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Cathulhu
Publisher: Sixtystone Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2014 06:16:41
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/21/tabletop-review-cathulh-
u-velvet-paws-on-cthulhus-trail-call-of-cthulhu/

Cathulhu originally appeared several years ago in the German Call of Cthulhu publication Cthulhoide Welten, under the name Katzulhu. It would be translated into English as Cathulhu for the Worlds of Cthulhu magazine that has been out of print for some time. Sixtystone Press has gathered those original articles and compiled them, along with some new material, into this new supplement for Call of Cthulhu. This game should NOT be confused with Call of Catthulhu. Both games features cats doing battle with Lovecraftian abominations, but that is really the only thing the two have in common. Call of Catthulhu strives to be more welcome to families and very young gamers, while Cathulhu is the same old dark and somewhat gory Call of Cthulhu, except you are playing felines instead of hairless apes. Call of Cathulhu has its own mechanics and rules, while Cathulhu is a supplement for Call of Cthulhu (using Sixth Edition rules), so you’ll need that core rulebook to use it. Which is better? That’s all personal opinion. Both are inspired by John Wick’s Cat to varying degrees, but they are indeed their own beasts, so to speak. I really enjoy them both, and I think you will too.

So what is in Cathulhu? Well, you get character creation rules, two articles on how to play the game differently from Call of Cthulhu, two articles on Bast, a small bestiary of foes (many of which merely forward you to other Call of Cthulhu products), a pretty long introductory adventure called “The Black Cat,” and a two page character sheet. Everything in the supplement is well written and interesting, but it is pretty pricey for what you get, especially for a third party Call of Cthulhu release. You can generally get something with twice the page count for the cost of Cathulhu. Still, it’s a fun and fascinating supplement that really turns Call of Cthulhu on its ear, so it may be worth picking up, especially if you are a completionist.

The character creation rules are pretty fun. It’s worth noting that, because it uses Call of Cthulhu rules, Size + Strength ensures that all cats have a negative damage bonus. You really can’t get around this, so expect combat to be even more ineffectual than usual. Cathulhu also replaces Sanity Points with Sentience, which makes sense. They work in the same manner. It’s just instead of going insane, you become more feral. Cat Investigators can develop insanities though, so keep that in mind. You’re also given sixteen breeds of cats to choose from. Think of these like the profession for your investigator. The default is Domestic Shorthair, which is very similar to the Caitiff in Vampire: The Masquerade. Each other breed gets a bonus and a drawback, along with a “trick” that is inherent to that breed. For example, our Maine Coon, Shelly, would get +1 to STR and CON, no drawback and the Bruiser Trick. Meanwhile, our Domestic Shorthair, Malice, would get no bonuses or drawbacks and would get to pick her trick from the list of fifty-two options! All cats gets “Leap to the Moon” and “Nine Lives” tricks for free. Then you get to pick one off the list (so Domestic Shorthairs get two), so your character will have a total of four tricks. After that, you assign skill points to the various categories. Instead of the usual Investigator skills like art, punch, physics, electrical repair and Latin, you have very cat oriented ones like cuteness, yowl, scratch, wash and human lore. It’s all very well done and the game can be as serious or comedic as you want.

The section called “What Do Cat Adventures Look Like” is only two pages long, but it’s worth discussing, if only because a lot of people will end up playing their cat as they would a human, which just doesn’t work. Cats have better night vision, can hear and see things we don’t, and their sense of smell is superior to ours in every way. Meanwhile, they can’t drive, operate doorknobs or read tombs in classic Greek that provide the spell which will banish the Mythos beastie of the week. The same can be said about “Additional Cathulhu Rules,” which details how insanity works in cats, flight or flight responses and how your cat can learn new tricks.

The adventure “The Black Cat” takes up roughly a fourth of the supplement, and it is a rather grisly feature about someone or something who has been killing local cats by ripping out their hearts! Like I said at the beginning, Call of Catthulhu this is not! The adventure introduces the Cat Investigators to the Cthulhu Mythos, specifically the Dreamlands, and a creature from that plane of existence which has been brought to our own world against its will. You get a nice taste of the occult, and the adventure teaches not only the basics of Cathulhu but Call of Cthulhu mechanics as well. It’s a great look at how very different an adventure for cats is from an adventure for humans. I will say that people for whom cat violence is a trigger should probably not play this adventure and stick to Call of Catthulhu, as it is a more forgiving and lighter in tone system.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed Cathulhu in its new incarnation, and it is great that the piece is now widely available again. Letting one purchase the PDF on Chaosium or RPGNOw’s websites is a lot easier than tracking down old copies of Worlds of Cthulhu for the average gamer. Although the supplement IS overpriced compared to other Call of Cthulhu supplements and similar releases, the content here is very well thought out, and is a lot of fun of CoC gamers to read, even if they never actually use it with their own gaming group. The artwork/pictures in the piece are especially charming and they might be worth picking up Cathulhu for on their own. I’m excited to see that this Cathulhu supplement won’t be a one-time thing, as the back of the book announces an upcoming release entitled The Cat Army of Ulthar. I personally am really looking forward to that! I would never have thought that there would be room in our industry for two “Cat Vs. Cthulhu Mythos” games on the market, but it certainly seem that way. Cathulhu is a fun and outside the box addition to the Call of Cthulhu gaming system, and who knows, it might just be a gateway for some new or younger gamers into the realm of Lovecraftia!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cathulhu
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The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2014 06:16:05
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/26/tabletop-review-lamenta-
tions-of-the-fame-princess-the-doom-cave-of-the-crystal-head-
ed-children-free-rpg-day-2014/

2013′s Free RPG Day saw Lamentations of the Flame Princess take part with their controversial release, Better Than Any Man. As the back of this year’s release mentions, several stores banned or outright hid the release for their customers. I can confirm this as one of the stores I went to did just that. However, even a Pikachu loving fool like myself walked away extremely impressed with Better Than Any Man. it was a top notch solid affair from beginning to end and it walked away with our “Best Free Release” in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. This year, LotFP is back with a new adventure that is actually one of the zaniest, cruelest and funniest release they have put out yet. Born of spite and black humour, The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is exceedingly cutthroat, extremely lethal to any character that enters it (probably best as a one shot if you are at all attached to your characters) and there is a good chance you will be massacring double digits worth of four year old as if they were goblins or orcs in some of those other fantasy style role playing games. You’ve been warned.

So not only does the adventure have one of the weirdest and most honest titles I’ve seen for a recently released adventure (Go OSR!), but it also has a great story hook. Characters enter a village where over 100 madwomen claim to have given birth to a small blonde boy named Andrew four years ago. All of these Andrews are different people mind you – it’s not the same one kid. Crazier yet, the mothers all know the different Andrews but no one else in the village knows what they are talking about and can not remember these women ever giving birth to children similar in name and look all at roughly the same time. Also, these women were quite sane up until recently, so what the hell happened? That’s why games have PCs – to figure crap like this out all while gaining an excuse to murder and pillage!

This story hook of course brings characters to the doom cave where they will indeed encounter many children with crystals embedded in their craniums. Surprisingly, this is one of the more mundane things in this adventure. You will face crazy button that will do anything from improve your stats to give your character incurable cancer via severe radiation poison. There are possible alien abductions or the extinction of all life on the planet including bacteria. Heck, both may happen in your play through. As such, I reinforce my earlier comment in this review that The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is best played as a one shot unless you are pretty much born and bred on Dungeon Crawl Classics or LotFP and thus have learned not to invest any emotional ties to your characters at all for they exist only to die in horribly unspeakable fashion. At the very least surviving characters will end up with at least some stats switched around and having to live with the stigma of being a child murderer – even creepy semi-automaton test tube baby ones.

Aside from the children, The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is pretty much your standard dungeon crawl in layout, form and function. It’s the specific encounters and NPCs that truly separate this adventure from the pack. For example, you don’t really have an end boss or bad guy behind the story hook. You have a guy who fucked around (literally) with strange alien doo-dads. He doesn’t really seem like a bad guy, even if he has a super villain laugh and an army of toddlers. Most bad guys destroy and murder wantonly in these fantasy games. Wiki Dot Pod…is just kind of there doing his own thing for the most part. Sure he THINKS he should rule all that he surveys, but he’s pretty content sitting and staring at a big crystal all day.

As well, there aren’t a lot of monsters or antagonists to fight in this adventure. Well, aside from the crystal headed children, but you might not end up fighting with them. They might actually become quasi allies or guides to the dungeon for your team. Unless of course, your players stick sharp things through soft things that scream and bleed first, and converse second. Then they have to deal with an army of tiny kiddies bent on their demise. No, for the most part, players will be killed by their own greed and curiosity. Death or painful maiming is in nearly every room, but it will only be encountered if characters do stupid things like explore or examine the cursory details of their surroundings. As this is a RPG, this is most likely the course of action people will take and thus their characters will die in manners ranging from a dungeon collapse caused by a sailing ship to being wiped from existence by an omniscient alien jellyfish. My personal favorite is when a character becomes The Crystal King and discovers that with great power comes a nigh permanent headstand. Treat The Doom Cave of Crystal Headed Children as you would the Tomb of Horrors in the hands of a GM who does copious amounts of hallucinogenics, because the effect WILL be similar.

Overall, I absolutely loved this adventure. It’s a very dark and funny piece. In fact, I kind of felt like I was playing HOL rather than LotFP during my time with this piece. I think it’s best kept out of the hands of young children though due to mature (and gorey) themes and gamers that treat our hobby as SERIOUS BUISNESS with no room for mirth. For everyone else, this is a terrific oneshot that really highlights how bizarre and macabre Lamentations of the Flame Princess can be. It’s such a crazy piece that I can see it polarizing some gamers, especially those new to the hobby who might walk away worrying that every adventure involves ejaculation, encountering Jesus Christ and having your feet transmogrified into those of a pachyderm. Would I play this adventure again and run it for friends? Damn right! Would I give it to someone completely new to tabletop RPGs? Oh my, no.

I do feel that The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children was by far the best release for Free RPG Day 2014 which gives LotFP that honor two years running. Even better, if you pick this up, there a link to not only download last year’s Better Than Any Man, but also the core rulebook (sans art) for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. That’s insanely awesome and makes hunting down this adventure all the more worthwhile. I can’t wait to see what LotFP has for us next Free RPG Day as this is one area where they definitely put all the other competitors to shame.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children
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The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 06:42:01
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/16/tabletop-review-the-uns-
peakable-oath-issue-24-call-of-cthulhu-delta-green/

Man, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since issue #23 of The Unspeakable Oath. I love this magazine but I do wish it would come out more regularly. This is only the fifth issue to come out since July 2011, but what gaming magazine DOES come out on a regular basis these days? Pathways and White Dwarf. It’s just the way the industry is these days. Still, ANY time a new issue of The Unspeakable Oath comes out, it is a time for Cthulhu oriented gamers to celebrate as they get a ton of new articles, adventures, story seeds and other fun content for less than ten dollars. Issue #24 gives us fourteen new articles (all for Call of Cthulhu Delta Green to peruse. If you haven’t picked it up yet (AND WHY NOT?), let’s take a look at what awaits you inside…

First up? “The Dread Page of Azathoth,” which always contains some fun wisdom. In this case, it’s about how hard running an adventure or even a full campaign in the Dreamlands can be, especially since it is so different from the usual Mythos bits that are out there. It’s only a page long, but well worth reading.

The next two articles are “Tales of Terror,” which are story seeds with three possible explanations for each. Black Eyed Children is pretty self-explanatory. Children can be pretty creepy to begin with and when a host of them demand entrance into your home for whatever reason, well that just ups the weird factor. Out of the three possibilities presented, the third is by far the best. The first is the usual “blame Nyarlathotep” well everyone seems to run to on occasion. The second is fairly good but also requires the most work from the Keeper to make work. The other “Tales of Terror” is The Hidden Passage and you can pretty much guess what this is about from the title. All three possibilities here are pretty awesome and you can easily make a full-fledged adventure out of each one. In fact, they are so different from each other, you might as well make all three.

