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Heroes Weekly, Vol 4, Issue #11, Unstoppable
Heroes Weekly, Vol 4, Issue #11, Unstoppable
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Monster Focus: Mummies
Publisher: Minotaur Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/23/2013 06:56:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/23/tabletop-review-monster-
-focus-mummies-pathfinder/

I love Mummies. From the most recent New World of Darkness setting, Mummy: The Curse, to the occasional antagonist in Call of Cthulhu down to Ankhtepot, a Darklord of Ravenloft, mummies are some fo the coolest and most underutilized undead in tabletop gaming – mainly because most GMs and writers don’t know what to do with them aside from the occasional curse or bad horror motif. Minotaur Games appears to feel the same way as I do as their latest Monster Focus release attempts to breathe new life into Mummies – at least via the Pathfinder setting. Does it succeed? Let’s take a look.

First up – although the PDF is six pages long, one and a half pages are devoted to the cover and the license agreement, knocking the actual content count down to four and a half. It’s not much but it’s more than has been written on Pathfinder or OGL mummies in eons. I can’t say I’m a fan of the art in this piece. It’s better than I personally can do, but it’s not what I’d expect to see in a published professional release, you know?

Unfortunately, Monster Focus: Mummies doesn’t actually do anything to reinvent the wheel. They stick hard and fast to the tropes of fantasy gaming mummies that we’ve seen since early Dungeons & Dragons. So for those of you looking perhaps to have a more historically accurate mummy in your Pathfinder game or at least one that doesn’t curse PCs and wither them via Mummy Rot, you won’t find it here. What you will find are odds and ends to beef up your PCs AGAINST mummy antagonists as well as vice versa. I applaud the latter but jeer the former. Like we need even more ways for PCs to have a specific advantage over a niche creature. This supplement includes the following:

•A DC for Knowledge (Religion) check and what a PC might know about the bandaged dead.


•Four new feats – none of which are that exciting. One adds to a slam attack (which most Mummies don’t use anyway). Another gives Curse Resistance, which is better suited to PCs than Mummies (who cast curses) and something I dislike seeing. Why give a PC a specific feat that is only useful against Mummies and Vistani really? This is space that could have been used to make the Mummy more interesting rather than limit its threat and mystique when PCs encounter it. A third increases the intensity of Mummy Rot (which has been done before as far back as Third Edition D&D) and the other is Ward Off, which allows you to repel someone ala Turn Undead (fleeing rather than destroying). This last one again doesn’t make sense to have in a book for mummies and it also dilutes the Cleric’s trademark ability, which is a red flag and shouldn’t have been included. Nothing especially interesting or even good here.


•Five Alchemical Items. These are more interesting and really well done – especially in comparison to the Feats. Embalming Oil is a nice touch, as are Sacred Salts. Flaming Oil already existed so it was not needed here and although I’ve seen variants of the Censer and Incense, the write-ups are well done and will be useful to those who haven’t seen similar pieces in other supplements.


• Five new Spells. These are all quite interesting. Curse Charm is a Level 2 spell to give a PC a second roll when making a Saving Throw vs Curses. Again, not something I wanted to see as Curses are so rarely used as it is and it’s again a way to make PCs resist one of the few things that makes Mummies “special” in fantasy hack and slash gaming. It’s also lower leveled than I would like to see. I’d make it third level as an alternative to Remove Curse or a replacement for it altogether. Mummify is just weird and the name doesn’t fit the spell. It basically causes a long bandage to grapple and somehow dehydrate it chosen enemy. Sandblast is the most balanced spell of the lot, giving the caste an unexpected ranged attack that players (and NPCs) probably won’t expect. Since it does damage, blinding and pushes an enemy back with a failed save, I’d bump it up from a 2nd level spell to a 3rd level one. Scarab Swarm is Summon Swarm but with beetles and Wall of Sand is interesting and it basically an alternative to Wall of Wind. Thumbs in the middle here.


•Four new Magic Items – none of which are very interesting. Canopic Jars aren’t actually well, Canopic Jars as they are meant to be, but a portable Summon Swarm spell. Meh. There are already multiple cat versions of Figurines of Wondrous Power, so we didn’t really need a Basalt Cat as well. Mummy Charm is yet another thing in this PDF to give PCs crazy bonuses against curses and mummy rot so I shake my head at that. It also makes no sense why a there would be group from the time of mummies that would make something to inhibit their power. You didn’t see the Norse making Anti-Odin devices or Celts coming up with anti-Jesus devices. Finally we have the Scepter of the Ancients which…is a +1 Club that uses the Wall of Sand spell. I do at least like the Scepter’s ability to create a sand version of Ice Storm though. That shows some imagination.


•Three different traps for a Mummy’s tomb! Okay, I loved this. New traps are always fun and having some Mummy-centric ones is a great idea. All three definitely feel like they were ripped straight from a 1940s Universal horror film. One buries the PC alive in crushing sand. Another fills a room with flesh eating scarabs and the third are mechanics for the usual Mummy’s Curse regarding taking objects from a tomb.


•Three mummy variants. The ideas aren’t my cup of tea, but honestly, variants are really what the mummy needs (especially in Pathfinder) but these well…aren’t them. There’s not enough detail and the ideas simply aren’t very good. The Decrepit Mummy is simply a much weaker mummy. Yawn. The Mummy Priest is a weird throwback to AD&D 2nd Edition where it doesn’t actually have priest levels but a few spells. Unfortunately the OGL has had a true Mummy Priest variant since Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Just given a Mummy Priest levels ala Ravenloft. The last is the Shifting Mummy which is simply a Mummy that can turn into something else, say a swarm of scarabs. This too has been done before and could simply be done through a spell, so this isn’t really a variant, but a Spell Like Ability or something that would have been better off as a Feat.


•Three Adventure Threads. None of these are really out of the ordinary as they stick pretty close to the tropes Mummies have in a D&D style fantasy game. One involves a stolen artifact from a Mummy’s tomb and the curse it brings. Another has artifacts being stolen from various homes that turn out to be originally plundered from a Mummy’s tomb, so pretty close to the first seed. The final has a horde of mummies attacking a town for reasons that actually make sense to them instead of for EEEEVIL deeds. Now, playing to the classical mummy adventure is neither bad nor good. Sometimes the classics are classics for a reason. All three of these would make perfectly fine adventures, especially for younger gamers or those less familiar with mummies and/or role-playing. For those looking for something outside the box though, you won’t find it here.

All in all, this isn’t a bad PDF, but it’s not necessarily a good one either. There are some really fun ideas mixed in with really bad ones and so overall I’d call it an okay PDF. The problem is those who enjoy mummies in their OGL style system have probably found similar but better options and variants already. I think with more space to flesh out ideas and more of a focus on the monster rather than the PCs (especially in a series called Monster Focus), this would have potential. For now most mummy fans won’t find anything especially compelling in this piece to pick it up and most non-mummy fans won’t care enough to get it anyway.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Focus: Mummies
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Ultimate Roman Legions Guide (Legend)
Publisher: Mystical Throne Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2013 06:39:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/22/tabletop-review-ultimat-
e-roman-legions-guide-legend/

This sourcebook is an historical compendium of information on the famous Roman armies during the height of their military power, roughly 30 BCE to about 290 CE. This version of the book is for Legend, a fantasy role=playing game from Mongoose Publishing based on RuneQuest. I am not familiar with Legend, but I thought I would take a look at this book anyway and see what it had to offer.

The Might of the Legions

While I have studied the Roman Empire in its later periods, I don’t know a lot about the age of military might and expansion that this volume covers. This is perhaps the period Rome is most famous for though, and the book seems to be pretty comprehensive and written from an authoritative and knowledgeable position. It starts off with a bit of flavor, a few pages of story to give the reader a feeling for the period and attitudes of the army. After some historical information, the book drops a list of gear consisting of weapons, armor, and siege weapons. Following that, details about the structure of the legion from ranks to unit organization are laid out with their Latin terms and meanings, along with a listing of known standing legions from the time.

Next up is an interesting and concise tactical guide detailing how the units would be arranged on the battlefield and their basic tactics. This sections has some nice diagrams letting the reader know how things were expected to progress, and what the physical arrangement might typically be when facing armies such as the Germanic tribes. A short section on life in the Roman legions gives the reader insight into what the typical soldier did and how they were seen in society. Along with these tidbits are sections on the structure of the transportation infrastructure, the menagerie of people that made up or followed the army around, political uses of the army, and then information on various emperors during the time period this book covers.



Playing Centurion

The last twenty or so pages of the book get to some stats, characters, and adventure seeds. This is the only portion of the book that is not purely historical information. You get a big list of character professions, some pre-generated characters, and some statted-out NPCs. After that, you have two adventures sketched out in a nice format, with names of pertinent people, the plot, etc. The first one involves investigating a senator for occult behavior,and the second one is a scouting mission where the players may have to make some tough moral choices when they contact barbarian tribes.

This is a well-presented volume and has a lot of concise information about the Roman armies during this period. The material is quite dry and has a textbook feel, but it does deliver the facts. There are full-page illustrations interspersed throughout, and there are some nice visual aids which are nice and colorful to appeal to people like me (I suppose). I think any game master looking to run a game or campaign in Roman times would find this quite useful and especially folks who may not be familiar with this historical period may enjoy the overview given of the troops, emperors, and major battles that occurred. This book does seem to focus on the conflicts with the Germanic tribes and seems to wholly ignore other forces that Rome’s legions faced such as the Sassanids, but this is not a definitive historical tome, it’s a game book. If you’re looking for a quick but thorough reference for your Roman history needs, this seems like a great book to pick up. It’s pretty cheap, and it can help you add authentic flavor to your game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Roman Legions Guide (Legend)
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Autorun -Generic Cyber-Hacking for D20 Modern
Publisher: Skortched Urf' Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/20/2013 06:50:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/20/tabletop-review-autorun-
-generic-cyber-hacking-for-d20-modern/

I have a confession to make: I don’t play enough cyberpunk games. Still, I am familiar with the whole issue of one player (the “decker” generally) entering the realm of cyberspace while the rest of the party does something else. Split the party, split the game master’s attention, make it easier to lose track of stuff. Got it, I see the problem. What Autorun is trying to do is to help solve or minimize the issues that this causes at the table, by essentially introducing a mini-game that the decker(s) can play while everyone else is doing their stuff they need to do.

Plug In

The introductory material for this sourcebook indicates that it can be used with systems like D20 Modern or Pathfinder (Pathfinder…?), but of course, it can be hacked to work with anything. The only real stats have to do with the various anti-hacker programs and decker equipment that use Difficulty Class (“DC”), the rest is just conceptual. The book also makes some presumptions, like that I would be playing a game where players wait for turns, that I would be using tactical maps or battle mats, and it generally assumes a sort of typical Pathfinder play experience.

Setting up a hacking event with Autorun is pretty easy, there’s a one-page 8.5×11 hex map to print out that represents the virtual space. After that gets put out, some sort of marker is physically thrown onto the map to represent “code walls”, spaces the hacker can’t pass through. Then, depending on how strong the computer security is, a number of programs are placed on the Goal space of the mat, and the hacker is placed on the Home space on the other end. Basically, the hacker has to get through the code walls and malicious programs to reach the Goal space.

