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Further North: A PDF Companion to Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2015 07:35:32

Designed as a supplement to the Northlands sourcebook, this short PDF has a lot packed into its pages.

The section headings can be a bit confusing until you realise that they refer to the chapters in Northlands. First up, to go with material in Chapter 1 of that tome are some delightful short thumbnail sketches of 'guests at the feast' - ten characters who will add colour to any gathering. Designed for role-playing, if you decide that you want stat blocks for any of them you will have to attend to that for yourself, although in most cases you are at least told what class they are. Next, should you run a Thing there are several adventure ideas: people who have come to place a particular issue before the Thing or who otherwise might attract attention.

Next comes a section on magic, which references Chapter 4 of Northlands. There's the concept of 'reskinning' magic, tweaking existing spells to fit in with the style and atmosphere of the North, with several examples to show you what is meant. There's a new artefact and several wondrous items which all fit the legends of the North too... or just the environment. How about a pair of snowshoes that leaves no tracks?

Finally, there is further material aimed at Chapter 6: Bestiary of the Northlands book. Again it looks at reskinning monsters, with a lengthy list of ideas, and presents some new beasties as well. Strange deadly creatures called frostveils and the sea wolf, a vicious and aquatic creature with the body of a shark, the neck of a snake, the face like a wolf and mouth of dragon's fangs... or so it is said. Barbarians may take their rage powers from the Way of the Sea Wolf if they wish.

Some nice material to add to your game if you are using Northlands and some may be of use if you have your own 'lands of the frozen north' setting, but it is closely bound up with the Northlands of Midgard.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Further North: A PDF Companion to Northlands (PFRPG)
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Midgard Campaign Setting
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2015 11:36:12

The foreword explains the origins of Midgard as Wolfgang Baur's own home game setting that he's been building since he was 14, and how it is amazing even to him to see the piles of scribbled notes and sketched maps that he ran games from turned into a full-colour proper book! Like many gamers I've long enjoyed creating my own worlds to adventure in, but few of us have the talent, perseverence and opportunity to share them with anyone other than their gaming group. This one is replete with a depth that comes of some 25 years of dreaming, writing and playing, jam-packed with lots going on never mind what adventurers might be doing yet plenty of opportunities for them to get involved or carve their own path. Just what you want in a campaign setting!

Chapter 1: Welcome to Midgard gives a high-level overview of the world. It's a place with a rich history of heroes that has fallen on dark times, a place waiting for new heroes to arise. For anyone who might think that this sounds like many other campaign worlds, seven differences between Midgard and 'standard' fantasy settings are laid out. For a start it is flat. In a quasi-mediaeval world, you might expect plenty of people to think that their world is flat, but this one really is flat. With edges. There are ley lines, utilised by the elves. Dragons are linked to the elements, and enjoy ruling whatever they can get their claws on, as well as the traditional dragon pursuit of amassing a good hoard. There are novel races, each with their own history and place in the world, as well as the standard fantasy human, elf, dwarf and so on. Personal prestige is important. The deities meddle with what goes on in mortal life. And it's not a static place. Boundaries between kingdoms change. Dynasties rise and fall. The party may have a chance to influence - even instigate - such change, but happen it will whatever they do.

The epic sweep of Midgard's creation (or at least, what is known and surmised about it) is then explained. Naturally all deities claim to have made it, but it's likely that they are lying. The creation myth told by the Northlanders is probably closer to the truth, but who knows? Races came and went, kingdoms rose and fell, a succession through giants and then elves until now when, although the other races are still around, humans take a more prominent role. Naturally the succession has rarely be peaceful with rebellions and wars... and if battlefield strife was not bad enough, the wizards cut loose too and waged war with arcane powers, leading to great swathes of devastation. And then the dragons and the vampires emerged to stake their claims... Ending with events of the last hundred years, the chapter finishes with a discussion of time, planets and dates. Flat or not, Midgard has a sun that rises in the east and sets in the west, not that anyone knows just what happens to it when it is not in view. There are moons and planets around as well. Naturally there are quite a few festivals and holidays to celebrate.

Next is Chapter 2: Heroes of Midgard. This provides details about the major races and assorted minor ones to be found in Midgard. It includes fascinating snippets and a wide range of variation within races, depending on where they hail from - things that create a diverse society and plenty of options for those seeking to create characters truly embedded in the lands from which they come. Humans, dragonkin, dwarves, elves, the gearforged, kobolds, and minotaurs make up the major races, and whilst some are well known, those that are not are described in sufficient detail to empower players who wish to experiment with a novel race for their character. There are seven minor races as well, ones who - as well as being less familiar as player-character races - are only found in specific parts of the world. There's a note on languages, and then it's on to a collection of Midgard-specific feats and traits. No matter where your character comes from, there is a range of traits that he can choose between, all providing distinctive regional and racial flavour.

The book goes on to describe the seven major regions of Midgard, geographically and culturally distinctive, with each getting its own chapter. In the middle of the world is Crossroads, then there are the Rothenian Plain, the Dragon Empire, the Seven Cities, the Wasted West, the Domains of the Princes, and the Northlands. Each has a wealth of description and some detailed maps to help you get a feel for the lay of the land. Crossroads can be a bit of a melting-pot of cultures, and at its heart is the Free City of Zobeck, which already has a sourcebook and an adventure collection of its own. Here there are brief notes and its coat of arms (the blazon is not quite right, the shield is not quartered but divided per pale - the full blazon is per pale gules and or, a gearwheel counterchanged if you really want to know!), plenty for a brief visit although if your game is going to spend much time there, get a copy of the Zobeck Gazetteer. Of particular note are references to magic unique to Zobeck, the Clockwork School and the School of Illumination Magic. The discussion moves on to trade, with loads of detail about trading companies, trade routes and so on, then to mercenary companies and many other locations that are to be found in the Crossroads area. The sheer wealth of detailed information packed in here is quite amazing... it spawns adventure ideas, never mind being useful if you already have reason to tread these lands. Numerous kingdoms, organisations, individuals and locations are all here...

And so it continues through chapter after chapter until all seven regions are described. As you read, the roots of Midgard begin to show: Middle European folk tales and legends, often the darker nightmare-inspiring end of things. But there is much more. A cluster of halflings around the great World Tree of Domovogrod, nomads roaming vast plains with a 'city on wheels' that travels around, as nomadic as the people it serves. There are spreading forests and towering mountains, strange customs and stranger titles... never mind the beings bearing them. Every region has distinctive spells, equipment and more. Throughout, there are suggestions for adventure, rooted in the people and places you are reading about at the time. The richness of this setting is matched by how integrated it is: sometimes you read of a campaign world where it seems a human world with other races tacked on because a fantasy world ought to have them: here they belong, as integral a part of the setting as any other creature.