After this comes “The Eye of Light and Darkness,” which is always the weakest section in the magazine. These are various reviews of Mythos oriented products. Usually I find this to be the worst part of the magazine because they are reviewing things that have been out for years instead of letting the readers discover new pieces, and because the lowest rating anything ever seems to get is a 7/10, which basically makes these more product placement than actual reviews. Well, they’re getting better. We start off with a review of True Detective which takes up a full page and is extremely timely, especially for TUO. Then it’s followed up with Masks of Nyarlathotep, which has been around since the mid 1990s and the most recent update/errata’d version came out in 1984. So tit for tat. I’d have preferred to see a newer release for Call of Cthulhu here, especially Tales of the Crescent City, Secrets of Tibet or some Achtung! Cthulhu bits. Still, that is made up for by reviews of No Security, which is a series I’ve been raving about for years now. It was also great to see some lesser known non-rpg stuff get reviewed. There are books like Southern Gods and Where’s My Shoggoth? and even a review of the Welcome to Nightvale Podcast/radio drama. Honestly, this is the best “The Eye of Light and Darkness” piece I’ve seen in an issue of TUO in terms of selections. There still isn’t a piece with a score under 7/10 though. Remember, it’s okay to give negative reviews. I do it all the time.

“The Mardler House” is this issue’s big adventure and I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I love the idea of the adventure as it is pretty unique and is designed in such a way that it works best as a slow burn throughout a campaign. You put bits of this adventure into other adventures or the between time Investigators have. Then you unleash the core of the piece allowing players to pick up the pieces and realize they’ve been in this adventure all along and just didn’t know it. The problem is finding a Keeper that can run “The Mardler House” the way the writer intended, or barring that, one that can run this without turning it into a complete disaster. I mean, I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu for over twenty years now (Oh man, I’m old). I don’t think you can just throw Investigators into this adventure like a lot of published pieces. It works best when characters have history or even live/work out of the house. A lot of the creepiness and revelations about the piece will be lost if you just take the adventure in one large chunk. Unfortunately, this means you need a Keeper that can break “The Mardler House” up into smaller pieces, keep things subtle and keep track of what parts they have thrown at players and what parts they haven’t. So you have to be pretty organized to really make this adventure come to life. I love the characters, plot, background and flow of the whole piece, but I think more Keepers that not will become frustrated trying to run this as it requires a lot more work than most pre-packaged adventures. In the hands of a good and experienced Keeper, “The Mardler House” will be a very memorable experience. Without one, it’s better off read than played.

So I should probably tell you what “The Mardler House” is about. Well, it’s a haunted house, but not really. The ghosts aren’t the usual incorporeal boogeyman you think of when we mention ghosts, especially in Call of Cthulhu. These ghosts are more warped echoes of the past. Shadows of the people but not entirely accurate ones. Of course, the longer players stay in the house, the more they will discover why this is and that inside “The Mardler House” truth and reality are very different things than when you are outside it. Again, this is such a great concept. I’d pick up this issue of The Unspeakable Oath just to read the adventure, but I would think twice about running it unless you (and your friends) are confident in your GM-fu skills.

Now we have three “Shotgun Scenarios” for Delta Green. A Shotgun Scenario are short little adventures that can be played in a single session or expanded into a more detailed adventure if the Keeper so wishes. It’s also worth noting that these are for the OLD version of Delta Green and not the new one currently in playtesting. These adventures could easily be converted for those of you with the alpha version of the game.

First up is, “Agent Purple’s Green Box Blues,” which is a fairly complicated affair where agents from A-Cell have to help the last survivor of P-Cell, Agent Purple. Agent Purple need the Investigators help in taking down a gang known as the White Snakes, which appears to be a front for a much larger, more insidious group. Of course, the reality of the adventure is VERY different, and the players will be thrown a very realistic but entirely unexpected curveball. “Holding Cell” is for a single character and it has them descending into an underground room containing five very different items. There they await orders which can lead to one of three different endings (Keeper’s Choice), all of which are pretty dark yet entertaining. Finally we have “Secret Shopper” where a small mom and pop bookseller goes nuts and decides to enact revenge on a large chain bookstore, via Cthlhuoid means of course. All three of these are fantastic and even if you don’t play Delta Green, these can fit into a regular modern era Call of Cthulhu campaign with only a little work. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

“The Cult of A” is the feature article for this issue and it’s bound to be a controversial one. It’s about eating disorders, specifically anorexia, and a Mythos cult that exists around it. While some people will no doubt be offended by the article turning a mental illness like this into CoC fodder, I don’t have a problem with it. After all, every other mental illness from hoarding to agoraphobia makes it into the game, so why not an eating disorder? Besides, it’s not saying that every sufferer from this disease gets turned into a mythos style cultist but rather that the Cult of A preys on these people the same way the Needle Men prey on doctors.

“The Cult of A” is exceptionally detailed and I think it might be the most comprehensive article to ever appear in an issue of The Unspeakable Oath. It takes up a whopping twelve pages and discusses the nature of the cult, how its members tend to only affect themselves as compared to other Mythos cults whose actions affect everyone, and how the cult has made exceptionally work of the Internet, especially forums. You get to see how someone joins the cult and what eventually happens to them, along with various manifestations of A. There are even a few new spells and tomes to add to your game. I can’t express how well done “The Cult of A” is and how much I think you should read it for a very outside the box and original take on a Mythos cult. That said, I do realize that eating disorders are more of a trigger for some people than say, mi-go or nightmares caused by psychic emanations from things beyond our imaginations, but the piece is not done with any disrespect or mockery to those that suffer from anorexia. If you think you’ll be offended or squicked out by this article, don’t read it. I don’t read every article in Bloomberg Buisnessweek or Organic Gardening. The rest of TUO #24 is excellent enough that you can still enjoy it even if anorexia is a sore spot for you.

Our next article is “The Chosen of Eihort,” which introduces a new creepy antagonist for characters to encounter. It’s pretty gross, but befitting Eihort as we know it. After this we have a third “Tale of Terror,” but I’m not sure why this is off on its own instead of with the other two. This one, entitled Smuggling is meant for Delta Green and it is about a cargo box filled with human remains. Why? That’s up to you. Pick one of the three possibilities as always. I personally found #1 to be the best. Sometimes the mundane choice is the best choice.

This issue’s “Directives From A-Cell” for Delta Green is about smaller conspiracies and more mundane investigators. Going off of the popularity of True Detective, the piece talks about how sometimes federal agencies and Delta Green itself don’t need to be involved in an adventure, especially with smaller cases like a single strange death or a weird house. Usually these will be handed by run of the mill local cops and these protagonists will do their best to make the evidence around them fit a more plausible real world scenario rather than something like ghouls or shan being the cause of local disturbances. This is not that they refuse to believe these things exists, but rather that they have no encountered them, so they are extremely unlikely to make huge jumps in logic like that. The article then discusses what a campaign of nothing but local cops would look and feel like and how very different it would be from the standard Delta Green campaign. It’s a well written article but I have to admit, almost every adventure or campaign of Call of Cthulhu I’ve ever played in or ran has started with characters who were unaware of Mythos creatures, so I’m surprised that this is almost an alien/foreign concept to the author.

Our penultimate article in this issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a “Mysterious Manuscript” piece. This is all about a macabre bible whose author has hidden bits of the Necronomicon within it in the form of codes, ciphers and artwork. It’s an interesting idea and I love the background for the book. However I’m not sure how many people will actually find a use for the Simeon Bible and/or bother to craft an adventure around it.

The final article is the usual “Message in a Bottle” one page piece of fiction. I normally don’t care for these, and this issue was no exception. It’s written in the form of emails, text and a RSS feed about two parents and their kid. It’s neither well written nor interesting. A poor way to end the magazine, but this is par for the course with TUO.

Overall, the latest issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a very good one. There’s only one article I really didn’t care for and it’s the same bad fiction that is in every issue. Otherwise the magazine is jam-packed with excellent story seeds, adventures and ideas that will make your Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green campaign all the weirder. The content is top notch and the price tag is low enough to consider this a definite steal and/or bargain. Whether you grab the digital or dead tree edition of The Unspeakable Oath, you won’t be disappointed. Cthulhu fans, pick this up ASAP.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
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Mage 20th Anniversary Edition Quickstart
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 15:16:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/27/tabletop-review-mage-th-
e-ascension-20th-anniversary-edition-quick-start-rules-free--
rpg-day-2014/

It’s always weird and interesting to see Onyx Path Publishing (and before that White Wolf) taking part in Free RPG Day. The day is meant to foster relations between gamers and their local brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, World of Darkness products, both Classic and New are very rarely found in retail stores. Except for a few special cases, their products are sold online via Print on Demand, DriveThruRPG, or via Kickstarters. Now, OPP does try to extend an olive branch to publishers, but I’ve yet to see a gaming store actually take part. If you take a look at the WoD Kickstarters you can see how small a percentage this is (.1% for The Book of the Wyrm, .2% for Anarchs Unbound and Mage 20. So on and so forth). What’s more, even over at the Free RPG Day Facebook page there were some very polarizing emotions about OPP taking part. Some people were excited. While others…not so much. There’s definitely a rift between the B&M community and the creators of World of Darkness products and the Free RPG Day releases just seem to rub salt in those wounds. I didn’t attend a single B&M store that was happy about OPP getting to take part, which is a shame because back in the 90s, I purchased so many classic WoD products from local stores. There’s definitely a rift that needs to be mended, but when the last page of your offering for a retail store is an ad for upcoming M20 releases and you only mention DriveThruRPG as the place to get them…well, as big a fan as I am of OPP, I can definitely see why the retail side of the hobby is irked with them.

Last year we got Reap The Whirlwind which highlighted the all new (and improved) version of Vampire: The Requiem. It was a great piece that was newcomer friendly (although everyone was technically a newcomer to that version of the game) but the adventure sucked and the eventual release of Blood and Smoke didn’t happen until six months later, leaving newcomers that picked it up with no way to get further V:TR releases from retailers and what was available online was outdated as they were for a previous edition. Good intentions, but bad follow through. This year’s release is a little bit weirder. Not only do we have the same problems with the “adventure” and a long delay between the Free RPG release and the eventual publication of Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition, but there was a potential new wrinkle. Mage is by far the most esoteric game out there, it’s one of the harder games to explain to newcomers, and it definitely would not be my first choice to give to someone as their first ever tabletop experience. I think OPP would have been better off with a release for Werewolf: The Apocalypse. It’s been out for a while, there are several supplements, sourcebooks and adventures published for the 20AE version and it’s certainly more accessible to newcomers. How on earth would they going to make M:TA a game to quickly jump into and play like the other Free RPG Day releases for this year? I was VERY morbidly curious.

It’s also very easy to write an intro adventure for Werewolf, unlike say Mage where the very Quick Start Rules comes out and says, “Mage doesn’t lend itself well to ‘modules.’ Linear adventures that lead from Scene One to Scene Two to Scene Three and eventually to a one-size-fits-all climax are alien to this game.” Well, not only is that a decidedly false statement (anything can be turned into a dungeon crawl. ANYTHING.), but it’s also one that comes off very arrogant and off-putting. It also means that this is going to push away newcomers instead of bring them in. I mean, if you’re a GM and you agree to run something for Free RPG Day only to find the game you chose doesn’t actually have an adventure but a cursory look at the rules while saying, “Oh, we don’t believe in traditional adventures, per say,” well, you’re going to get a very flustered individual who now has to come up with something off the fly that will most likely not be very good, leaving everyone involved with an unfavorable opinion of the product. God forbid everyone involved using this QSR is new to the WoD or gaming in general as you will get a complete and total mess occurring. It really feels that OPP put out these QSRs more as a teaser to older gamers who have been playing Mage for the past two decades rather than with any intent to bring newcomers in. Because there is honestly nothing here that is going to pop for someone inexperienced with the setting, while delighting long time mainstays of the product with nostalgic memories…and who certainly don’t need a QSR set to play the game. So I’m not sure exactly who the guys at OPP were writing this QSR for.

So the half-hearted attempt at an adventure is unfortunate in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean the entire product is poorly done. Far from it. The mechanics and explanations for them surpassed my expectations. I went into this piece thinking, “How on earth are you going to explain the spheres and how to use them mechanically in a few pages?” Well, OPP got around that by creating a much larger QSR than usual. Most companies’ QSR offerings are about twenty pages. Mage 20AE has 47 pages of content – much of which is devoted to the rules. Sure this means this isn’t a QSR you can just sit down and play on the fly, but man is this thing robust and really well written. Maybe part of it is me being skewed by having played Mage since the day it came out and already knowing the rules inside and out, but I felt the QSR did a masterful job of breaking down the rules in a fraction of the pages that my old dog eared physical copy used. Of course the sheer volume of rules will no doubt overwhelm newer, younger, or more casual gamers, which again makes me wonder who the intended demographic for this Quick Start Rules set is. Still, I WOULD give this to a newcomer if they were joining a Mage game with people who are already familiar with the mechanics and setting. That way they have a crib sheet of sorts and the blanks can be filled in by the more experienced gamers.