Ride the Wave of Computer Use Checks

When a hacker is trying to gain entry to the virtual space, and when the hacker wants to do various things inside the space like kill, evade, or subvert programs, he or she is going to need to make lots of checks against Computer Use, or whatever skill is analogous to that in the game that is being played. Programs move automatically toward the hacker in the most direct possible way, so he or she will likely end up having to tangle with them. The book provides lots of possible programs to run against the hacker, from the lowly and weak Basic Gremlin to the Dracula program; each one takes up a certain amount of slots, which are the available space of the computer system to host programs. When the player has programs in a hex next to them, they are going to suffer damage. This sounds a bit arbitrary to me, but whatever. As mentioned, players can try to either kill, subvert (so that the program attacks other programs), or evade the programs around them. Each time, they will need to roll Computer Use.

Once a hacker reaches the Goal space, that’s it! Balloons fall from the ceiling, prizes are won and the hacker achieves whatever they were trying to do inside the system.

Autorun seems geared toward a certain play style, but I think it’s definitely a neat idea. It’s certainly a quick, tactical game within a game. It has shortcomings, like the fact that it’s very two-dimensional when a lot of the cyberpunk fiction we read talks about flying in virtual space or doing other crazy stunts (like things we see in The Matrix). The hacker is more like a running-back trying to score a touchdown than a traveler of the virtual world or a distinct presence and personality in the realm of cyberspace. Speaking of distinct presence, one of the cool aspects about it is that you can (and are encouraged to) use figurines to represent your avatar, so your virtual representation can be any awesome figure you have lying around. I like that.

My nigglings are a bit beside the point, since the book is meant to simulate a specific function: the decker hacking a computer system for a specific goal. It might also be fun to use the cyber-map when playing out encounters in virtual space, like the Black Sun club in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The author offers several twists and optional rules for the mini-game as well, such as additional obstacles, bigger maps, or Sys-Admins who take you on personally. There are also lists of gear, hacker abilities, and decks. All in all, a good supplement with lots of neat ideas and a nice full-color board you can print out for play.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Autorun -Generic Cyber-Hacking for D20 Modern
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The Giant - A Dungeon World Playbook
Publisher: Adrian Thoen
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2013 05:51:43
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/17/tabletop-review-the-gia-
nt-a-dungeon-world-playbook/

DHGF: I recently played Dungeon World, a fantasy re-skin of Apocalypse World by Vincent Baker. There are some things I like about it, but I have to say it does feel a bit like 4th ed. Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe it was the scenario we played. The idea of “playbooks” is cool, as it makes character generation a breeze, and playing the game with a playbook in front of you makes it easy for you to access your moves and see what’s possible. In this review, I’m looking at a playbook for a giant. Not an “official” one, but a fan-made one.

Physical Characteristics

In general, the Giant is just like other characters – no big bonuses to strength or anything you might expect (there’s an explanation for this: the strength stat represents the Giant’s control over his might). However, there is a side effect to Giant strength: your “Larger Than Life” move gives you two successes AND two consequences when you succeed in it. So what can end up happening is you smash something and send something else across the room, but at the same time you can hurt somebody you didn’t mean to, and maybe even hurt yourself.

You can choose how big of a giant you are, and you can also choose your natural heritage. Essentially you can be at home among the forest, the hills, the snowy mountains, or you can be a bridge troll. Yep, somehow one of the Giant heritages can be of a bridge troll. With your heritage you get some special abilities that are magical in nature. For instance, as a “Jotun” you can freeze water and cool fire; as a “Treekin” you can make plants grow immediately to a huge size.

When You Grow Up

Your main move is the aforementioned “Larger Than Life”, but you’ve also got starting moves with magic, camouflage, eating, and throwing stuff. Advanced moves include “Gentle”, which can take consequences off of your “Larger Than Life” move; moves related to controlling your pet (there are pets?); “Mixed Heritage” allows you to choose another of the four heritages; you can even get “Colossus” that allows you to possibly smash a building when you succeed in your “Larger Than Life” roll. A lot of these advanced moves are really cool and powerful!

So, would I want to play the Giant? Absolutely. I don’t know about a dungeon crawl, but if there is going to be a lot of outdoor activity I would definitely like to use this playbook. This would be a great one to keep around for a cameo appearance every so often by the token Giant character. I mean, if one player is always a Giant the party might get a little overpowered, so I think pulling it out every so often makes more sense.

This is a good playbook, it’s thoughtful and has lots of influence from myths, legend, and standard fantasy. The Giant has the chance to be overpowered, but his or her main move is counterbalanced by the addition of consequences for everything the Giant does. I worry a bit about the “Gentle” advanced move which can completely remove the consequences from “Larger Than Life”, which in my view possibly makes the Giant lose its gameplay balance. I can see a player angling for that move and then just going nuts. Still, I think this playbook is well done and can provide a lot of fun at your table. The $2.50 price point seems a bit high, but if you’re not worried about cash then check it out!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Giant - A Dungeon World Playbook
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Hobb Sized Adventures!
Publisher: Rarr! I'm A Monster Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2013 05:48:17
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/16/tabletop-review-hobb-si-
zed-adventures-tunnels-trolls-7-5/


Being a big fan of solo adventures, I seized the opportunity to review this set of six adventures, all of them very short. Designed for use with Tunnels & Trolls 7.5, which I actually am not very familiar with, these adventures range from the slightly serious to the overtly silly. I’d say all of them could be played in less than twenty minutes (twenty minutes each, I mean). Did I enjoy them? Let’s go through each adventure and I’ll give my thoughts.

Tomb of the Toad

This is a very short adventure, probably doable in five minutes. You are chased into an old, slimy tomb, and you may or may not run into its primary inhabitant for a boss fight. You have a few rooms to explore, but you’re pretty much railroaded into either meeting the big guy or running away. The linear nature didn’t really bother me, it was kind of fun just to have an adventure that felt like a small slice of a larger adventure. What is also really nice is that the adventure is narratively bookended by the main character (you) being chased by a big, nasty monster, so there is this feeling of continuity that is intriguing (as opposed to the standard adventure ending of “You Win! The End”).

Duck Soup

This is one of the sillier ones. An old woman harasses you into going and getting a “duck” from the pond for dinner. This one I enjoyed the least, since it involved wandering around a pointless and unnecessary maze-like edge of some village, retreading the few entries again and again until I somehow hit the right road to the pond. There are a few humorous twists that I appreciated though, and the in-game humour written into the characters of the story was also really fun.

The Challenge of the King

Oh sweet Xenu, this one was pretty funny. Damn annoying, but funny. You have been randomly chosen to be wed to the King’s “daughter” (notice now two subjects of the story in quotes?), but first you must pass his test. This involves being pushed through a portal into a strange series of rooms entered and left by other portals. Inside each room is a nasty surprise like a monster or trap but also treasure. Fun for the whole family, really. Several endings are “happy,” and some are actually happy. This adventure is notable for its extensive use of tables and randomness.

Tower in the Marsh

This enigmatic adventure is a bit more sober, beginning with an adventurer finding a strange tower. Again, the adventurer is being chased by some nameless monster and must get inside. Inside, there are some creeps and scares, and some strange goings-on. One way or another, you’ll find your way out (possibly into another story). I liked this one, the tower had an air of mystery around it that I enjoyed and that made me want to explore more. The endings were funny and/or as wistful and mysterious as the rest of the adventure. Again, feeling like I had just played a few minutes in an adventurer’s shoes was cool.

The Harvest of Souls

This is a horror-themed adventure about being persuaded by a frightened farmer to go and confront an evil pumpkin-gourd-vine demon that lives in the pumpkin patch. Another of the more serious adventures, this one can take some time to read since a lot of the entries are quite long and full of dialogue and narrative. I found it to be less snappy and interesting than the others, essentially consisting of combat and another maze to stumble through. A bit like playing through a short young adult story a la Goosebumps or something.

Beware, the Viper!

This is perhaps the shortest adventure of the bunch, and probably the silliest. I won’t ruin the punchline for you, but in this context I thought it was pretty funny. I can just imagine Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone turning the concept into a whole 400-entry book and at the last paragraph…the joke. Ah, I would die.

Overall, I found this to be a fun exercise in solo adventuring. The author has done a good job with different takes on short solo adventures, using different techniques in each one for various effects. The silliness and jokes are generally well-done, and in the end the stories feel like tales that villagers tell each other around a campfire or in the tavern. The adventures have recurring characters and places, and it starts to feel like a little world-building has gone on here. It’s nice.

I dunno, I feel like I should deride these adventures for being anti-grandiose but I really like them. They feel very “slice of life” to me and not stressful or overwhelming. The production value isn’t bad (it’s not great), and the propensity to substitute “to” for “two” is a bit unsettling, but there were no glaring errors that ruined the play of the adventures, and I think that’s what really matters here. For under four bucks, I think they are definitely worth a read and a laugh. Play through them when you have a few minutes, bring them on a plane or bus ride, whatever. I should also mention the artwork by a Jon Towers, which adorns the cover, but I think just clipart was used for the images in the adventures. If you like this book and want more adventures, check out the website at Hobb-Sized Adventures. I enjoy and endorse this style of adventure, and I hope to see more of them in the future.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hobb Sized Adventures!
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Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2013 05:44:21
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/15/tabletop-review-hideous-
-creatures-deep-ones-trail-of-cthulhu/

I’m not really a big Trail of Cthulhu fan, preferring Call, Age, Shadows, Realms, CthulhuTech, and even the late lamented Chill over it. Still, sometimes Pelgrane puts out a piece for it that intrigues me enough to pick it up. In this case, it was Ken Hite’s Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones, a way to spice up everyone’s favorite fish people and keep Keepers from rehashing the same old plot. If you’ve read my Call of Cthulhu reviews, you’ve no doubt noticed my annoyance with many a collection that uses Deep Ones in an adventure only to have the story be a retread of The Shadow Over Innsmouth or “Oh no! Character X is actually a Deep One hybrid!” Perhaps the worst of these was Arkham Case Files: Deep Morgue which shows how badly Deep Ones are used these days. So I was quite curious to see Ken’s ideas and if they had universal application.

Well this piece is a mixed one. I thoroughly agree with him that, “Almost a century after he wrote, his own monstrous races have likewise begun to seem like comfortable story furniture rather than unnerving signals that the world is horrible and wrong.” But the quality of Ken’s own ideas are hit or miss at best and some are pretty much just rehashes of each other, meaning there wasn’t enough actual content to fill the full ten pages or this is indicative of a larger problem – that Cthulhu tabletop games need some fresh blood.

I do love that the very first page of Hideous Creatures implores you to change anything and everything about it. The piece is very humble that these ideas are not the be all and end all of creativity, nor is it a blanket savior for this Lovecraft penned race. It’s merely stuff thrown against a wall and Keepers get to decide what sticks. I like that.

At first I was a little weirded out by his idea of making Deep Ones dolphin or whale based because those are mammals and Deep Ones are fish. I first read this late at night and was like, “Does the dude not know his taxonomy?” Then when I read it with fresh eyes the next morning, I liked the ideas a lot better. A change like that is still thematically correct because it’s a half man/half aquatic creature and it will thrown off long time jaded Cthulhu gamers. As well, for those gamers that nitpick every bit of Science Fiction or horror, a mammal/mammal hybrid makes more sense than a mammal/fish. He also includes some ideas like turtles and alligators as possible Deep Ones variants. I’m surprised he didn’t try for strange and unusual fish types those. Imagine an Anglerfish Deep One, or even a Dunkleosteus. I think more people would have been receptive to fish variants than going from fish to mammal or reptile.

