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Welcome to Mortiston, USA! An All-American Zombie Apocalypse
Publisher: Scrying Eye Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2013 00:44:27

Don't let the big ol' zombie art fool you. "Welcome to Mortiston, USA" is a deluxe post-apocaplyptic campaign setting where the living are more of a threat than the dead. Or, as the setting says, "People complicate everything and desperate people with weapons only make it worse".

Mortiston starts with a bang -- three of them, in fact. A low-tech terrorist explosion starts a fire at the deserted Moriston All School. This is followed by the terrorist's low-yield nuke, destroying four blocks of the city, sending an EMP pulse through the entire town, disintegrating most of the city's firemen, deputies, reporters, and National Guardsmen, and setting off a firestorm that lasts five days. A military train, rerouted earlier in the day, is caught in the explosion and crashes into the telephone exchange building. All this before 12 o'clock.

Interestingly, the actual explanation for the zombies is left up to the GM, though the designer includes the origin he used in his version of the campaign. While Mortiston plots out the web of factions and personalities in the town, and includes a timeline of events, it's still flexible enough for the GM to add and modify. (A GM could even remove the zombies entirely!) The timelines are packed with adventure seeds of scenes for the GM to develop.

Primer: This section is an overview of the campaign. Besides what I've mentioned above, the Mortiston describes itself as a generic zombie apocalypse setting for multiple licensed RPGs: Outbreak: Undead, Savage Worlds, The Modern Path for Pathfinder, and OGL Modern. System-specific details are mostly NPC stats, and don't get in the way of the rest of the campaign. The primer also notes that the symptoms of radiation sickness are the same as those of the initial stage of the zombie virus -- it may be amusing to roleplay paranoid zombie-fearing players vs. unconvinced NPCs, or even run a version of this campaign with no zombies at all.

Timelines: The campaign provides a 24-hour timeline of the day of the disaster, a 111+ day timeline, and a summary of the the Stages of the Apocalypse. The 24-hour timeline is well-detailed, covering four pages of events. The 111+ day one is two pages, only highlighting major occurances every few days. The Stages provides an overview of the Mortison County as it declines. These timelines provide a framework for running the campaign over time, although the GM will still have to develop them.

Personalities: Mortiston provides nineteen colorful NPCs, with half a page for background, and another half for stats. Many of them are tied to the eight factions in the game, so will likely encounter PCs face-to-face in the game. Pretty obviously, more than nineteen people survived, so the GM will have to create additional NPCs for players to interact with. Unfortunately, the campaign does not have an index, making it tricky to find references to the Personalities versus NPCs mentioned only in the Places of Interest.

Places of Interest: Similar to Personalites, Places of Interest features about 30 locations in Mortiston. Besides a background and any people associated with the location, each entry has very useful descriptions of its "Relationship to other groups" (ie. factions), Resources (for scavenging), and a short timeline of the condition of the location. Special Locations in Mortiston are briefly mentioned in the GM notes.

Factions of Mortiston: After the detail and color of the Personalities and Places of Interest, I was somewhat disappointed in the Factions sections. At two pages, this section spends only a few paragraphs on each faction. However, a GM can rely upon standard tropes (eg. criminals vs. law) The information is nonetheless useful, detailing the number of people in each faction, their fighting ability, and relationships with the other factions. Most of the color of the factions are covered in Personalities and Places of Interest.

GM Notes: This section contains the already mentioned Stages of the Apocalypse and Special Locations in Mortiston. The section also provides a description of Utilities and Communications after a post-apocalyptic attack, a list of Neighborhoods in Mortiston, a Weather table, maps of effects caused by the terrorist attack, and other notes. While I found the Utilities and Communications section usefully detailed, I found the Locations and Neighborhoods to be scanty compared to the much more detailed Places of Interest.

What Will Michael Do: As an alternative to simply letting the town die out, the campaign ends with a climactic "ultimate monster", in the form of the militant Michael Sparks and charismatic Reverand Thompson. This section has a summary of how they will destroy and take over Moriston, although, again, the GM will have to work out the details.

Webpage support: For a free sample character and location, see DriveThruRPG's entry for the publisher, Scrying Eye Games. You will find there several other freebies for their other products. The designer's blog, 365ZED.com has additional Mortiston notes and material, including a free Fiasco Mortiston playset, sample characters, and more. Scrying Eye Games own website has little additional information about Mortiston and the designer's webpage's last entry was in December 2012.