You get a nice little writeup of all the important points. All the universal WoD elements are detailed along with information specific to Mage like Spheres, Arete, Quintessence, Paradox, and of course how Magick (Yes, with a k at the end) works. This is a pretty comprehensive guide to the core truncated rules of Mage: The Ascension and while it is well done, it also does show that this is more complicated than the hack and slash dungeon crawl type of game. Again, this means you’re going to need to read this QSR a few times over in order to really get a feel for the game. Otherwise, you’re going to be checking the rules every few minutes to see what your character can or cannot do. Anyway, as much as I hated that the QSR did with the adventure side of things, I absolutely loved what it does to explain and show off the unique mechanics of Mage.

It’s also worth noting that the book only gives a fleeting description for each of the Nine Traditions and the five conventions of the Technocracy. You get two pages to cover all of the sects in these big two groups along with brief write-ups of the Nephandi and Marauders. Long time gamers might see this and go, “But there is so much more information to be had? Why is this so short?” Well the answer is that: a) there wasn’t enough room b) by being brief but informative, you pique curiosity and c) it keeps from overwhelming newcomers. You will also see some changes here. The Askantic Brotherhood is now the Akashayana and the Sons of Ether are now the Society of Ether. This may seem like an inconsequential change to some of you, but it’s very much keeping in line with OPP’s attempt to be all-inclusive and gender neutral. This is a company that bends over backwards to be inviting to women and LGBT gamers and even in small changes like this, you can definitely see Onyx Path and its writers practice what they preach. Good show! Of course, no one is going to freak out and call you a misogynist if you refer to these traditions by their old names out of habit.

Speaking of all inclusive, you should take a look at the five pre-generated characters in this game. You have only a single male character, along with three female (one black, two white) and a FTM transgender character. I really like that they did this. Sure, it definitely feels like the men outnumber the women in the tabletop gaming scene, especially if you’re an older gamer, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. There are a lot of great female writers out there putting out products for the WoD, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun. There are also a lot of female gamers out there. I was very impressed to see that a third to a half of the gamers at the store where I picked up this QSR at were women. I can also tell you from experience that my time with WoD games, that the women players often outnumber the men. Especially with V:TM. So sure, your group of gamers might be four dudes and none of you really want to play a female or transgender character. That’s okay. Just remember you can always change the gender of a pre-gen. Women will be happy to see they have more than a single female pre-gen to choose from (as is usually the case) and transgender gamers will just be happy to see someone thought of them! Again, as uninviting as this QSR is to the adventure side of things, World of Darkness games really do try to be as welcoming as possible to all races, creeds, sexual preferences and so on. That’s really a lovely thing to see.

So while there isn’t an actual adventure to use with the QSR (which is a shame), you do get a few things to help an experienced Storyteller craft their own. While again, that does mean this QSR isn’t something you can just play with on a moment’s notice, it does mean that a veteran of Mage CAN use it to teach newer or younger gamers about the system in a very nice manner. You have seven and a half pages of sample NPCs, enemies and allies and ten story hooks, each a paragraph long. This is nice, but a hand holding adventure would have been a much better choice if this was actually meant to be for people new to Mage rather than longtime fans like myself who backed the 20AE Kickstarter project.

So as we come to the end of this review, I have very mixed feelings about this QSR. As a fan of Mage: The Ascension, I really liked what I saw and it has made me all the more excited for the eventual release of the weighty tome (or in my case, PDF) that will be the final product. I thought the piece did a good job of explaining the esoteric nature of Mage in a short amount of space, even if it will take much longer for a gamer to understand and play this than the other QSRs released this year. I really wish there had been an adventure geared to showing newcomers how to play and/or run Mage, but the pre-generated characters are wonderfully done, lavished with detail and diversity alike. I still feel this is best viewed as a teaser for longtime Mage fans that something that will really help people brand new to the game be able to grasp the concepts and themes of the game. However, with the help of an experienced WoD gamer, this can be used to teach the core mechanics and how to play the game. Hopefully enough so that they want to buy the 5-600 page AE version when it comes out at the tail end of this year or (more likely), the beginning of 2015.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mage 20th Anniversary Edition Quickstart
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Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
Publisher: Agate RPG
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2014 19:25:19
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/20/tabletop-review-shadows-
-of-esteren-the-monastery-of-tuath/

The Monastery of Tuath is the fourth release for the critically-acclaimed Shadows of Esteren series. Each of the four Kickstarters has been more successful than the last, with The Monastery of Tuath bringing in 1,053 backers and raising $137,000. Not bad for a fifty page supplement and adventure combination, eh? Well, it deserves it. You might remember that back in 2012 I wrote glowing reviews of Book 1: Universe and Book 0: Prologue. The series would go on to win three awards in the 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards like Best Art, Best New Game and Best Core Rulebook. 2013 only saw a single release for Shadows of Esteren – Book 2 Travels. While I personally wasn’t impressed with the content of this book, especially not compared to the high quality of the first two releases, the art was still some of the best we’ve seen in years, and the release easily picked up our Best Art award in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. Now here we are with the first SoE release of 2014, and I’m happy to say that The Monastery of Tuath is a return to greatness for the series and well worth picking up even if you never plan to use the adventure or location it contains.

The Monastery of Tuath is comprised of two sections: a supplement describing the location, the history and the background of the Monastery, and then an adventure that runs twenty some pages. The adventure is heavily influenced by In the Name of the Rose, which has also spawned a film starring Sean Connery and a poorly done video game rip off, Murder in the Abbey. Of course, the adventure isn’t a straight homage. It has its own unique Shadows of Esteren twist, involving magic, monsters and curses. At its core, though, the adventure is very much a whodunit style murder mystery with false finishes and a Rogues’ Gallery that will keep players busy for quite some time.

The first half of the book will see the most use, as it gives a lot of information not just on Tuath’s monastery, but monastic life in general for the Shadows of Esteren setting. The prologue is a two page piece of fiction depicting how this particular monastery came to be, along with the origins of its particular saint. You will also see how the number six pervades everything in the religion of the One. Six prayers, six notions, six vows and so on. It’s an interesting mix of Masonic and Christian homages. The six vows especially provide some great role-playing opportunities for any character who is a servant of the One. If you’re looking to play one of Soustraine’s adepts, you’ll definitely want to pick up The Monastery of Tuath for all the content and potential story seeds you and your GM will find in it.

I absolutely loved the section entitled “Monasteries of the One,” as it gives you an amazing amount of detail on monastic life within the game. In fact, it’s so well done, other low fantasy games could easily pick this up and use the content provided with only a little bit of modification. There’s so much info about daily life, chores, potential health and income issues that come with such a secluded life, and of course – church politics.

The first half of the book concludes with information about the specific monastery the book is named after – providing a small map, a detailed look at each room (21 in all) within the monastery, and a set of thirteen NPCs that currently reside within. I was really impressed by all aspects of the piece. The art and content were top notch and the topic is one that most games really don’t give you an in-depth look at. Generally, monks in tabletop RPGs tend to be more of the eastern variant, and getting over two dozen pages on the classical western version made for a very fun and interesting read.

Then there is the adventure. Although Book 0: Prologue gave us a set of really nice adventures, the one within The Monastery of Tuath is the best so far. If this is any indication of how the upcoming Ghost Stories adventure collection will be, I think Shadows of Esteren will be up for a few more awards this year as well.

The adventure is entitled “Vengeful Words,” and the piece says it should take you five hours or more to complete. The adventure contains three acts, each of which is comprised of multiple scenes, so the adventure could run a lot longer depending on how intricate investigations get or if your players are more used to hack and slash style gaming rather than adventures where success lies with wits over die rolls. “Vengeful Words” focuses on a murder mystery that takes place within the grounds of the monastery. At first it appears to be straight forward, but it is anything but. Sure, you have corrupt religious officials and a nebulous big bad who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the adventure itself (there are allusions to him though), but it’s got all the makings of a great horror story as well as a whodunit. You have a cursed book and vengeance from beyond the grave, and it’s definitely an adventure that will keep players entertained from beginning to end.

Besides the playing of the adventure, I also have to comment on how well laid out the piece is as well. While the Shadowrun Missions format of adventures is by far the gold standard in the industry right now for ease of use and flow, the SoE adventure layout is a close second indeed. There are little icons to help clue a GM in to certain things that will/should happen when they appear in the text. These include the Gore, Supernatural, Suspense and Psychology tags, along with cues for music or text in red that highlight the most important aspects of the adventure. “Vengeful Words” is just really well done in all respects, and even if you have no plans to play the adventure, it’s still a lot of fun to read through as well as to see how SoE adventures are laid out, allowing even inexperienced GMs to run them smoothly.

All in all, The Monastery of Tuath is a terrific piece and one well worth picking up. Although it is only fifty pages long, your money might be better spent picking this up as a PDF rather than in physical form, as this is a short supplement rather than a full sourcebook or core rulebook. Regardless what version you pick up though, The Monastery of Tuath is terrific and a fantastic addition to an already awesome RPG line. If you’ve missed out on the previous Shadows of Esteren releases, this might be the time to jump in and see what you’ve been missing.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
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DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/05/2014 09:45:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/22/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classicsmaximum-xcrawl-free-rpg-day-2014/

This year, Goodman Games’ Free RPG Day offering consists of not one, but TWO adventures for lucky gamers. Dungeon Crawl Classics fans get Elzemon and the Blood Drinking Box while Xcrawl fans get Dungeons Detonation 2014. This is my first exposure to Xcrawl, so I can’t speak to what the game was like before it moved over to Pathfinder mechanics, but it does mean that fans of 3.5 style gaming get two different adventures for their gaming group this year.

Our DCC adventure is only five pages long plus a full page piece of art and the usual (awesome) Doug Kovacs map. This means the adventure is a quick one that can be played in only a single session and also that Xcrawl is the main draw in this year’s twofer. Elzemon and the Blood Drinking Box is for seven to nine 1st Level characters and consists of a seven piece dungeon crawl. This particular adventure sees the PCs hired by the wizard, Rhalabhast of Many Eyes, to steal an artifact known as Yarafad’s Box. The box requires the regular feeding (5 HP per day) of Lawful aligned blood or it will lose a horrific monster upon the world. Of course the mission isn’t THAT straightforward, and there are some definite complications along the way, both physically and mentally. The adventure lasts roughly five days and besides the usual horrors that come from a hack and slash dungeon, there is a more cerebral element to the entire affair that the PCs may never become wise to. Players will also have to solve puzzles, fight off strange and sinister creatures that should not be and, of course, obtain Yarafad’s box. It’s a pretty straightforward adventure, save for the climatic plot twist, and as such it’s a great way to introduce gamers to the mechanics and atmosphere of Dungeon Crawl Classics. You also have two possible endings, one of which may spur the GM on to do several follow up adventures based off of revenge attempts upon the PCs. Not a bad little affair in all.

As Xcrawl takes up two thirds of the Free RPG Day offering, we will spend most of our time with that. Again, this is my first exposure to Xcrawl so I can’t comment on what it was like before the conversion over to Pathfinder, but I know Pathfinder pretty well, I feel comfortable commenting on the adventure even whilst admitting my ignorance of the overall setting.

From what I can tell, Xcrawl is a comedy-adventure, almost American Gladiators or The Running Man sort of affair, where player characters are celebrity entertainers of sorts. Smash T.V. is a nother good example for you old school video game fans. That doesn’t make the dangers or threat of death any less real though. The adventure, Dungeon Detonation 2014 is for characters between Levels 6-8, but there is no mention of a suggested party size. The idea of the adventure is that the PCs have agreed to take part in an Xcrawl for charity, giving them some nice public exposure and raise money for a good cause.

The dungeon in this adventure is a single level, but as Xcrawl is an entertainment/sport type of deal, the PCs won’t be the only party taking part. There will be five teams in all trying to make it through the dungeon, but it will be successively, not all at once. That’s too much chaos for all but the best GMs to deal with. For each piece of treasure the PCs collect, an equal piece will be donated to the “Jose Villalobos House for War Widows and Orphans. ” PCs will have to collect the most treasure and survive the most encounters to win.