There’s also a section giving varying reasons that may be why Deep Ones interact and breed with human. Again, none of these ideas are given more weight than any other and it’s up to the Keeper to decide if he likes one, wants to combine several, or thinks they are all stupid. There is a similar section for back story and race history for Keepers who want to flesh the race out a little more and try and understand the motivation behind why Deep Ones do what they do. Again, the ideas are hit or miss. It’s definitely a piece that promotes a quantity of ideas, but not at the sake of quality. It’s just no two people are going to look at a list of possible ideas and rank them all in the same exact order from best to worst.

The only Trail of Cthulhu specific aspects of the piece are the stat builds, the list of optional powers to give Deep Ones for that system, and clues that can be garnered via various skills that players may possess. A good Keeper can easily convert these ideas to their own system of choice however.

The only part I was disappointed with was the “Mythic Echoes,” which is sad because it was the section I was most interested in as a folklorist myself. I loved that the piece gives eight different fish style people from legend and tries to blend them with the Deep Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s a great idea I’ve seen done elsewhere and it’s something I myself have used in games. The problem is that the descriptions of many of the folklore creatures are incomplete at best and outright erroneous at worst. It’s decent enough that the average gamer, who up until know was unaware of these mythological creatures, will find what’s written here interesting and something to run with, but the more mythological oriented gamer will either nitpick or become annoyed with the lack of quality here. Personally, I think it’s about as good a job as one could do if you had to fill a page with eight different myths from around the world while using a larger than normal font and you only had a few minutes and Google to help you out. Could it have been better? DEFINITELY. Is it good enough for government work or a little primer on how to freshen up a stale gaming trope? Sure it is.

The piece ends with four story seeds that are, again, hit or miss. “The Shadow over Dunwich” was interesting but it really should have named the town something other than a familiar Lovecraft location. It’s NOT the Dunwich of New England and the retreading of the town’s name like that is somewhat ironic considering this is meant to be a primer for looking at something else penned by Lovecraft with fresh eyes instead of going to the well again. “1939 Goes Down in History” is interesting in theory but it will take a Keeper a lot of time and energy to fully flesh this seed out. “Night of the Living Fossil” is another good idea, but I think it would have benefitted from being a fully fleshed out adventure as many there are so many plot lines that some Keepers will turn this into a train wreck rather than an enjoyable or memorable affair. “Down and Out in Marine Land” is just…not good. Let’s leave it at that.

All in all, Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones is neither a success nor a failure. It’s a good starting point for Cthulhu gamers from all systems to come together and really start to get creative with their adventure ideas instead of relying on the same old underpinnings and plot points. Mileage will vary on what you take away from this piece because of who you are, how you game and most importantly, how you view the Deep One race. I can’t say there is anything here that is new to me or that opened my eyes, but less experienced Cthulhu gamers might view this as a breath of fresh air. I think this could have been even better with more content and it had not been part of a new monthly subscription piece. Time and space constraints really limited what this COULD have been.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones
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License to Summon
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2013 07:21:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/09/tabletop-review-the-lau-
ndry-license-to-summon/

This book is a supplement for The Laundry, a role-playing game about a top secret British governmental organization that deals with the paranormal and the occult. Since this book is mainly a reference for magic, the review will not be as in-depth.

So uh…What do you want to cast?

The first section of the book deals with “computational demonology”, which is basically the department term for spell-casting. Sometimes spells are cast with old-fashioned chanting and ritual etc., but sometimes all you need is an app on your mobile device and a few accessories. This section is very thorough, going through all of these different types of magic and adding a few spells in each one. For instance, you have “entropy manipulation” which can be used to control physics like light and unstable particles; Gates for movement between dimensions; Prognostication and Scrying; and of course summoning. These are just a few examples of magic types described in this chapter. Each type of magic details how it is used, who has access to it, some spells, and mechanisms governing in-game use. In addition, there are sub-headings covering magic used in the traditional way, through macros, mass-produced spells, and just every way in which magic might end up in the mind and hands of a potential sorcerer.



The next section is really fun, it’s about gadgets. I got a distinct feeling of reading through some Paranoia manual or something with all the strange and humorous (yet well-rationalized) pieces of equipment available to Laundry agents. Right off the bat you have your Anti-Zombie Spray, which creates a line that zombies will not cross or which can be used to simply spray them in the face. You also have a “Miscalculator” which disrupts the use of magic nearby, since magic (and reality) is highly dependent on very precise mathematics. Want something really useful? You might need “Sans-Sans-Serif”, a font that has been engineered to be especially conducive to magical energies. Ahem, I quote: “…digital spells written in sans-sans-serif will be more powerful…” Occult departments in other nations may have items that are more traditional and less engineered. For instance, the Russians may have Rasputin’s Tea, and the Chinese a Fire Vampire Grenade. Yes, a Fire Vampire Grenade, which essentially summons a fire vampire on the spot where it lands. I don’t think I could make half of these up if I were given a room of highly imaginative children and a crate of Jolt.

Dreamers and Psychics

Bookending a chapter on grimoires are chapters on two entities existing in the world of The Laundry: “The Morpheo” and psychics. The Morpheo are a special division of the department that carries out missions in the Dreamlands(!). I think this is really awesome and only opens up the already crazy world of the game to the even crazier possibility of adventuring within that paranormal realm. The chapter on psychics is as you might expect, you’ve got ones that can read the future, kinetics, aura sensors, mind readers, and the like. A short chapter, but since a psychic is a pretty familiar idea to people, I am not surprised that it didn’t take pages to expound on it.



Some other sections talk about magical research and the dangers that those who use magic may be subject to. The first is called “Faustian Research” and, as the name may imply, is about making contact with anything from demons to Great Old Ones in an effort to gain some understanding or eldritch technology. Needless to say, consorting with the extra-dimensional is a tricky business. The second section on magical dangers discusses “Thaumic Resonance”, the idea that magic leaves a sort of residual radiation on those who are exposed to it, and if it builds up in your system it can really make some weird (and dangerous) stuff start to happen. One of the great things about this chapter is the scale of “Resonance Poisoning”; basically what happens to someone who has been exposed to magic in non-insubstantial amounts. It might start with animals acting strangely around you at level one, and at level five you might experience a gate opening when you get agitated.

An Adventure and then Thoughts

At the end of this book there is an adventure, “Case Goblin Willow”, that is about the fascinating topic of stealing ideas from the dead. Yet another wonderful moment of reading in this book when I pondered how insane yet totally rational the idea sounds in the context of this game world. Undead are no big deal where Laundry is concerned, they use zombies for filing. When someone disturbs the graveyard of one of the Laundry’s key burial sites containing the bodies of several powerful wizards, they know that a corpse or a soul can be contacted for department secrets and alarm bells go a-ringing.

Overall, this book expands on magic in many excellent ways: spells, explanations, magic items, magic organizations, and magic effects are all laid out thoroughly and in a most entertaining fashion. There are some typos about, either translated letters or in one case a footnote number that had not been put in superscript. Nothing major, and the layout and art are all top-notch. If you are a fan of The Laundry I would definitely recommend this book because it just fleshes out the magic in a really nice way. Beware though, the tone of this book leans toward the absurd, and while I found the humorous possibilities well worth considering when I imagined characters requisitioning some of the items, I could see where a more serious table would think a lot of the items were just fluff.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
License to Summon
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Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2013 09:21:50
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/02/tabletop-review-codex-c-
eltarum-castles-crusades/

I’m always happy to see new Castles & Crusades books come out, as it’s my favorite OSR system. I’ve also really been enjoying their Celt influenced line of products like The Goblins of Mount Shadow and The Crimson Pact, so I was really looking forward to the Codex Celtarum. especially after how successful the Kickstarter for this book was.

The Codex Celtarum contains a little bit of everything you could want for a Celtic-influenced campaign. I should point out that the Celtarum is not a source book for 100% accurate real world Celtic mythology, folklore and culture. It’s an adaptatiom of Celtic culture for the Castles & Crusades setting. There had to be some give and take which the author, who has a Masters in Arthurian Studies realized full well. The end result is one that should please fans of Celtic myth and role players used to generic high fantasy settings alike. The Codex Celtarum is something that every Castles & Crusades fan should be able to enjoy and appreciate, even if they don’t actually use it in their game.

There are eight sections in the book (Not counting the prologue). They are as follows:

1. Once Upon a Time – this covers the World creation and general overall mythology of the setting. The author has done his best to strip away the Christian influence of these beliefs and stories, which is not an easy task mind you, considering how intertwined they have been for the last two thousand years. He does a great job though and you get a more “pure” look at the Celtic world for a purely high fantasy setting that doesn’t have the same religious trappings as our own. You get a nice look at various races, historical events like the Darkwars and so on, along with the snap shot of how the world is in present day. By that I mean the game world’s present day, not our own.

2. In Lands Far Away – This is a general historical chapter. Here you see things like the Two Cauldrons (Night & Day), the Twelve Houses (families of Gods), information on Faerie portals and how time differs in their world, and locations that players will visit and/or travel to in their adventurers. This is the primary geographical explanation of the world and the races/people who inhabit the specific islands and regions talked about. It would have been nice to have a few maps (or even one!) in this chapter so that DMs could better visualize the locations, but since so much of it involved the Fae’s world, that is probably easier said than done.

3. There Lived a People – this chapter gives you stats for various Faerie races and monsters you will encounter while playing in this setting. It also gives some charts of Fae weaknesses, traits and typical punishments they hand out. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that this chapter didn’t include rules for playing some of these unique creatures as a PC, but it is what it is. The chapter ends with a history of Welsh Giants and gives out their specific locations, which is kind of neat but perhaps a wee bit too specific for the average DM.

4. Great of Magic and Power – The world of Faerie is exceptionally magical, with everything from a blade of grass to a steel sword containing some measure of magic power. Now whether said items retains its magic outside of the land of Faerie is another story. This chapter explains the different between a Fae’s spell-like abilities ad actual spells themselves, along with the mechanics and rules for both. As Castles & Crusades is a rules-light system, you don’t have to worry about memorizing too much. You get lots of charts to help with making NPC Fae on the fly. You can choose from general charts, or ones geared towards a specific race. You also get lists of new Cleric, Druid and Illusionist spells. As you can probably surmise, the bulk of spells in this chapter are Druidic ones.

5. Strong of Feats and Deeds – This chapter gives you information about Celtic warfare and reasons for it. I love that the book has an entire section on magical tattoos and body paint, for example. This thing is so highly detailed, you can’t help but be impressed. There is a list of twenty Feats that characters can learn. But these aren’t exactly what you think of from 3E D&D or Pathfinder. These Feats are learned in-game, by role-playing rather than leveling up. It’s a very interesting way of implementing them, and although I really like the idea of earning something through role-playing, some gamers might be too used to gaining things through leveling up to enjoy this.

6. With Great Gods and Lords – This chapter is all about the deities of the Celtic world. You don’t get any stats here, which is a smart thing because otherwise you’d have some power gamers running around trying to kill gods. You are told the relationship between the Gods and both Clerics and Druids. There is a distinction, after all.