After the regional chapters, there is a chapter detailing the pantheon of Midgard. It takes things much further than the usual list of deities and the domains over which they have influence, though. These gods are properly mysterious, they and their ways cannot be understood and categorised by mere mortals. Sometimes aloof, they can be jealous - it's said that the best way to attract one god's attention is to worship another one! - and are said to interfere in mortal affairs. Through a system of 'masks' deities are able to walk the land and meddle in whatever takes their interest. Mechanically, there are new domains and spells and the concept of the pantheistic priest. This novel cleric worships the five gods designated as the major powers wherever he lives, each week chosing one of them to venerate and receiving access to the appropriate domains. The underlying reasons for why the gods of Midgard are as they appear are explained, but this is a matter properly for the GM: even their clerics and most fervent devotees do not know! There's a lot of material here, enough to keep the keenest student of theology busy. Finally, an Appendix provides resources for those who'd like to use the Midgard setting with the AGE system rather than Pathfinder.

It's the sort of world that you feel that you could take a lifetime exploring it and still feel that you have only scratched at the surface. This is a book to dip into, to browse through, to read again and again. Whether you like to prowl in the woods, roam vast plains, travese deserts or trudge through deep snow, there is adventure and excitement and things to see and do at every turn. Primarily a book for GMs, there's a series of Player's Guides to the different regions available, if you want your players to learn more about where their characters are without giving away too many secrets. In sheer depth and richness, this setting is hard to beat - and one wonders just how so much is packed into 'only' just under 300 pages!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Midgard Campaign Setting
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Traveller Core Rulebook Beta Playtest
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2015 13:41:44

OK, so why do we need a new set of rules? Let's see what is here and how it improves on what has gone before. It is supposed to be broadly backwards-compatible with Mongoose Traveller materials, but will of course have resources - sourcebooks and adventures - crafted specifically for it in due course.

The Introduction begins by explaining what Traveller is: a science-fiction role-playing game of the far future that can be used to play out whatever you fancy - and adds that if you have a favourite SF film or TV series (or presumably book!), Traveller ought to be able to replicate it on your tabletop. It touches on the Third Imperium (the Official Traveller Universe as it's known) and gets a little muddled in the distinction between the players of the game (that's you and me) and the characters that they play. I am not (alas) a Traveller, my character is, the lucky tode! It talks about the sort of adventures and campaigns you can enjoy and runs through some game conventions (standard terminology) before explaining the concept of Tech Levels and, in brief sentences, showing what each one means from TL0 to TL15.

Next, Chapter 1: Character Creation introduces the unique Traveller 'life path' character generation process. It is recommended that a group of players generate their characters together, primarily so as to establish connections between them - it's also to be noted that lots of players enjoy creating characters as a game in its own right even when they don't need one! (However there is a new connections bonus that can lead to an additional skill level for both characters involved.) The process is well explained with plenty of detail (and suggestions, even here, for adventures) and there is a large flowchart that makes the process clear. As a double-spread page that would be fine, it's worth printing out at least those two pages from the PDF to get the full benefit. Each career - and the pre-career options of university or military academy - provides the character with not just skills but life-events that have in-game consequences as well as game-mechanical ones. Overall, the actual process has not changed much, but it is laid out and explained well. Character generation is primarily human-centric, with a brief mention of aliens and scant details of Aslan and Vargr - the intention is that they will be covered in separate sourcebooks. Tucked at the end is a new career, that of the Prisoner. It's not one that you choose for your character, but assorted events that may arise during character generation will land him there without the option!

This is followed by Chapter 2: Skills and Tasks, which gets down to the business of explaining how to use the skills that your character has and the task resolution system. Although still based on the classic 'roll 2 dice against a Referee-set difficulty' the use of modifiers other than those based on the character's own capabilities has been replaced by the use of extra 'boon' or 'bane' dice. These come into play when conditions are beneficial or adverse to the attempt being made. A third die is rolled. If conditions are favourable, the player discards the lowest roll and uses the other two dice to resolve the task as normal. If things are against him, he discards the highest die roll before resolving the task. Neat, and a lot easier than having to determine just how beneficial or otherwise the circumstances might be! The idea is that task difficulties and applicable modifiers ought to be fairly standard for any given task, all you need to decide is if the circumstances under which you are trying to accomplish it warrant a boon or a bane die to be added to your roll.

Chapter 3: Combat then takes a long, hard look at how fighting is run within the game. Combat is still deadly, and relatively speedy. Characters use their skill in the weapon they are using, and wield them in initiative-order sequence in combat rounds. The system has been streamlined and integrated with personal combat, vehicle combat and starship combat all working the same way.

Naturally, getting caught up in a brawl is not the only danger to be faced in the far future, so Chapter 4: Encounters and Dangers provides loads of hazards and the game mechanics necessary to deal with them. Environmental dangers abound... but fortunately there is also a section on healing. Animals (which may or may not be hostile) are also covered here with a broad outline of a system to create animals and encounters with them. Several examples are given - and it can be great fun thinking up exotic critters for the worlds the party visits in its travels. Animals, of course, are not the only beings they will encounter, so there is also a section about NPCs which includes quick generation of them and the sort of encounters that may be had... there's even a rudimentary patron encounter system here for generating really fast adventure seeds on the fly.

Next comes Chapter 5: Equipment. Starting off with notes on money and standards of living it soon launches into The Core Collection, a catalogue of much of what the well-equipped traveller might need - which is presented like a real-world catalogue complete with illustrations (well, some of them, and plenty space earmarked for more) and sales-speak as well as the necessary game mechanics to use them. As well as the weapons, armour and gear you'd expect, the Core Collection also includes augmentations - cybernetic or biological modifications to improve on or even add things to the standard human.

Chapter 6: Vehicles follows; but here the emphasis is on what vehicles can do and how they are operated. It also includes vehicle combat. Quite a few examples are provided for those who want to get going quickly. This is followed by Chapter 7: Starship Operations which looks at the bread and butter of running a starship and starship encounters, including things like running costs and starship security. There's a separate chapter for starship combat, which allows characters to play a part in different roles - and makes starship captains worry about how much power they are using! Both ship-to-ship combat and boarding actions are covered here.

Next, Chapter 9: Common Spacecraft looks at ships which are familiar to the experienced Traveller player, but presents them in a new and visual manner. Statistics appear in a neat panel that gives you all you need to know, whilst deckplans have gone isometric. This gives a nice impression of what it would actually be like to wander around the ship in question and matches up well with the external views. They won't work so well as old-style deckplans for people who like to run combat aboard like a miniatures skirmish though. There's a good range of standard craft here from traders and scouts to liners and yachts.

