things, there will be one to suit you.


The art style is that of a neat hand-sketch inked and water-coloured - quite the sort of thing a good, careful cartographer might prepare and so making a good in-character handout as well as something to show the players where their characters have ended up. It's nice, and good-looking.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
River Village
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/05/2015 08:09:52

If there's one thing virtually every shadowrunner is obsessive about, it's his weapons. So here is a catalogue of some 34 new firearms to delight every gun nut wanting to tool up for the next 'run.


No messing about, either: after the usual webpage simulation, it's straight in to some rules - a couple of new weapon traits for the old-schoolers (although I cannot imagine actually wanting to handload ball and powder mid-firefight) and notes on using these weapons with either the 4th or 5th editions of the Shadowrun ruleset - and then the weapons themselves. Page on glorious page, with pictures, sales blurb and commentary from the typically irreverant 'runner community.


Starting small, there are holdout pistols, fancy ones perhaps more suited to display than use (with a neat anecdote about how a corporate executive kept a pair on display but loaded, and used them to save himself when an assassination team came a-calling), machine pistols and submachine guns, right up to assault rifles for those with more military needs, as well as shotguns and even sporting rifles. There are even some reproductions of historic weapons (hence rules for cap and ball), for those who want 'collector's pieces' without the price tag. The way they are presented, this can almost be used as an in-character catalogue (if you ignore the stat blocks tucked neatly in one corner of the page).


The nice thing is the range of weapons: not just the sort you want for serious work, but some 'fun' weapons for the hobbyist, collector, sportsman (be it hunting or target shooting) and even one suitable for youngsters learning to shoot. It speaks of a prevalent gun culture, of course, where firearms ownership is commonplace and widespread... but that's the kind of impression the whole Shadowrun setting gives anyway. Some mention is made of suitability or adaptations for different metatypes, and yes, there is a flamethrower in there as well!


Most 'runners reckon you cannot have too many guns, throw this at them and give them a few more to choose from.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/04/2015 10:09:06

Widening your horizons from the underbelly of Seattle, the iconic home of the shadowrunner, Coyotes looks at how you cross borders from one region to another, particularly if you lack the papers or resources to just take a flight to your next destination. With the published adventures becoming more and more world-spanning, this is a useful and timely addition - and it can be fun to include in your game (she says, remembering how a certain were-tiger character was smuggled across a border in a crate...)


Beginning with a fluff page of mock activity on a 'runner website and three pages of atmospheric fiction to set the scene, the main body of the work describes - mostly in-character - how a Coyote or people-smuggler operates in the Sixth World. It's dangerous but can be lucrative as well... perhaps your 'runners will want to try it as a trade, or at least need to organise a border crossing as part of their 'run. Or it may be that they need to be somewhere that they are not welcome so more orthodox means of travel will result in an arrest at the airport. Or they may need to leave undetected after stepping on the wrong toes...


Costs can be significant, and there's a handy table to give an idea of how they are calculated (with a note that it is merely a guide for Game Masters), and there's also discussion on the resources that the Coyote needs to ply his trade, and how he defends himself from his 'cargo' as well. Corporates too sometimes have need of a Coyote, and some even have them on the payroll, although that's one of those things they are unlikely to admit.


So now we know a bit about how they ply their trade, where do you find one? Most people use a fixer when they need to engage the services of a Coyote (and that's where aspiring Coyotes tend to look for work). That's discussed as well, so once a need has been determined the deal can be struck.


The discussion then moves on to the borders themselves, looking at the various challenges of trying to get through a checkpoint and of trying to cross the border elsewhere - that is, someplace you should not be crossing at all. Security will involve physical, magical and Matrix elements; and there are notes on how to hide that which you do not want discovered (like were-tigers in boxes...). Borders can be classified as easy, normal, hard and very hard; and details are provided about typical border guards, procedures and security (of all kinds) at each level. So what do Coyotes do that's worth paying them for? A few ideas are provided here, to go along with what has been mentioned before. Six sample Coyotes, fully statted-up, are provided in case you need one in a hurry or just want to look over a typical one's build before creating your own.


Finally, there's a short border crossing adventure, Piping Hot. Drop it into a campaign when you want to introduce your 'runners to the fine art of border crossing. A distraught fixer needs some people moved and his regular Coyote isn't answering. Can the 'runners help? Particularly as said Coyote left detailed instructions on his preferred route just in case he needed rescuing...