7. Who have Mighty Names and Feats – this is the closest the Codex Celtarum comes to being mechanics heavy. This chapter is primarily for the Castle Keeper (DM), but PCs should read it too as it has some good role-playing commentary. The chapter primarily frames character classes in a Celtic lens. It points out the hardship of making a Monk, Cleric or Paladin work in a Celtic/Fairie world, which is interesting. You also get some new Classes, which is what I was most interested in. There is the Woodwose clan, which are the “savage” men of the wilderness, who are also known as Wildmen. Wildmen are a bit of a Ranger/Rogue/Druid mashup with abilities like Know Poisons, Forestwise and Sylvan Leap. These are some powerful abilities and with d8 Hit Points, the ability to use any weapons or armor and very low XP thresholds to level up, the Woodwose is a bit overpowered in my opinion.

Another class is the Wolf Charmer, which is kind of a Bard/Ranger hybrid. A Wolf Charmer is a dual class only profession and only of a neutral or evil alignment. Basically they can summon and control wolves and then at 5th level, lycanthropes as well. Holy crap, now that’s overpowered. My only real complaint about the book is that the two new classes are unbalanced, and that some tweaking should have been done here. The rest of the chapter is about adventure seeds and Celtic sounding naes so your character will better fit with the setting.

8. Items, Enchanted and Divine – the last chapter in the Codex Celtarum is all about magical items, with special attention paid to the concept of Faerie metal. Forsome reason though, the chapter also includes the language and history of Druids as well as information of societies. I’m not sure why these bits got shoehorned here as they absolutely should have been in chapters two or three. Their inclusion at the end just really destroys the flow of the book. Last I checked, things like Holidays and Customs are not “Items, Enchanted and Divine,” you know?

Aside from a few minor quibbles, the Codex Celtarum is simply an amazing book. It’s not just one of the best Castles & Crusades sourcebooks ever, but it’s something that ANY fantasy game setting can pick up and use/adapt, especially if they are looking for a Celtic flair for their homebrew world and stories. There is so little in the way of mechanics, that you won’t ever have to do that much converting, especially if you already use an OSR system. As usual, the new Celtic content line for Castles & Crusades continues to impress.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
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Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2013 07:00:46
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/03/18/tabletop-review-werewol-
f-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition-world-of-darkness/-


I’ll admit, Werewolf was not my go-to game back in the 1990s. Storyteller-wise I preferred it to Wraith and Changeling, but I didn’t like it as much as either Vampire or Mage. Part of it was I found it a bit too depressing and on the nose regarding how badly humanity has screwed up the planet or allowed corporations to run wild in such a manner that Teddy Roosevelt would have had a conniption fit had he been alive to see it. It also didn’t help that I and other gamers that I knew were more interested in playing Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, V:TM, Chill, D&D and more. Werewolf: The Apocalypse became a franchise I read but rarely got to play, although I have a small collection of First Edition books still in my possession. Rage had the same problem. I knew a whopping one other person interested in trying it. At the time Mythos, Magic, Illuminati, Jyhad, and even the Monty Python and the Holy Grail card game had a bigger audience. Poor Werewolf. I wanted to do so much with it, but I ended up mainly using them as NPCs in other White Wolf games. Chief of which was The Hunter In Darkness, who was a pure breed Black Spiral Dancer metis who ended up being “saved” as a cub by our coterie of Kindred before he could be embraced by the Wyrm… which led to a lot of Garou incursions on our fair city trying to rescue what appeared to be the last of the White Howlers from minions of the Wyrm. However, twenty one years later we have the internet. You can play by email, play by post and even play Skype based games for any system under the sun. So you’re not stuck only playing the RPGs those in your local vicinity that share your interest want to play. Perhaps if the Internet had been more widespread in the early 90s, I’d have had a chance to really immerse myself in Werewolf.

So of course, when Onyx Path and White Wolf did their Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter, I was more than happy to take part. I couldn’t bring myself to spend over $100 for a book I’d probably never use though, but I was more than willing to purchase the PDF version. It would take up less room and there would be no chance of my rabbits eating the cover (like my poor Shadows of Esteren game). Now I’ll admit I did this foolishly, as I haven’t been all that happy with the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition releases. The core rulebook was gorgeous, but I hated the hanging on to 3rd Edition crap that drove so many from the game in the first place, along with the terrible new rules for Potence, Celerity, Fortitude and Necromancy. The 20th Anniversary Companion was horrible in a lot of ways, was on our short list for one of the worst releases of 2012 and it still seems to remain a sore spot with many of those that backed it. Children of the Revolution was a step up, but still mediocre, while Dust to Dust was probably the best overall release for the relaunch so far. Still, White Wolf seemed to learn from their mistakes with each passing Kickstarter and Mummy: The Curse is currently my frontrunner for the best release of 2013 so far.

Thankfully, W20 (the abbreviation for the very long name this book has) turned out to be exceptional, making White Wolf two for four on their Kickstarter campaigns (to me anyway). W20 far surpassed my expectations, and even blew away V20 in pretty much all respects, except maybe art. Now, there are some definite errors in the book in terms of spelling, grammar, formatting, rules and the like, but the PDF I have here is NOT the final draft, so I’m not going to nitpick these minor issues which have already been pointed out to White Wolf and OPP by the other 2,000+ backers that got their PDF early. Now, if they don’t get fixed, or there is some major edit that truly changes a good portion of the book, I’ll follow that up with an Addendum review, but for now, I’ll say that I’m extremely happy with what’s here, as is fellow staffer Mark B. and the few other people I knew that backed this piece of nostalgia. Now let’s talk about what you get when you inevitably return to the Classic World of Darkness.

First of all, Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is massive, and clocks in at 555 pages (including covers). That is one big core rulebook, and over two dozen pages bigger than V20, although those extra pages are pretty much a comic book, which I happened to love, but I can see some people wishing they had been allocated to stats and mechanics instead. So expect to spend a lot of time just reading this thing. The good news is that W20 covers just about everything you could possibly want, from in-depth information on each of the thirteen tribes, all of the other wereraces Werewolf has ever introduced, including the three lost tribes of Garou, a ton of background information on the setting, numerous enemies, and a lot of extremely gory art, both new and going back to the very first edition of the game. While the Old World of Darkness was synonymous with putting out tons of books at a rapid rate, W20 is really the only book you’re ever going to need to run a game of Werewolf unless you really don’t like some of the story retcons or rules changes. Still, carrying around one massive tome (or in my case my Kindle Fire) is far better than a backpack full of books, some of which only have a single rule or section you may need at some point in the game. Now, the downside to having everything you need in a single large book is that it can be hard to find a specific rule or piece of content. Thankfully, the physical copy of W20 will have bookmarks to mark things you need to find quickly. As well, the back of the book contains an extremely helpful index and three different lists (one for Gifts, one for Fetishes and one for Rites) all listed alphabetically and with the corresponding page number next to it. Sure, using W20 to run a game might seem daunting at first because of how large this core rule book is, but OPP has gone out of its way to make searching far easier than it has been in the past. Now, trying to remember what page Body Slam mechanics were on might be a little trickier…

W20 is divided into three books (four if you count the comic). Book One is “The Wyld” and it goes into great detail about the setting, an introduction on how to play/run the game and more. A lot of the opening bits are stuff you see in every RPG, while others are things diehard Werewolf players will know by heart and not need to read because they’ve been doing so for roughly two decades. For those that are brand new to Werewolf, you’ll learn about setting specific concepts that aren’t part of the core folkloric loup-garou, like the Umbra, the Wyrm, the Weaver, and so on. Much of the Hollywood, European and Native American legends about lycanthropes are treated as little more than folktales in this game, with the White Wolf Garou having very little in common with any of them. These werewolves are ecological warriors on a holy quest to save the world from humanity and the many evils it has spawned due to the corruptive influence of an otherworldly force known as the Wyrm. Think of these werewolves as a mix of Greenpeace with the Crusades and you have a rough idea of the core concept. In Chapter One you’ll find the history of the world according to the Garou, the rise of the Wyrm, the madness of the Weaver, a look at what it means to be a Werewolf in the World of Darkness and an overview of the ways one is born a werewolf: Homid (human baby), Lupus (wolf cub) and Metis (the spawn of two werewolves, which makes it born in the dreaded Crinos form, the Hollywood version of the werewolf appearance-wise). You get a quick overview of the thirteen tribes and an in-depth look at the social structure of the Garou in terms of race, tribes, packs and so on. Chapter Two is the beginning of character creation, giving a full look at your possible breeds, auspice (moon that you were born under) and tribe. The Thirteen tribe pages boast some gorgeous new artwork, and as always, my three favorite tribes remain the Shadow Fangs (Hakken variant), Silent Striders and Stargazers. Chapter Two is where you are going to spend a good portion of your time in terms of character creation, as you whittle down the aspects of what you want your character to possess.

Book Two is “The Weaver,” and no, it’s not actually about the Weaver and its part in the Garou spiritual triumvirate. Instead, it’s about weaving together a game with characters and mechanics. Chapters Three and Four give the rules for character creation, along with all the gifts one can choose from at each of the five Ranks a character can progress through. More than likely this isn’t your first introduction to Werewolf or the original Storyteller System, so I don’t think I need to go much further with this concept. It’s just the chapter with all the nuts and bolts for making a werewolf PC. Now, if you wanted to play a Corax or Simba… those come much later in the book, but yes they are here, which is a huge reason I picked this up. I will say that it’s odd how the book sometimes segregates things. You have the Garou in one area, the powers in another area, the mechanics in still another area, and then the other were-races in yet another, and the Appendix is where Merits and Flaws can be found, instead of with the other character creation bits. This was my big problem with V20 as well, because I hated looking through the book for, say, something on the Salubri, which was towards the tail end of the book instead of being lumped together with all the Camarilla clans, and Disciplines were all over the place. Organization does seem to be a problem for OPP, which is why I’m thankful for the high quality index in the back of the book, but W20 seems to be a massive improvement in this regard from V20, with only Merits/Flaws and other were-races being ostracized from the rest of the mechanics.

Chapters Five and Six are the big chapters on rules, mechanics and how/when to roll those dice. You also get a plethora of attack options for each form a Garou can take. These chapters are where a Storyteller will spend most of his or her time when the game is actually playing. It is worth noting that the “get a 10, roll again” rule is gone from this version of the game, which is likely to be a point of debate for some gamers. Chapter Seven is all about the Umbra, or Spirit World, which the Garou can step into. It’s similar to the Faewyld for your Fourth Edition D&D players, except, you know, done right. The Umbra gives Werewolf a whole other realm to play in, similar to how Call of Cthulhu offers you the Dreamlands in addition to the real world. From people I’ve talked to with far more experience with W:TA than I have, it seems that games tend to either really heavily invest in the Umbra, or barely touch it. Because I’ve used Garou mainly as NPCs, my games fall into the latter, save for a great way to save the antagonist for another adventure instead of letting them get taken down. Now in the few Werewolf games I’ve actually played in, I’ve primarily played Stargazers, so I’ve gotten to make great use of the Umbra there. There’s a ton of great content in this chapter, ranging from how the Weaver and Wyrm act here, to notes on the Abyss. This is perhaps my favorite chapter in terms of content quality; possibly because I didn’t get to read or learn much about all the Umbra had to offer back in the First Edition era.