Fiasco: On the designer's website, he includes a free standalone Fiasco playset based on Mortiston. Fiasco is a non-conventional storytelling game, in which a playset establishes the relationships and motivations of the players, as well as the location where the story takes place. The players then create the scenes and play out the story, improving details as the game session plays. Thus, the player-generated specifics of a Fiasco playset can compliment the broad overview of a campaign (and do much of the work for the GM!). The GM himself can modify the playset and interrupt play (eg. adding the plot-twisting Fiasco "Tilt") as necessary -- even stealing ideas generated in the Fiasco play session for the overall campaign. Fiasco sessions have a reputation for dark endings, well-suited for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA".

EEP!: EEP! 1 is the first "Extended Electronic Package" for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA", and is available as a separate $2.99 purchase from DriveThruRPG.net. I am not clear if other EEPs will be made, and when EEP! 1 was originally written.

PDF: The download comes in both a colored and black-and-white format. I particularly liked that the formats allowed printing of individual sections and NPC and location pages without widows and orphans. Most of the art is useful (eg. NPC and locations pictures), reducing the amount of ink and toner used for GMs wanting a hardcopy.

Overall, Mortiston is an excellent post-apocalyptic campaign setting. But like all campaign settings, the GM will have to work on the specifics, or use a system, like Fiasco, which will do this for him.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Welcome to Mortiston, USA! An All-American Zombie Apocalypse
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2013 03:36:53

I pretty much look forward to a new release of Dungeon Crawl Classics, at least those by Goodman or Stroh. The best ones injected a good dose of weirdness to your typical fantasy RPG, but with a coherence that gave a "method to one's madness". Most adventures I've read do either one, but few do it together like DCC.

Unfortunately, Curtis' The Sea Queen Escapes does the weirdness well, but lacks any structure or meaning behind it (cf. the cultist's tentacled lair in People of the Pit). That still puts this adventure on the level of some of the great AD&D adventures, like White Plume Mountain, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The encounters, while linear, are immensely creative, and highly themed to the adventure (a water vault, followed by an earth prison). Additional useful rules are provided for water-based dungeoneering. The adventure has about twenty encounters, including the climax.

I would suggest DCC's Jewels of the Carnifex over this adventure, but if your players need some more experience, your group will enjoy this adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Annihilation Event Book (Premium Edition)
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2013 23:01:44

Introduction

The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Annihilation Premium Event Book is a full-featured Event spanning the various Annihiliation books. The Premium edition includes the Basic book's Operations Manual. The Event book also serves as a sourcebook for Marvel's cosmic empires and entities. The Hero Datafiles contain entries for Marvel's cosmic heroes and anti-heroes.

Operations Manual

The Operations Manual included in the Premium Event Book is the same as the Marvel Roleplaying Basic Game. It includes a Random Datafile Generator to create characters, but not the Example of Play download. (Note: OM18, The Doom Pool as Opposition, has an example of ship vs. ship combat, which may be useful as an example for starship vs. starship battles.)

Cosmic Scale

The Event book has a host of gamemaster preparation suggestions and optional rules to run a cosmic-scale event. I'm most impressed at how organically MHR adds cosmic comic book ideas to its narrative system. Starships are treated as characters, so easily fit into the game mechanics. Unlockables can be used, such as an unlocked ally Skrull infiltrating an Annihiliation Wave base, allowing the heroes in. To represent an impending threat, a die from the Doom Pool can step up as its act as the Timer complication. (And when it reaches d12, it doubles, returns to the Doom Pool, and can be spent as 2d12 to end the scene -- with the planet destroyed!) And the Doom Pool starts at four dice! Players receive cosmic assistance as well, with Cosmic Power Sets. Play a Shi'ar with the Nova Corps Centurian Power Set. Or recreate a cosmic Human Torch with the Herald of Galacticus Power Set.

Sourcebook

In addition to gamemaster preparation, the Event is presented as a Sourcebook and three Acts. The Sourcebook can be used outside of this Event, and summarizes the Kree Empire, Skrull Empire, Nova Corps, Shi'ar Empire, The Eternals, The Negative Zone (including Annihilus and The Annihilation Wave), Galactus, The Crunch (Kyln), and Other Cosmic Locations. Datafiles of important characters and archetypes are included, as well as milestones and unlockables for each faction. (The Hero Datafiles also include player characters who belong to these factions.) Additional cosmic Event Milestones are also included.