All good fun with plenty of scope to make travelling to the job as entertaining as actually doing it; whilst the adventure is quite fun and lets you test the water of the border crossing game with ease.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Shadowrun: Spell Cards, Series 1
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2015 08:09:49

This is the kind of product that has you kicking yourself and wishing you'd thought of it first... that said, whilst it is useful it could have been so much better!


In any game with combat spellcasting, you either need the memory of a wizard or spend ages thumbing through books to find what you need to roll and what the results are each time you want to cast a spell. Ready-reference cards are an obvious solution (ever since I spent ages transcribing Dungeons & Dragons 1e spells onto 5x3 index cards), and if it's the numbers that give you trouble, these ones fit the bill.


Each one is very simple: name of spell, a brief phrase that describes what it does, and four boxes that tell you type of spell, its range, duration and drain. Combat spells have a fifth box to show the damage you do as well. They are colour-coded: orange for combat, blue for detection, red for healing and so on; which makes it easy to look for a spell of the suitable type - but could let others meta-game by seeing what you are about to do.


What's missing is anything descriptive. You will have to remember that, or go look it up - at least each card has the page number for where that spell appears in the core rule book. The other thing that is missing is an image for the card backs, if you are using the PDF version. Most people like their self-printed cards to look good as well as serving a purpose.


Neat idea, but there's the nagging feeling that it could have been done better... and prettier.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Spell Cards, Series 1
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Adamantine Arrow
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2015 08:37:01

Opening with a strange piece of fiction about death and beyond, Why We Fight, this supplement seeks to dig deep into the very soul of the order of mages called the Adamantine Arrow. Mages of this order are not just warriors but more, they wish to dig deep to understand the philosophy of conflict, and fight with weapons and their arts, seeing combat as the way to truth and enlightenment. Hence members of this order do not merely Awaken, they are then forged into potent weapons, combatants with a burning desire to win... or die trying.


Chapter 1: The Smoke from Distant Fires looks at the history of the order from the earliest times right up to the present. Like all warriors they have many legends of past glories to recount. It sweeps from the days of Atlantis itself, developing the core theme that existence itself is conflict. Wherever there is conflict, there you will find Arrow mages. Some say they have formented wars through the ages, others hold that they have just taken advantage of something ordinary mundane mankind is pretty good at engaging in for itself. One thing though, they detest cannibals. They'll always seek to stamp out that vile practice wherever they encounter it. Throughout the sweep of known history, often written in blood, you will find the Arrow.


Next, Chapter 2: Sown From the Dragon's Talons seeks to explain the philosophies, beliefs and practices of the order. Here we read of the Admant Way - symbolised by a hand grasping a thunderbolt - which speaks of great power and the universe as a weapon wielding by a mage's trained hand. Understand this, and you begin to understand what makes this order tick.


Then Chapter 3: Among Warriors delves into what it is like to be a member of the Arrow. To start with, unlike most orders, constant study and a 'mystery cult' approach does not apply here. No secret handshakes or constant initiation rituals... the idea is that members ought to be out there doing rather than reading or performing ceremonies. This is the underlying difference in philosophical approach, and it's key to understanding the order. Of course, mages still have to be accepted for membership, and to remain in good standing once in. There's an interesting discussion about Awakening - who is likely to Awaken and what sort of events provide the opportunity - which raises some interesting possibilities, and a look at what the order seeks at different stages of a prospective member's career as a mage. Initial initiation, whether sought when newly-Awakened or later on, is quite a lengthy process and both mage and order will have a good understanding of the other by the time it is concluded. It's detailed at length, sufficient to play out if desired although generally a fully-generated character is regarded as having already joined the order of their choice. Alternatively, some groups may want to play 'recruiters' and oversee the initiation of other (NPC) mages. Like any organisation, once in members can gain rank and recognition, and this is laid out in detail. There's also quite a lot about the principles on which the order is run and how they are handled on a day-to-day basis, complete with examples: everything you need to construct Arrow society in a meaningful way in your game. For Storytellers, this is useful even if no character wants to join the order, you can make NPC members come to vivid life. Notes on how to handle cabals that are all or partly composed of Arrow members, or have a single one, and Arrow relationships with other orders and other kinds of supernatural beings are also included.


This is followed by Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies which talks about the various groups with which a member of the order can ally and the different paths that he can follow. The preceding chapter rather gives the air of a unified purposeful order and whilst that is mostly true there are of course a multitude of ways in which individual members group to pursue common aims... and even add in aims of their own into the mix. There are three main factions, but each contains several cults (as they term legacies) that faction members may adhere to. Plenty of detail, plenty of choice.