Book Three is “The Wyrm” and, as you might expect, this is where you get a lot of info on antagonists and enemies for your players to disembowel. However, it’s much more than that. This section is the equivalent to a Storyteller’s handbook. Chapter Eight is actually entitled “Storytelling” and gives a lot of information on how to run a game smoothly and without drama. There are lots of hints, ideas and suggestions on what to do with a chronicle, as well as things NOT to do. Sure, most of what’s in this chapter is pretty generic and stuff most GM/DM/Keeper/Storytellers/etc already know, but it’s still a good read and offers some nice W:TA-centric bits. My favorite part of this chapter is the Example of Play. One page is the mechanics and dry “Bob declares action X and rolls Y number of dice trying to get a Z or higher” description that shows how a game is played. Next to it, however is a full colour comic page that shows what the gameplay “looks” like. It’s pretty cool, and I wish more games did this. The only other time I can think of this occurring was with TSR’s original Marvel Super Heroes RPG. I really wish this had been done for V20, and I am SO looking forward to the Mage version of these pages.

Chapter Nine is Allies, and again, it was the big draw for me to purchase this. I’ll be honest – the Garou are my absolute least favorite of the wereraces in the World of Darkness. It’s mainly their own fault that the world is in the shape it is, and yet they continue to blame humanity instead of taking responsibility for their horrible actions, like wiping out the Bunyip tribe or deciding to try and kill off all the other races Gaia created because they thought they were the superior Master Race. The Garou are the definitely the Westboro Baptist Church or SS of the Wereraces, so I’m really happy to see the saner, more insightful and intelligent races given their own section in the book, in case a Storyteller would rather run with those. It’s not just the other weres that get their day in the sun (or moon) here, but ancestor spirits, totem guides, and other mystical beings that interact with the servants of Gaia who are covered here. There’s even a large section of Kinfolk and how to make/play one if someone would rather. Still, the other weres are the core feature, so let’s talk about them. You get stats, gifts and the like for the three lost tribes of the Garou: The Bunyip, The Croatan and the White Howlers. You also get completely different species. Here’s a quick list:


•Ajaba – Werehyenas (ew)

•Anansi – Werespiders (creeeeepy!)

•Bastest – Werecats (Nine different kinds ranging from tigers to cheetahs)

•Corax – Wereraven (A personal favorite due to Ravenloft)

•Gurahl – Werebear (Altered Beast flashbacks)

•Kitsune – Werefox (Insert your favorite anime reference here. Mine would be Ninetails from Pokémon)

•Mokole – WEREDINOSAURS (Okay, usually alligators or crocodiles, but still!)

•Nagah – Weresnakes (More like Yuan-Ti, but still very cool and creepy)

•Nuwisha –Werecoyote (Native American Tricksters)

•Ratkin – Wererats (Very D&D)

•Rokea –Wereshark (Oh man are they freaky)

I have to admit, I was surprised there weren’t any Werebats or something truly odd like a Weresloth or Werepanda. Still, this is a nice large selection of other races to choose from, and it’s great to see all of these in one book along with the core Garou tribes.

Chapter Ten is “The Enemy” and this is the aforementioned area where you’ll find tons of opponents for your Garou, ranging from the Nexus Crawler all the way to Pentex and its many subsidiaries, out to despoil the earth and destroy Captain Planet the creations of Gaia. The chapter starts off with a detailed look at the Black Spiral Dancers and all of their unique and terrifying Gifts. Even longer is the section on Fomori, and from there, it’s such a hodgepodge of hideous Wyrm creatures. The book lightly touches on the other core WoD player races, like Kindreds, Mages, Wraiths and Fae, but obviously the goal here is to get you to go for those core rulebooks as well, even if some are long out of print. Hey, that’s what DriveThruRPG.com is for, right?

The final chapter in the book is the Appendix, and this is oddly where all the Merits and Flaws are instead of being with the rest of the character creation bits. It also is where you’ll find all the choices for Nature and Demeanor… which is more character creation stuff. Again, I’ve touched on this, but I don’t get the organization of this book sometimes. At least it’s a lot better than V20 though. The Appendix then delves into some internal tribe factions and societies, and some offshoots of a few core Garou tribes, like the Japanese Hakken branch of the Shadow Lords, and concludes with pieces on Ronin Garou and the very creepy Skin Walkers, which are werewolves that are self-made rather than born. After that, you get a long “Afterwords” section, where people wax nostalgically about the game and a list of all the Kickstarter backers (I’m on page 524!). That, my friends and readers, is WereWolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition.

When all is said and done, W20 is an amazing book from beginning to end. Sure it has a few hiccups here and there, but this isn’t the final version that will go on sale to the general public. What I can say though, is that this book is a love letter to all the W:TA fans that have amassed over the past twenty-one years. It’s an incredible book that packs in just about everything you could possibly want from all pieces of the canon and puts them into one place. Sure, the sticker price for either the physical or digital version of the book is going to scare off some newcomers and casual gamers, but for fans of the Old World of Darkness, Werewolf: The Apocalypse or White Wolf in general, this is one nostalgia trip that will give you your money’s worth and then some. So sit back, queue up some Warren Zevon (or Ozzy or Metallica, depending on what your favorite Garou themed tune is) and get ready to take down the Wyrm one more time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
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Tomb of Curses (DCC RPG)
Publisher: Dragons Hoard Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2013 06:49:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/30/tabletop-review-tomb-of-
-curses-dungeon-crawl-classics/

Tomb of Curses is the first release from a new company called Dragon’s Horde Publisher. Like a lot of indie companies, Dragon’s Horde, like Purple Duck Games, Purple Sorcerer Games, Brave Halfling Publishing and Cognition Pressworks, have chosen to create products for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics line. Tomb of Curses is the longest adventure published for Dungeon Crawl Classics so far, weighing in at forty-three pages, and it also carries the biggest price tag for a DCC adventure to boot. As you might have guessed from the name, Tomb of Curses was heavily influenced by Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors for First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. While obviously nowhere near the level of quality of Tomb of Horrors, Tomb of Curses does give DCC a very long adventure to be played out over several sessions, which is something the system simply hasn’t had to this point. Whether or not that was actually needed is up to your individual tastes and needs as a gamer, but for now, this is your longest adventure for the system.

I’m torn on Tomb of Curses, because while I think the story is easily the worst yet for a DCC published adventure (and there have been some doozies), the actual PLAYING of the adventure is quite fun and far more reminiscent of the early D&D experience than even some Goodman Games adventures. Now, while I enjoy very story heavy games like Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: The Masquerade, if you go out to pick up an adventure for a game that has DUNGEON CRAWL in the title and expect something grandiose in plot and characterization, then the fault is yours. DCC is roll playing over role playing and primarily hack and slash over talking heads. Sure, the story behind Tomb of Curses is a bit insipid, terribly convoluted, at times nonsensical and even contradictory, but it sets up an adventure with insidiously cruel puzzles and a guarantee that much of the party is going to die horribly, if not all of them. This is one of those rare adventures where a TPK (Total Party Kill) will not only be expected going into it, but a portion of the fun is seeing who dies and how.

So the actual story of Tomb of Curses is twofold. The first is the history of the Tomb itself. Once upon a time, there was a wizard who was an inter-dimensional polygamist. Yes, he had multiple wives, but they were from different species on different worlds in different realities. He was mostly a dick to them, killing one, betraying another and so on, so it’s not really a surprise when he is killed by them in a fiendish revenge plot. Except he didn’t die or something. It’s not quite clear. He “fell” but then cursed his wives into the inter-dimensional prison known as the Tomb of Curses, even the wife he really loved. Which doesn’t make any sense, but none of the story makes any sense. One wife was killed by the mage early on, and she somehow was part of the plot to kill him later on, even though she was still quite dead and neither undead nor raised. Yet another wife willingly entered the inescapable prison, yet is also listed as roaming around the multiverse looking for the husband. There’s also the groan worthy decision to have a wife from our world as well – which is NEVER a good idea whenever someone tries it. Basically, the entire back story is just word vomit that really needed an editor for logic and continuity’s sake.

It gets weirder when you realize the adventure actually begins at the climax of a completely different adventure. Players are started off with the “boss fight” of an adventure where PCs have been looking for the Everglass of Uth’Pentar, a mystical artifact. Well, the artifact is actually cursed, and it throws all the PCs into the very location this adventure is named after. There is only one way out of the prison, and that’s solving the overarching set of puzzles within it. The PCs, along with a little help from the wizard’s eight wives, do their best to survive and escape the Tomb of Curses. I do think the setup where the players are thrust into the climax of an adventure they have never actually played is an inspired one, but also something that can go disastrously wrong in the hands of an inexperienced DM or a more casual gaming crew. So the adventure’s start can be a bit wonky, but at the same time, I can’t think of too many tabletop gamers who are going to start off with DCC as their first ever RPG, so the chance of this becoming a train wreck from the opening is very slim indeed.

As you might expect from a Tomb of Horrors homage, Tomb of Curses has a lot of instant death with no escape/saving throw/etc traps within its walls. Some players new to this system might cry foul at this, but it’s neither unheard of nor unexpected for DCC. The adventure is for six to ten characters between Levels 6-8, which is pretty high level for Dungeon Crawl Classics. These traps range from rapid aging to a hallway of no return. The Tomb is far more puzzle oriented than most DCC adventures, but hack and slash fans shouldn’t worry – there is a lot of combat in Tomb of Curses. There are also some attempts at humour, like a demon with a lowbrow sense of humour, spouting poop and fart jokes constantly, or one of the wives being a giant cosmic catfish, but they tend to fall flat on their face, unlike the more comedic approach we sometimes see from Purple Sorcerer DCC adventurers. I really enjoyed the various puzzles, although some DMs may have to help the players, as the answers aren’t necessarily obvious and, as mentioned, there are a ton of no escape instant death traps littered through the experience, so giving the players a bone when they are heading in the right direction isn’t a bad idea considering the adventure.

I do want to say a word or three about the art. For the most part, I love what’s here. The pictures within the adventure really breathe some life into the experience and, because players actually need to see the pieces ala handouts to get through some of the puzzles, the quality had to be top notch or they would do more harm than good. I can’t say enough good things about the art. The only two negative comments I have are in regards to the cover page (which is merely mediocre) and the map. Maps are a big part of the draw for DCC adventurers. In this case, there is nothing wrong with the art or the map itself. It’s just that the tomb is so big, and so the one page map feels very constrained and cropped down. It also feels a lot harder to follow, and the sheer size of the map combined with the artistic renditions on the page make it feel almost too busy to look at properly. Again, these are the only two issues with the art as the rest is truly fantastic.

