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Better Angels
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 06:37:28
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-review-better--
angels/

Written by Greg Stolze, Better Angels is the newest game from Arc Dream Publishing and uses the One Role Engine or O.R.E for short. I am, unquestionably, a fan of superheroes and the comic book genre in general so this game is right up my alley. If it has a cape and a fancy leotard, then there is a good chance I have read it. This type of idea has always held a place in my heart. The battle of Good vs. Evil, the mighty powers and city-smashing brawls have added spark to my imagination for as long as I can remember. Of course there was also the desire to play the black hearted villain, and the idea of being the foil to the hero always intrigued me.

Better Angels is definitely not a game based around constantly doing the “right thing” or living a life of Truth and Liberty. It is a game about dealing with your inner demon (literally) while exploring the limits of your ill-gotten powers. As one begins to read this PDF they are greeted by a several page story that begins to give you a feel for the setting. This part is followed up by a description of real world EVIL versus the over-the-top EEEVIL of Better Angels.

It is at this point that, at least for me, problems arise. The most basic precept of the game is the use of Strategies and Tactics that work to represent the internal conflict between the human host and the demonic force that inhabits them. This is where things start to get complicated. While the Strategies and Tactics are not directly tied in with the dice mechanic, it figures in incredibly heavily into the character concept. It is nice to see that the struggle between the demon and human side of the character is emphasized, but it just feels too complicated for me.

The thing one learns as they continue reading, is that the Player is not the one that controls or even creates their demon. During character creation the choices for each characters demon are made by the Player sitting to their immediate left. Once play begins, it is this same Player that controls their friend’s demon.

Now, while this is a great idea in theory, I can’t help but wonder how many problems this could cause in a group. I know from experience that there are players out there that enjoy making things difficult for the others at the table. Aside from that I worry about players who don’t fully understand the interaction rules, or simply don’t care, are not going to get the most out of this game. I understand that this is a group-to-group situation, but I feel that it is important enough to mention.

The mechanics of Better Angels are easy to understand and will be familiar to anyone with experience with this company’s games. These mechanics do a good job of representing chance while still allowing for versatility in actions and consequences. Additionally there is a section that details what should and shouldn’t be rolled on.

The next session goes into great detail about how to use the variety of Strategies and Tactics and how they can be used in different combinations to achieve different effects. This does go a long way towards helping to add further layers to the conflict between the character’s internal struggles. Unfortunately this can make things even more confusing to novice Players and Game Masters.

The list of powers is compact but does an excellent job of detailing what the different demonic abilities are. There are enough of them to create different types of characters which I do believe is an important feature in any game representing super-hero activities.

Admittedly there is more to the game than I have written about. It would be impossible to truly expound on every bit of Better Angels without making this review insanely long. All in all I admire the writer’s work and his obvious love of the genre, but for me it misses the mark. This game, while well represented, will be difficult for many readers to understand and get the “feel” of.

I understand that while this game may not be for everyone it will certainly fill the niche for some. Those who really enjoy in-depth characters, with all manner of repercussions for their actions will find this game enjoyable. Those who want a quick and easy supers-game will be better served to look elsewhere.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Better Angels
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Saving Fang
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 06:35:48
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-review-saving--
fang-from-the-pits-of-morgul-tunnels-trolls/

Saving Fang is the latest Tunnels and Trolls release from Flying Buffalo as we count down to the release of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. Saving Fang was free to Kickstarter backers but is $2.95 for everyone. Three dollars for a full length solitaire adventure is pretty good, though, and this particular adventure definitely gives you your money’s worth.

It’s interesting to note that as Buffalo Castle and Deluxe City of Terrors have been rereleased with the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls branding, Saving Fang is actually for FIRST EDITION Tunnels & Trolls, which is crazy old when you think about it. The foreword mentions that you need a copy of 1e T&T to play the adventure, but honestly, I don’t know where you can even get one. It’s not on RPGNow.com or DrivethruRPG.com. They have the fourth edition rulebook up there, but not first edition. While this does somewhat constrain who can play Saving Fang, Tunnels & Trolls hasn’t changed that much since the original version from the late 70s, so adapting this adventure to a later system shouldn’t be too difficult a task. So on one hand, it’s a bit odd to see a solo adventure coming out for 1e T&T in 2013, while on the other, it’s great to see the older editions are still being supported as Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls creeps ever closer to release day.