Acts and Actions

The Event is designed for four to six players, and contains about six month's worth of gaming. The Event consists of three Acts which follow the Annhiliation storyline. Each Act is broken down into Scenes: Buildup Scenes, Key Scenes, and Optional Scenes. Each Buildup Scene provides Hooks for different kinds of characters to encounter the Annihiliation Wave. Much like other Event books, the Event book provides key details for a Scene (eg. Watcher datafiles, and Scene seeds to further flesh out the Scene). Each Scene is only a few pages long, but the Event book provides plenty of gamemaster assistance to play a scene. (Besides, we've all read the comics, right?)

Hero Data Files

This section contains data files for the Fantastic Four (pre-Civil War) and a number of cosmic beings. While suitable for the various factions involved in this cosmic war, most cosmic beings in the Marvel Universe aren't terribly popular (eg. Firestorm, Beta Ray Bill), especially compared to their villainous counterparts. (Blastaar and Super Skrull are available, but who wouldn't want to play Annilihus? A pity that none of the acts are written with player characters as Annihilus or his minions!)

Conclustion

Want cosmic? Well, here it is. Even if you don't plan on soon running the Annhiliation Event, there's enough material here for some Fantastic Four stories, Kree and Skrull invasions, or an errant Galactus minion on Earth (again). New gamers may wish to start with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game book, since the Annhiliation Event requires them to understand both the narrative Marvel Heroic Roleplaying System, as well as a cosmic-scale Event. A gamemaster with a mix of new and experienced MHR players can ease in the new players in the Kyrn Prison Buildup Scene with a fight with some prison mooks (using the Example of Play) and some starship combat (based on the previously mentioned OM18: The Doom Pool as Opposition).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Annihilation Event Book (Premium Edition)
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Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2013 18:39:53

I've enjoyed Cubicle 7's Cthulhu Britannica series, and their Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore is no exception. The book discusses how to incorporate Britain's folklore into Call of Cthulhu as, well as provides several written scenarios.

Folklore's "Using Folklore in Call of Cthulhu Games" is one of the best adventure design articles I've read. This article analyzes various permutations a folklore element and a mythos threat can relate to each other. For example, a piece of folklore can be mere rumors originating in a mythos threat. Or the folklore can actually exist, alongside the mythos, and act as a red herring -- or even vice-versa. Although written for folklore and the Cthulhu mythos, it can be used to meld any two ostensibly separate "mysterious genres" and not just in the 1920's. For example, you could use this article to help design a modern-day adventure involving the FBI or Illuminati (or both!) and the mythos.

"Using Folk Magic in Call of Cthulhu" is a shorter but still interesting analysis of how folklore-related "magic" can be use in roleplaying: as a derivative of mythos magic, as an entity unto itself, as medicine, or even as placebic belief. Some creative examples are included, and I wish this section had a "random idea generator" to help Keepers make up their own spells. Again, this section can be used for non-folklore magic, such as shamans and even modern-day psychics.

"A Folklore Bestiary" was enjoyable from the point of refreshing me on various folklore beings (eg. water horses) and has a useful but alas brief entry for magic-using humans (druids, witches, cultists...). Unfortunately, most of the entries are written from the viewpoint that the folklore entity exists, and include a short discussion of how it would work as an agent of the mythos. A dragon connected to the mythos is a bit much for my tastes. "Old Ones and Old Gods" is a too-brief discussion on plugging in mythos entities with British folkore.

"Folklore Mythos Threats" consists of nine well-written Cthulhu scenarios. The scenarios lack the conventional (and arguably unnecessary) handouts, maps, and pregenated PC's. The introduction even mentions that the Keeper has "enough materials ... to quickly build their own scenarios", but I think there's enough here for play. The adventures are NPC-heavy, so Keepers weaker in playing NPC roles may wish to enlist a roleplaying co-GM to enjoy developing the non-player characters.

If you've enjoyed the Cthulhu Britannica and Cthulhu Britannica: Scotland books, Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore will not disappoint!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore
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H1 Keep on the Shadowfell & Quick-Start Rules (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2013 18:52:23

This PDF download looks to be a PDF version of the original 2008 hardcopy, not the revised 2009 PDF download free on the Wizards site. However, the 2009 free download did not include the maps, available in this download. The maps are well-suited for your own adventures, and are well worth the download. Thanks to Wizards for making this adventure available!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
H1 Keep on the Shadowfell & Quick-Start Rules (4e)
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HS1 The Slaying Stone (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2013 18:30:53

HS1 is a first-level adventure, originally released in 2010. Its non-linear sandbox style was a nice change from the usual linear module, but required work by the DM to fill in the details. As this adventure has been extensively reviewed on the internet, I will review the PDF format itself.