So, let’s give Tomb of Curses a thumbs in the middle. I liked playing/running the adventure, but the storyline running through it is pretty terrible. Combat is well balanced and the puzzles are interesting, but at times the adventure does feel a bit too “DM vs PCs” which may turn people off from the experience. I can’t deny I’ve experienced far better adventurers for the DCC line, but I’ve also experienced a lot worse, and for a first adventure out of the gate, Dragon’s Horde Publishing gave us an interesting, albeit flawed, experience. People running Dungeon Crawl Classics for their friends might want to read through this first before buying, which means borrowing from a friend or reading the brief preview up at DriveThruRPG.com/RPGNOW.com. For the price and inherent flaws in the product, I can’t recommend Tomb of Curses, but I can’t give it a thumbs down or a negative review either. It’s a very mixed bag, and mileage may vary. If you’re looking for a longer adventure for DCC and you have players that don’t care how bad the plot is as long as they are rolling dice and killing monsters, Tomb of Curses might be worth the higher than average price tag.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tomb of Curses (DCC RPG)
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Lair of the Mist Men (DCC RPG)
Publisher: Purple Sorcerer Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2013 06:20:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/16/tabletop-review-lair-of-
-the-mist-men-dungeon-crawl-classics/

Generally when I review a Dungeon Crawl Classics product, it ends up being from Goodman Games or Brave Halfling Publishing. This time around, we’re looking at a product from Purple Sorcerer. This is their third release for Dungeon Crawl Classics and it is also what they call a “mini-adventure,” although I’m not sure why it is called that, as it has roughly the same page count as the “full adventures.”

Lair of the Mist Men is a continuation of The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, but you don’t need to have played that adventure to get full use out of it. That’s because Purple Sorcerer has included the seminal battle with the mist men from that adventure. You can use it as an optional start to the adventure in order to get the ball rolling, or you can just jump feet first into Lair of the Mist Men as written. I love that Purple Sorcerer has given you this option, especially since Lair of the Mist Men is a THIRD of the cost of the other Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures they have released.

Lair of the Mist Men is for six to eight Level 1 characters. Like most Dungeon Crawl Classics adventurers, it is light on story and heavy on combat. In this case, your village has been besieged by the mist men for nigh on three months. Finally, the players have found a way to track them to their lair, and so they set off to right wrongs and gain revenge on their accursed enemies. Hey, it’s not Shakespeare, but it does the job nicely. The players journey through a creepy swampland where they will fight resident locals and mist men in order to gain access to the cave in which they dwell. There, players will alternate between saving villagers thought lost forever, killing mist men and discovering the true source of the evil plaguing their village. The entire affair can be finished in one or two sessions, depending on how much the DM pads things out and how much the players stay on track. If you have Against the Vortex Temple (which isn’t actually available yet…), this adventure MAY lead directly into it, based on the choices your players make.

Besides the set six encounters in the adventure, you have a random encounter chart (you know, I’ve never actually met anyone that really uses those) and a neat little side effect of the mist men cave where characters spiral down into madness as if this was a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Between the sheer amount of combat and the insanity factor, this will be a hard adventure for players to come out of intact, especially when most DCC adventures call for even more players than this. Depending on how your team fares, you may want to ratchet down the encounters some if you don’t want to achieve a TPK (Total Party Kill). That said, the insanity effect is played more for comedy than anything else, and because comedy is all but nonexistent in other DCC adventures, I’m unsure how players will react to that. I mean, I love comedy, but DCC is a grim and gritty game and so I can see others being… more inclined to treat this system as SERIOUS BUSINESS and find fault with the adventure because of this.

In addition to the core PDF, Lair of the Mist Men comes with two bonus PDFs. The first is a set of three maps, and the second is a page of paper standee miniatures to represent the antagonists for the adventure. Both are a nice touch, although the artwork may be a bit TOO Cartoony for the core DCC fanbase. Generally, the art in Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures tends to be of a similar style to first edition AD&D or even OD&D, but the art here is decidedly comedic in style and more Warner Brothers than Larry Elmore. I think the art is a fun change of pace for the system, but I can definitely see a lot of DCC players poo-pooing the adventure based on the art, which is a shame.

Finally the adventure comes with four pre-generated 0 level characters, which is a bit nonsensical considering that a) this is an adventure for 1st Level characters and b) there are only four pregens but the adventure is for six to eight characters. Not really sure what the point of this inclusion was to be honest, but hey, extra content is extra content, right?

All in all, Lair of the Mist Men is a fun little adventure. Sure, there are some spelling errors like “Blassimers! Descrators!” when the text should be, “Blasphemers! Desecrators!” but Purple Sorcerer Games is a two man operation and I can speak from experience about how hard it is for one to edit your own writing, so I can give this a pass in some respects. Still, it is a professionally done piece, and one would think they would have at least run the text through a spell checker. With a price tag of under three dollars, and some very unique antagonists for your PCs to encounter, Lair of the Mist Men is well worth investing in if you enjoy playing published adventures with your Dungeon Crawl Classics troupe. There’s a good amount of humour to the adventure, something you don’t find in DCC adventurers outside of Purple Sorcerer games, so mileage may vary in that respect, but you’re still getting a fine, memorable adventure for your three dollars, and if you have players that take their a gaming more serious than what’s provided here, feel free to tweak the adventure to fit their needs instead of forcing them to adapt to it. If you like what you see here, perhaps it’s time to start the “Sunken City” series of DCC RPG adventures.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lair of the Mist Men (DCC RPG)
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Tales of the Sleepless City
Publisher: Miskatonic River Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/15/2013 06:25:41
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/15/tabletop-review-tales-o-
f-the-sleepless-city-call-of-cthulhu/

Tales of the Sleepless City is the newest release from Miskatonic River Press, a small company that does products for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game line. While I’ve yet to be WOWED by any of their releases, I’ve likewise found little to criticize or complain about. Basically, MRP products tend to be enjoyable but not memorable. So I was more than happy to review Tales of the Sleepless City when a copy was offered to me. It took me a long time to wade through it though. Partly because the last three weeks have been insane for me personal life-wise, but also because the adventures in this releases simply didn’t grab my attention. They weren’t bad by any means; I just didn’t find them all that interesting my first time through. Now that things have calmed down and I’ve had a chance to go through each adventure again, I find I rather enjoy some of them.

Tales of the Sleepless City is a collection of six adventures taking place in New York City in the 1920s. I’m always surprised how few adventures for Call of Cthulhu are set in either New York State OR the Big Apple. I mean, it’s one of the few places “I am Providence” himself deemed to live in during his life (although his wife was mostly responsible for that). He even wrote three stories, like Cool Air, about New York City. I mean, we’ve had Secrets of New York for a while, but compared to other locations, NYC has always seemed disproportionately small compared to other locations. Well, for those wanting to visit the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers and the like with your 1920s era Investigators, here are six more chances for you.

One interesting note is that unlike most published Call of Cthulhu adventures, which tend to assume you are, or at least can be played by, starting characters, the six adventures in Tales of the Sleepless City are all for experienced characters with a decent amount of the Cthulhu Mythos skill picked up along their madcap insanity inducing adventures. This is all well and good, but these adventures are all written in such a way that new characters, blind to the reality of the Great Old Ones and their ilk, are almost guaranteed to stumble horribly before dying in these things. Because most CoC players tend to do one-shots or only a few adventures with characters, it really does feel like the only characters capable of truly surviving these adventures are those that have had Monty Haul style campaigns, where they have picked up many a spell and forbidden time. This is a bit disappointing, as these adventurers are thus only playable by a fraction of the Call of Cthulhu audience, but at least there is something for those who do like to power game or who have managed to have their PCs survive a crapload of eldritch horror.

I should give one quick head’s up before we go into each adventure. Although Tales of the Sleepless City is 164 pages long, only 75% is actually content. Roughly 8% of the book is comprised of ads for other products, and the other 17% are reprints of the maps and handouts that can already be found in each adventure’s specific section. While I like having all the touchy feely pieces in one spot, I do think it’s a waste of paper, space and money to do the handouts twice. They really should have just had them all in the back for easy photocopying. By jettisoning the ads and duplicates of the handout, this book would be a fourth smaller and noticeably cheaper. Now, with all that in mind, the handouts are terrific and easily amongst some of the best I’ve ever seen released for a Call of Cthulhu collection. This isn’t too much of a shocker when you realize they were all put together by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, providers of all sorts of wonderful Cthulhuoid products including some great movies. Miskatonic River Press really set the bar high here for the physical portions of these adventures, and it’s a shame more companies don’t do this for their players.

First up is “To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and it’s a fun adventure, branching off of Lovecraft’s tale “He,” as both feature the wizard Morgan Atherton. This adventure also reminds me of an old issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that was about a living, breathing, dreaming city. In the case of this adventure, the city isn’t so much alive, but a focal point of magic, and one young native of the Big Apple seems to become the living avatar of it, transforming New York City into the city he feels it should be – one that fits his own personal aesthetics. Of course, using magic that not only transforms an entire city, but a person into a living piece of the city, takes a lot of power, and there are bound to be some casualties and craziness along the way. This is where the Investigators come in. From a strange subway disaster to an onslaught by a living wall, players will find their Investigators besieged by things even the most hardened harrower wouldn’t expect. There are truly some memorable moments in the adventure, although I do feel the final battle with the antagonist of this piece is poorly designed and really should have had a few more outs for players. Still, it’s a piece your players won’t soon forget. 1 for 1.

The second adventure is “The Terror From the Museum” and this is probably my favorite piece. Of course, I’ve been saying for years that both Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun have needed more Mummy based adventures, but those pleas appeared to have fallen on deaf ears – at least until now. “The Terror From The Museum” feels like a mash up of Call of Cthulhu and the Universal Mummy films. It has all the celluloid clichés of a Mummy’s Curse, dying archeologists and an ancient undead seeking to RULE THE WORLD. However, the adventure is written in such a way that the Mummy and his exploits are far more Cthulhuoid than Imhotep. For example, the Mummy’s Curse takes the form of an invisible interdimensional crocodile slowly devouring the intended victim of said curse, usually in an extremely gory and dramatic fashion. Minmose is no Boris Karloff, I’ll give you that.

The Investigators are brought into play by some sort of connection between them and one of the Mummy’s cursed victims. They get to see firsthand the horror of the Curse of Sebek (Mimose’s God) and from there, they are drawn into more and more encounters with the Minmose’s ever expanding cult of worshippers. One of the truly fun things about the adventure is that Minmose can die, and probably will quite regularly, in the adventure. However, each time he dies, he comes back with more magic and a stronger body. So it’s like South Park‘s Kenny, but more horrific. Minmose will probably toy with the Investigators for a while before trying to finally murder them, so it’s up to the PCs to figure out how you keep Minmose down for the count. After all, how do you defeat something where death only makes it stronger?

Much like the previous adventure, my big problem with “Terror From the Museum” is that the ending is exceptionally anticlimactic, and I wish it had been better planned out. There’s only one way to “win” the adventure, and it’s with a poorly defined Macguffin that will leave most players disappointed because it feels slapped together, especially when compared to the roller coaster the rest of the adventure is. Don’t get me wrong, I still really liked “The Terror From the Museum,” but while Tales From the Sleepless City is now two for two quality wise, it’s also zero for two in terms of ending the adventures in a well-written, satisfactory manner. A good Keeper will probably be doing a lot of rewriting of the end of these. 2 for 2.

Adventure number three is “The Fisher of Men,” which would be fine if Hebanon Games hadn’t done Bryson Springs last June. While having very little in common, the name of this adventure made it hard for me not to compare it to Bryson Springs (you’d have to read/play it to get why) and this is one of the adventures I had to read a second time just to separate the two. On my first readthrough, I found this to be dull and tedious. On my second, I liked it a little better, but not enough to recommend it. It’s definitely the weakest in the entire collection.