Like all solitaire adventures, Saving Fang is one you play by yourself in a vein similar to the old Lone Wolf or Choose Your Own Adventure novels. You follow the text of the adventure, turn to the sections it tells you to, roll dice when appropriate and so on. It’s a lot of fun and because there is so much variance and branching paths to these adventures, you can replay them multiple times with completely different events and outcomes. It’s great fun if you want to play a RPG but can’t get a group of friends together. These are also great if you fly a lot. Put down your tray, break out your Kindle and some d6s and play your way to your destination.

As you can probably guess from the title, the plot of the adventure is that your protagonist has to save a man named Fang from being sacrificed in the Pits of Morgul. He was carried away by ghouls and there are plenty of undead for your character to encounter. What’s interesting is that also you are playing this adventure in a solo manner, you can actually start off in a party with a red headed woman named Cherry and a river troll. Of course you can choose not to adventure at all, which gives you a short but amusing story too. That’s all part of the fun with these types of adventures. I played through it four times and ended up with everything from gathering an army to attack Morgul to going on madcap adventures with Cherry. It’s also worth noting that the ghouls in this adventure look an awful lot like baboons for some reason. None of your playthroughs will be very long. Some will take minutes and my longest was still under an hour, but that’s not uncommon for this type of adventure. It’s about having a fun solitaire adventure and that’s something Saving Fang definitely provides in spades.

All in all, this is your typical Tunnels & Trolls solo adventure. There are a lot of plot options, the adventure is saturated with a wry sense of humour, mixing mayhem with mirth and with a price tag of only three dollars, it’s a great addition to your collection of solo adventures. Heck, if you don’t have any other friends that like tabletop RPGs, Tunnels & Trolls is a great investment due to the sheer number of high quality solitaire adventures like Saving Fang that have been made for the system. It easily boasts the most solitaire adventures for any system and although Saving Fang is for a much older version of T&T, it’s still one you can easily spend a lot of time coming back to and finding it as fun the fifth or sixth playthrough as you did the first. This is definitely a must buy for any T&T fan or someone looking for a solitaire experience.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Saving Fang
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Deities & Demigods (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 15:37:44
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/15/tabletop-review-deties--
and-demigods-advanced-dungeons-dragons-first-edition/

The Deities and Demigods book has been a mainstay of the D&D world for a long time – most people who played D&D during the 80’s or 90’s will probably remember it. Unaffiliated with any specific TSR setting, this book presents a multitude of different pantheons, including heroes and beasts. Most of them are drawn from our own world and history, although there are a few exceptions (the mythos of Nehwon/Lankhmar and a number of non-human deities).

I’m reviewing a PDF version. The scan is not a very good one, but the PDF is otherwise completely useable and is completely and thoroughly bookmarked. The cover art is dated, to say the very least. It would probably draw some laughs in a contemporary gaming store.

A rather lengthy introduction to the book details its intended purpose, advice on using divine beings for the Dungeon Master and some discussion on Clerics, Omens and Immortality. After this follows a total of fifteen chapters containing a short general description of a specific Mythos and a long list of deities, creatures and heroes, followed by an appendix with some general information on planar travel and other odds and ends.

The Mythos sections present a wide variety of different cultures.

American Indian
Arthurian
Babylonian
Celtic
Central American
Chinese
Egyptian
Finnish
Greek
Indian
Japanese
Nehwon
Norse
Sumerian
Non-human
One of the strong points of the book is this diversity. Ehether you want to use these as is or only as inspiration for creating your own pantheons, you are more likely to find some good analogies to cultures in your world.

The presentation of each Mythos mainly consists of stat blocks and descriptions of creatures; these take the general format of a monster entry, complete with combat statistics. There is also artwork for most entries. This art has a very old-school feel to it and is of mixed quality, and must be said to be an acquired taste. Some people are sure to love it, some are sure to hate it.

One contradiction in this book which strikes me very early in my read-through is the statements in the introduction about playing divine beings, and that the statistics blocks in the book are presented mostly for flavor, versus the fact that they take up a lot of space and that many descriptions seem to focus heavily on a deities abilities and combat tactics. The feel is often as if reading a compilation of super powered monsters, and I find myself skipping through certain sections looking for the useful bits.

So, is this a good product? It’s really hard to say. It is a description of a number of earthen pantheons and as such can be an interesting read. It is also useful for those who want to design their own mythologies, for inspiration. It is, however, extremely verbose for this purpose; the statistics for the deities and heroes feel superfluous and make up more than half of the contents, and the descriptions of deities and creatures are brief in comparison and often filled with even more information on magical items and abilities. Information such as religious rites and traditions and more general information about the pantheons is brief and often scattered through the descriptions of the individual deities.