Separated out - not everyone likes to use them - is Chapter 10: Psionics. (They are, however, mentioned within the lifepath parts of character generation: with several opportunities to be contacted and tested. If you don't want to use them, you'll have to roll again if you get one of those results.) The default model is that psionics are rare and viewed with offical caution if not outright hostility - in the Third Imperium, for example, they are banned. If you do choose to use them, psionic strength and skills are covered here as well as the psion career path.

Next comes Chapter 11: Trade. This provides a system for conducting interstellar trade that manages to be quite detailed and yet abstracts the process to a few die rolls, a neat method that allows a party to focus as much or as little attention on it as they please whilst still providing the possibility of a rationale for their travels and an income to fund it.

Finally, where are you going to travel to? This is covered by Chapter 12: World and Universe Creation which lays out the way in which worlds, systems and sectors are described and how to design them, and Chapter 13 which details the Sindal Sub-Sector in the Trojan Reaches - the new setting which is to be developed for this latest iteration of the Traveller game.

Overall, this book presents something that is still recognisably Traveller but with the benefit of 30-odd years of game design building on the original concepts. It shows great promise particularly in terms of integration and streamlining of game mechanics, and presentation values look as if they will be good too - although of course in this playtest version quite a lot of the art is missing. There are also a few typos which will hopefully be caught before the final version... but it promises well for the future of the game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Traveller Core Rulebook Beta Playtest
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Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/08/2015 08:44:38

This massive (almost 500 pages!) rewrite of Mutant Chronicles is visually appealing even before you start to read... when you do, Chapter 1: Welcome to Mutant Chronicles does double duty, starting with the mechanics of what is needed for play - you need d20s, d6s and counters - and why you need them, and then launching into more conceptual areas by explaining that it's a dieselpunk techno-fantasy game... and then while you are still scratching your head over that, explaining what is meant by those terms. In a near-future when humankind has spread throughout the solar system, something called Dark Symmetry has cast a blight over technology, meaning that many shiny new toys have been put away in favour of older tech that remains reliable. The whole game is built around the struggle between humanity and Dark Symmetry in three distinct time periods: the Dark Symmetry period (when it is trying to gain a foothold and a lot of the struggle passed by the 'man in the street'), the Dark Legions period (overt battle, the setting of the previous two editions and the miniatures skirmish game Warzone), and the Dark Eden period (when matters come to a head).

We then read about the factions, which include massive corporations and other organisations. These are described later on in the book, and further supplements addessing them are in the pipeline (whilst I do not usually mention future publications until they happen, these were included in the Kickstarter for this project and so it's very likely that they will materialise!). Those who do not wish to take regular employment within these organisations become freelancers, trading job security for freedom of action. There's a brief mention of the opposition (alien servants of Darkness and the heretics who support them, sometimes unwittingly), then it is on to a survey of known space. Earth is in tatters, poisoned and virtually uninhabitable, but there are burgeoning communities on Luna (Earth's moon) and the inner part of the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Mars and the asteroid belt). Further out is more sparsely colonised and was gobbled up readily by Dark Symmetry as soon as it arose.

Next comes Chapter 2: Mutant Chronicles Factions, which goes into more detail about the megacorporations that have taken the place of the nation-states of old and other groups as well. Each organisation has its own chapter later in the book, for now we get a thumbnail sketch, an overview. Familiar names to those who played earlier editions of this game, the corporations are Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima, Imperial, and Cybertronic. Each has its own distinctive tone and character, just as the nations which preceeded them did - indeed you can see traces of, for example, Germanic and Scandinavian influences in Bauhaus and Japan in Mishima. Cybertronic proves an exception, the most recently-formed it draws on a wide range of cultures and embraces technology in a way unlike the others. There are other non-corporate factions too, described in similar manner: Whitestar (who cling to the remnants of Earth and view everyone else as deserters), the Cartel (who provide a meeting place for the corporations), the Brotherhood (a religious order, source of what social aid is around but vehemently opposed to Dark Symmetry) and Luna PD (much more than a mere police force!).

Up to now, this information is suitable for GM and player alike, but the next chapter, Chapter 3: Timeline of Mutant Chronicles, introduces a little red flag that points GMs at information (tucked away at the end of the chapter) that is for their eyes only. Leaving aside the fact that more than one member of a group might both GM and play the game, it's an issue that besets single-volume core rulebooks: you have to rely on player discretion to stay out of the things they shouldn't read! Of course, it often makes the game more fun if players do exercise restraint. Anyway, starting at the end of the 21st century, this chapter details the events that brought humanity to its current state with the Dark Symmetry era beginning in the late 25th century, following a 'golden age' of exploration and expansion. It's a heady sweep of future history which has its roots in a destruction of natural resources by corporate greed and overpopulation that sounds all too possible.

Next we move on to game mechanics with Chapter 4: Core Mechanics. Here the core of the game system is explained with details of skill tests, Momentum, Chronicle Points and the Dark Symmetry Pool. On the whole, it's best to roll low. A skill test is rolled on 2d20 with factors based on attributes, skills, bonus success, and difficulty added in; and basically determines whether or not a character succeeds in whatever it is that he is trying to do. The text digs into this in detail and provides plenty of examples to show you what is going on. Momentum is a neat mechanic which determines how well you succeeded, and allows for the choice of appropriate outcomes: did you do it faster, do a better job... Chronicle Points are awarded by the GM as he sees fit, to reward good role-play, clever planning, the overcoming of obstacles and so on; and may be used by the player to influence die rolls, perform extra actions in combat or even to take a moment to catch his breath and wipe light wounds off of his character sheet. The GM has the equivalent in Dark Symmetry Points, which can be gained when characters make a botch of things (as in, fail a die roll) or even when a player, seeing that a task is difficult, 'purchases' an extra d20 to roll to resolve it at the cost of giving the GM a Dark Symmetry Point. This kind of 'book-keeping' may seem a bit onerous, or liable to detract from the flow of the game, but handled with care it provides robust mechanics to manage developments.

Chapter 5: Character Lifepath starts you off on the character creation process. It is moderately time-consuming, but the depth of character that results is worth it. The standard method combines choice and chance by providing at each step the option to make a choice or roll the dice (you decide which, of course, before any dice are rolled); but if the party has already decided exactly what they want to play there is a completely point-based option. It's recommended that all characters in a party take this option if it is to be used at all to maintain balance between them. The whole process involves eight key decisions, and by the end you should have a good idea of who your character is, and how he came to be like that... his background life history is developed as part of the process, including significant events in his life. Next, Chapter 6: Experience and Gameplay Rewards shows how characters gain experience points and use them to develop and grow, then Chapter 7: Skills and Talents gives further details of all the options (as well as showing how to actually use skills in play) although they are assigned during the Lifepath process.