What I found interesting is that Xcrawl takes place is a fantasy version of our real world, similar to how Shadowrun does, although Xcrawl has a fantasy bent instead of a Sci-Fi one. I think players will either really like or really hate this, depending on how serious they take their gaming. Me? I like to laugh personally, so I enjoyed the somewhat farcial nature of this piece.

Xcrawl isn’t the most well known gaming setting, so it was a wise idea to pare it with Pathfinder since that’s one of the most popular tabletop RPGs right now. You also get a half page of glossary and vernacular specific to Xcrawl to help new players and GMs alike become comfortable with the setting. The adventure also gives you a sidebar a few pages in (it probably should have been right up front) explaining a quick overview on how Xcrawl works, setting and mechanics wise. So even though this is a bit of an obscure game compared to a lot of Free RPG Day 2014 offerings, it should be an easy adventure to figure out and have fun with.

The dungeon itself is actually pretty long, with over a dozen rooms. Of course not every room has traps or monsters to best. Aside from the specific Xcrawl trappings, it’s a pretty standard hack and slash affair. Truly though, it’s the uniqueness of the Xcrawl experience that makes this adventure both fun and memorable. Of course, that could just be because I’m viewing this as a one-shot. I’m not sure that I’d enjoy a full length campaign of this nature. It’s like HoL – this type of adventure is best served as small treats rather than something you play regularly. Overall, I though Dungeon Detonation was very well done. I laughed at the absurd nature of the piece and I also enjoyed this variant on the usual Pathfinder style hack and slash experience. It’s definitely an adventure to try, but the overall campaign setting will definitely be for a niche audience.

All in all, another Free RPG Day gives us another quality offering from Goodman Games. If you missed out on this year’s release, it will probably make it out as a PDF to the general public at some point, so don’t feel too bad if you live far away from a brick and mortar store. Packaging both pieces as a “twofer” ensures gamers who pick this get two adventures for two different systems and thus gives Goodman Games a better chance of gaining a new fan. After all, someone might be a diehard Pathfinder fan and thus will be able to play (and hopefully enjoy) Xcrawl thus giving them impetus to pick up Maximum Xcrawl (The Pathfinder variant) core rulebook once it is released. Same with DCC. That still may appeal to a gamer like myself, who generally doesn’t care for Pathfinder or D&D 3.0/3.5. Both adventures are very different in tone and mechanics, so there should be something for everyone but the devout sci-fi gamer to enjoy with this release.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014
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Wield
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2014 08:19:27
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/03/tabletop-review-wield/<-
br />
Wield is one of those Kickstarter successes that just takes you by surprise. Looking for only three thousand dollars, Wield brought in nearly 1,100 backers and raised over twenty-seven grand! Not bad for a little game that could be yours for as low as five dollars. I know I was a backer. I mean, at worst I would be out five dollars and I’ve been looking for a game similar to Bloodlust, except in English. Hey, I may speak/read/write French, but very few of my friends do, and Bloodlust is only in francais. Wield definitely felts inspired by Bloodlust in terms of the core theme, but it differs greatly in both mechanics and demographics. Bloodlust for example is very dark and filled with mature themes while Wield can be for any age as it’s extremely setting-lite. Mechanics-wise…well, I can’t say I cared for Wield, and we’ll take look why below.

So what is Wield about? Well think of Elric and Stormbringer, Cyric and Godsbane, and other fantasy character wielding an intelligent magical weapon. Wield takes you into such a world, but instead of playing the hero who wields the magical blade or powerful mystic amulet, you will actually be playing as the self-aware item itself! That’s such a fun concept. The item can be anything from the usual weapon or armor to something more outlandish like a musical instrument, coin, or pet carrier. The only limit is your imagination.

There are comprehensive and detailed character creation rules for your item, known as a vatcha. Like any protagonists in a tabletop RPG, the vatcha have a goal to accomplish and will go through several thrilling adventures until they meet it or are destroyed. Character creation rules are easy as you choose an item you want to be, a goal to have and a way that your ancient artifact can be destroyed. Then you have to come up with a connection with each other vatcha being played. This creates a shared background and some potential story hooks for the person running the game. You should have a character up and running in ten minutes unless you and your friends are stumped for a connection between the flaming shield of doom and an enchanted mattress cover.

Things start to get a little more complicated when heroes come into play. You see, each vatcha is wielded by a hero, but a player does not play both their vatcha and its hero. No, instead, you play your vatcha and the vatcha of SOMEONE ELSE’S hero. This creates more potential for storytelling as well as conflict. While this is an interesting idea in theory, most people don’t like to play more than one character at a time. Sure there are exceptions like Dungeon Crawl Classics where the norm is to start out playing two-three characters per player, but the majority of games feel best when one person plays one character. Wield realizes asking a person to play two very different characters, one human and one a magical item, can be difficult so it suggests using two different voices or to have the hero card in front of your mouth when speaking as the hero, so everyone knows which one is talking/acting. That’s totally fine and it works for me. The problem I have is that this can lead to PvP conflict and that rarely turns out well for a gaming party. If player A wants the hero to do something the vatcha does not (or vice versa), which will probably happen more often than not, this can lead to some groups getting catty or spiteful towards each other. It could even lead to the hero trying to destroy the vatcha or the vatcha dispatching with the hero and looking for a new pawn to wield it. This is either going to be a good thing or a very bad thing, depending on the makeup of your group. If one or more player is immature or treats tabletop gaming as SERIOUS BUSINESS, this can turn out poorly indeed. If however, everyone remembers it’s just a silly fun game, these kinds of inter-character conflict can become a lot of fun and allow for memorable adventures. Just be sure you know your troupe well before deciding to play Wield.

Another alternative is to let Fate (the GM) play the Heroes as it would any other NPCs. This is a little more traditional and may work better as Fate does create the heroes. Otherwise when the heroes are handed out randomly to the Players, it’s like getting a pregenerated character as you would at a convention or starter set. It’s harder to become emotionally attached to a pregen, so some people playing Wield might not enjoy playing someone else’s creation. At the same time, heroes are actually meant to be disposable in Wield as the vatcha are the main attraction in this game. A Vatcha will go through several heroes as the game goes on, especially if you are playing a series of adventures or a campaign. Of course, a vatcha disposing of its hero may lead to hurt feelings by the person playing the hero, but again, it all comes back to making sure your group has the right mental makeup to play Wield. It’s definitely a niche game best left in the hands of a specific audience.

Another interesting aspect of Wield is that neither heroes nor vatcha level up, gain new abilities or advance in the same way one usually thinks of in a role playing game. In fact, both will stay the same from character creation to character death. This is definitely a game about role-playing and not min/maxing, which I like. Of course, people do like to see some sort of change or progression in the game and that’s where powers and control come into play.

Each vatcha can have up to three domains of powers. They don’t have to have three mind you, and generally having a single domain instead of two or three can be more helpful if you want to specialize in a specific power set instead of being multi-faced. Think of it as extremely skilled or a jack of all trades, master of none. Now the vatchas have these powers but they can’t directly use them. That’s what the heroes are for. They need a human patsy to channel the powers. However the more power/powers given to the hero, the less control the vatcha has over its would-be patsy. Too much power and the hero can take control, as well as learn the way to truly destroy the vatcha. It’s a very interesting give and take to be sure and with the right party makeup, Wield offers some unique and wondrous role-playing opportunities.

Now we come to the mechanics, and it is where the game falls apart in my opinion. You generally roll 2d6 to resolve things, but there are also sorts of ways to get bonus dice such as if your personality, background or vatcha power are relevant to the roll. A couple pages later, it mentions you can get up to two more bonus dice for proper equipment for a task. So your roll can get up to 7d6. That’s fine. So is the ladder of command. You have no roll for easy tasks, a target of 6 for a hard tasks, 12 for heroic, 18 for epic and 25 (shouldn’t that be 24) for impossible. Again, this is a fine scale as well. The problem is going to be remembering and justifying the bonus dice you get for each roll. I think that you’re going to see people forget more often than not all the options for bonus dice until after they have rolled. Challenge will also be highly depending on how Lax or tough Fate is as a GM.

Combat is where things get pretty weird and this is where the game will either really intrigue you or really turn you off. Unfortunately it did the latter for me. Every Player has to decide to attack or defend. You can’t do both. Fate counts to five and then if you are going to attack, you have to point at who you want to attack with one to five fingers outstretched. If you are going to defend, you place an arm across your chest with one to five fingers outstretched. The number of fingers outstretched means the difficulty roll you are willing to make. The five levels are the same for tasks (0, 6, 12, 18, 25). Now everyone has to do this at the exact same time, which can lead to a bit of a cluster. Then after everyone’s choices are revealed, you can choose to switch from an attack to a defense roll. Then all the rolling starts. However, there is no initiative in this game, so instead of a carefully laid out turn of events, Wield becomes a little too chaotic for my liking, with everyone rolling and resolving at the same time. It could also be that I didn’t care for the examples or descriptive text in this section. Nothing seems to flow well or read smoothly in the mechanics part of the book. I think there are a LOT of easy ways to improve things, and that Wield will be one of those games that lives or dies based on how well a local GM house rules the thing. I think if the team behind Wield had spent a little more time defining the rules (20% of the rulebook is fiction) and devoted some more pages to it, a lot of the potential for mishaps could have been easily avoided. Wield is a very rules lite game, which I enjoy, but this is one of those times where I feel combat could have actually used an overhaul.

So Wield is one of those games where I’m not sure if I really like it or not. I love the concept and character creation aspects of the game, but playing the game can be a real mess and utterly confusing for younger or casual gamers. Because of the high chance for PvP issues, it’s also a game that should only be played by people whose feelings don’t hurt easily and who can remember that a RPG is something to experience, not something to WIN. I think once the Wield Companion comes out and I have a lot more time with the game under my belt I can give Wield a definitive thumbs up or down. Right now I’ll say “thumbs in the middle” as it’s a very unique product and if you pick it up and dislike it, you’re only out five dollars. Compare that to money spent on Pathfinder or some other game that requires multiple 30-40 dollar rulebook purchases. My advice is give the electronic version of Wield a try and see if it is right for you and your friends. If not, at least you have an interesting curiosity piece in your collection.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wield
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Call Of Catthulhu, Book II: UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KATZEN, the Cat Herder's Guide
Publisher: Catthulhu.com
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2014 06:37:38
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/17/tabletop-review-call-of-
-catthulhu-deluxe-book-ii-unaussprechlichen-katzen-the-cat-h-
erders-guide/

Call of Catthulhu is one of those games that has really taken on a life of its own. I’ll admit that, when I picked up the basic version of Call of Catthulhu in September of 2013, I originally picked it up because it was under five bucks and I thought my wife would find it really cute. Call of Catthulhu ended up being a very solid rules-light game and I found myself really impressed by it. Then there was the Call of Catthulhu Kickstarter, for which 783 backers enabled not only a deluxe version of the game, but multiple upcoming supplements as well as a deluxe boxed version. I even got all three of my pets (two cats and a rabbit) in miniatures form for the game! In April of 2014, the first book of Call of Catthulhu Deluxe, The Nekonomicon, was released, and it too was excellent. So of course, it was a long wait for Unaussprechlichen Katzen to be released. Okay, it was like six weeks, but it felt like a long time. Did the second release for Call of Catthulhu Deluxe continue the trend of awesomeness that is a game about cats dealing with the machinations of animal versions of The Great Old Ones and Elder Gods? Let’s find out.

Unaussprechlichen Katzen, the Cat Herder’s Guide is meant to be the game’s equivalent to a DM or GM’s guide – or at least that is what you would think from the name. That is a correct assessment of the piece. Since all the rules to play Call of Catthulhu were published in the Nekonomicon, you don’t have to worry about finding things like new mechanics, prestige classes or the like here. This makes Unaussprechlichen Katzen more of an optional purchase for those who really love the game rather than a book you NEED to play Call of Catthulhu with. As such, you could just pick up the basic game or The Nekonomicon and be able to play Call of Catthulhu just fine (and for under ten bucks), but for those that want a little more out of their game, Unaussprechlichen Katzen will definitely give you what you need and then some.