The PDF consists of the 32-page adventure and a large two-page map. Like other book-to-PDF products, the adventure is in color, with color art. 1/4 page diagrams of areas for combat are included.

The PDF version of the two-sided map prints out as two sides of nine pages each (print in poster mode). Half of one side is a ruined level of a keep, with the other half a garrisoned bridge. The other side is the gate of city. While this gamer would prefer a poster map over a printout, you can conveniently make a second printout of the map for your own use. If you're up for it, you can cut and mount parts of the map onto cardstock and make your own tiles. The map does not cover all the areas used in the module. You will need a battle map or dungeon tiles.

Most of the monsters are of the common variety, albeit with specializations to spring on the players. Thus, the Monster Vault tokens should work with this adventure, and you should be pretty well covered if you already own the D&D Adventure Games, or are collecting the Dungeon Command games.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
HS1 The Slaying Stone (4e)
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Dungeon Delve (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/01/2013 22:41:53

Dungeon Delve is a collection of thirty one-shot adventures, from 1st through 30th level. Each delve features three linked encounters, and is designed for five player characters. The delves are aimed towards beginning DMs, and the book includes tips for customizing and running the game. Dungeon Delve was originally released in 2009 as a now out-of-print hardback. Dungeon Delve has been extensively reviewed on the internet, so my review will be of the PDF itself.

Like many other book-to-PDF products, the PDF contains the same color art and page layout of the original hardcover. But, unlike the hardcover, the DM only needs to print out the pages of the delve he's running for the game session. No need to lug around yet another hardback! Dungeon Delve did not come with a map, so there's no map to awkwardly print out on multiple sheets on the inkjet. Huzzah for the PDF!

If you're a "battlemap and tokens" gaming group, you're set. However, if you must use monster miniatures and published tiles, good luck. The tiles used in the delves are from the various long out-of-print tile sets, not the boxed Master Sets. Given how much I've sunk into miniatures and tiles, I'm not too happy that I will still have to convert the encounters.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Delve (4e)
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Kobolds Ate My Baby! Super Deluxx Edition
Publisher: 9th Level Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2012 14:09:23

I remember picking up a copy of the first (?) edition of KAMB many many years ago. I was a paper book with an orange cover, silly illustrations of furry kobolds, and politically incorrect when that term meant funny.

Kobolds Ate My Baby! Super Deluxx Edition is the beer and pretzels game of kobold-sized mayhem. Life is "brutal, short, and silly" and this RPG reflects it. The mechanics are on the conventional side, with a "stats and skill" system. If you attempt to do something, you describe how you're using a skill, and roll 2d6 (or whatever number of dice depending on the difficulty) and attempt to roll under. If you fail a skill, you're that much closer to dying with a checkmark on the Kobold Horrible Death Record, which brings us to the humor of the game, namely those Random Charts (tm): The Kobold Horrible Death Chart. The Kobold Gear charts (and sub-charts). The Random Magick Spell Chart. The Random Chart of Randomness. The Baby Horrible Death Chart. And the Outside Horrible Death Chart (for when you're outside).

The game also encourages kobold roleplaying. Yes, you must bark like a kobold in order to gain the bonus for the "+Bark Like a Kobold" edge. Skills and charts include cooking and babies. Additional rules requires, if anyone mentions King Torg, rule of the kobolds, each player must shout, "ALL HAIL KING TORG" or have a checkmark on his Kobold Horrible Death Record. (Every time you add or remove a check, roll 2d6 and add the number of checks you have. If your total is 13 or higher, roll on the Kobold Horrible Death Chart.) KAMB also includes a small village and scenario about, what else, a raid to get some tasty babies!