Throughout, the emphasis is on how the various aspects of your character can be used in play. It sounds more mechanical than it actually is: once you understand what everything means you will be able to use it to effect. This is a game in which a thorough understanding of the rules will aid effective role-play, unlike some games where it is sufficient for the GM to know the rules it is essential for the players to get to grips with them as well. Each aspect, such as Momentum and Character Points, performing actions and of course combat, gets a chapter (well, more than one chapter when it comes to combat!) explaining precisely how you can put everything to use. There are lots of examples to go along with explanations to make it all come to life. Note that madness and being consumed by darkness are as real threats as bullets in this game, and there are of course rules for that as well.

Both creatures of darkness and those of the light have the opportunity to learn specific powers - call them spells if you will - and there are a vast array for you to pick through. Eventually, however, we come to chapters covering equipment: vehicles, spacecraft, weapons and other equipment and gear. Each comes with a wealth of detail on construction, repair, operation and combat use. What a character has access to will often depend on his faction affilitation. An odd quirk of the armour system is a fondness for large shoulder pads: be prepared to look as if you are about to play American Football rather than engage in a brawl!

After an exhaustive discussion of gear, we move on to Chapter 25: Adversaries. This takes the GM through the process of creating all the NPCs required, with a truncated version of the lifepath process used for player-characters being suggested. Plenty examples and samples, and of course there are beings other than humans for the characters to contend with. Next comes Chapter 26: The Dark Soul and Apostles, with a wealth of detail on everything from the first contact with darkness (on Pluto, 2480AD if you must know) to how it has spread through the solar system and what is going on in the time in which the game is set. Although it's not mentioned overtly, this is probably GM territory. This is followed by a chapter on the Dark Legions (in effect a bestiary), including their weapons and equipment.

Next is an extensive chapter on Luna, the moon, which is now the primary home of humanity. There's masses here, locations to visit, lifestyle information and more - and a sequestered section of notes for the GM alone, suggesting that the rest can be made available to characters who have reason to know their way around! Then there is a chapter on freelancers, employees and jobs which looks at the various ways in which characters can make a living, followed by separate chapters on the corporations and other organisations which might be hiring. The wealth of detail is quite amazing, painting a vivid picture of life all ready for your party to come and inhabit it.

Then comes Chapter 38: Eras of Play which explores the different time periods available and what is going on in each before launching into Chapter 39: Gamemastering Mutant Chronicles, filled with good advice on how to run the game to effect, using the rules and the background material to drive your plots. The following chapter on Scenes and Environments continues in this vein and covers a whole lot more than the title might suggest. Finally, Sessions and Campaigns provides loads of ideas to get the GM going. An assortment of charts and worksheets, the index and a list of Kickstarter backers rounds the book off.

This is an elegant and masterful re-tooling of the original Mutant Chronicles, retaining the original flavour yet giving it a contemporary spin. If this kind of dark future appeals, this game should keep your group engrossed for many a gaming session.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition Roleplaying Game
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Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2015 07:41:56

Designed as a supplement to Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, the planar sourcebook for the Midgard campaign setting, the Introduction notes that most of the material herein just didn't fit into it or, in one case, was thought maybe a bit too dark for the main book. So if you fancy sending your party to explore the wonders and wierdnesses of the planes and want even more to put before them, jump right in.

It opens with that problematic item (apparently one individual disliked it so much that they dropped out of the project altogether!), which is a new 'other location', a plane of sheer horror which it is likely the party will end up in by accident as you cannot really imagine anyone wanting to go there. Called Mora, it is evil-aligned and takes the form of a rocky island in a dark sea. It is filled with female spirits, porportedly neglectful mothers, and riven with fear. Brooding lonliness and sheer panic await those who venture here, a madness that traps wanderers and is hard to escape. Here too, stolen children are auctioned off by bogeymen. It's a vivid reminder that there's a lot of nasty stuff out there... whether you want it in your game is up to you, but it should only be used with care and full knowledge of your players. Someone with childhood trauma in their past might find this too challenging for something that is, after all, supposed to be fun.

There's a brief piece of fiction associated with the Rusty Gears locale described in Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, then it's on to a collection of planar traps, hazards and afflictions that you can place as appropriate when your party is wandering the planes. Perhaps you want to confuse with some non-Euclidean angles, strange shapes your eye slithers off as your brain fails to understand what's going on; or maybe pass around some dead stone, rock from which the very essence of being a stone has leached away. Its very touch is said to make a dwarf cry. There are strange diseases and poisons here, and if you don't find the planes wierd enough, mind-bending drugs.

Then there are magical and wondrous items - some cursed, of course. One catches my eye (because I'm going to be marking some exam papers after my lunch break): a bottled memory. I wonder if any of the students have remembered what they needed to know? They can be useful, entertaining or informative... and then there's faerie food. Many will know it's not a good idea to eat it, but here are the relevant game mechanics to deal with those who do.

Finally there's a Bestiary (which includes a template for creating an Imaginary Friend) and some NPCs.

If you already have Dark Worlds and Golden Hells this could prove a useful adjunct but if you don't it makes far less sense. I don't think I want to actually visit Mora, but it could spawn a few good legends and tales to scare any would-be planar travellers: something that lurks in the shadows rather than occupies centre-stage. The items and traps and other perils are particularly good, they are the real reason to add this book to your library.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds (Pathfinder RPG)
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Dark Roads & Golden Hells (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2015 09:01:44

So you have grown weary of trampling around your campaign world (be it a published one or one of your own invention) and would like to take the party somewhere really different? Then perhaps a jaunt into another plane of existence might be in order...

Chapter 1: Lore of the Planes gets straight down to business, starting with philosophical musings about what the planes actually are (as much as you can imagine then a whole lot more, apparently!). To make it a bit more comprehensible, think of them as tangible representations of concepts and ideas. The main ones are based on the alignments - things like Good and Evil, Law and Chaos - but you might find ones for Art or Music, Beauty or Trade... only they come and go as people find different ideas of importance. You also find the souls of those who have finished their mortal existence here, perhaps making their way to the Underworld or onwards to some final destination with a few devout ones being gathered in by the deity they venerated. And then there are the denizens of the planes themselves. Independent living beings who find their homes in these strange places. Perhaps this is where the Gods are to be found, complete with the minions and companions that their faith holds that they should have. Living vessels for the power of an idea. I don't profess to understand, there again if I did maybe I'd be a deity too!

Next, Chapter 2: Cosmology tries to explain what is contained in a sample cosmology, the Midgard one. Use it as is (even if you don't run your games in Midgard), adapt it or use it as a template and guide as you devise your own. The whole book is designed as a 'plug and play' manual, take the bits you want, add in your own ideas and come up with a set of planes like no other - it's probably as close to being a god as any of us will get! Like any religion, it starts "In the beginning..." How did the universe in which your campaign is run come into existence in the first place? And who found out and started to create legends about it (which may or may not be accurate, of course)? Maybe different groups have different explanations for how everything came to be - these lead to contention, be it academic debate or all-out war. Examples from Migard are given. Was order given to chaos, or the other way around? It's never static, that's for sure, and there is always contention between various aspects of the planes themselves, never mind mortal squabbling below. The Material Plane, the place where your campaign world exists, is at the middle. Denizens of myriad planes squabble over it because they all draw their power from the very souls of those who live there... and often meddle through dreams and visions or outright intervention in what is going on there, too.