Part I is entitled, “Things About the World.” Here is where you will find a lot of background information about the Call of Catthulhu setting. If you go into this game expecting to see house cats fighting Nyarlathotep or Shoggoths, well, this is not that game. This a more light hearted parody of the Cthulhu Mythos. You have Catthulhu, Hastpurr, Doggone, Phatphroggua and more. So this is not a 1:1 transfer of something like Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark, Trail of Cthulhu or the like. Call of Catthulhu is its own beast, with its own setting, background and mythos. Cthulhu fans will definitely get all the in-jokes, but Call of Catthulu is definitely its own game and will play very differently, as well as distinctly, from other Lovecraft inspired games.

In “Things About the World,” you’ll learn of core concepts with the Call of Catthulhu base setting. You’ll understand how important dreaming is to the game, as well as the concept of Gods and their place in the Call of Catthulhu world. I should point out it is very different from most Lovecraftian games, as the gods here are more or less archetypes that primarily dwell in the unconscious collective as opposed to out and about. This alone changes the nature of the Mythos creatures and helps to really make Call of Catthulhu its own game. You’ll also get a lot of information on cults and how they operate in the Call of Catthulhu world. The chapter continues on, giving you an in-depth look at a dozen or so animal gods and two human gods. Here you will find information about how these gods think, what their goals are and the specific makeup of their cults. The chapter then concludes with enemies of cats, like the Shaggoth, Mew-Go and guns. It’s very cute and by the time you are done Part I, you really won’t have a problem looking at Call of Catthulhu as a fully-fleshed out, well defined game rather than a light parody.

Part II is, “Running the Game,” and it is chock full of advice for the budding Cat Herder. It spends a decent amount of space explaining how to introduce new players to RPGs in general, gamers to Call of Catthulhu and also running a game about house cats facing off against cosmic terrors for children. All three of these pieces are excellent and worth reading no matter how experienced a gamer you are. I do feel Call of Catthulhu, with its easy rules and cute motif of playing as cats, makes it very inviting to younger, casual and inexperienced gamers alike. It’s stacked in favor of the players, unlike games like Dungeon Crawl Classics, earlier editions of D&D and Call of Cthulhu, which is neither good nor bad as a whole, but it definitely makes learning a game helpful when you don’t have to worry about dying fifteen minutes into the experience. I have at least one friend and my wife who have never played a tabletop RPG before, but both of whom are excited for the boxed set to arrive because they really want to play Call of Catthulhu with all the physical bells and whistles. Neither have ever played an RPG before, but they loved the display Call of Catthulhu had set up at Awesome Con DC this year, both are women, both are in their 30s, and both will be taking their first RPG plunge later this summer when the boxed set arrives. That tells you something about the universal appeal of this strange little game.

“Running the Game” also talks a little more in-depth about rules mentioned previously. It also gives some advice on playing a cat. After all, a cat doesn’t think like a human or know what human oriented things like doorbells, wrenches or fire extinguishers are. Likewise, they see some dice and will play with them, but not in the same way a human would. These are very different creatures and this has to be kept in mind. After all, a feral cat who has never been inside a house will have no idea what a bathtub or a bookshelf are. Likewise, the cat herder is given advice on how to play all the various NPCs that a cat might encounter, along with a strong admonishment for Cat Herders who let the NPCs take center stage instead of the characters. It’s never good when a GM for ANY game has a pet Mary Sue style NPC that they whip out, and Call of Catthulhu tries to nip that thinking in the bud immediately. Another great chapter.

Part III is entitled, “Cattventure Time.” This chapter gives you advice on how to create adventures of your own, along with three already made adventures to run for players. There is some great advice on adventure writing in here that applies to any game, not just Call of Catthulhu. You also get a printable challenge sheet for a quick reminder of what the PCs will encounter and also an icon guide to help you read the published adventures.

As for the adventures themselves, I have to admit, I only liked one of the three. The first adventure, “The Buzz Downstairs” is a lot of fun. It captures the feel of a Call of Cthulhu like adventure from a cat’s perspective, while still being a lot lighter in tone and scope. It really showcases the mechanics of the game and makes an excellent introduction on how to play Call of Catthulhu. It’s really well done and one of the highlights of the book. The second adventure, “Bay City Krazy Kosmonaut Krash Down,” just didn’t do it for me. This adventure is set in the 60s and has cats dealing with a Russian Astronaut who brought something inhuman back with him during his failed descent (which also explains why he is in San Fran instead of, say, Moscow). It’s weird to be sure, but it never feels quite right. The flow always seems off and it’s hard to divorce player (human) knowledge from character (cat) knowledge with this one. It’s an interesting idea, but I feel like it needed to be fleshed out and/or playtested a bit more.

The third adventure, “Greener Pastures,” is – to be blunt – pretty terrible. It’s poorly thought out in idea, scope and execution and quite frankly, I’m surprised it was allowed entry into the book since it was by a third party author and the editorial team could have easily refused it or sent it back for more work. Essentially, the adventure is about a shelter going from No-Kill to Kill and the cats having to escape into the wild (so to speak) in order to live. This is just a bad idea on all fronts. This actually happens occasionally in real life due to the overabundance of animals that aren’t fixed. It’s one thing to have a fantastical adventure about cats doing crazy stuff. It’s another to have something this dark and realistic. I feel it completely misses the point of Call of Catthulhu as well as the tone it is meant to represent. It’s not an adventure to even think of playing with children or people who love cats, and the end result is kind of a mean spirited look at shelters and the people who try to give abandoned pets some kind of life. The conclusion, where all the cats are either killed or set free into the world where they will no doubt be eaten, hit by a car or starve to death because they have no foraging skills, is equally terrible. This thing really, REALLY needed to be thought out better in terms of scope, writing and mood. Really, REALLY disappointed here, as a lot of the target audience for this game will want to have nothing to do with this piece. I can’t say I will blame them.

Finally, the chapter ends with a section on “Other Settings,” which is essentially a collection of story/campaign seeds for an enterprising Cat Herder. These are all interesting, although a Cat Herder might be better off coming up with their own homebrew piece from scratch, just to flex those creative muscles.

The last section of Unaussprechlichen Katzen is actually a set of appendices. Appendix A is kind of a quick recap of Chapter I. Appendix H is “The Book of Two-Foots,” which gives more a look at the weirdness that is the human race. You get a look at how cats view people, their own vernacular for different ones, and even a look at how they appear in dreams. This is a very cute and very funny section.

Appendix K is, “The Book of Dogs.” I have to admit, when it was first announced as a stretch goal, I thought it was a silly idea at first. I mean, we don’t have playable rabbits, squirrels, sloths or komodo dragons, so why add the option to play as a race that is already adversarial to the core concept of the game? It seemed a slippery slope. The more I thought about it though, the more I liked the idea. After all, some people prefer dogs to cats, and this will allow the game to sell more copies as well as open itself up to a larger audience. Plus, it’s kind of (but not quite) like allowing a game of Sabbat vampires instead of Camarilla ones in Vampire: The Masquerade. Doable and a lot of fun, albeit it with a very different tone. That’s not to say that dogs are inherently evil in Call of Catthulhu – just that they have very different goals and thought processes from cats. “The Book of Dogs” really highlights their worldview and converts the game from one about Cat PCs to Dog PCs in an impressively short amount of space, complete with full character creation rules. You even get some story seeds. Practically everything you need for a canine version of Call of Catthulhu is in this Appendix, which is pretty awesome.

Finally we have Appendix N, which appropriately (if you know you RPG history) is a list of books, movies, and other RPGs which have a similar tone that fans of Call of Catthulhu might find fun or even inspire them in some way. Thankfully nothing by Richard Adams (Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, etc) makes the list. I really enjoyed seeing the list of RPGs, especially Toon and CAT. A great way to end a great book.

All in all, Unaussprechlichen Katzen was a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. While I found a pretty big dent in the armor of this one, it was done by a third party rather than the person who writes and designs the vast bulk of Call of Catthulhu, so I won’t hold it against the piece as a whole. The PDF version is a bit pricey at $14.95 compared to the basic game cost of $4.95 for the PDF or The Nekonomicon‘s price of $7.95, so gamers with less of a disposable income might want to wait for a price drop. Of course, you don’t NEED Unaussprechlichen Katzen to play Call of Catthulhu, so this purchase might be left in the hands of people who absolutely love the game. At the same time, for only five bucks more than the cost of the PDF version of Unaussprechlichen Katzen, you can get the Call of Catthulhu bundle. This gives you the basic game, both deluxe books and the character sheet for $19.95. It’s definitely the best way to go, and if you haven’t invested in Call of Catthulhu yet, this is certainly the route to go. The bottom line is Unaussprechlichen Katzen is a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. It’s not a must own and it is a bit pricey for the PDF, but you won’t be disappointed with it if you pick it up.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call Of Catthulhu, Book II: UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KATZEN, the Cat Herder's Guide
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Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: The Harbinger Foundation
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2014 06:33:49
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/16/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-the-harbinger--
foundation/


Wow, here we are with our fourth free Quick Start Rules preview of the Valiant Universe RPG. The previous two let you view the big Harbinger Wars event from the side of Bloodshot and Generation Zero respectively. Now we’re going to be looking at things from the point of the most powerful man in the world (both fiscally and literally) – Toyo Harada. This isn’t the first time Valiant Universe RPG fans will be able to step into the shoes of the master of the Harbinger Foundation. In the very first QSR, Unity, you could play as Harada, along with Ninjak, Livewire and the Eternal Warrior. This time however, while one person takes up the reigns as Harada, three others will be playing Eggbreakers, some of Harada’s psiot muscle. This is a really interesting choice, as Harada’s side pretty much wears the black hat from the point of view of many Valiant protagonists, even if Harada himself thinks he’s the biggest white hat on the planet. This will let players see how the other half lives, and also flesh out Harada and his lackeys into more than just two dimensional bad guys should the players ever encounter them instead of playing as them.

It’s worth noting that besides Harada, the other three playable characters are very under the radar ones. I mean, I own every issue of this run of Harbinger and I had to try really hard to remember if the other three (Stronghold, Ion, Saturn) were actually mentioned by name or even more than once in the comics. This is both good and bad. The bad is that, depending on your group, EVERYONE will want to play Harada because they know him and he’s crazy powerful. So the Lead Narrator may have to prevent some bouts of immaturity, depending on the age and makeup of the players. The good news is that the other three characters are virtually blank slates, which means you can play them however you want. You won’t get a rules-lawyer style player saying, “That’s not how they were in the comics!” because there really isn’t enough on any of them to truly flesh out their personality. It also means that for gamers who felt the previous QSRs were a bit too “on rails” since they were name characters in situations that already occurred in continuity, this adventure will be the most to their liking. Not only is part of it completely original and not ripped from the pages of four color goodness, but the parts that are from Harbinger Wars will feel very different because B or C – Level characters (and Harada) are getting the spotlight.

The Harbinger Foundation‘s adventure consists of four parts, all of which have multiple scenes (except for Part Two), which should keep your players busy for one to three sessions depending on how long and drawn out things get. Each leg of the adventure is very combat heavy rather than discussion and exploration, so the length of the adventure will depend on how comfortable you are with the mechanics provided in the QSR up to this point. Remember, you’ll need a copy of the Unity QSR to play The Harbinger Foundation as it has all the rules. It’s free as well (heck, all the QSRs for Valiant Universe RPG are free, so get them all!), so remember to pick that up and read it first to minimize any issues you might encounter.

So let’s talk the adventure proper. Part One has students either working cooperatively or against each other (choose the former as teamwork is always better than PvP) in some “Danger Room” like tasks. This is a great start, as it lets players try out their characters and powers, especially those that haven’t had much face time in the comics. It also lets the players test out some strategy, which they will need for the other three parts of the adventure.

Part Two is only one scene long, but it is a doozy. Harada and Ion Vs. Bloodshot. While this battle is going on (and it will most likely unfold differently from the comics), Stronghold and Saturn will be dealing with escapees from project Rising Spirit. It’s nice to see everyone getting to shine in this scene, while in the comics, it really was just a battle between the two big heavy hitters. When one side accomplishes their goal, the other side’s battle will finish up. Make sure your Lead Narrator can effectively run two very different sessions of combat at once, as everything does unfold at the same time.