If your group needs a break from the serious stuff, or you're looking to run a game convention one-shot, KAMB is a perfect fit. The rules are easy to learn, everyone wants to roll on the charts, and you get to make Kobold Soliloquies when your kobold dies. King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG) would be pleased!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kobolds Ate My Baby! Super Deluxx Edition
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Stealing Cthulhu
Publisher: Graham Walmsley
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2012 23:02:54

As much as the Call of Cthluhlu roleplaying game revolutionized roleplaying (all we had back then was D&D and various clones), it wasn't exactly Lovecraft. The single brooding (and sometimes passive) protagonist was replaced by a squad of skilled active investigators. Stealing Cthulhu brings us back to Mythos roots (tendrils?) by first deconstructing HP Lovecraft's Mythos stories, then applying them to a conventional RPG. It's an excellent analysis of HP Lovecraft's writing style, although it does take out some of the mystique of the author's writings! The author also enlists RPG personalities Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan, and Jason Morningstar to contribute their opinions to his work. And the author includes his short rules-light Mythos RPG at the end of the book. While the publication is aimed towards Keepers designing their own scenarios, the book is also a must-have for anyone wishing to write Mythos stories, or analyzing them for, say, a research paper.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stealing Cthulhu
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Dice Boxes
Publisher: Rogue Games, Inc
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/24/2012 13:51:32

As dice boxes, these are... okay. You print them, cut them out, then assemble them.

The artwork is on the cartoony side, particularly the zombie. The coffin art looks like a party favor (in a good way). It's too bad the artist didn't include a photo on the cover page so you could see for yourself.

But, speaking of party favors, these boxes could be used at your Halloween party to hold candy or other treats. No need for an emergency trip to Diddam's or Michael's -- just print and assemble. You could even print them out as an activity for your kids for Halloween!



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dice Boxes
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #72: Beyond the Black Gate
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2012 00:54:03

Harley Stroh's been writing some epic adventures, and DCC #72: Beyond the Black Gate is no exception. The players aren't just rescuing a god, it's The Horned King, based on the Master of the Hunt. And who entreats them? No less than Baba Iaga, though her hut is not in the adventure.

Yet players familiar with these figures know that they're not exactly on the side of good. And, indeed, Baba Iaga "summons" the characters by sinking their ship and forcing them to find shelter in her caves. Depending on the gamemaster's players, the gamemaster will either have a straightforward rescue, or several testy characters who may prefer to plan a way to betray their less-than-hospitable patrons. (Unfortunately, the adventure provides no troubleshooting in case they do.)

Baba Iaga's captured some of the sunken sailors, so a bit of no-or-little choice railroading later, the player characters are sent to the frozen Thrice Tenth Kingdom. There, the ice giants have captured the Horned King, who now sits in the throne of his citadel, glazily enthralled by the dancing ice giantess.

The citadel has been taken over by ice giants, and the encounters there are reminiscent of the well-known TSR "Against the Giants" adventure. Indeed, you can add further to this adventure by melding the adventure of the Black Gate with the details of Against the Giants.

The adventure is designed for six to ten 5th-level characters, but can be played by a smaller party of higher levels. Many of the encounters, from drowning at sea, to a snow avalanche, to falling off an icy bridge, are almost-instant deaths. However, player characters will have opportunities during the adventure to rescue other characters so players can play new ones. Also, the gamemaster can allow the NPC madman to be instead played by a player, or even add one of Baba Iaga's witches or a rescued sailor to the party.

The adventure adds The Horned King as a patron, for "heathen witches, barbarian shamans, and warriors that exalt the wild savage within". That should definitely appeal to some players! The Patron Taints are also pretty lively, from being overtaken by the call of the hunt, to demanding to be bested in combat by anyone in the party who claims authority. And, of course, since The Horned King is based on the mythological Wild Huntsman, the game master has plenty of resources on the internet to further develop this patron. (The adventure has no less than twenty rumors, primarily for the adventure, but also useful to flesh out The Horned King.) Unfortunately, only one unique spell, Slaying Strike, of three is included in the adventure -- write to Goodman Games to post the two others!

Despite the linearity of this adventure, this epic-swilling tale measures up to the memorable previous adventures by Goodman Games. Unpredictable or scheming players may force their way off the path of the plot, but adept game masters should find this quite entertaining.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #72: Beyond the Black Gate
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Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2012 04:08:45

Which Ancient One did Tulzscha serve? Did Bast oppose Nyarlathotep? Which Ancient One is associated with Kingsport?

As a longtime player of the Arkham Horror boardgame, I try to thematically associate an Ancient, its Herald, any Guardians opposing it, and the city the Ancient One had activity is in. Unfortunately, the Arkham Horror game has no background on these entities, and it's up to the players to research "Who's Who" in the mythos.