There are some nice bits in there, however. The Chinese and Finnish mythologies are both very inspiring, and scattered through the text are fun magic items and some useful monsters.

One major drawback for certain people is that this version of the book does not have two beloved sections: the Melnibonean and Cthulhu deities and creatures. I don’t find it a significant weakness if you are not specifically looking for these, but if you are you should of course stay away.

I can recommend the book for those who want to create a diverse mythology for their world and are interested in real-world analogies; at $9,99 it’s not terribly expensive. As a general reference book, however, it is not at all necessary, and most people will not be using it at the gaming table.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deities & Demigods (1e)
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The Unspeakable Oath 23
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/14/2013 06:40:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/14/tabletop-review-the-uns-
peakable-oath-issue-23-call-of-cthulhu/

So here we are with another issue of The Unspeakable Oath, my favorite, albeit sporadically published, gaming magazine. It’s getting better though as this is the third issue in a row where we’ve had it published in six month increments. The bad news is that this issue has far less articles than previous ones, but the good news is that at eighty pages, this is the highest page count an issue of The Unspeakable Oath has had in years. Both of these traits are because the issue contains a very long and highly detailed adventure that takes up the majority of the pages. I’m more than fine with that as a) the adventure is exceptional, b) it’s a Delta Green adventure and it’s always nice to see that line still supported and c) you are getting a full length CoC adventure for the cost of two comic books AND extra articles, so I think that’s a pretty fine deal, don’t you? Now let’s take a look at our articles for this issue and show you why any horror roleplaying game fan from Chill to Call of Cthulhu will get their money’s worth out of this magazine.

1. “The Dread Page of Azathoth.” This is Shane Ivey’s Editorial column and in this issue he talks about how too many Call of Cthulhu games are about violence and horror rather than terror. He echoes the words of the original AD&D Ravenloft campaign setting in explaining the difference between horror (gore and revulsion) and terror (fear, the unknown and unknowable) and how he feels Call of Cthulhu should be the latter but too often it turns into the former. I’m in complete agreement with him in that terror, specifically cosmic terror should be the focus of a good Call of Cthulhu adventure and while horror has its place and usefulness, that underlying notion of terror is present in the best and most memorable of adventures. I know I myself am worried about CoC 7e in this same way, especially after perusing and reviewing the Quick Start Rules as it too seems to be taking a focus on a more combat oriented and horror based feel rather than the cosmic terror we really felt in editions 1-5 (and sporadically in 6). This was a great read and a reminder of the difference between something like say, Masks of Nyarlathotep and ugh…Dark Corners of the Earth.

2. “Tale of Terror: Code Adam.” A Tale of Terror is a short one page plot hook with three possible options for fleshing the idea into a full fledged adventure. I always like these because even if I don’t like one of the options, there are always two others that may germinate in my imagination and become something to throw at my Investigators. In this case, I really liked the plot hook but none of the fleshing out options. The first feels more like a short story than an adventure I could do anything with. The second just felt stupid to me and doesn’t really mesh with the encounter and the third is a bit too blasé and it also doesn’t fit with the encounter. It’s an extremely creepy encounter, though, and I really enjoy it, but I’d have to create my own fourth option to truly make it work.

3. “The Eye of Light and Darkness.” This is the one section I always have had issue with in the past, mainly because this review compilation either features things too old for a review or the reviews are too brief to be of any value. The good news is that a) the reviews are very long and detailed this time and b) they even reviewed a brand new product in Yellow Dawn 2.5 which wasn’t even officially out by the time this issue of TUO came out. Very well done here. At the same time, they review, say, Miskatonic, a game most adventure game sites covered a year ago and the movie House of Black Wings which is over three years old. These pages could have been better used for reviewing brand new products or even previewing recent or upcoming releases. Arc Dream just released The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man and as this is an Arc Dream publication as well, they could have easily reviewed or previewed it to help spread the word and maybe even sell a few copies. Still, the review section gets better with each passing issue in terms of quality and timeliness of the products looked at, and that’s what counts.