Chapter 5: Magic discusses the ways in which the Adamantine Arrow uses magic, based on the underlying principle that existence itself is conflict. Tactics, new spells and ideas on the practical application of magic to further the order's aims are to be found here, with the discussion ranging from the philosophical ideas to actual rotes ready to be learned and used. Artefacts and relics are included as well.


Finally, an Appendix contains a goodly collection of ready-made Arrow mages - friends, rivals, or foes as appropriate. There is a wide range of different folk, you will be fairly certain to find one who meets your needs.


Overall, this book gives an excellent look at the Adamantine Arrow and is essential reading if you want them to feature in your Chronicle, or have characters wanting to join the order. There's the usual confusion, that this is far more knowledge than most characters will have, even those who are members (unless very senior ones), but provided players are good at keeping in-character and out-of-character knowledge separate, or the Storyteller doles out information as needed, it should not cause a problem. An entertaining and informative read, broadening your knowledge of the world of Mage: The Awakening.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adamantine Arrow
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Firefly: Smugglers Guide to the Rim
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2015 08:32:57

There's a lot here: new rules, new places to visit and two complete adventures to play. Primarily aimed at game masters, there is a wealth of material to enhance an existing campaign or spark off a new one. It's all presented in the casual conversational style that has characterised all releases in the Firefly line, jarring for some but somehow fitting to the style of the original show.


The rules stuff is mostly to do with Reputation. What are you known for? And how well are you regarded? There's plenty of detail about how to get a good Reputation... and how easy it is to lose it. Note that Reputation only affects how NPCs view you, fellow player-characters are free to make up their own minds, no matter what the numbers say. The four 'factions' found in the 'Verse are also introduced: Alliance, Browncoats, Corporations and Criminals. Each one is a collection of assumptions (right or wrong) about the folk lumped into that category, and most people do not actually view themselves as belonging to one anyway. It mostly serves as a mechanic for determining how NPCs will react, but there is a lot of detail here to help you get a feel for how different groups think and feel. Some of it's useful, some of it may come over as rather too mechanical - but it can serve a use, perhaps as a 'rule of thumb' for determining reactions or even bringing out just how polarised society can be in the wake of a civil war. As examples, the Reputations of the characters from the show are analysed in detail. You can do the same for your own characters (or if you've chosen to play the show ones, well, it's done for you!).


There are also twelve new archetypes for those looking for new characters to play. They are grouped by faction, which may influence your choice. The notes take you through the steps from archetype outline to full-blown character, and then each one gets a full page including basic statistics, a run-down on what makes them tick and even a portrait. There are a lot of new Distinctions to choose from as well, and it is even possible to retrofit existing characters if you want. The process of adding Reputation to them is also covered here. If that wasn't enough, there are also a whole bunch more of Signature Assets that you might wish to have.


Once characters are dealt with, there's a similarly copious array of material for your ship. Different classes of vessel, history, signature assets, distinctions and customisation options - everything you need to make your ship a whole lot more than a means of transportation. There are some ready-made examples too.


Next comes the Good Shepherd's Run, a route through ten planets which are all described in sufficient detail to make a visit interesting. Notable people, what the different factions are doing, places to go... even ideas for adventures to be had there. A wealth of snippets of information to make each location come to life in your game.


This extensive section is followed by two complete adventures, All in the Family and Circling the Wagons. These are laid out in the pattern established by earlier published adventures, and both give plenty of scope for profit and trouble... or maybe that ought to be the other way around. The stakes are high. They are beautifully detailed and easy to run, although you have to edit a bit on the fly if your players have their own characters rather than the ones from the show (mine always want their own characters!). Resources are provided to help you deal with characters who do something other than the intended, seamlessly and without derailing the entire plotline. Nicely done.


There are several Appendices, including a whole lot more Chinese, some rules FAQ (and answers), maps and charts, colourful phrases typical of the various sorts of folk you might encounter, summaries of personal and ship Distinctions and a regular army of NPCs all ready to use (complete with complete character sheets).


There's a wealth of stuff here that will enhance your game - who could want more than that?"



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly: Smugglers Guide to the Rim
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Origin of the Species: Light of Olympus
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2015 08:26:04

The base concept of the Origin of the Species series is to enable the use of species other than human in your Spycraft 2.0 game. It doesn't matter why you want them there or how you intend to use them, you'll get all the information you need to create characters - be they player-characters or NPCs. It's up to you to provide a rationale for why they exist, what they are doing and how they actually become material to your game, there's none of the background 'fluff' that many sourcebooks provide. That's good in that it gives you a completely free hand, but the downside is that you have to make it all up for yourself.