But this is a large task. Not only does the Arkham Horror boardgame series utilize entities, locations, creatures, and items from the original Lovecraft stories, but it also draws from other authors who contributed to the mythos as well. And, not only would there be quite a bit to read to understand these elements of the mythos, many of these stories aren't really worth reading.

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, then, is an invaluable resource for us theme junkies who really do care which Ancient One goes with which Herald in which expansion set location. And, of course, any Keeper who needs to look up a diety, person, creature, or item of the Mythos will find it useful as well. As someone who's tried to use the internet for this information, I've found internet sites and the Wiki woefully inadequate.

The information is organized by mythos entity or item and is in ePub format, under 1 MB. In addition to encyclopedia entries, the Encyclopedia has a short background of Lovecraft and the mythos itself. Very useful and very entertaining.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2012 23:28:12

Jewels of the Carnifex is a level 3 adventure for 6-10 characters or fewer 4th to 5th level characters. Judges who have been following the Dungeon Crawl Classic adventures should know that the mysterious monsters and other obstacles can easily be modified upwards to make sessions more challenging. Spoilers ahead.

Much like the previous adventures, Jewels combines strong theme, mystery, logical consistency ("method to one's madness"), an occasional backdoor solution (secret door), fighting, and traps players have to defeat, not skill rolls. The plot of Jewels is the Lawful Azazel and his followers have destroyed the Cult of Carnifex has been destroyed and sealed away its patron deity. Azazel, however, has called for the primal light for aid. This light infuses him, and, ironically, has corrupted the undertemple far more than Carnifex could ever do. The PCs enter the undertemple to investigate, and either aid Azazel to finally destroy Carnifex, or free her from her prison.

DCC adventures implement well the "method to one's madness". Azazel and followers have settled into the undertemple (and are corrupting everything), so the enemies are either his followers, or corrupted overgrown versions of underground vermin. Likewise, many rooms reflect either the atrocities of Azazel, or the original temple of Carnifex.

Probably the only nitpick I have is that there's not much of a conflict in choosing Carnifex over Azazel. Azazel's a fanatic whose first impression towards to the PCs is to kill them. Carnifex is babe of a goddess who gives stat bonuses. No contest, really.

Otherwise, another fine job by Dungeon Crawl Classics!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #70: Jewels of the Carnifex
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The Kaiin Player's Guide
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2012 13:25:34

Introduction

Despite the "d20 glut", the number of city settings one can choose from can be counted on one hand. This is a pity, as the city offers NPC interaction, combatless skullduggery, and other entertaining roleplaying not available in your everyday dungeon or wilderness adventure.

Enter "The Kaiin Player's Guide". Technically for the Dying Earth RPG, based on the works of Jack Vance, the KPG features one of the most entertaining fantasy cities I've read in a long time. Written by Robin D. Laws, designer of Feng Shui, Hero Wars, Rune, and aforementioned Dying Earth, the book is 200-some pages long, on heavy glossy paper. It's quite suitable for D&D or any other fantasy roleplaying game.

For GMs of Conventional Fantasy RPGs

Let me briefly mention what the book doesn't have. The maps have a "bird's eye view" of each section of the city, but not detailed maps of streets or locations. Stats for NPCs are for Dying Earth's skills, which focus on personality, and thus are quite usable in any roleplaying game. You'll definitely want to plug in the culture, personalities, and locations of Kaiin to a city with detailed street-by-street maps.

The information is portrayed from the perspective of a well-connected PC. As a result, the GM need no longer be a bottleneck for information. He can let the player peruse the book, or a particular section. Not all GMs will want to do this, but now they have this option. GMs will need to create any "secret" character details and specifics (not like they haven't had to do this with other city guides...)

For Dying Earth Players

As said, this book is written from the perspective of a resident of Kaiin. Despite the words "Player's Guide", there is no "Gamemaster Guide". The player peruses the book, selects a rumor, and the GM improvises, using the GMC creation rules. A few pages provide additional advice for the GM and player.

A City of Personalities

Most city books I've read are organized by locations. Each chapter discusses one of the quarters by providing an overview, then particular locations, each with their NPC residents (don't these people ever leave the house?). KPG provides an overview, but then focuses on the PC's contacts for the city and personages in the quarter. Contacts are a personality outline of a particular class of people in the quarter, which the GM (or player!) fleshes out as an NPC contact. Personally, I think contacts are a much more playable NPCs than the usual "Important People" section of a city setting.