“The Fisher of Men” puts players deep in the heart of Harlem, caught in the middle of several religious groups, each of which are being manipulated by a sinister man known only as Mister Young. The Investigators, which are more than likely white, due to the era and its trappings, are immersed in a culture not quite their own, filled with folk magic, African folklore, Haitian juju and the massive gulf between the Christian side of Harlem and the side that still clings to the old ways from the Dark Continent. I liked the concept of the adventure well enough, along with how it presented the multifaceted side of 1920s Black America rather than the terrible stereotypes actually portrayed to the US at large via radio and writing. However, the adventure tries to do too much, and things just seem to be lamely thrown together instead of making a truly cohesive story. It’s also a very linear, hand holding experience, where I feel players are just along for the ride instead of actually affecting how things will flow. Once again, I do feel the ending of this adventure is a bit terrible, as a Great Old One is actually summoned into Harlem and the ways to stop it are more than a little stupid. Nope, this adventure just isn’t for me. 2 for 3.

“The Tenement” is the fourth adventure in this collection and, while not my favorite, it’s probably the best overall adventure of the set. It’s so outside the box of what you tend to expect from a Call of Cthulhu adventure that I loved it despite the true nature of the antagonist. I’ve always found Shoggoth Lords to be a truly terrible concept, as it’s a bit insipid when you think about it, but it’s actually done really well here, both in practice and as a metaphor for the way New York City ate its poor and destitute during the 20s (one could make a case that this is still going on today). I’m not sure in the metaphor was intentional or it’s the folklorist in me looking for something that isn’t actually there, but who cares, right? I loved it.

This adventure is the only one in the set that really works well with new and experienced Investigators alike, as there is very little need for spells or knowledge of things that go Tekeli-li in the night. In “The Tenement,” players will be working for one Theodore Caldwell the Second, a lawyer who attempts to aid the poor and downtrodden. His current target is a slum lord by the name of Mr. Grey. Their job is to photograph and document numerous issues with one of his apartment complexes, along with getting as many written testimonies from the residents as possible. Doesn’t sound like the usual CoC adventure where players are in a library looking for some ancient forgotten grimoire, right?

Unfortunately, the adventure is easier said than done, as each apartment contains residents who are under the thumb of Mr. Grey for various reasons, not to mention the man has thugs and high powered officials under his thumb. Add in a crazed sorcerer under his control, and the players will have to go the extra mile to save the residents of the Buckley Arms from the squalid hellhole in which they reside. With a ton of residents for players to meet and aid, the adventure can not only go in a myriad of different ways, but a good Keeper can stretch this out over multiple play sessions as the Investigators get to know the residents of Buckley Arms, as well as Mr. Grey and his allies. This is the first adventure in the collection with a climax and/or final battle I actually enjoyed, and it should both shock and delight players when it occurs. This is definitely an adventure I’d love to see a real play podcast of, as I think it would be as much fun to listen to as it would be to read or experience firsthand. 3 for 4.

Our penultimate adventure in this collection is “A Night at the Opera,” and it’s another one I simply didn’t care for. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the Shan are just being way overdone in published adventures as of late. Not only were they the core antagonist in Chaosium’s recent Terror From the Skies campaign, but they also appeared in an adventure for Atomic Age Cthulhu earlier this year that happened to have a very similar plot to “A Night at the Opera.” Sure the location and time period are different, but both revolve around a performance of Massa Di Requiem Per Shuggay, Shan possession and players having to stop the performance of the opera from being finished lest horror be unleashed upon the world. Atomic Age Cthulhu‘s version of these events are far superior to the ones in this collection, but honestly, are we really that out of ideas that we keep coming back to this one opera? I’ve honestly lost count how many published adventures use it as a plot point. It’s to the point where the Shan are getting up there with “Investigators stop stupid cultists from something something dark and horrific” as a tired cliché that Call of Cthulhu desperately needs to avoid. A straight up thumb’s down to this incredibly dull adventure that offers little to nothing new on the same old worn out theme. 3 for 5.

The final adventure in Tales of the Sleepless City is “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin,” which translates into “The Child and the Weeping Mother,” although I’m not sure which version of Chinese that is supposed to be. In Cantonese the word is “jai” and in Mandarin it is “xiǎo hái,” but then the only Chinese I know enough to get by in is Mandarin, and I’m nowhere as skilled in that as I am in French or Japanese. Anyway, this adventure brings Madame Yi back to the forefront. I thought this was strange, as you rarely see this avatar of Yidhra used, but less than two months ago The Unspeakable Oath did an article on her, and now she’s the main Mythos creature in this adventure too! All by different authors no less. Coincidence or a resurgence? YOU DECIDE!

This final adventure puts players in a less occult role than the previous ones in this collection. Much like in “The Tenement,” Investigators are helping to solve a far more mundane problem – that of a kidnapping. Well, it seems mundane at first anyway. Then players discover that earthly answers have gotten a family member of the victim nowhere, and so, in her grief, she is manipulated into unleashing Madame Yi onto the party responsible for the kidnapping. Aside from this one Mythos piece though, the adventure really is a straightforward detective piece that feels like a breath of fresh air. Players have to track down not only who kidnapped young Ms. Yan, but also why. It turns out they have a decent reason for the kidnapping (in their eyes anyway) and that Ms. Yan’s parents are both hiding their own misdeeds surrounding the events. The Investigators also have to deal with the four Tongs (main gangs) of Chinatown, seeking the truth while neither offending them nor incurring their wraith. “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin” contains a wonderful cast of characters, and the adventure in beautifully written. Depending on the actions of the Investigators, they might never encounter Madame Yi, or they might accidentally unleash wholesale slaughter against one of the Tongs. I love that, unlike the other adventures in this collection, “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin,” pretty much plans for all possible outcomes and helps the Keeper track the ensuing chaos and ways the plot can dramatically change due to the actions of the PCs. Great job all around here. 4 for 6.

All in all, Tales of the Sleepless City isn’t a bad investment. Two-thirds of the adventures are quality affairs that most Keepers and their friends will have fun experiencing. While it’s not the best collection of adventures ever produced, it does a nice job with the theme of an all NYC affair, and it was a fun stop gap between Atomic Age Cthulhu and the forthcoming House of R’yleh. While Tales of the Sleepless City wouldn’t be first on the tip of my tongue in terms of recommendation, it fills two niches – one for NYC based adventures and one for adventures designed for very experienced Investigators. If either of those feel like something you need for your gaming troupe, then by all means, consider picking up this release from Miskatonic River Press.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Sleepless City
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Dungeon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/10/2013 15:51:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/10/dungeon-magazine-annual-
-vol-1-dungeons-dragons/

Every Dungeon Master has their own individual strengths and weaknesses If you were to poll the people that I play with, I assume most of them would indicate that my main strength is that I’m a good idea man. I can come up with backstories for all sorts of random NPCs and I can make fully-defined worlds for them to explore on the fly. On the flip-side, none of them think I am a tactical genius. Quite the contrary, most of them probably think the monsters they come across are well below par when it comes to the intelligence scale. It’s simply a fact and my group is well aware that a lot of my monsters are just going to charge and hack away. What they probably don’t know, however, is that I am no good at designing dungeons. I can’t draw, even with the aid of graph paper, my original dungeons are generally uninspiring. They don’t know this, however, because what I generally do is swipe dungeon layouts from other sources.

This is why Dungeon Magazine is a godsend for me. Dungeon Magazine provides you with full adventures for your group to run with, from detailed maps of the overworld and that random castle you want them to explore, to full bios and stats for townsfolk and the monsters that plague them. If your strength lies in the fact that you are a tactical genius, you can run the adventures fully as written and not have to worry why that Lich wants the Eye of Whatever. Conversely, for me I can take a dungeon and leave everything else at the wayside. I’ve got my own plots and demons, thank you very much. Dungeon Magazine is an adaptable resource for a DM.

The Dungeon Magazine Annual provides you with five pre-made adventures. Now, a word of warning here: if you are not the sort of DM who can modify the material you’ve been given, this might not be worth your time. The adventures presented range from the heroic tier (entry-level) to the epic tier (god-level) so you get a nice mix, but if you’re not particularly good at modifying the difficulty level of pre-published adventures, your 2nd level party of adventures is going to get absolutely annihilated by that 7th level dragon. Even if you’ve got a 7th level party, if you can’t modify the rest of the adventures, 80% of this book will be useless for you. As I have no trouble switching monsters out or simply altering their stats, this wouldn’t be an issue for me.

Since these five adventures run 161 pages, I’m just going to hit you with the basics of each adventure and some quick opinions.

Menace of the Icy Spire, by Sean Molley. Set in the Forgotten Realms campaign and designed for a 2nd-level party, your goal here is to storm a warlock’s tower and destroy a magical artifact that is causing a plague of winter to expand out from the tower in a flood of ice. As this is an entry level adventure, it is relatively straight forward. Your players will face a skill challenge while navigating through a storm and then face a series of battles whilst working their way to the top of the tower.

Winter of the Witch, by Stephen Radney-MacFarland. This is a 22nd-level adventure, putting this in the epic tier. A Winter Witch has returned from exile and the only way to stop her is to acquire a sun talisman and destroy her once and for all. In order to find the talisman, your players will have to storm a monastery taken over by minions of Orcus, then it’s off to a glacier to fight a dragon, before ending up in the Feywild to fight the Winter Witch. As pointed out in the creator commentary, most supplementary materials for D&D focus on monsters for heroic and paragon tiers, so most of the monsters for this adventure are brand new.

Throne of the Stone-Skinned King, by Logan Bonner. This adventure takes place in the Scales of War campaign and is for 15th-level parties. As such, it is very tailored to people who have been playing Scales of War since they created their characters and who intend to follow through to 30th level. This adventure plops you down in the middle of the githyanki war and sends your group to the Feywild to convince a Formorian king from assisting the githyanki. This adventure focuses very much on skill challenges, utilizing three of them, one of which is a Level 5 difficulty. I hesitate to really go over much more for this particular adventure, but suffice it to say this is one of the turning points in the whole campaign.

Storm Tower, by Christopher Perkins, D&D’s most prolific author. This particular adventure was designed specifically for the guys from Penny Arcade, PvP, and Wil Wheaton. It is for parties of the 3rd-level and like most of the heroic tier adventures, it is straight forward. A tower housing a gold-plated skull has been taken over by brigands and they need to be eliminated. The commentary mentions that this adventure was very much designed on the fly and the fact that it is mostly just a series of encounters is pretty evident. This doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it’s definitely simplistic. This particular adventure features art from Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade’s artist) and while not everyone likes his art style, I do.

Heart of the Forbidden King, by Luke Johnson. Set in Eberron for a 7th-level party, this adventure is just as straight forward as Storm Tower. Your party learns of a creation forge and is sent to investigate. They then fight a ton of war-forged. On the plus side, the encounter works and the addition of a war-forged dragon is a great idea. On the other hand, the adventure literally begins with the party’s arrival at the dungeon and ends when they kill the dragon.