4. “Cold Dead Hand.” This is your only adventure for the issue but it’s a mammoth one and a truly excellent choice as well. Players will be taking on the role of a Soviet Special Forces unit the day after Mikhail Gorbachev was forcibly removed from power. No, Gorby wasn’t attacked by the servants of a Great Old One, nor was he a servant himself. Instead this time of chaos and upheaval in the USSR is used by a group of dissidents to take over a Perimeter locations in Siberia from which nuclear weapons can be launched. The Investigators are sent in the midst of a massive blizzard to take back the location, turn the “Dead Hand” site off and prevent a potential nuclear war from breaking out. Sound exciting, right? Well it is. It doesn’t sound very Lovecraftian though, does it? Well, the core plot premise I’ve given you here isn’t, but this is Delta Green after all, so rest assured cosmic forces beyond out understanding do play a part in the happenings. This adventure is as fun to read as it is to play through and I love the slow burn from just a Top Secret style adventure into full blown Mythos madness. This adventure alone is well worth the cover price and the fact you get all the other great articles on top of it is just eldritch gravy.

5. “Building an Elder God.” These are some alternate head and body parts for the print and play card game of the same name. I didn’t really care for the game and these pieces are only useful if you buy the game from sites like DrivethruRPG.com. I can say that the pieces included here don’t print very well and graphically they’re not very good so this is really the only “article” in this issue I didn’t care for.

6. “Tale of Terror: The Funeral.” This is another one page story seed with three possible options for a Keeper to run with. In this case, the PCs are attending a funeral where the corpse sits up and begins talking. Apparently he wasn’t actually dead! I loved all three options although the third is by far my favorite and the one that you could feasibly get several adventures worth of fun out of. There is a lot of potential to be had with this one.

7. “Tale of Terror: The Watchers.” I didn’t care for this one as much. Basically the Investigators are being shadowed, but by who…or what? The first one can be fun if used as a minor plot thread laced throughout several adventures, I just flat out didn’t care for the second and the third can be either awesome or a train wreck, depending on the keeper. This “Tale of Terror” is still a good one; just not AS good as “The Funeral.”

8. “Unconventional Firearms.” Well, this article is a bit ironic considering the editorial that started this issue off, but it’s quite well written too. It gives examples of disguised weapons, ranging from the classic sword cane to a fountain pen gun, improved weaponry and even select pocket firearms including a derringer the size of a quarter. You get a nice little chart listing all the weapons too. It’s a fun read, but also a reminder that too many players focus on weaponry instead of deduction and induction.

9. “Directives From A-Cell: Directive 110: The Bear is Back.” This issue’s A-Cell article is a follow-up to the “Cold Dead Hand” adventure we looked at earlier. Basically it’s an update of the GRU-SV8 organization and how it would be changed since communism fell and leaders like Yeltsin and later Putin came into power. It’s a fun read and highlights some pretty dramatic changes in the organization while also modernizing bits of Delta Green for the current era. For those still playing Delta Green, this is a wonderful read.

10. “The Last Self Portrait of Larissa Dolkhov.” What a truly wonderful little piece. While the subject of the article, a sentient painting feels more Chambers than Lovecraft, this is a truly excellent idea that is not only creepy, but perfect for a solo adventure between a Keeper and a player for when you can’t get an entire party together.

11. “Message In a Bottle: Beasts.” This is the cursory one page short story than ends every issue of The Unspeakable Oath. I’ve yet to find one enjoyable and this was no exception. I’d rather see the page go to an article about gaming. I can get bad fiction anywhere. It’s the age of the Internet after all.

All in all, issue #23 of The Unspeakable Oath is another wonderful read and well worth the asking price. If you’re a fan of horror tabletop gaming and especially Call of Cthulhu, then you really should be picking these magazines up. Better yet, Arc Dream Publushing is currently doing a subscription drive for the magazine. If you subscribe you not only get the issues of The Unspeakable Oath at a discount, but you’ll also get freebies like short stories and exclusive adventures. Now a great deal has somehow become even better. Crazy. So yes, I’m a big fan of The Unspeakable Oath and I’m hoping we get to see issue #24 before the end of the year.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 23
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Revelations
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2013 06:35:54
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/12/tabletopreviewnosecurit-
yrevelations/

Revelations is the fifth release from fledgling publisher Hebanon Games. Well, I guess they’re not really new anymore, considering they’ve been putting these adventures out since June of 2012, but it still feels like yesterday when they had their very successful Kickstarter campaign. All the No Security releases so far have been system-less, meaning that you can plug them in to any system with a little bit of stat creation, but all were originally made for SOME kind of Cthulhu based system, like Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Dark. All of the adventures have been incredibly well done too, which is doubly awesome considering they are technically free. The first four adventures (Bryson Springs, The Red Tower, Lover in the Ice and The Fall Without End) are free on their website, while the DriveThruRPG.com versions are “Pay What You Want,” meaning they are free, but you can leave Hebanon Games some money if you feel inclined. Revelations follows that same pattern, so decide if you want to download it for free or if you want to leave them a little something for their trouble of giving you a thirty-two page colour product.