In Light of Olympus, various species from Greek mythology are provided - centaurs, gorgons, fauns and tritons. While you have, as already discussed, to decide why they are there in the first place, there's a wide-ranging discussion that provides many alternatives from them being quite normal and integrated into society to the products of crazy experiments by mad scientists or alien invaders that just happen to look like creatures out of classic Greek mythology so got given appropriate names. Of course, you may decide that only one of these species is present, you do not have to take the lot.


The discussion also covers the underlying way in which species have been designed (this discussion is common to all Origin of the Species products). Basically any species is defined by how much it differs from a 'human standard' - some are pretty similar and others are wildly different. The primary example used is that of a medic attempting to treat such a creature. If you have spent the better part of a decade learning how to treat human beings, you might be able to cope reasonably well - at least with basic first aid - with a centaur patient, but a gorgon or triton might well throw you. Of course a medically-trained member of that species is going to be just as baffled by a human patient.


Getting down to business, the core characteristics of each of the four species presented here are listed. Centaurs we probably all know as halfman half horse, tritons are merfolk with a human top half and a fish tail, fauns or satyrs are very similar to humans except they have furry legs, horns and cloven feet, and then there's the gorgons - human except that their hair is replaced with a mass of snakes. Gorgons don't, at least initially, turn you into stone at a glance, but those snakes are venomous. Merfolk don't get around well on land but swim well and breathe underwater.


There are some specialties to choose from and a master class for each species to aspire to, and a wide arrangement of feats most of which are associated with a given species. Gorgons get a new Combat Action, the gaze attack, as well. There is a collection of fully-developed NPCs to give you ideas, as well as all the tables and notes you need to create your own.


If you are intrigued but unsure of how to use these species in your game, the final section - Character Seeds - may give you some ideas. These are very detailed write-ups of example low-level characters with a lot of the work done for you but plenty of scope (and guidance) for customisation. They also show how the character might advance effectively, developing appropriate aspects as they rise in level.


Intriguing ideas, for a campaign that's just that little bit different. Just how committed to Equal Ops is your agency...? Or is it your mission in life to hunt down such aberations for study or extermination?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Origin of the Species: Light of Olympus
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Stone Sentinels
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2015 08:41:21

If you want to add an unusual race to your game, this supplement looks at 'gargoyles'. Now, a gargoyle is an ornamental water-spout commonly found on mediaeval buildings such as cathedrals, so I think they are really talking about 'grotesques', the stone carvings that depict anything from winged horrors to caricatures of local personalities - but be that as it may, what would it be like if such statues came to life and walked among us?


The first part of the book takes you through all the elements of creating a gargoyle character, complete with all the necessary game mechanics. There's a vast array of feats, most of which alas require you to be a gargoyle to take them (some could prove entertaining additions for members of other species...), also expert and master classes for aspiring legends of the gargoyle world.


So, now we can generate gargoyles, what to do with them? Firstly, there's the need to decide how they came to be - magic, perhaps, or alien visitors from another world. Are they inherently hostile or if greeting with kindness would they reciprocate? Have they always been here (hence the myths and legends) or have they only just arrived in our midst? Are they a part of normal society or interacting covertly with us?


Once you've decided these, you can start to think about how they will fit into your campaign. There's some quite detailed discussion that ought to spawn a few ideas as to directions in which to take your game. Most are predicated on gargoyles as NPCs, interacting in various ways with player-character human beings - but it could prove amusing to turn it on its head and have the players play gargoyles attempting to integrate with the world (or spy upon it, invade...). Many other supplements are drawn in, particularly the World of Fire campaign setting which is ideally suited to adding this kind of weirdness. There's a whole organisation set up to keep gargoyles and humans apart, the Stonecutters (why cannot I get the episode of The Simpsons out of my head?) with their own agenda and structure: your characters may be part of it or working against it, or just run in to them once they have discovered that gargoyles are real. Plenty of scope for fun here... and the book rounds out with some NPC gargoyles all ready to get embroiled.


It's a fun, off-the-wall concept which could make for an entertaining campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stone Sentinels
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Spookbusters
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2015 08:31:49

This supplement is aimed at those who want to bring the paranormal into their Spycraft game, in particular those aspects of it relating to ghosts. After all, ghosts make for good stories and at least some of the techniques used in tracking them down and researching them are common to your average spy. This variant of the game is based on attempts to explain, exploit and control supernatural events such as hauntings.


There is a brief introduction to parapsychology, the 'science' of the study of such phenomena, including its early history and rise to popularity in the media (particularly on TV and in supermarket tabloids). There's also a useful glossary of terminology so you can sound like you know what you are talking about.