And then you - or at least the party - think of going there. Most use magical means (a spell or portal) but some slip through the cracks into some kind of 'sea of possibilities' - maybe it presents itself as a corridor with lots of doors, or it might be something far more exotic. Through those doors (or via whatever metaphor you pick) are all these planes... and each plane has its own characteristics and nature. A selection of the Midgard planes are described here, for inspiration or use as you please. There are loads of ideas here, and many useful sidebars which show you how to use these traits and characteristics to affect game mechanics. In a Good-aligned plane, perhaps 'evil' magic doesn't work, at least, nothing more than a nasty smell or a bit of smoke results from your casting, for example. Or perhaps any spell-casting results in a bright flash of light in addition to the intended effects.

If that wasn't enough, Chapter 3: Other Locations looks at what else is out there besides the planes. The cracks between them, if you will. The places you might end up if you botch that planar travel spell or open the wrong door. Called Between, this unspace has a whole geography and inhabitants of its own and, trust me, you don't want to go there. Neither will your characters, if they know about it. They might be more comfortable in another unspace called The Casino, but beware: it's generally more than mere money that rides on the games played here. You can play - or bet on - just about anything conceivable here, and there's even a 'game development' complex where games from all over the known universes and beyond are tested and honed to a high level. There are other locations as well, if these two do not take your fancy: the Evermaw, the Marketplace, the Plane of Spears, and more. The Marketplace is an intersection of all the markets that ever there were, a place when literally anything is available - for a price. A multitude of adventures await in all these places, and if reading about them doesn't give you enough ideas, plenty of suggestions for how to use them in your game are sprinkled throughout.

Next is Chapter 4: Heroes of the Planes. So far, we have heard about assorted denizens of every plane discussed, but here you get the low-down on new races native to the planes along with new feats, traits, incantations and spells that may be learned here, may be useful here... or may be used against unwary visitors. Then on to the real heart of the matter with Chapter 5: Gamemastering Infinity. After reading thus far, you may be thinking that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Don't worry, there's plenty of helpful advice here. Start small. Add the odd twist to an otherwise-normal adventure. Remember that the planes never stay the same. Then there's an introduction to planar roads, the routes seasoned planes-wanderers use to get from one place to another. Even seasoned travellers find them tricky to navigate and often end up someplace other than they intended. Here also are the strange economics of the planes, the commodities valued here are different from the gold pieces that are useful back home on the mortal plane. This chapter ends with some magical items unique to the planes, and it is followed by the last chapter, Chapter 6: Bestiary. As you can imagine, some mighty strange beasties are to be found here.

This is a book of ideas, of inspiration and of concepts. Even if you stick to the exemplars pulled from the multiverse around Midgard, there is still much to be done before you can actually run much in the way of planar adventures... but this is a starting point to help you think about what you want and how to make it happen. It digs at the fundamental underpinnings of what makes a fantasy campaign world work, and what may lie beyond... but may be a bit philosophical for some tastes. An interesting read, nevertheless.



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Dark Roads & Golden Hells (Pathfinder RPG)
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Midgard Bestiary for Pathfinder RPG
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2015 06:57:41

The Midgard Bestiary is a monster compilation with a difference. Born of Open Design's organic development process, it draws upon monsters featured in Kobold Quarterly, the website and already-published materials as well as the traditional folklore that powers much of their output. Keynotes are that monsters ought to be scary and have the potential to be used in unorthodox ways to keep players guessing and on the edge of their seats. There's an overtone of deep-rooted horror that permiates much of the Open Design (now Kobold Press) output, the sort of horror that stems from tales told and retold.

Each of the 89 monsters gets the same treatment: brief 'this is what you see' description, a full stat-block, illustration and full descriptive and ecological notes that supply the GM with all the information he needs to locate and run that monster as an integral part of the campaign world, not just something to fight (although most of them will put up a good fight when it's a brawl you are after!). Who could not delight in the bagiennik, an often peaceful creature with a talent for healing which goes absolutely mad with fury if you interrupt it when it's taking one of its frequent and languorous baths... well, I don't like being disturbed when bathing either!

Even reading some of the entries can send shudders down your spine... like the broodkin, really nasty constructs that are a sort of malignant baby or the beautiful but deadly cavelight moss that delights in devouring passing adventurers. Twisted birds, a host of clockwork creatures, and the carrion-eating death butterfly swarm lie in wait, and the twisted evil of a derro fetal savant is just sick. I think I prefer the ink devil, these prefer chatting, whining, and pleading to any form of combat, being known cowards - and fun to role-play as well.

Twisted, strange, unpredictable, the stuff of the sort of legends you tell around a camp fire late at night... just don't get bitten by a doppelrat! Whether your game is set in Midgard or in your own campaign world, when you want to scare the party as well as provide them with opposition, this is an excellent collection to browse through. To aid in selection, appendices list them by type, CR, terrain and role, while there are also notes on re-skinned monsters (ways to create quick variant critters) and a set of location-based encounter tables if you need a quick random monster. Definitely worth adding to your monster collection - you can never have too many!



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Midgard Bestiary for Pathfinder RPG
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Alleys of Zobeck (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2015 11:49:34

This work is a collection of additional enhancements for those using Streets of Zobeck (or indeed the Zobeck Gazetteer) in their campaign. It opens with a short scenario 'Nothing to Declare' which should be run the first time that the party arrives in the Free City of Zobek, an adventure that sets the scene and flavour of the place ready for whatever you have planned for later. It's a neat introduction to a place which runs on favours and reeks of corruption, and provides a lead-in to whichever of the adventures from Streets of Zobeck you intend to run.

This escapade is followed by a selection of rules material, each keyed to one of the Streets of Zobeck adventures but of potential use in their own right whether or not you are going to run the adventure in question. Clerics may appreciate the Lust domain - whichever deity they worship does NOT require celibacy of devotees! There are creatures, templates, the odd encounter... plenty to spice up whatever adventure you are running in Zobeck or, for that matter, any equivalent city. Or perhaps you'd like to introduce Goldscale the kobold and his dire weasel mount...