Locations, calendar events, and rumors follow, then Taglines and Tweaks. Taglines and Tweaks are Dying Earth mechanics. Taglines are quotes which, if used by a player during play ("Call me parsimonious, but I am reluctant to become nourishment for anyone."), grants character improvement points. Tweaks are special bonuses that a character can have under certain social circumstances for their PC. Both should be adaptable to any fantasy rpg. Kaiin is composed of neighborhoods: Canal Town, where the city river "emits its last pathetic gasp before it empties into the bay" (avoid the oysters); The Fringe, home of the most destitute denizens and opportunistic bandits (razed to the ground periodically with lively festivals involving hangings); The Marketplace (including no less than three pages of cart-pulling "Unusual Mounts and Beasts"); Odkin Prospect, where reside the aristocrats and merchants they invest in and despise; The Palace & Environs, including the useful "Palace Intrigue Quick Reference" chart; The Scholasticarium District, an institution less of learning than of "rivals in an never-ending struggle for privelege and prestige"; The Threek, a medieval equivalent of the suburbs ("Although eighty percent of the population lives here, we cover it quickly"); The Tracks, where Dhejtar, a sort of cross between a weasel and a panther, race (or just bring your child here to throw rocks at defaulters in the punishment racks); and The Undercity, who has believed "the sun has already died, and they are the last survivors" (enjoy the spicy cuisine).

Last Words

Again, I'll emphasize that this is a book of personalities over locations. GMs looking for detailed maps of a city won't find them here, but should still consider KPG as a book of NPCs who will enliven any city. GMs who do not improvise city adventures will still need to create and prepare material. Still, the wealth of NPCs, especially the contacts, should enrich any city adventure, not just one for Dying Earth.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Kaiin Player's Guide
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Anima Beyond Fantasy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/14/2012 21:54:12

Introduction: I'll admit not having played Final Fantasy or other Japanese video roleplaying games. I'm still familiar with genre, and even visuals alone will tell you that these fantasy games are quite different than their western counterparts. And, while Japan has its tabletop RPGs, few have been translated to American markets. Indeed, Anima, which looks on the surface to be a tabletop rpg version of Japanese computer rpgs, was originally published by Edge Entertainment in Spain. That doesn't make it any less qualified to be a thorough and detailed treatment of the genre. However, its complex character generation rule may put gamers off.

Character Generation: Anima character generation is flavorful but highly detailed and complicated. If you're the type who approaches character generation as a spreadsheet budget, or someone who must create a super-exotic mondo-unique uber-butt-kicking character (or, much worse, have a player who wants to be one), expect to spend quite a bit of time going through several chapter's worth of character creation options. But if you limit first characters to the same basics the sample character uses (yes, Ki, Magic, and Psychic abilities are not basic!), you should be able to play soon enough. After their first game, players you can your players recreate their characters or introduce new ones. If you do a search on "anima roleplay character generation", you should be able to find jmbowman's Anima character generator.

Combat: Anima combat is straightforward, with optional complexity. Each turn you have an action, often an attack. In an attack, you and your opponent both do a "skill die roll" of an attack skill (eg. Attack Ability) versus a defense skill (eg. Dodge). You then cross-index the difference (negative numbers can cause counterattacks!) against armor. This results in a percentage which you multiply against your weapon's damage to determine how much damage you actually do. (This is easier done than said, since Anima provides a table and 100% damage is a multiple of ten.) Additional rules and modifiers are provided for ranged and optional hand-to-hand and ranged attacks.

Sourcebook: Much of the gamemaster's section is source material: Gaia's history, Countries and Cities, Organizations (factions), The Supernatural World, and Powers in the Shadow (conspiratorial organizations influencing Gaia), Hell (supernatural worlds and their races), Light and Darkness (deities and mechanics for their gifts), and Supernatural Presence (how much of the world's reality is centered around a character -- including the PCs).

Gamemaster: Other gamemaster sections include gamemaster advice and guidelines, Common Characters (common NPC stats), Creation of Beings (detailed mechanics for creating special creatures), Creature Compendium (example creatures), and a character sheet.

Art and Layout: Bring out your iPads. At 322 full-color pages, you're not going to print this out. It's too bad that Anima doesn't have a printer-friendly or text-only version.

Conclusion: This is not a casual roleplaying game. The system is complicated, and the source material extensive. However, if you're looking for a detailed tabletop treatment of a Japanese video game, Anima is a definite choice.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Anima Beyond Fantasy: Core Rulebook
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