Next comes the vehicle for the adventures, Spookbusters Inc, a francised ghost elimination service. Sound familiar? Well, who're ya gonna call? With a sidebar detailing the Sydney, Australia, branch of the franchise, there's a run-down of the likely roles you'll need as you set up operations and some notes on standard operating procedures.


These are followed by some story seeds to get you going... and a sidebar explaining how real-world ghost investigations are considerably different from this style of ghost-busting. Naturally it is up to you what style of game you would like to play.


The next section looks at assembling your team, mostly in game mechanical terms of character abilities and skills, and also at the opposition - the abilities of your average ghost. These are somewhat more intangible, a bit like the ghosts themselves. There's an expert class (for a ghost hunter) and rather confusingly a master class for a ghost itself, the Legendary Ghost. It might have been better to separate this out and deal with characters and ghosts separately.


Then comes a collection of useful feats for both ghosts and ghost-hunters (again rather jumbled up) and the all-important specialist equipment that no well-dressed spook-buster can do without. This includes a 'sonic resonance lance' (don't cross the beams...) and a 'Spook-1' modified Humvee (must be better than a modified hearse with dodgy suspension).


For those who prefer a less-technogical method for dealing with ghosts, there's a section on exorcism, including the necessary game mechanics to model it in your game.


Finally, there's a whole swarm of ghost NPCs with full stat blocks and other notes; as well as ideas for the sort of campaigns you could run using this concept.


Overall it is a fun idea for some light-hearted gaming, although it comes across as somewhat jumbled and would have been better with the character and ghost material separated better. (Worth 4.5 stars, could I but give them - 5-star material with the organisation letting it down a bit!)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spookbusters
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Shadowrun: Splintered State
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2015 08:30:58

Designed as an introductory adventure for Shadowrun 5e, this can meet a myriad of needs. Your group (indeed, you too) may be new to Shadowrun, or you may just wish to have a structured introduction to the changes brought in by the Fifth Edition - it's a lot more enjoyable to play through them than merely read about them, after all. Hence it is designed to be adaptable to suit the group you have in front of you, and yet provide excitement and adventure, challenge and sheer fun, however much they know about the game mechanics and/or the setting.


At its most basic, the adventure concerns information and the lengths some people will do to get their hands on it. This will mean that the party of shadowrunners will meet a range of different factions, many quite powerful, and they'll have to pick their way carefully to come out alive, never mind on top and with bulging credsticks. The opening chapter, Politics and Paydata, lays out all the background to what is going on: read it carefully and see how it all fits in to the background of Seattle life at all levels. Run well, this adventure will also provide a comprehensive introduction to Seattle and its movers and shakers, setting up a successful shadowrunner team for a potentially profitable future there, if that's your long-term aim for your game.


It all begins with the 'runners being arrested for something they didn't do (however many offences could actually be laid at their doors). From then it's a sequence of unfortunate events as they come into possession of potentially explosive, not to mention valuable, information and have to decide what to do with it... and the delight is, that it is very much up to them what they do. The whole adventure is open-ended, full of options provided in such a way that you can react appropriately to whatever they get up to - a real treat to run (unfortunately I cannot tell you if it's a treat to play, but they looked as if they enjoyed it!).


Open and flexible it may be, but it is structured enough that you are not left waiting on your players, there are plenty of events to run that will keep them moving - if they do not go out to find the adventure, it will come and kick their door down. There are at least five factions who would dearly love to get hands on that information, and not all are prepared to pay for it. Time to make friends and enemies, with repercussions that can echo on for the rest of your campaign.


An added bonus is an opening scene which is designed to enable you to actually form the shadowrunner team if your players have newly-generated characters who do not know each other yet. This is helpful if you are using this adventure as a campaign-starter. From then on, things move fast but well-structured, with plenty of advice on how to portray places and people and how to deal with whatever problems arise... or even make more problems if you think the 'runners are having too easy a time of it!


The adventure should appeal to all types of players with opportunities for interaction, investigation and role-playing as well as enough combat to keep anyone satisfied, with plenty for hackers to do as well. Multiple routes lead to the exact same key events, giving the players the illusion that they are in control of their own destinies whilst actually keeping the adventure firmly on track.


Overall, a cracking adventure perfect for getting your Shadowrun 5e campaign off to a flying start.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Splintered State
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Shadowrun: Firing Line
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2015 08:35:46

This is a collection of four adventures originally written for convention use, but equally interesting for any game. These take the shadowrunners out and about, visiting remote islands, New York and South America, providing plenty of travel as well as opportuntities to make a few nuyen and get into trouble.