There are other NPCs too, new feats (including some dirty fighting moves!) and traits, magic and mundane items that might come in handy, and more. There's a rather odd incantation called the Incantation of Memories Lost which quite frankly baffles me. It's not clear what the purpose is, the benefit of casting it. Better are some tables for generation the sort of odds and ends the party may find in the pockets of the next body they find in the gutter. If it's fine dining you are after, the Rampant Roach (a kobold-run resturant) is best avoided, but there's a description and floor-plan for those unwise enough to go in. Ulmar's Rare Books may be worth a visit, and there are adventure ideas both for these places and for some of those mentioned in other Zobeck books. Finally if the party finds the city confusing, they might want to engage the services of another kobold called Blackeye who has a carriage for hire, taxi-style. He makes a good ally - provided you are happy with the army of cousins he recommends and the never-ending chatter about Zobeck and its inhabitants.

Overall, a nice addition to the other two Zobeck books, but of less use if you are not using them.



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Alleys of Zobeck (Pathfinder RPG)
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Streets of Zobeck (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/25/2015 10:23:55

If you like adventures grim and gritty, enjoy the odd heist, and are not too particular as to which side of the law your characters might be on, this collection of adventures set in the Free City of Zobeck may be just up your street. Set in the underbelly of the city, the characters will need to be cunning, tricky, ruthless and smart to survive... but if they do, who knows, they may end up rich!

This is more than a collection of adventures, however. It starts with some beautifully-detailed and colourful characters and fascinating locations for use both in these adventures and ones of your own. Each NPC comes with notes on their motivations and goals, their long-term activities, and on 'schemes and plots' - ideas for how they might be incorporated into or even spawn an adventure here and now. The location entries also have adventure ideas as well as floorplans and notes on the folk that you might find hanging around. Standout here is the Silk Scabbard, a fight club/brothel... the entry even has suggestions for the party taking over and running it. There's also a collection of feats, traits, spells and gear that might come in handy for adventurers in Zobeck or indeed those who enjoy city adventuring in general.

Then we get to the adventures themselves, a full seven of them, catering to characters of levels 1 to 10. Run them as a loose sequence, pick an appropriate one when the party comes to town, mix in your own adventures in Zobeck or the surrounding area, the choice is yours. The characters will be caught up in the dark underbelly of Zobeck from the outset, with memorable encounters with people who may prove a help or a hindrance in the future (assuming they survive the encounter, that is). It's a fascinating exercise in how to embed adventures in the very fabric of the setting, creating an harmonious whole that gives the impression of a city buzzing with life never mind what the party gets up to, yet enabling them to become movers and shakers in their own right if that's what they desire.

Each adventure stands on its own as an exciting series of events, taking the party around the city as they seek to complete a mission or find something out. The first is 'Everyone Lies' by Ben McFarland, which sets the characters to look for a local thief's missing girlfriend. Naturally all is not as it seems and a massive web of deceit underlies this seemingly simple task... oh, and they are not the only people looking for the young lady in question... and this is the adventure for 1st-3rd level characters!

Next is 'Rust' by Richard Pett. This 4th-5th level adventure sees the party asked to deal with a plague of demented animated metallic creatures that prowl by night. Who made them, where, and why? Finding the answers may give clues as to why competing merchants are taking an interest. This is followed by an adventure from Christina Stiles called 'The Fish and the Rose', billed as suitable for 5th-level characters. The title is the name of a painting, coveted by many but one thinks she knows where it is - and is willing to hire the party to acquire it on her behalf... an ideal adventure for those who dream of pulling off an epic heist. Then comes 'The First Lab', written by Mike Franke, which is for 7th-level adventurers and delves into the very origins of the gearforged as they are hired to retrieve a diary stolen from a senior professor at the Arcane Collegium.

Matthew Stinson is author of the next adventure called 'Rebuilding a Good Man' and appropriate for 9th-level characters. Someone has acquired (read: stolen) a gearforged body for rather dubious purposes, but perhaps if it was stolen back it could be put to better use... there's an exercise in morality as well as one for the swordarm here. Next, Mike Franke is back with 'Ripper' for a 10th-level party who rapidly get embroiled in the search for a serial killer whether they are interested or not. Finally, there's 'Flesh Fails' from Christina Stiles. Also for 10th-level characters, well it's billed as 9th-11th actually, it involves dark goings-on at the Arcane Collegium and murky dealings amongst the political elite of the city. Successful characters could even use this adventure, if concluded successfully, as a stepping-stone to political power for themselves.

If the Free City of Zobeck features in your game, this book is well worth a look... and if you don't, reading it will make you want to run a campaign set in and around Zobeck forthwith.



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Streets of Zobeck (PFRPG)
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Pirates of the Western Ocean (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2015 07:32:02

Pirates have always had a fascination for role-players, so it's pretty much inevitable that some were going to turn up... The Introduction, however, takes a historical tack, starting with Viking raiders and going on to consider Barbary pirates of the Mediterranean as well as the Caribbean ones most often thought of when considering pirates for a fantasy role-playing game. It also introduces the historical concept of the privateer, a pirate licensed by his own government to wage proxy war on the ships of opposing nations. This provides a wide canvas, a range of suggestions beyond the norm on which to introduce pirates into your game.

We start in Chapter 1: Lords of the Seas with copious details (including full stat blocks) of five notorious pirates encountered in the Western Ocean of the Midgard Campaign Setting. (If your game is set elsewhere, just tweak names and details to fit your needs.) This is followed by Chapter 2: Faces of the Western Ocean, which presents other NPCs who ply the sea lanes of the Western Ocean whom you can use as enemies or allies, chance encounters or just a passing rumour heard in a tavern. Ideas for how to incorporate them into your plots are included as well as standard details of stat block, background, combat information and portraits. One stand-out is Czakthorash, a green dragon who was the runt of his litter and devised a cunning plan: outclassed by his siblings in regular dragon methods of amassing a hoard, he's established himself as a 'cargo-cult' deity providing trinkets to primitive islanders in return for adulation... and plenty gems and gold as well!

Next up is Palau Kelaparan, Home of Mechuiti and the Behtu. This presents an entire island located in a remote corner of the Western Ocean (or someplace suitable in your campaign world), the residence of Mechuiti (who is a demon) and his cohorts as well as the natives: the pygmy Behtu, who have some unpleasant habits. Explore the place if you dare, defeat the inhabitants if you can... This section includes some ideas for ways of getting your party to go there in the first place. Then comes Umbrasca, another island with a long and dark history. Again the geography is outlined, with locations to explore, and notable inhabitants to meet, along with plot suggestions for how to incorporate it into your game.

If neither of these appeal, the next section presents several Lesser Ports of Call which a ship-borne party may care to visit during their travels... and if they are getting too complacent, call upon the inhabitants of the following section Pirate Bands to provide some opposition. These are provided in outline only, you'll have to put in some work before they are ready for a brawl on the high seas.