Like Lover in the Ice, Revelations might be a bit harder to run or play through than Hebanon Games’ other adventures, due to the subject matter being a trigger or sensitive issue for some. With Lover in the Ice, it was sex and rape, while Revelations is, as you may suspect, about a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, specifically the modern King James edition. I think religion is LESS of a trigger than rape though, and Hebanon Games does a great job of including a disclaimer that this adventure is not meant to be an attack on Christianity or deride it in any way. Indeed, this adventure is anything but, as it is more highlighting what happens when an life form alien and unfathomable to human comprehension takes the English Language translation of the Bible literally word for word without an understanding of the flowery wording, poetry, metaphor and subtext of the written content on its gilded pages. Plus, this is a Cthulhu style adventure, and in those games, you go in knowing that humanity’s concept of religion is completely and utterly wrong, so an adventure of this style shouldn’t affect a player any differently than one where an old priest turns out to worship Yog-Sothoth, or one where some other religion, say the Norse gods, Greek Myths or Shinto based Yokai play a prominent role in the narrative. Still, the subject matter of the adventure is a corruption of the Christian faith, and if that bothers you or your players, you might not want to download this one, but hey – it’s free!

So the crux of Revelations is that all player characters are police officers in a small Illinois town during the later 1930s. This is a great setting for the adventure as all around, the Dust Bowl is occurring, and many a farmer, especially in the Midwest, are losing their sanity, hope and faith in addition to the top soil that once covered their land and allowed crops to grow. This town, named Toil, was lucky enough to be growing soybeans, which has allowed it to weather the worst of the Depression and Dust Bowl. Still, the Midwest has always been full of very religious God-Fearing folk, and in the 30s, this was doubly true (Check out the Ken Burns documentary about the Dust Bowl for wonderful source material to use with all the No Security adventures), so it’s no surprise that the people of Toil will recognize Scripture and passages from the Bible made manifest… even if it’s not exactly in the way the words were meant. The catalyst for what appears to be the end of the world is indeed Christianity itself, although not in the way you might think. I can’t really explain it without massively spoiling the adventure, but suffice to say, someone went a little overboard in terms of their devotion to a God they are pretty sure is dead or gone.

Now of course, an entire party of cops might sound a little dull to some people. Occupation and/or class variety is the spice of roleplaying after all, so my advice would be to give the cops very different skills and backgrounds, so as to give the adventure that mixed party feel. For our game, I made four different pregens for the players. The first was a by the book veteran, the second was a raw recruit, the third was a middle aged ex Olympic Decathlete who had since become an officer in his home town (based on the real life Harold Osborn of Butler Grover Township, Illinois who actually did win the gold in 1924) and one was basically Rod Farva, because I knew otherwise Super Trooper jokes would be inserted constantly anyway. The end result was a mix of skills, and the Decathlete’s experience with archery and jumping ended up being pivotal skills at the climax of our playthrough. So Keepers, if you are using pregens, don’t forget that four cops doesn’t mean four identical characters.

I will say this adventure requires a LOT of work on the part of the DM. There are almost fifty events the Investigators can come across throughout Toil. Now, no one party will even see half of these, so it is up to the Keeper to either plan out what encounters their players will encounter, or to keep very close track of the time and where every location in Toil is with reference to everything else in the town, lest confusion and anarchy reign. In some ways, Revelations reminds me a lot of games like Deadly Premonition, where you have to be at a certain location at a certain time to witness an event, and if you’re not, well, it still occurs, but there’s no player or character knowledge to be had. Because of how much of this adventure is based on specific events in exact locations at precise times, Revelations is the most intense No Security scenario to run, and for some Keepers, it may be too much work and/or information to keep track of. For the more detail minded/OCD keepers however, Revelations will be an adventure you can run multiple times, and have each playthrough be wildly different than the last, even with some of the same players! That’s pretty fantastic if you ask me.