The adventures are set up in the standard format used by all Shadowrun Missions scenarios, one which is easy to follow and makes it easy for the GM to run the adventure flexibly in response to character actions yet keep it on track. As they are designed for conventions, they can be run in a standard four-hour convention slot but if you are not constrained for time they can be run over a longer period (or of course in a single session, as suits). They can be used as a one-off or as part of a campaign.


It appears that - despite the wide geographical spread of the actual adventures - it's been assumed that the characters are in Seattle to start with, as before the adventures proper there's a one-page Arrival section which gives you some ideas for getting 'runners from elsewhere to Seattle.


Well, the first adventure - Lost Islands Found - concerns a small chain of islands that has mysteriously appeared in the Puget Sound, so being in Seattle already puts the characters handy to be hired to 'collect' an academic their patron wants to help investigate what's going on. Of course, other people are likely to object, and there's always that little bit extra, the task added on to the one already accepted... What starts off as a fairly straightforward and standard 'extraction' gets more interesting with the opportunity for a boat ride and a spot of archaeology thrown in.


The next adventure is Deconstructing Patriots, and involves another extraction, this time of a senior corporate executive in downtown Manhattan, who is apparently a fugitive from justice wanted in UCAS. If they are not in Manhattan already, you will have to get the 'runners there, probably as a result of the initial call offering them this job. The scene is well set and there are opportunities for researching their target, all too necessary if he is to be acquired without too much difficulty. This is a fairly straight-line adventure with the characters obliged to go to certain locations because that's where the target (or information about him) happens to be, but has an interesting twist in a counteroffer made by the target's employer... overall, though, this is a standard shadowrun, albeit a good one with some interesting twists.


Then comes Congressional Conspiracies, which can be run as a follow-up to Deconstructing Patriots as hints are dropped in that about another target involved in the same bit of bother and also with a price upon his head. The political background is quite complex, and the actual tasks which end up being offered to the 'runners are somewhat different from what they might have been expecting, but profitable nevertheless. Different openings are provided depending on whether or not they played Deconstructing Patriots and what happened there, and then we're off, with a spot of hostage rescue and investigation of a covert ops team to keep everyone entertained.


Finally, Stormcrow Undone takes the 'runners to Bogotá in Colombia, to collect evidence of wrong-doing (and to try and avoid any riots...). The set-up is decidedly original, bringing them to Cartegena for completely different reasons and then stranding them there, the real job that is the meat of this mission being a way for them to save themselves from the mess you've just dropped them into. Neat, and a good opportunity to enjoy watching your players' faces as this unfolds. All the difficulties of travelling and operating in what, to the average shadowrunner, are decidedly primitive conditions are well presented, and this adventure should prove to be an original and memorable one.


A well-supported set of adventures that should be good for dropping in when you need a self-contained 'run whatever the main plot arc of your campaign might be.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Firing Line
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Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/18/2015 08:44:19

Sprawl Wilds is a collection of adventures gathered with the purpose of introducing your group to some of the interesting and exciting places that are to be found in the underbelly of Chicago. Originally written for convention use, they ought to slot in neatly to any campaign.


Each adventure is structured in the same way as the Shadowrun Missions series, which provides a clear framework with plenty of scope to let the adventure develop fairly organically as you and your players wish, yet with enough signposting to help you keep it on track. There are several 'scenes' which come with an overview, some read-aloud text to set the scene and more detailed information to enable you to run it effectively... and not forgetting a section on what could go wrong and how to deal with unexpected player actions. Ruleswise, you can use these with Shadowrun 4e or Shadowrun 5e as you prefer.


OK, what if your campaign isn't set in Seattle? No worries, there's a one-page mini-scenario designed to give your party a reason to be in Seattle even if it is not their regular haunt. They might like it and stay, or after sampling one or two of the adventures herein, they may prefer to go elsewhere. Neat.


There are a full four adventures here - Manhunt, Carbon Copy, Ashes and Humanitarian Aid. Each could be run in a single session (they were, after all, built around standard four-hour convention slots) but you can take longer if you prefer.


Manhunt begins with a request to help someone who's investigating mysterious animal attacks and killings out in the Barrens. Naturally, there's more than meets the eye... and there's the added complication that you are out in the country with things like weather, not 'safe' on the city streets. The first problem is actually getting out there, and once there the action comes thick and fast in this alien environment.


Carbon Copy, back on the city streets but no safer, involves a hunt for a serial killer. There's just one thing. That killer's been dead for years, and even the copycat killer who operated for a while over a year ago has not been heard from in ages... another edge-of-the-seat ride for the party including a visit to the Ork Underground and dealings with Knight Errant.