We then move on to a Bestiary of the Waves, containing cannibal pygmies and rum gremlins, and notes on rules pertaining to being adrift at sea deigned to enable you to generate an encounter with someone cast adrift at short notice. Next is a section on Ships and Cargo, which provides loads of detail such as ship templates to aid in devising the ships your party sails in or encounters... but despite the heading, nothing much about cargo.

This is followed by Mariner Magic and Culture. Here we find some new spells with a nautical flavour... and others, including some rather cunning temporal ones. There are also some magic items and mariner traits, for characters who spend plenty of time afloat.

Finally, there are some Secrets of the Western Ocean... dark secrets for the GM to know and craft plots around ready to ensnare unwary parties and give them the thrill of discovery as they unravel the mysteries. These are based around aboleths and sea titans, who both once held sway in the depths but whose influence has waned, although it has not faded away completely. At the end there's a map of the Western Ocean, a rather disappointing one as it doesn't show any of the places mentioned in the text!

There's plenty to spark the imagination if you want to bring pirates into your game - particularly if they will be attacking your party rather than the characters actually taking to a life of swashing their buckles pirate-style themselves. It could have done with more maps, the single one provided is virtually useless, but there are some good ideas here, although most will need further work before they are ready to be included in your game.



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Pirates of the Western Ocean (Pathfinder RPG)
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Zobeck Gazetteer (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2015 08:45:06

The Introduction opens with a key question: What is Zobeck? Seems a good place to start, and the text explains how Zobeck is one of the few places in Midgard not to have a feudal overlord since a revolt some 80 years ago kicked out the ruling family... not to mention that it's a trade hub and by all accounts a vibrant and exciting place to live in or visit. If you don't happen to use the Midgard campaign setting, a helpful sidebar explains, it will not take too much adaptation to locate Zobeck in your own game world instead. It's a town with a dark side, a teeming underbelly. It conducts trade primarily by river, and there's a deep, dark forest nearby. Inspiration includes middle Europe, a rich source widely ignored by fantasy game authors.

Chapter 1: A History explains the genesis and growth of this city-state and how its main inhabitants - humans, dwarves, gearforged and kobolds - developed the relationships that they have today. First there were the Fey, who were tricked into a pact that resulted in them becoming the Shadow Fey but gave them so much power that they don't seem to have resisted much. Then kobolds turned up to exploit the wealth they found underground. This annoyed the Shadow Fey who formed an alliance with a human lordling called Stross, who conquered the area and established his own rule... and thus the seeds were laid for what is found today. Interestingly, all the history recounted here is information that any interested character might find out, while it's probably common knowledge to the locals.

Next is Chapter 2: The Free City of Zobeck. This is a survey of the districts that make up the city and the people who live in them. Everyday life, customs, languages, trade... it's all here, vital information for would-be visitors. There are also ideas for adventure scattered throughout, which can be picked up and developed by interested GMs. This chapter ends with notes on the city's neighbours.

Then comes Chapter 3: The Kobold Ghetto which goes into extensive detail about this fascinating district of the city. It may be a tough place to live, but compared to what kobolds have endured in the past it at least provides some security if not much in the way of creature comforts. There's plenty of information and a detailed map to facilitate visits - although non-kobolds do stand out and often get picked upon. Indeed, the ghetto is so alien a place that visitors actually are dazed (as in the condition) for several rounds on entering! There's plenty to see for those willing to brave it, however, and numerous ideas for adventure are provided.

Moving on, Chapter 4: Districts & Locations surveys the most prominent ones, with a 2-page map depicting the entire city and a wealth of notes and details about what is to be found there. There are places to visit, shops to browse in and fascinating individuals to meet... and of course several good taverns to drink (and brawl) in. Scene set, the next chapter - Chapter 5: Gangs, Guilds and Guardians - gets down to explaining the elaborate guild organisations that (at least in their own eyes) control the city as well as the numerous gangs which also lay claim to do so, certainly where the underworld is concerned. You can also find out about the local courtesans, including their habit of getting rival lovers to duel over them. Whilst the city is no longer subject to noble rule, 'society' and courtiers still flourish and those who wish to mix at such rarified levels (or in some way profit from them) will find the details that they need.

This is followed by Chapter 6: Gods, Cults and Relics of Zobeck which sets the religious scene for the city. It's important to know about them even if the party is not particularly religious, as the local deities enjoy meddling and interfering in the lives of mortals. The notes are quite intormative, but those seeking more will find it in the Midgard Campaign Setting. As well as the deities, there are numerous cults and even a group of 'crab diviners' who believe that crabs whisper the truth to them...

Next, Chapter 7: Denizens of Zobeck provides full stat blocks and details of several notable NPCs dwelling in the city, all ready to be woven into your game. Finally, Chapter 8: Magic of Zobeck takes a look at magic as it is practised here. Dominated by the Arcane Collegium, there are some interesting paths of magic and they are explained here: the clockwork school and the Gear domain, along with star and shadow magic which both fall under the school of illumination magic and are held to be unique to the city. For those interested, there are quite a few new spells to study as well as a magic shop to visit and some magical items to keep an eye out for during your stay in the city.

There are a few annoying typos (although you can make out what was intended) and a few references to the Streets of Zobeck supplement: it's probably best to pick up a copy if you want to make best use of this book. Whilst much of the information, especially in the first couple of chapters, covers things that a character might discover through inquiry or research, later material is probably best kept for the GM's eyes only, even where characters born and bred in the city are concerned. Overall, though, it is well-presented and brings a fascinating city to vivid life - the party will remember their visit for a long time to come!



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Zobeck Gazetteer (Pathfinder RPG)
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Larger than Life: Giants for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2015 06:56:43

What part do giants play in your game? If you'd like them to be distinctive personalities rather than 'ordinary' humanoids that just happen to be bigger than anyone else, this might be worth a look.

There's no introduction or preamble, it just dives straight in to the first section. The book is made up of sections about the different types of giant - thursir, hill giants, stone giants, frost giants, fire giants, and cloud and storm giants - but each section contains a wealth of information that can be used to make them come alive in your game, with details about their history, social organisation and even religious beliefs as well as their relationships with other races and the things they do that are likely to impact on their neighbours. There are hidden gems throughout - for example, thursir like (and excel at) metalwork and feasting, yet they loathe dwarves (who like and excel at metalwork and feasting) with a vengeance. It's not just jealousy either, there's a historical (legendary, really) reason behind the emnity. It's things like that which make them come to life as a people with their own ideas and motivations rather than a mark on a map and a stat block in your notes.

However, it's not all stories and legends, there are solid game mechanics here as well. Racial feats - treating each different giant type as a separate race (which, biologically speaking, they are) - distinctive items of equipment and even magic are provided, along with fully-developed sample NPCs and ideas for adventure using each giant race.