Part Three has the Eggbreakers and Harada taking the fight directly to Project Rising Spirit, where they will do combat with the Hard C.O.R.P.S. Scene Four has Harada and his Eggbreakers trying to recruit members of Generation Zero to the Harbinger Foundation. This is a short but easy scene that mainly relies on Harada’s die rolling. If it goes good, this is a short and easy affair. If it goes bad, there is a LOT of combat. Unfortunately, there are some issues with Part Four. First up is that the writing, mechanic-wise, is a bit cloudy and I think it will confuse people who are new to gaming. Re-read the opposed roll information at least twice to make sure you know what you’re doing. Second, the text states, “Take the number generated during Scene Three in the previous Event and divide by two (rounded down); treat any result higher than five as five.” I have NO IDEA what they are talking about here. Is the previous event, the previous scene? Because there is no random number generated in Part Three, Scene Three. Did they mean the Generation Zero QSR? Because there is no number generation in that either. In fact, the only random number generation that I could find is in Part Three, Scene Two of this QSR, and it’s in regards to when P.R.S.’ automated defenses come online. So this is really a bit of jargon editorial should have caught. At least it is free, though, right? A decent Lead Narrator can also fudge through his and make it work with no one being the wiser.

So aside from Scene Four somewhat falling apart due to bad editing and writing, The Harbinger Foundation is still a top notch little adventure and a great addition to the ever growing collection of free releases for Valiant Universe RPG. I’d definitely say the game is four for four so far and come Free RPG Day 2014, I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on a free copy of the physical version of the Quick Start Rules. You definitely should too. Valiant Universe RPG is certainly shaping up to be the best new RPG of 2014, and since everything released for it so far is free you have absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go download all four QSRs immediately.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: The Harbinger Foundation
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Beyond All Worlds
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2014 08:30:39
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/13/tabletop-review-numener-
a-beyond-all-worlds/

Beyond All Worlds is the first published adventure for Numenera in roughly seven months. I’ll admit, as innovative, creative and fun as Numenera, adventures seem to be the system’s Achilles heel. Vortex was fine for an intro to the system or for a convention piece, but it was over-priced and little more than a dungeon crawl. The Devil’s Spine, a collection of three adventures had similar issues. Instead of really showcasing how different Numenera is from other games, the collection was little more than generic hack and slash that felt more like a decent, but not great, D&D or Pathfinder set than something Ninth Worldly. I enjoyed both pieces, mind you, but I wanted something that gave me the same feel I got when ire ad the core rulebook and assorted Numenera sourcebooks. Would Beyond All Worlds prove the old adage of “The third time’s the charm?”

Well, yes and no. Beyond All Worlds is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s far more oipen ended than previous Numenera adventures and the emphasis is on discovery and strange sites rather than “take a few steps and kill something.” There are a lot of dangling plot threads as well as multiple ways for the adventure to unfold. I especially loved the flowchart that comes with the adventure which a good GM will make use of to ensure things run smoothly. However, the adventure can easily devolve into a roll-playing over role-playing combat heavy piece in the hands of a bad GM. There aren’t any real safeguards in place to prevent that, and the copious information on traps and monsters in Beyond All Worlds doesn’t help matters much. So truthfully, this adventure lives or dies not necessarily by what is written in the PDF, but based on the GMing style of whoever is running this. If they tend to stray combat heavy, a lot of the mystique and weirdness will be lost, and it too will be coming a generic and forgettable adventure. In the hands of someone who tends to be talking heads heavy, Beyond All Worlds could simply be the tip of an iceberg for a campaign that runs the gambit from exploring all sorts of worlds and alternative universes to a 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo type affair where the PCs are so responsible for collecting all sorts of unspeakable evil-doers that they accidentally let loose upon the Ninth World.

Getting to the adventure is a bit of a stretch. There is no real story hook save for a person that PCs care about acting as a McGuffin. Said NPC is tosses into “The Mouth of Hell”- an interdimensional prison from which there appears to be no way back. At least not that anyone has ever found and lived to tell about. So of course the PCs are supposed to bravely (foolishly) blunder into the Mouth of Hell and then find their way out. My big problem with this is that smart players will balk or lose their suspension of disbelief over a prison break of this nature. It becomes doubly hard to take the core hook seriously when the text of the adventure never breaks up the McGuffin NPC again. There’s no mention of where they might be, what camp they could be in, if they are living or dead, or even if they ever entered the Mouth of Hell to begin with! It’s as if the team behind it completely forgot how they got players into the Mouth of Hell to begin with. This does feel like VERY sloppy editing to me. I would have least put the occasional reference to the original goal in the adventure once the mouth is entered.

Once inside, characters will get Numenera at its best. There’s a lot of strange weirdness to be had. Ailen creatures, nonsensical technology, weird science and of course exploration and discovery up the wazoo. Of course, since the Mouth of Hell is populated will all sorts of unsavory types, from lunatics to cannibals, there is room for a lot of conflict. Smart PCs with use their mouth and minds instead of blades and powers. Of course, mindless violence is a way to get through Beyond All Worlds, but engaging in it involves an uphill battle that will surely get your players kill via sheer numbers. Of course there will be times when violence is the only real options, especially against some of the things that don’t even begin to resemble a humanoid lifeform in this place. There are some fantastic creatures in Beyond All Worlds including the loathsome He Who Shudders and its Snipper Moths.

The crux of the adventure has characters navigating a maze that exists primarily in the mind of the GM and the rolls of the player. If you feel you need a map to run a labyrinth properly, this is NOT the adventure for you. Most people will get by just find with the included flow chart. The adventure really is open-ended in format, so it’s not something I’d give to a rookie or casual GM. You do have to have a game plan going in and the ability to turn chaos into order. Otherwise the piece will feel unfinished. That’s not to say it IS unfinished. Just that there are lots of chances for this adventure to go poorly. If you’re new to running Numenera I’d stick with Vortex and come back to Beyond All Worlds when you feel confident in the system and your own ability to flesh things out.

As mentioned previously the adventure can end in several different ways, most of which leave the door wide open for further adventures that spin off from this one. Unless of course your characters die horribly or merge into an amalgamated blob of madness (Human shoggoth mayhaps?). Since the adventure is designed for experienced (second or third tier characters), the adventure doesn’t really work as the start of a campaign, even though it feels like it should be. I mean, you could start characters off at a higher tier, but then you lack the fun of seeing the characters grow and the GM also lacks any NPCs he can make the characters care about and thus turn into the adventure’s MacGuffin.

Overall, Beyond All Worlds is a decent adventure. It’s a step in the right direction and I think it’s a better overall piece than The Devil’s Spine or Vortex. The heart of the piece is a generic dungeon crawl, which has plagued previous published adventures for the Ninth World. Beyond All Worlds does embrace the Numenera trappings pretty well though, but I really do wish we’d get adventures that are as outside the box as the rulebooks, sourcebooks and supplements have been. We’re not quite there with an iconic or definitive published adventure for Numenera but Beyond All Worlds is getting the system closer to that point. I think the game needs something a little more Lamentations of the Flame Princess, HoL or Paranoia in tone than D&D or Pathfinder. All that said, Beyond All Worlds is still worth picking up. It’s cheap, potentially fun in the hands of the right GM, and offers some memorable antagonists. It’s the same cost as a comic book, but you’ll certainly get more out of it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Beyond All Worlds
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Gygax magazine issue #4
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2014 06:22:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/12/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-4/

Gygax Magazine had a fantastic 2013. They released three top-notch issues AND won our “Best Tabletop Related Magazine” award in our 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. For a quarterly magazine these days, getting three of the four projected issues out in a calendar year is practically unheard of. Only Pathways by Rite Publishing seems to come out like clockwork, and considering that’s a free monthly, that’s pretty impressive. Well, I guess I could include White Dwarf and The Rifter, but those are more paid advertisements for Games Workshop and Palladium respectively.

Anyway, after such a great 2013, Gygax Magazine seemed to disappear. There was very little talk of Issue 4 from them, whether on their home page or via social media. Then all of a sudden, I got my reviewer copy and an email from TSR to all subscribers (of which I am one – full candor here, am I right?) stating that since they were having a problem with the publisher, they were going to push through the digital version before the physical one. I was perfectly find with that considering my physical copy of Issue #1 arrived two months after the digital one and Issue 2 suffered a similar fate. I’m used to getting the PDF version before the dead tree one and honestly, I want to read the magazine – I’m not too picky as to which format I get. I wasn’t expecting the magazine to hit this month, but as soon as it did, I downloaded it, put it on my Kindle Fire HDX and then read the issue from cover to cover. What can I say? I miss gaming magazine. As a lad, I used to have subscriptions to Dungeon, Dragon, White Wolf and even Inquest at some point (gift subscription). I loved reading about a wide variety of games I had never heard of or might never get to play, along with ones I knew inside and out. I loves articles, comics, art and even the mailbag. I’m pretty sure tabletop gaming magazines where why I was more than happy to spend six years writing for the Pokémon magazine (sometimes nearly the entire issue) for my Pikachu-minded overlords. Even in this digital age, there is something special about a magazine as opposed to a website or blog. It’s not a generational thing because the Pokémon magazine was geared towards kids and that sold like crazy. It’s just a matter of reaching your target audience with high quality well thought out articles and that’s exactly what Gygax Magazine did in 2013 – it hit the Zeitgeist. Now the quest is, after a six month break, can TSR recapture the same magic in 2014? Let’s take a look.

I have to admit, I marked out when I saw the cover. Now it probably won’t mean anything to you unless you’re in your late thirties or older, but it’s a continuation of a series of covers that started with Dragon Magazine #83. Jayson Elliot’s very short editorial (only a paragraph this time) gives a very brief history of it. As someone that owns every issue of that damn magazine, continuing Den Beauvais’ series was a great way to really highlight how Gygax Magazine is the spiritual successor to the Dragon.

Instead of the editorial this issue, Gygax Magazine has introduced a mailbag. Well, one letter really, which highlights the great nostalgia of the mailbag from monthly magazines but also the downside to publishing delays. The letter in question asks a timely question about how to get better at describing locations to his players. God only knows when this was written, but in the age of instant email and Facebook replies having to wait six months for an answer to your question would kind of suck. The mailbag might be better used for less time-oriented pieces, like inquires about the publication process, why some game lines get covered and others don’t, comments, criticism and so on. So now, let’s look at the ten articles and two comics in this issue. I have to admit, before me get into this issue, there was very little that appealed to me personally as a gamer. While the issue was well written and technically sound, there wasn’t a lot geared towards my particular tastes, wants or needs. That doesn’t make it a bad issue – just the weakest yet in terms of what I play and/or am interested in. That didn’t keep me from appreciating a lot of the articles though because even back in the day I never played Star Frontiers or Al-Qadim, but I still read articles about the games when they showed up in Dragon.

1. Men and Monsters of Polynesia. This article offers a brief look at Polynesian folklore and various beings from its folklore that you would encounter in a game that uses Polynesian culture as a setting backdrop. At first I was surprised the article used AD&D 1e stat blocks for the creature, but then I reminded myself that Al-Qadim and Maztica did pretty well in the era of Second Edition AD&D, so why not do a high fantasy game with a Polynesian bent instead of a Euro-centric one? The article was well-written and you get a fantastic description of each creature, allowing a DM to really make use of them. Do I think most of these creatures would work better with a “real world” game like Call of Cthulhu or Chill? Sure I do. Would I ever personally make use of the article? Probably not. Is it still really well done and fun to read? It sure is, and that’s what matters. 1 for 1.

2. Leomund’s Secure Shelter. This article really wasn’t for me and in a way, it highlights how anal retentive and rules-mastery/lawyery old school gamers can be. The entire article picks apart the AD&D ranged chart for missiles weapons and adds even more rules, tables and the like, which really isn’t needed. In essence, the article slows down AD&D combat EVEN more, taking away time from role-playing and instead forcing the DM to spend even more time figuring out arbitrary details in favor of more roll-playing. I personally hate that and was highly disappointed to see an article that took that stance in Gygax Magazine. The tone of the piece didn’t help either as it came off both pedantic with side commentary like the following: “(I use INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE and NEVER GROUP INITIATIVE in every melee where the players and key NPCs are involved!)” Yes, all caps and bolding in an aside for a professionally published magazine article. The magazine editor in me winced. Anyway, this was probably my least favorite article in a Gygax Magazine so far, which says something. Sometimes people really need to paraphrase MST3K and say, “It’s just a game. I should really just relax.” 1 for 2.