Ashes again involves the Ork Underground, putting the characters at a pivotal event, a moment in history from which hangs the future of an entire society - yet it all begins with a 'short courier job'. This soon develops into an intense and time-critical series of events. And a major fire.


Finally, Humanitarian Aid sends the characters to the aid of a township in Salish territory who have fallen prey to a rather nasty virus. Supplies of vaccine have been stolen from the local clinic, and it's the party's job to retrieve them so that the ill can be treated.


All serve as stand-alone adventures that can be played as one-offs or slotted into an ongoing campaign. Each presents an interesting take on the world of the shadowrunner, broadening the scope beyond the usual corporate bickering... and they're fun to run. Everything is well presented and laid out so as to be easy to use, with comprehenive maps, handouts, rumour tables and more to make the game master's life easy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Quick-Start Rules
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/17/2015 08:03:31

Designed to give a flavour of what Shadowrun is all about, this opens with 'Everything has a price' - the mantra by which the mercenary world of the shadowrunner operates. It then presents the romantic view of shadowrunners as the brave few who won't dance to the megacorporations' tune and aid their pursuit of profit above all else.


It then dives straight in to an outline of how the game works, written with the complete beginner in mind. Pre-generated characters are provided, but there's a clear run-down of all the main components of one: metatype, attributes, qualities and skills, although it doesn't explain how to actually create a character - after all, this is designed to give you a flavour of the game. The task resolution process (or 'test') is explained quickly but clearly with examples, along with a short concise summary of the combat process.


Next, the 'awakened world' of magic is covered with explanations of how to cast spells and how to defend against them with counterspells. For those who prefer the technological, this is followed by details of the wireless augmented reality world in which the characters live, in constant realt-time communication with the Matrix (the beast into which the Internet has evolved). And that's everybody, not just the deckers whose specialist skills enable them to explore and warp the Matrix in ways never intended.


Armed with this rather breathless yet comprehensive overview of game mechanics, you are then provided with a short scenario, 'Fast Food Fight', in which you can try them out using the pre-generated characters provided. For reasons adequately explained this revolves around a brawl in a fast food restaurant, a place which makes the burger joints we're used to sound like fine dining. A plan of the place is provided as well as clear descriptions of every location (and the hazards therein). NPCs are also provided, and there is even a copy of the establishment's menu... along with some rules to determine if anyone eating from it gets food poisoning!


Although simple, the adventure does provide plenty of action. There are suggestions throughout for running it and even for digging a bit deeper and taking it to a full-blown adventure, as well as some hints for more astute players to develop some interesting tactics during the brawl. There's even a sheet of handy tables to use as a Gamemaster Screen.


A nice introduction to playing the game, suitable even for newcomers to role-playing never mind Shadowrun, but an experienced Gamemaster would be advantageous, if you have one. If you are interested in shifting editions of Shadowrun, you'll have to decide where the differences lie between this and the edition(s) you are used to playing, as there is no indication here. But overall it gives a good feel of basic shadowrunning and ought to leave players ready to get to grips with the full game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Quick-Start Rules
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The Mysterium
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2015 13:46:22

The Mysterium is the order of mages that seeks to preserve wisdom and magical lore, sometimes by keeping it secret from those who might use it for ill or who would be themselves damaged from knowing it... and if your character decides to join this is essential reading, certainly if you have embraced the underlying concept of the game as being about individual growth and development in a world where magic is real. It opens with a compelling piece of fiction about a man who is somehow accessing secrets of magic without actually being Awakened, which sweeps the reader along in fascination.


The Introduction explains who the Mysterium are and the sort of things that they do, how they recruit and what happens to those who join up - in a word, ongoing enlightenment (Sorry, that ended up two words) - and then lays out what is in the rest of the book.


Chapter 1: A History of Wisdom traces the history of magic itself from its early beginnings, back through the ages to the days of Atlantis and forwards until the now. Of course, this is the history of magic as told by the Mysterium. Others may have different views... and even Mysterium members do not agree about everything! There is still much hidden knowledge, and finding it is a challenge that a group of Mysterium mages might well embrace. The chapter discusses how they have sought to find and preserve knowledge throughout known history, and sometimes even shared it.