All of the adventures are well written, albeit simplistic in some cases, and accompanied by the as-usual great official D&D illustrations. How much use you’re going to get from the Dungeon Magazine Annual really depends, however, on how versatile you are. If you are one of those tactical geniuses who runs adventures as written and that is it, this book isn’t going to be of much use to you. Even if you start out with 3rd-level characters to take advantage of Menace of the Silver Spire, it’s not going to sync up with Storm Tower, which will not sync up with Heart of the Forbidden King, and definitely not with the Scales of War adventure. However, if you’re someone who can easily modify adventures to suit your own needs, or you are just looking for some pre-made dungeons to disguise your own deficiencies, this annual will be very helpful to you, and I’d recommend picking it up.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
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Dragon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/10/2013 15:51:15
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/10/dragon-magazine-annual--
vol-1-dungeons-dragons/

Whereas Dungeon Magazine focuses on pre-published adventures for the Dungeon Master whose skills don’t lie in the arena of adventure creation, Dragon Magazine is for the DM who is looking to expand his toolbox. Dragon Magazine is not for someone who is simply looking to crack open a book and run an adventure, but rather for someone who has a pretty good grasp of what is needed for a successful adventure and is simply looking for some new ideas to enhance what they’ve already come up with. The Dragon Magazine Annual #1 gives you fourteen articles to help you with your world-building.

Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Yeenoghu by Robert J Schwalb. The Demon Prince of Gnolls has been around since 1st edition and he’s gone through some rough times. This section of the book seeks to reconcile some of the contradictory elements of his lore and restore him to a place of power in the D&D universe.

Creature Incarnations: Kobolds by Mike Mearls. This section seeks to expand upon the race of monsters my players have always known as Cannon Fodder. You’re provided with some strategies to help the average Kobold become a little bit more imposing, helping to define them as crafty trap-makers and provide them with an assortment of job classes to make them unique. Most interesting to me was the Kobold Victory chart, a good idea wherein a roll of the die determines what kind of victory taunt/buff a Kobold might gain upon killing someone, but really, when is a Kobold ever going to kill someone?

The Ashen Covenant by Ari Marmell. Whereas most evil cults in D&D are stereotypically evil, seeking to murder people for pleasure, this subunit of the Cult of Orcus is aiming for bigger and better things. They want to create a world where everyone who dies is raised from the dead as a zombie. You’re given the full modus operandi of the cult, plenty of adventure hooks to get your party to go after the cult, stats for the cult, and a handful of magic items related to the dark magic.

Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild by Rodney Thompson. A basic city plan, although this city happens to be in the Feywild and has 40,000 inhabitants.

Wish Upon a Star by Bruce R. Cordell. This one is a primer on how to build a star pact warlock. Differing from a generic warlock (if there is such a thing), this type of warlock has sworn allegiance to questionable entities from another world. Included is a full complement of powers and feats for the class.

The Bloodghost Syndicate by Mike Mearls. It’s The Sopranos, as done by goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. The only map in the entire collection is found in this article, as the Syndicate’s base of operations is rendered as a dungeon in and of itself.

Intelligent Items: Smart Swords by Logan Bonner. Intelligent Items differ from most exotic items as they act more like sidekicks to the party rather than MacGuffins with special powers. Included are a sampling of intelligent items and directions on how to create your own. Perhaps most importantly, there are ideas how to get rid of an intelligent item if you introduce one into your adventures and realize how awful of an idea that turned out to be.

Fight! by Robert J. Schwalb. This article shows you how to set up arena fights, gives you a few sample arenas to use, instructs you how to use the crowd to your advantage (and, possibly, the player’s disadvantage), and gives you some victory conditions that move beyond the “kill them all” mentality.

We Who Are About to Die: D&D Gladiators by Robert J. Schwalb. This section provides background and feats for the gladiator class. It also provides you with ways to utilize your at-will powers with items that normally wouldn’t do any real damage (like a net or bola).

The Longest Night by Chris Sims. What if, instead of giving out toys on Christmas, Santa showed up and robbed you. And what if, instead of a jolly fat man, Santa was a red dragon that could burn your entire town to the ground. This section is basically just a scenario to set up Santa Dragon, and I am perfectly all right with that.

Playing Dhampir by Brian R. James. Feats, paths, and powers to play as a dhampir. The article goes out of its way to establish that the dhampir is adaptable to any race, provided they end up picking up the Vampiric Heritage feat.

Master of the Planes by Robert J. Schwalb. This section gives you a few epic destinies for those players and campaigns where travelling between the various planes are common. Some of the examples provided include feats and powers of a Keybearer (who slips between the planes at will), a Planeshaper (who can create matter from nothing), and a Punisher of Gods (about what you’d expect).

Playing Shadar-Kai by Chris Sims. If you’ve ever wanted to play a character who was Shadar-kai, here’s a racial build for you.

Art of the Kill by Robert J. Schwalb. The final article shows you how to be an assassin if you want to be someone beyond a mere rogue. Suggested builds are included for bounty hunters, guerillas, and revolutionaries, among others.

Your mileage here is going to vary. The annual is well made and beautifully illustrated, but if you have no interest in, say, dhampir, or if your campaign has no use for gladiatorial combat, large parts of this book may not be relevant for you. On the other hand, there’s Santa Dragon, which I am convinced every DM in the world needs to know about. There is a lot of potentially good information here, but you’ll have to peruse the article listing to see if this is truly something that you may want to pick up.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
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RISE OF THE DROW - Trilogy Bundle (original)
Publisher: Adventureaweek.com, LLP
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2013 09:15:01
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/08/tabletop-review-rise-of-
-the-drow-trilogy-bundle-pathfinderdd-3-5



One of the big complaints I get from players and GMs is that Drow aren’t scary anymore. I beg to differ. Drow can be pretty scary and one helluva threat to the party, and civilization as a whole, if you handle it right. On the one hand, we’ve got Drizzt and Company showing us there can be good Drow, but in those same books you’ve got this whole underground civilization that would kill you and sacrifice you and not think twice about it, because you’re just a surface dweller and of no consequence to the grand scheme of things. Paizo decided to try and make Drow scary again with their Second Darkness Adventure Path, and largely succeeded, although like many of their early adventure paths, it can be rather rail-roady for the players and doesn’t give much wiggle room for the GM either. Rise of the Drow Trilogy takes some cues from Second Darkness as far as making Drow scary and a credible threat, but also goes the route of giving your players options like you’d find in a BioWare RPG, where you have different paths you can take, and each one has certain consequences tied to them all, the while providing a great way to kill a few weekends and weeknights around the tabletop.

05The Trilogy itself is comprised of the Adventure a Week modules Descent into the Underworld, Scourge of Embla, and Usurper of Souls. Yes, you can buy all three separate, but it will cost you $10 more. You also get a few bonus goodies in the zip file I’ll detail in a minute. This set of adventures starts for characters level 6 and ends with them around level 15. I actually recommend starting at level 8 if you’re only running with 4 people and definitely using the fast experience progression with Pathfinder, as that’s closest to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 character progression. While this isn’t as fleshed out as Second Darkness was, it’s a pretty decent romp into Drow territory that gives your players more options to do it their way without leaving the GM scrambling.

Descent into the Underworld finds your players in a small town being confronted by a dwarf with a problem… a Drow problem. He tries to convince them to come with him into the ground, below decks, so to speak, to help rid his city of the problem. The Drow have been taking people and territory and have been putting the pinch on the Dwarven city he’s from. They’re panicking, as well they should be, and need outside help. They’re traders and craftsman for the most part, not warriors. From there, it’s into a dungeon crawl that can be pretty much as long or short as the players want to make it. The entrance into the Underworld, or Underdark if you’re dropping this in the Forgotten Realms, is in a ruined tower that has some history. A dark history. A history involving a mage, slaves, a dragon and now, lots of very upset undead. After the undead is a brief stint that leads you into the Dwarven city in the next module.

03Scourge of Embla details the Dwarven city for when your players arrive, as well as events there that really help mold what your players’ options are and what they might end up doing. The Drow are starting to make their move on the city, but is a full retaliation what’s needed, or a more subtle back way in? A lot more of the background information can be gleaned here for your players, and it definitely gets them more invested, being more than just a dungeon crawl like in the first module.

Usurper of Souls takes into account what the players may or may not have done to get into the city, and gives them options when they get there on how to deal with the Drow, with other events going on that might spur them into action in different ways. There are some definite roleplay opportunities that can really sink or save your players here if they choose to take them. The leader of the Drow city has been leading this expansion for a reason, and not all of the Drow living there agree with what she’s been doing. Drow politics at its finest here. This adventure can lead to a lot of fame for them afterwards, or not much at all except the simple satisfaction of a job well done and a full coin purse. Most of what’s presented here can be handled by a good, and even fairly inexperienced, group of players. There are some things that they won’t be able to deal with right away if they head certain ways, like, say, an adult dragon in the first module when they’re way under-level if they go off the beaten path. That might be too rough a fight, but it is also something they might stumble across as opposed to jumping into it as part of getting through the area, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to not get involved until they’re stronger.

04On top of a great story, some well done play options, and fantastic artwork, the layout is really decent as well. The initial focus is on the story and getting your players through the adventure. The stat blocks are at the back of the module, but at each instance where you’d need them in the PDF is a link to the monster that your players are facing and you can choose which flavor, Pathfinder or 3.5, that you need there, and it goes right to it. If you’re running off the PDF instead of printed, this is a nice time saver. There’s a full bookmarked index to take you back to where you were as well, since Adobe doesn’t make PDFs work like web browsers. The artwork, for the most part, is fantastic. There were a few odd choices, but the maps looks great and the artwork for enemies and NPCs is consistently good.

The maps that are included are fantastically done and fit very well with the material. They’ll be easy to translate over to a battle map if you have one, or you can always print out the player versions of the map to give them, and the same goes for the over-arching world maps. Speaking of printing, if you have the inclination, there are ‘printer-friendly’ versions of each module included that wipe out a lot of the color on each page but leave it in the artwork and maps, so you don’t go through a color cartridge if you print it. If you do it on a single color printer it’ll still look decent. While the page count is a bit daunting, a good chunk of that is stat blocks which, if you’re running just one game, you can cut in half by only printing the game format you need. In fact, I’d go so far as to say almost half of the material you’re getting is stat blocks for either of the two games and NPCs. That’s a lot of stats.

I mentioned extras earlier. Outside the PDFs, they include separate image files for each of the maps, image files of major NPCs that you can print out, the print-friendly versions of the PDFs of both the main trilogy plus the Mushroom mini-game, and a dungeon randomizer in Excel format built to help you run an Underdark or Underworld adventure with random encounters. If you’re not keen on giving players maps with numbers on them, you can print those out too and keep them guessing. It’s really good stuff.

Even if you have no intention of running this, taking parts of it and using those in other campaigns would be an option. A mapped Drow and Dwarven city are nice to have, along with personalities and NPCs to populate them. Don’t forget the crumbled undead infested tower in the first module, a fully fleshed out settlement above ground and the Drow Spider temple in the third as well. The included Giant Mushroom harvesting mini-game is kind of interesting, and is also in the set as a separate printable piece. Also, what would a module be without a few new monsters and a bonus for interested players and willing GMs as well? All in all, it’s a great package, and if you’re so inclined, there’s a print package that had a whopping Kickstarter that will be available outside of the PDF medium. I’ll stick with the PDF, but for those that like hardcover and bound, that option is sure to please. While I don’t think this is the be all and end all of Drow modules, it is a decent one that not only gives your players some real options built in, but also can be quite a bit of fun and is designed with ease of use in mind.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
RISE OF THE DROW - Trilogy Bundle (original)
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