Revelations is also not an adventure most parties will walk away from. Because of the precise nature of events, time and location, it’s extremely easy for players to miss out on the actual hints and clues they need to survive this adventure. Without them a total party kill (TPK) is assured, but at the same time, you also don’t want to force your players to be at location X at time Y, as they may rebel. Even if you do get them there, they still have to pick up on the clues, which isn’t a guarantee, and you also have to find a way to make players understand the religious significance of what is unfolding around them. If you don’t have players that know or care about tidbits and specific passages of Judeo-Christianity, then you are in for a long and potentially dull play session for everyone involved. I mean, I’m a folklorist who pulls in a steady paycheck from the Catholic Church (even though I’m Jewish) so the religious references and iconography were a blast to me, but I know that if I have to talk one or more players through every reference in the game and cite the passage in the Bible and what it means in relationship to what is going on, it’s not going to be a fun gaming session as much as it will be a theology or religious philosophy class. Again, this means Revelations, while a very creepy and thrilling adventure, is also a very niche one that a lot of gamers won’t fully appreciate. That doesn’t make it a bad adventure – far from it. It does, however, mean that the potential audience that will truly “get” it is much smaller than the one that will truly enjoy, say, Bryson Springs or The Fall Without End.

All in all, while Revelations is decidedly NOT for everyone, it is certainly a well designed and ambitious adventure that showcases why I love Hebanon Games so much. Sure, Revelations needs a very specific DM and set of players to reach its true potential, but even in less than optimum circumstances, it can be a memorable and extremely creepy affair, where the party ceases to exist and never learns why or even what happened. Instead, their last days are simply full of bizarre horror, and honestly, that’s as Lovecraftian as it gets – pure cosmic unexplained weirdness. Remember that Revelations is free, but you can leave Hebanon Games something in the way of a tip or payment if you want (These guys need to eat after all). I do think even if you don’t play through Revelations, each and every one of you reading this should still pick it up, simply to read it and see how well designed the adventure is; it’s that good. They might want to update the PDF so all the headers for Revelations don’t say The Fall Without End though…

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Revelations
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The Strix Chronicle Anthology
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 07:02:22
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/08/book-review-the-strix-c-
hronicle-anthology-vampire-the-requiem/

While World of Darkness and especially Vampire: The Requiem fans sit waiting for the release of Blood and Smoke so that they can get their much touted and anticipated rules update, White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing has released the Strix Chronicle Anthology. Whether or not this will sate readers or make them even more impatient for Blood and Smoke‘s release remains to be seen. This anthology contains thirteen short stories on the Kindred and/or Strix and the $4.99 price point is quite nice, especially when you realize that nets you PDF, .mobi and .epub versions. That’s quite a nice deal.

What’s not quite so nice is the fact the book is not very newcomer friendly. Each story in this collection assumes you are extremely intimate with the New World of Darkness and every minute aspect of V:TR in general. So if you picked this up after say, discovering Reap the Whirlwind on Free RPG Day 2013, you will be completely and utterly lost as to what is going on in some of these stories. This extremely limits who is actually going to enjoy this collection and is a big disappointment to me as I feel any anthology or piece of tabletop gaming fiction should at least try to be a gateway drug to newcomers. Another problem is that the quality of the stories is all over the place, but at least the majority of pieces are well done – at least in my opinion. The Strix Chronicle Anthology is no Shadowrun Returns Anthology, I’ll tell you that up front, but it’s still a book I enjoyed reading. Let’s take a look at each of the thirteen stories in this collection.

1. Waiting. This is NOT a good start to the collection. Let’s just leave it at that. Honestly, there are no descriptors or a sort of explanation as to who the characters are, where they are, or what is going on. It’s just a jumble of word vomit heaved up on the page. Honestly, I’m pretty well versed in all things NWoD and I found this story to be a confusing mess without the slightest attempt at clarity or pacing. God only knows how lost someone who isn’t extremely intimate with V:TR would with this story. Basically it’s just the routine of a Sheriff (the Prince’s enforcer) interrupted by birds and memory loss and filled with bad dialogue, some terrible grammar and a lot of awkward narration. This was just a complete mess and I have no idea how it was accepted into the anthology. Such a terrible way to begin a collection and sadly, the first story needs to hook you and because this does this exact opposite, a lot of people are going to put the book down and not bother with any of the others because of this. Bad writing, bad editing and bad quality control. 0 for 1.

2. Notes From the Dead Girl. This is a really fun epistolary style tale about a young vampire named Bryce putting the pieces together of a strange occult mystery, and not discovering that the conclusion is a bit too much for even the sanity of a vampire. Of course it is rife with subterfuge and backstabbing too. Good job of explaining without hand holding too. 1 for 2.