Then, Chapter 2: Those Who Know talks about knowledge itself and how the way in which Mysterium mages handle it defines them as much as do their practices. There is even more magical theory here, however, showing how they operate on a day to day basis and the ideas underlying their actions. A core belief is that magic is itself alive, but of course there are many ways in which they handle it on that basis - be it ecologically (rationalising that if magic is alive, so is all of the universe), through mathematics, or by developing advanced mental powers. Knowledge, it is said, is divided into three strands: a High Path that studies magic and mages themselves along with the Supernal Realms, a Central Path that looks at the supernatural world and its denizens, and a Common Path that explores the regular arts and sciences available to everyone, mage or not. Research goes hand in hand with exploration and experimentation, Mysterium mages often infiltrating archaeological expeditions or consorting with tomb raiders in their quest to discover what has been lost over the ages. There are certain standards by which they live, however, which include never deliberately misleading another mage, the duties between master and apprentice, and a requirement for fair trading when knowledge is to be exchanged. There are plenty of ideas on how to incorporate these concepts into your game, even suggestions for complete chronicles.


Next, Chapter 3: The Ladder of Mysteries focusses on the organisation of the Mysterium and charts how one progresses through it via a series of initiations. This section is full of ritual (and funny handshakes if you want them) that can be used to mark a character's growth within the order from initial recruitment and the ceremonial surround entry into the Mysterium through to higher levels few may attain. Signs, symbols, mystical phrases abound: anyone who has studied mystery cults or belonged to one will recognise the pattern.


Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies explains how the Mysterium is not one monolithic block sharing uniform customs but instead is made up of many different groups working together (at least most of the time) towards a common cause. These factions may on the face of it be defined by their role within the order - librarian, curator, archaeologist, ritualist and so on - but if you dig deeper there is much more to it than that. History, motivations and approaches to life and to magic are discussed for each group. There are plenty of ideas here for developing a character's distinctive personality and style.


Then Chapter 5: Spells and Artifacts explores some of the magical knowledge, spells and tactics that the Mysterium shares only with those within the order. There's a lot here, from typical ritual gestures of spellcasting to (naturally) some new spells.


Finally, there's an Appendix: Allies and Antagonists which provides a selection of well-developed Mysterium NPCs which may be encounter - as friend, foe or just someone passing through - during the course of a game.


It all makes for a fascinating read but begs the question: just who ought to read it? A player with a non-Mysterium character would likely know none of this, and even a Mysterium character will grow into his knowledge as the game progresses. Yet it's not really for Storytellers alone, and even players may well play several different characters over the course of time. What it does do is give a magnificent insight into how this particular order operates and thinks, being excellent information for those who want to get into the very head of a Mysterium mage.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mysterium
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Legacies: The Ancient
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2015 08:02:34

Opening with some decidedly adult fiction in which mages and ordinary mortals mix at a convention with unsatisfactory results for just about everyone, this book is a second collection of legacies adding to the rich tapestry of mage society and perhaps offering a path which your mage character might like to tread.


The Introduction: Long Ago and Far Away explains the significance of legacies in a mage's journey through life, how they can contribute to his development as an individual and Awakened mage. The focus of this book is the ancient traditions, those that trace their lineage back through the mists of time or which seek to rediscover ancient truths lost to modern mages. Thirteen legacies are presented here including a couple from the Left Hand Path, teaching their adherents dubious practices which make them more suited for NPCs than player-characters and so best left for Storyteller use.


The bulk of the book is given over to detailed discussions of the thirteen legacies, providing ample material for anyone wishing to play a mage embracing one of the legacies or a Storyteller who wants to embroil that legacy in the storyline. Although necessary game mechanics are included, the main gist of each one is the underlying mindset and concepts involved, helping the reader to understand how a mage will grow and develop as he pursues that legacy. Each one includes the attainments a mage gains as he advances within it and a sample character should you wish to make use of it as an NPC representative of the legacy (or as inspiration for building your own character or NPCs). There are also story hooks based around each legacy which can be woven into the plot or even used as inspiration for an entire chronicle focussed on it.


Reading through the different legacies gives an idea of the vast and magestic sweep of history that lies behind magic within this game. Like its companion book Legacies: The Sublime this one delves deep into the underlying philosophy and addresses the core of the game: the development of the individual as a wielder of magic in modern times. Many of these legacies involve mastery over something - the elements, dreams, even death itself - and speak to the need of many to control things around them, something that lies at the very heart of magical power. Others address the equally powerful urge to create, be it in stone or metal or music, or to understand the underlying pattern.


This makes for a fascinating read, once you have got past the opening fiction which will be a bit too explicit for some readers. The legacies are varied and provide valuable insights into what it means to be a modern-day mage, and for those who choose to follow them provide a vehicle to develop characters into potent practitioners of their art.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legacies: The Ancient
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