Of course, the different races come over rather stereotyped. Thursir work wonders in the forge, provided they haven't been overindulging themselves with food and drink. Hill giants are stupid and a bit thuggish. Stone giants, on the other hand, are quite gentle and peaceful... and delight in their children, something many giants find quite difficult. Frost giants like hunting intelligent prey and will travel great distances to find someone worth hunting. Everyone else is regarded as slave material (or lunch). And so on. Whilst this makes it easy to categorise them, if you want to make them into real societies rather than groups of monsters, remember that the generalisations refer to the race as a whole and individuals may buck the trend... and indeed, there are hints and suggestions as to how not all giants of a given race are exactly the same. To go back to the thursir, while they detest dwarves and stomp on them at any opportunity, some female thursir are so enamoured of the freedoms female dwarves enjoy that they seek out magic to shrink them to dwarf size to mingle with them in secret!

Giants by their very nature do not live within mainstream humanoid civilisation, but they do interact with it. Using this book, you will be able to make giant communities come to life, whether your plot calls for the party to visit or encounter them, or for giants for some reason (probably warlike) to come a-visiting. Make them into something far more than large-scale humanoids to fight, giants can be people too! However, this is very much a book for giants as monsters/NPCs, albeit well-developed ones, if youm want to actually play a giant you will need more than is here although it may provide useful background.



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Larger than Life: Giants for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
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Southlands Heroes for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2015 07:44:35

Drawing on their new Southlands Campaign Setting, Kobold Press has launched its Dungeons & Dragons 5e line with a collection of races and backgrounds appropriate for characters who come from the Southlands or similar environments in your own campaign world. In particular, it capitalises on the mechanical differences between player-characters and their antagonists within this system to distil out the essence of particular races, classes and backgrounds to provide fascinating and challenging options for characters that capitalise on the features of the main Southlands environment - burning deserts and deep jungles.

Mechanically sound yet replete with role-playing potential, you can consider playing a gnoll or aasimar or perhaps one of the lizardfolk, or maybe a tosculi (insect creature), werelion or minotaur appeals. Each comes with some descriptive text, illustrations and a selection of traits and abilities to make the character that bit different, a true member of the chosen race. There's an interesting note on the creative use of animal companions and familiars, too, taking them deep into role-playing and away from the somewhat mechanical approach of the core rules that concentrates on fighting ability to the exclusion of much that could bring them to life within the party as a whole.

The second part of the book considers backgrounds, the third element of a character along with race and class. Backgrounds enhance role-playing, giving mechanical advantages to your characters' pasts, and also serve to highlight the flavour of your campaign world. Perhaps you travelled the desert extensively, or maybe you are regarded as the offspring of a deity... or served one as a temple slave. Sweeping and dramatic, these and more are presented with a wealth of ideas to inform the way in which that character behaves and approaches life as well as providing material benefits such as skill and tool proficiences, languages and items of equipment gained during the past in question.

Well presented with evocative illustrations and a skilful mix of game mechanic and inspiring narrative, it's easy to imagine playing any of the options in this book - the difficulty is deciding which one to try out first!



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Southlands Heroes for 5th Edition
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Supplement 10: Merchants and Cruisers
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2015 10:30:20

In the far future, it's reasonable to expect a vast array of ships to be plying the space lanes - just stand beside a busy road and see just how many different vehicles go by! - so this book provides a collection of different ships and ideas for variants to ensure that it's never boring out in the black or at a space port in your Traveller universe.

The Introduction explains how the ships have all been designed using the rules in the core rulebook and in Book 2: High Guard - so they'll be systemically compatible with anything you design or have taken from other books. The rest of the book is divided up into logical groups to make it easier to find what you want just when you need it.

The first section is Small Craft, being anything from fighters and shuttles to specialised ships for boarding actions or even planetary assault. These are followed by sections on Military Craft, Scout Vessels, and Civilian Ships; then more exotic vessels in sections devoted to Aslan, Darrian and Vargr ships. The military craft presented here are the smaller ones like patrol cruisers and support vessels, whilst the scout ones include those used on covert activities as well as more regular Scout missions. Civilian ships in clude not just merchants but passenger liners and even an interstellar casino!

For each ship, you get a short description of its appearance and uses, a full stat-block and a deck plan. These are nice, neat, clear plans - with the added bonus of each one has the legend explaining the symbols beside it. This coupled with most ships covering either one or two pages means that PDF users can print out the relevant pages for ships they want to use without having to refer to the rest of the book. There are occasional sketches of external appearance as well, nice for people who want to know what they can see when they look out of a porthole/use a view screen!

The 'alien' vessels do have a slightly different feel to them: Darrians like personal space, Aslan ships generally have a shrine and so on. The odd typo and some of the deck plans (especially for some reason in the Civilian Ships section) being less than clear about what's where notwithstanding, this is a very useful work for anyone who delights in the variety of ships to be encountered out in the black.



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Supplement 10: Merchants and Cruisers
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Tales of the Old Margreve Web Compilation
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/09/2015 10:32:21

Gleanings from the company website, this contains a wealth of snippets to add in to adventures set in the Old Margreve forest and round about. To start with there are 20 beautifully-described NPCs, provided to help you bring the place to life. They aren't intended for combat-fodder, if you do want to involve them in a brawl you'll have to provide your own stat-block... but as part of life's rich tapestry, people living and working in the area who might interact with the party, they're excellent. Watch out for Shadow, a black dog belonging to Tsarin the Dirgist. This hound has an uncanny nose for when someone is about to die, and leads his master to the spot so that he can perform a funeral dirge and eulogy for the just-departed. Some say that Shadow's appearance heralds (or even causes) the death... or is it just that he has impeccable timing?

Next up, 25 'reskinned' creatures, that is, the specifically Margreve versions of monsters from the Pathfinder Bestiary and Bonus Bestiary. These just come with descriptions again, but there's an indication as to which monster from the Bestiary you should reference. It's a neat way to put a twist on the creatures you encounter without much effort, and helps make the locale more distinctive.

Along the same theme, there are 15 reskinned spells, which can be used in different ways as you please. It may be that locals use these distinctive variants of spells that the party is used to, or - and this could cause some surprises - it may be that the spells act this way when cast in the Margreve, be it a native or visiting magic-user that casts them! If you decide they are local variants, others may learn them in the usual way... but may find that once they've left the Margreve they don't work as they need local components. Following on from that, there's a Margreve Bloodline that lets sorcerers tap into the ancient powers of the old forest and even become a part of it. If the Margreve is part of your campaign world, a sorcerer may have it - he doesn't even need to be local as long as he's descended from someone who was.

There's also an incantation, a few fascinating local items, and a selection of traits available to anyone who grew up in the area. It's all added flavour, and well worth picking up if you're using the Margreve. The illustrations are rather good - and evocative - too.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Old Margreve Web Compilation
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