3. Playing House. Meh. A crappy tale about a crappy abusive vampire and how the dead she is killing aren’t staying dead. Are they not doing their job correctly or are the dead (and undead) coming back somehow after being killed? Poorly written, unlikeable characters and a chore to wade through. It was like reading a middle schooler’s attempt at Black Dog fan fiction. This was littered with some pretty strange typos too. 1 for 3.

4. Fading Away. An interesting story about a very vain man who buys a cursed mirror. It’s an interesting read and one of the few that doesn’t require a truckload of knowledge about the WoD to enjoy. It’s just a nice simply horror story. 2 for 4.

5. Breaking the Surface. A very weird and surreal story about an ancient vampire whose mind has been ravaged by age and for whom two different sects view in wildly different ways. For one he is a saviour and for the other he is a loathsome beast that must be put down. What happens when the two collide? I enjoyed it but like a lot of stories in the collection, a person new to the NWoD will be lost as to what is going on. Still I thought it was well written so we’ll push it into the positive column. 3 for 5.

6. Four Years, Old John. This is the second longest and by far the best story in the collection. It revolves around three Kindred: Solomon Birch, Maxwell and Old John and their “relationship” throughout several decades. A princes rises and falls and perhaps rises again here and we see the power, horror and perhaps the weakness of the Strix. Awesome job here. 4 for 6.

7. Lullay, Lullay. This is my favorite story in the collection and it is also the longest. It not only gave a great look at the Kindred of Peoria, IL, but it was also the only story that really fleshed out a Strix, its relationship with the Kindred and highlighted how awesome a ghoul can be instead of just another generic NPC or portable blood bank for the vampire. The entire story is told from the point of view of a ghoul who works for a vampire called “Little Red” and how a strange creature sets its sight on them. The story is chilling and has many memorable scenesand I was impressed by how much detail went into this twenty-one page narrative. Lullay, Lullay did more to inform a newcomer reader about the Strix, the Kindred and V:TR in general than all the other stories in this collection combined. Nice job! 5 for 7.

8. Night, Winter, and Death. This story is a lot of fun and is told from two perspectives. The first is from the journals of an elder vampire and hir mortal experiences with a Strix type creature. The second is set in the current day by two other vampires looking for this Elder. It was a simple but well told story and I liked the juxtaposition between the two writing styles. 6 for 8.

9. Marple. A very rambly murder mystery. I really hated the narrative writing style/voice of the protagonist. It’s intentionally written that way, but it was like listening to Colin from Animaniacs or Gavin from The Kids in the Hall for a full story. The writing wasn’t bad but the chosen voice was so grating I had to force myself through it. Combine that with unlikeable characters and the fact a good portion of a short story felt like filler thanks to the rambling and I can’t recommend this one. 6 for 9.

10. Owl Sign. Aside from the last few paragraphs of this story that felt like the author had no idea how to end his wonderful story so he shoved a bad “USA Up All Night” style B-Movie ending on to it, I loved this story. It captured the feel of Southern Folklore wonderfully and highlighted how even the most powerful and ancient Kindred can get taken down by a Strix while even a relatively young one can take them down in turn, if they know what they are doing. If anything this story shows what a versatile enemy a Strix can be and how a good Storyteller can use them. Still, aside from that ending, I loved this story. 7 for 10.

11. Noblesse Oblige. Oh god, this was painful to read. The writing wasn’t very good, the story was a bit nonsensical at times, the two main characters weren’t likeable, one entire section was meant to be written from the point of view of Main Character B and was accidentally written from the POV of Main Character A and I just can’t think of anything positive to say about this one. It hurt to read the adventures of two weird Kindred bidding on an owl statue at the estate auction of a late author where things go crazy. 7 for 11.

12. There Are No Owls in Seattle. Wow, I loved this one. Just top notch writing, strong characters that are fully fleshed out and a truly horrific example of how a Strix encounter can affect a Kindred, even centuries after it originally happened. It’s also a great look at Seattle and this story alone inflicts major changes on the locale if you play there. A Storyteller has a massive bonanza of opportunities here in terms of plot threads. Between this and Lullay, Lullay, you will get your five dollars worth out of this collection. 8 for 12.

13. Second Chance A ancient Kindred who should be in torpor for quite some time longer has arisen, leading the Prince and his team to assume she may be Strix possessed. A Diablerist who knew where said Kindred slept (because he was planning to eat her) is coerced into finding her and seeing if she has an owl inside her or not. Sure, you can see the ending coming a mile away as variants of this story have been done to death, but the characters, story and events that unfold are so well written you can’t help but enjoy this. It’s also a great choice for a closer. 9 for 13.