3. Adventuring Without the Magic. As a folklorist and writer of way too many articles on the history of something or other, Jon Peterson’s pieces in Gygax Magazine are always a highlight for me. In this case, the article looks at non-fantasy RPGs and how they slowly came about. Jon looks at several non-fantasy games where people took on roles instead of just rolling dice before D&D reared its head. Diplomacy and Braunstein (the latter of which still gets a lot of play in my old MSP haunt) get mentioned in this era, for example. The article also looks at some of our first non-fantasy tabletop roleplaying games like Top Secret, James Bond, Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha (which is getting not one, but two remakes!), Bunnies & Burrows and more. I tried a lot of these games and a kid and enjoyed them, so it was a wonderful shot of nostalgia to see the names of some of these long out of print (and sadly forgotten) classics. A great read from beginning to end. 2 for 3.

4. The Necromancer’s Cookbook. One of my favorite D&D releases of all time was The Complete Guide to Necromancer from the AD&D 2e era. It was so fantastically done, I’ve kept it and recommended it as a reference for any game that uses necromancy. It’s that good. So I was delighted to see The Necromancer’s Cookbook in this issue. This piece gives you ten new necromantic creatures to throw at players. There are five skeleton and five zombie variants, along with information on how to make them. I also liked how the stat blocks tried to incorporate both old and new forms of D&D such as THAC0 and ascending AC, along with both a XP value and Challenge Rating (CR). These are some fun and imaginative cannon fodder for a necromancer antagonist and I can definitely see Ravenloft fans making great use of this one. 3 for 4.

5. Djinn Hey! A Runequest article. That was unexpected and fun to see. These stats blocks are for Runequest 6 to be specific, although I’m kind of shocked that between BRP and Runequest, there aren’t Djinn stats already. The three page article is very brief and GMs will have to fill in a lot of blanks to make these guys work in an actual game, but magazines have page and word count maximums, so it’s understandable. I found this article to be a lot of fun, reading-wise, but again, it’s not something I would ever use personally. 4 for 5.

6. Randomize Your Realm. I have a love/hate relationship with random tables. I think the sheer glut of them over at DriveThruRPG from countless small publishers are both inane and a waste. Yet, some randomizing is fun. I love making characters for TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes RPGvia the charts and of course, HoL‘s character creation process is something you have to experience at least once. I do think that relying on random tables for that creating from scratch is the sign of a weak GM, but also that they are indispensable to new/rookie GMs in terms of helping them flesh out things. This article gives you seven d20 random tables that, when the results of each are combined, gives you a fleshed out snapshot of a kingdom. It’s fun to monkey around with, but not something I’d recommending using for an entire homebrew world, you know? You also have over thirty d100 random charts for “Events,” which will essentially give you story seeds. At six pages (Eight percent of the magazine), this is one of the longest pieces in the magazine and it feels like padding that could have been used for a more substantial article. It’s cute, but there are so many better uses of the limited space each issue has to offer readers. 4 for 6.

7. Operation: Rendezvous Oasis. Wow. I can’t believe I’m going to be talking about a Top Secret adventure. I think the last time anything was published for this old TSR game was 1990. Hell, I don’t even know who owns the legal rights to Top Secret these days. Anyway, there was a brief period in my childhood when gamers were really into this. Very brief mind you, but I still have fond memories of my character Agent . What, I was like ten! Anyway, Gygax Magazine gives us a full length adventure from the mind of Merle M. Rasmussen, the original designer of Top Secret. That is pretty cool. The only problem is that Top Secret has been out of print for decades and there is no (legal) digital version of the game available. This means only a very tiny percentage of people who pick up this issue of Gygax Magazine are going to be able to play this adventure, much less enjoy it. I mean, *I* don’t even own Top Secret anymore and pretty much had to dust off old corned off sections of my memory to make sure I still had the rules down (Funny that I can remember rules sets to games I haven’t played in forever, but I can’t remember basic Trig). You’re going to have to be middle-aged and a bit of a packrat to really be able to play this adventure, which is a shame – especially when you consider the adventure takes up nearly a full third of the issue. For those that don’t have Top Secret, which is the vast majority of you, this is going to be wasted space or a curiosity read at best. I’m so torn by this because I love seeing new Top Secret Material, but also feel that this might have been better released on its own than released widespread to an audience who can’t play or might not even remember the system. It’s definitely a choice that highlights the good and bad regarding the decision making process as to what goes into an issue of Gygax Magazine.

All that said, the adventure is well written and I’m looking forward to the cool gatefold spread in the physical copy. God knows I’ll never be able to find enough people to actually play Operation Rendezvous Oasis, but reading it made me WANT to, and that’s the sign of a good adventure. Who knows? Maybe this piece will get people to look for old copies on the secondary market or even jump start a digital release of the game. Well, probably not, but here’s hoping. 5 for 7.

8. Psionics, Without the Points. Well, this is an article I didn’t enjoy at all. I get the idea behind it, which is treating a Psychic character in an AD&D game like a spellcaster (Bard, Cleric, Mage, etc), but in doing so, you lose the uniqueness of the class as well as some of the fun. I loved the second and third edition books for Psionic characters (although 1e AD&D rules needed some/a lot of work). Retooling a class is not a bad idea on its own, but what is presented here is badly done and is even more of a mess than the original version. There’s not enough detail or description to make the class work as it’s only three pages long (along with a fourth page of spells the Psychic can use). Not only is the article not something I’d ever make use of, but it feels like a bad first draft of an idea rather than something that should have been published. 5 for 8.

9. Ed’s Effulgent Euphuism. Hey, it’s Ed Greenwood talking about 13th Age. That’s a cool combination. In fact this is one of two 13th Age articles in this magazine. I’ve jokingly referred to 13th Age as “What D&D 4e should have been,” so I’m happy to see it get press here, especially since I have yet to find anyone in my immediate area that actually plays this. Heck, I can’t even get anyone here to care enough to review releases for it! Hopefully between the presence it gets in this issue and the upcoming Free RPG Day release, it will see more mainstream (such as there is in our industry) attention. This article looks at one of the more unique and fun aspects of the system – which involves the option to rename spells in order to get some small bonuses. Not only does this personalize the spells one is casting, but you can be extremely creative (and silly) with the naming of these pieces. For anyone who wondered why Tenser, Mordenkainen and other wizards got their own spells and your PC didn’t, well this is the system for you! Ed Greenwood gives you thirty examples (stretched over seven pages) of new names and effects for classic spells. These are a lot of fun just to read and the article along should make you want to at least try 13th Age if not outright purchase the core rulebook for it. 6 for 9.

Melee Masters. This is the second 13th Age article in the collection. Here we get a look at three new class builds for the game. What’s interesting that you can compare this article with the AD&D Psychic one earlier in the issue and come away with two things. The first is how much more streamlined 13th Age feels, which is both good and bad, depending on your gaming preferences. The second is how with the same amount of space, this article lays out three character class builds that are easy to use and understand as opposed to the…less well done Psychic piece. It’s night and day here, people. The three classes presented in this article are best suited for the Midgard campaign setting, but can work in just about any high fantasy campaign. The Corsair would work extremely well in a high seas or pirate type of setting. Just a great job overall. 7 for 10.

11. Full Frontal Nerdity. A fun little two page comic involving a dragon and suspension of disbelief. I laughed. Mission accomplished. 8 for 11.

12. The Order of the Stick. Come on, it’s Rich’s long running and extremely funny comic. It’s weird seeing Durkon amongst the living though. Funny as always. 9 for 12.

So there you go. Although there’s only one article that I’d actually make use of on my gaming table (Necromancer’s Cookbook), I’d say seventy-five percent of the magazine was fun to read or made me wish I knew people that played say, 13th Age or Top Secret. That’s a pretty good quality-to crap ratio and so I can definitely recommend the issue just to read, even if you don’t play many (or any) of the games featured in this latest version of Gygax Magazine. Look, no two people are going to enjoy exactly the same things to the same degree and the usefulness of the issue will vary based on what you play with your friends, so what you like or dislike about this issue may vary quite a bit from my own opinions and experiences here. As usual, this issue of Gygax Magazine was a well-crafted and excellent release full of fun articles, and that’s what matters. All that remains to be seen is whether or not TSR can make a second (or even third release) this year. Here’s hoping they can.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #4
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Ambient Environments - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2014 08:07:05
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/11/tabletop-review-ambient-
-environments-mp3-the-shadow-over-innsmouth/

As you can probably tell from the title of this ten minute MP3, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a background track for tabletop gaming inspired by one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories. We cover a LOT of Call of Cthulhu releases here at Diehard GameFAN and god knows many of those have had Deep Ones lurking between their pages somewhere, so I thought it would be fun to check out this piece and see how it fares. With a two dollar price tag, it’s a bit more expensive than releases by other tabletop background music providers like Plate Mail Games, but two bucks for ten minutes of music is still a pretty good deal in this day and age. The track is also part of the Cthulhu Rises! bundle, but I didn’t receive a review copy for each track in that bundle, so I can’t really comment on that.

So one warning right up front – if you’re looking for this track to be very Mythos oriented, you won’t find it here. There won’t be any cultists chanting to Cthulhu, Dagon, Shub-Niggurath or the like. You won’t hear the sopping wet footsteps of a Deep One slowly shambling along wood steps or into an old home. You won’t have any sounds for a small town like Innsmouth like general chatter or clopping of horse hooves on cobblestone. So if you’re looking for something like that, you will NOT find it in this track. You’re probably better off with Darkling Harp’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth bundle which contains actual tracks geared specific towards the sounds of Innsmouth and games set within its borders.

That said, The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Ambient Environments is actually pretty versatile. It can work for a haunted lighthouse, spooky coastline, abandoned pier, scary beach, marshy inlet of doom and more. Any coastal or large body of water that has strange goings on could make excellent use of this ten minute track.

You get a lot of great noises, none of which are distracting or overly annoying save for a few seconds of a very out of place barking dog. There isn’t any real music to the track, which is good as aside from a Hymn by the Starry Wisdom Church, I wouldn’t want any. You get a lot of wind, surf and rain though playing pretty much nonstop for the full ten minutes, which honestly, is a far better choice than any musical tracks. You do get the occasional high pitched note or very subtle hint of music in the wind and surf though via some eerie undefined intonations, which is a nice touch. Towards the back half of the track the intonation does seem to get louder and take on a dark hymnal quality, while still keeping from being full on music in the way a human would think of it.

The crashing of the waves and bubbling of the water is excellently done, as are the caws of seagulls and the occasional bell from a lone buoy. There are also some creaks, but I can’t really discern if it is from a broken down pier/dock or if it’s a ramshackle old boat making the noise as the tide rocks it back and forth. The overall feel of the track is very ominous and creepy, so even though it’s not a perfect fit for Innsmouth, it is a fantastic for any games that involve exploration of an eerie maritime location. Whether it’s a cove, swampy hamlet, or high tide along a creepy bay, there are ton of great uses for The Shadow Over Innsmouth without making your game Deep One or even Call of Cthulhu related.

Overall, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a great “spooky water related area” background tracker which you can definitely make great use of in your games and it is also one players will highly enjoy. It doesn’t really give off an Innsmouth vibe to me at all, but that’s okay because the piece is versatile enough to have a dozen other uses. I can definitely recommend it, especially as it is only two dollars. For those of you who really like musical cues and background noise in your tabletop games, The Shadow Overs Innsmouth is a fine addition to your collection.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
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RPG Background Loops MP3: Pharaoh's Tomb
Publisher: Plate Mail Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2014 06:33:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/11/tabletop-review-rpg-bac-
kground-loops-mp3-pharaohs-tomb/

Last month I reviewed one of the many tracks generated by Plate Mail Game’s very successful Kickstarter. I enjoyed 1890′s Train Plateform (Or Platform as it has now been corrected into) and it felt like it would be a good fit for my Call of Cthulhu games, especially the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake. As many of you know by now, I’m a big mummy fan. Be they fantasy or World of Darkness style mummies, so when I saw that Plate Mail Games had released a track called Pharaoh’s Tomb, I decided to see what that one was like as well. After all, I do love to run adventures in the Har’akir domain of Ravenloft, so I thought this might be a good fit for a dungeon crawl. What did I think? Let’s take a look.

Like all Plate Mail Games tracks, Pharaoh’s Tomb is ten minutes in length and designed to be run as a loop, providing continuous background noise for you and your players. Now I use background noise rarely, mainly because a lot of tracks designed for this sort of thing actually seem to distract players rather than enforce the food the GM is trying to provide.

The track almost lost me at first with what sounds like a weird bit of feedback, but is probably a Theremin. The noise occurs regularly throughout the track and I’m not sure what it is supposed to be, except that it occurs frequently and is annoying, distracting and loud. Maybe it’s meant to be a ghost howling or something?

The other major sound you’ll hear with the track is wind. It’s the one constant throughout the ten minute piece. Of course, if you’ve been in a pyramid, you’ll know it’s deathly silent in there, but what they hey – it’s for effect and it is very ominous even if it’s not very accurate.

There are occasionally other noises like a guttural moan that occurs once or twice, rare footsteps and even the clanking of chains (which would be more appropriate in a haunted house than a tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh), but the track is mostly wind and the weird synth/Theremin howling that just doesn’t fit the tone or location of the piece.

What’s most notable in this piece are the things that are missing. I would have put in the shuffling of feet on stone. Perhaps some creaking or noises from locations settling. The grinding of stone on stone for a trap or secret door being activating. The scuttling and scurrying of bugs (probably scarab beetles) and other things that are actually reminiscent of a pyramid. The idea of the track had a lot of potential but what I actually got wasn’t at all what I was looking for.

What’s here just in no way shape or form makes me think of a “Pharaoh's Tomb.” It’s too distracting and off-base for me to ever contemplate using in a mummy based adventure or campaign. Now your mileage may vary. The weird echo feedback playing every few seconds might be up your alley and you might not find the repletion and loudness of the track as distracting or annoying as I did. Taken on its own outside of the theme it is meant to portray, Pharaoh’s Tomb is technically sound and a decent deal considering it’s ten minutes in length for only a buck-fifty. While it doesn’t fit my needs or desires it the slightest, you can listen to the audio preview for the track over at DriveThruRPG.com and see if it is more your cup of tea than it is mine. In the end, while well priced and proficiently made, Pharaoh’s Tomb just didn’t work for me.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
RPG Background Loops MP3: Pharaoh's Tomb
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Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2014 09:41:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/03/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-generation-zer-
o/

As promised, Catalyst Game Labs has been releasing free Quick Start Rules for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG on a clockwork basis. Timeliness is a rare thing in the tabletop industry, but CGL has made it three for three so far, which is pretty impressive. This third PDF continues the trend of looking at the Harbinger Wars event from last year. However, this time the PDF puts you and your friends in the role of Generation Zero – who really hasn’t seen much attention since Harbinger Wars, save for Monica Jim, who was hanging with the Renegades over in Harbinger. Of course, all that is about to change with Armor Hunters, as they’re getting their own mini-series for the event! This means the Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero QSR is perfect for both curious tabletop gamers and longtime Valiant fans, as it gives you a timely chance to reacquaint yourself with characters who are going to get the limelight thrust on them very shortly.

Like the Bloodshot QSR supplement, the Generation Zero PDF does not contain the rules for playing Valiant Universe RPG – this is JUST the adventure and character sheets. If you want to play the game, you also need to download the Unity Quick Start Rules, as everything needed to play a game is in that PDF. Don’t worry – it’s free too. In fact, by this point you should have three free PDFs for Valiant Universe RPG (almost seventy pages of content), and CGL still isn’t done yet. It’s insanely awesome how much free content being given away for this game. Aside from Wizards of the Coast’s upcoming free release of Basic Dungeons & Dragons, this is the most free content I’ve seen released for a game ever. Anyway, make sure you definitely have the Unity QSR, because otherwise this PDF will just be something to read.

The Generation Zero PDF lets you play as four of the characters: The Telic, Little Castle, Animalia and Chronus. There are other members of the team, but they are not provided here statwise, either as PCs or NPCs. It’s also worth noting that previous PDFs contained fairly straightforward powers like Harada’s psychic blast or Bloodshot’s ability to regenerate. In this PDF we get some more esoteric abilities, like Chronus having D8 in leadership and Tactics or Tellic having d10 in Pattern Recognition. It will be interesting to see how players decide these powers will be used. Of course, the full core rulebook will define these for us, but in the meantime, less direct abilities like these and how they work will have to be determined by individual groups. For us, we had Chronus be able to give his Leadership die to an ally and his Tactics die to an enemy instead of the die they would normally roll. Tellic’s Pattern Recognition became the ability to declare what an antagonist was going to do on their next turn. Now, that doesn’t mean your game will use these powers the same way – it’s just how they played out for us. I’m very interested to see the different ways these abilities are used in everyone’s games and whether or not the core rulebook really will lock down powers with tighter definitions.

The adventure in this QSR is pretty different from previous ones. It cuts around a lot in Valiant continuity and even changes it a bit. For example, there’s no Bloodshot to be had in the escape from project Rising Spirit, and he’s the core reason that even happened. This is actually a good thing, because it shows CGL and Valiant are fine with not sticking to the canon script and letting PCs make their own Valiant Universe, and it also lets the adventure be streamlined and focused on the PCs. If Bloodshot was here as an NPC, he’d overshadow the PCs, and if he was playable, everyone would want to be him instead of a G0 kid simply because, well, he’s Bloodshot! This change in storyline really lets the focus be on the Generation Zero kids, which is where it needs to be.

There are four parts to the adventure, each with multiple scenes. Part one is the false promise of escape from Project Rising Spirit. Part two is the real thing. Depending how good your team is (remember everyone takes a turn at Narrating in Valiant Universe RPG), these events might seem a little too repetitive, so absolutely be willing to mix things up and keep them from being a straight dungeon crawl hack and slash type affair. Part three has the Generation Zero team taking over a Las Vegas casino and then defending it from covert ops and psion teams. Part four pits them against some generic Hard C.O.R.P.S. members and ends via an encounter with Toyo Harada… whose stats are not in this packet.

Overall, the Generation Zero QSR is well done, but I think it is the one gamers and Valiant fans will find the least interesting of the three so far. This is mainly because the characters aren’t as well known or defined as the “A-List” characters we’ve seen so far, and because the adventure is mostly running and fighting, but hey – it’s a super hero RPG, right? It’s obviously not going to be as “talky” as Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness games. I do think it was smart of CGL to highlight some lesser known characters, so that potential purchasers of the final Valiant Universe RPG product won’t feel like they have to play the big guns. The more unusual powers for these character will also either really intrigue or disappoint players, based on how creative they get with their potential usage. So while the Generation Zero QSR still has me personally excited for the eventual full release of Valiant Universe RPG, I think that this one isn’t going to be what some people are looking for. Still, it’s free and it’s definitely worth getting. Just remember that this one is going to play out different from the Unity and Bloodshot releases, so go in expecting some notable differences rather than something more formulaic.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero
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Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2014 07:18:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/06/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-bullets-bandages/

It’s about time DocWagon had the spotlight thrust on it, don’t you think. I’ve played a DocWagon character back in the FASA days of Shadowrun. He was a purely defensive character and the other players grew to love having the equivalent of a D&D cleric on the team. Heck, when my rabbit was sick for over a year with a mystery disease, someone over at Harebrained Schemes (creators of Shadowrun Returns), made him his own DocWagon Platinum card which is still really sweet. Now, we have a supplement for both Fourth and Fifth Edition entitled Bullets & Bandages which gives a modern take on a pure medic character. Everything old is new again!

I’m glad that Bullets & Bandages is designed for the two most recent versions of Shadowrun as it allows more of an audience to make use of this little supplement. Speaking of supplements, this is the first I can remember referred to as “Shadowrun Options.” Now what this means, is that everything in Bullets & Bandages, from the mechanics to the new abilities are NOT not considered official rules. This is a bit odd. Usually it’s third party releases for games that’s aren’t considered canon rules and the like for a system. This is the first I can think of where a first party publisher released something that it’s canon or official and I’m trying to figure out how and why this was released. After all the supplement clearly states, “They will not be used in official products, Missions, or allowed in tournament play.” This of course means you will never see or hear from this piece again making this a truly odd piece indeed since Shadowrun releases LOVE to cross-reference each other. Like I said, I can’t fathom why this was released if CGL is essentially saying, “Well, WE will never use it, but you can.” That really reduces the potential target market for B&B, but makes it no less interesting as a curiosity piece.

Bullets & Bandages starts off in the usual manner – with a piece of JackPoint fiction. You get a nice look at a “Welcome to DocWagon” speech by one David Hill. I found this amusing because of course, David Hill is a writer for multiple RPGs (best known for World of Darkness I would think) and has even contributed to Shadowrun in the past. I’m not sure if this was an intentional in-joke or just a happy coincidence, but there you go. Anyway, the speech takes a look at what a DocWagon employee must go through, and is interspersed with commentary from the runner community at JackPoint. The fiction piece is really well done and it’s a fantastic look at the AA Corp. It’s also been a long time coming.

The rest of the piece (from page 9 through Page 23) are all new mechanics. Fourteen pages of new mechanics just for medics does seem a bit odd and perhaps overdone, which may be why CGL made B&B completely optional. After all, Shadowrun does take the occasional flak for being too mechanics heavy as is. There’s no real reason to add a metric ton of new mechanics when the much lighter version of medicine and healing works just fine. I have to admit I personally wouldn’t some of the rules in this piece, as they are very pedantic, reeks of overkill and will definitely stymie newcomers who are probably overwhelmed by the amount of mechanics the Sixth World is filled with but there are some that might want to use these, so let’s take a look at them.

The mechanics half of B&B starts off with some fantastic advice on “Building a Medic Character.” You’ve given all sorts of suggestions, depending on what type of medic you want to make, what metahuman races work best and how to build a decent Awakened medic. Skills, Qualities and gear are also discussed with some detail. There is some great stuff to be had here and it’s certainly worth a read. The Qualities are sure to raise an eye – especially Pregnancy. I really liked the Skill Rating charts for Biotech and it was fun and interesting to see how different 4e and 5e are in this regard. It’s a great example of how different, and yet similar, the two editions are. This is followed up by a page of “Advanced Biotech Rules.” This page highlights the simple and complex actions your character can take via the Biotech skill. Short and sweet.

“Care Under Fire” makes up a huge part of the mechanics and it is here where the piece falls apart for me. It’s just too much rules and roll-playing over Role-Playing for me personally. The new (thankfully not canon) damage progression rules not only changes the game into constant dice rolling, but also kind of forces your team to have a Medic character on the squad or watch everyone die slowly and horribly. It really feels like trying to shove the idea of a medic character down the game’s throat to the point where people will view the idea with disdain. Generally when you try too hard to put something over, it causes the opposite effect that you were hoping for. It’s just too much dice rolling for every little medical nuance. For the most part these rules replace good old common sense and actually role-playing your characters. Instances where any other game would be, “Well, my character does this” and in turn act out or describe the actions being taken, are boiled down to a dice roll. In essence, it turns the game into D&D/Pathfinder skill checks and I’m not down with that. You shouldn’t have to roll a Cybertech + Logic extended test to freakin’ upgrade your medkit. That’s something that should be acted out and it’s certainly not something you need to roll for. I have to admit, by the time I was done with Bullets & Bandages I was very, VERY thankful these rules will never been seen again outside of this piece and some homebrew games I am not a part of.

After “Care Under Fire,” the piece goes back to being a pretty good. You have a whole host of new “Drugs, Toxins and Pathogens,” (Six, four and three respectively) which I’m sure you and your team will be able to find very creative uses for. There are also two new spells and three adept powers worth mentioning. Death Replay will be very helpful for any investigative type missions, although it might be a tad too powerful in that regard. Incision is obviously for medical uses, but there can be a sadistic side to it too, such as constantly opening and reopening cuts for abuse or torture. The new Adept Powers are Feign Illness, Feign Death and Transmit Damage. The latter two will find the most use in play. This is followed up by some new gear, armor and drones. That’s your supplement chummers.

Overall Bullets & Bandages is an interesting piece. Aside from “Care Under Fire”, the piece is really well done and thought out. A lot of the new mechanics won’t be of interest save to gamers whose sessions are more die-rolling than role-playing, but even then as nothing in this piece is canon or will be used in further supplements or any official products, it’s hard to recommend this piece, even at five dollars simply because it’s more a curiosity than anything else. That said, B&B does have some well written pieces outside of the mechanics part and it’s great to see medics and DocWagon getting some spotlight time. Aside from the one section I couldn’t stand, B&B is fine for those us who shy away from a 100% canon and metaplot oriented game. Just remember not to get too comfy with these ideas, rules or abilities outside your own game though, as if you play with someone else or go to a convention or a Shadowrun Missions, you won’t be able to use these and perhaps even your character. Overall, the good outweighs the bad here and it’s always nice to have more options.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
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