So, basically we have a 70% quality ratio. That’s pretty good for an anthology and as I’ve said, at least two of the stories are worth the $4.99 price tag alone. Sure there are a lot of grammatical and typographical errors in this collection, but as an e-book, it can easily be updated. I’d hold off on any PoD version until these are fixed, but I think most Vampire: The Requiem fans will enjoy the collection even if it does run the quality gambit from, “I can’t believe someone got paid to write this,” to “I want a whole V:TR novel done by this author.”

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Strix Chronicle Anthology
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The One Ring: Loremaster's Screen and Lake-town Guide
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2013 09:37:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/07/30/tabletop-review-the-one-
-ring-loremasters-screen-and-lake-town-guide/

This is a review of the PDF version of the Screen and Lake-Town source booklet from Cubicle 7 for their Tolkien RPG, The One Ring. I will add some comments about the actual physical, rather than the electronic, product at the end.

The One Ring product release schedule hasn’t lived up to expectations and, although a Loremaster’s’ Screen will always have been on it, I am guessing it appeared reasonably quickly to appease the fans of the system in their personal quest for a Middle-Earth “fix.” That said though, the production value on the PDF is high. The art matches that which can be found in the Core set and subsequent releases, and the writing is of a high standard.

First: The “main” part of this is, obviously, the screen. The “exterior” artwork shows Lake-Town itself in all its glory. It looks good and has a smallish “The One Ring” logo in a lower right corner on one of the four panels. On the Loremaster’s side there are a stack of tables, all individually referenced, which is a good idea. There is very little space for fluff and, other than the obligatory copyright notices, a single and very apt quote from Thorin Oakenshield : “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.” Now, obviously, you need to print this out and mount it to make proper use of it as a screen, and this is where it falls down a bit. The reality is that it makes a great set of pages containing charts but, unless you have something like the Savage Worlds System Screen, which is, in effect, a plastic folder you can put loose sheets in, it becomes a lot more problematic. One option is to mount it on cardboard but, simply put, it isn’t great like that.

Second : The Lake-Town Sourcebook. This consists of thirty-two pages and is full colour, like the core rules. The art is, as always, superb, and it also contains a full isometric map of the town at the middle of the book, supported with a small overhead view. Looking at the contents, the first chapter is obviously the “Introduction,” which summarizes the background in the form of an excerpt of a letter. The second chapter is strangely called “The Map of Lake-Town.” For myself, “Gazetter” would have fit better, but that said, it takes each area of the settlement and covers it adequately, while leaving enough for Loremaster’s to add in their own meat to make the town their own. Next comes “Things to do while in Lake-Town.” This is a section of three new fellowship phase actions unique to the environ, supplemented with two-thirds of a page concerning money and trade. Then there is “Dragontide,” a chapter covering a festival in honour of the death of Smaug. The ideas presented work quite well and could provide a few sessions play for an adventuring group. Moving on, there is “Secrets of the Long Marches,” which deals with the area immediately surrounding the town, including the flora and fauna, with a reasonable bestiary of the not-so-pleasant inhabitants. Following on from that, there is a new playable culture: “Men of the Lake,” which fits in superbly with the original character generation rules presented in the core rules. This is topped of by a proper “Index,” which is a great touch, and one missed off many such supplements by other companies. Oh, and in the end cover, there is a dedicated “Men of the Lake” blank Character Sheet.

So, to sum up: As a Screen, it really does fail to hit the mark, but as a PDF but for reference sheets and the actual source material, it is a winner, and that is what saves it overall. The price isn’t great all round but what you do get is worthwhile.

(Additional Comment : I have the actual physical product as well as the PDF, and the quality of the screen and Source book is excellent. This is one of the best quality screens I have seen, and matches Cubicle 7’s other such releases for Victoriana and Dr Who. )

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring: Loremaster's Screen and Lake-town Guide
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Deadlands Noir: Memories of Yesterday
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2013 08:36:12
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/07/29/book-review-deadlands-n-
oir-memories-of-yesterday-savage-worlds/

Memories of Yesterday is the third “dime novel” (short story) released for the Deadlands Noir setting. The first two, Tenement Men and Blood and Roses, were released in February. I loved them, as they were fun little pieces of fiction and really helped set the tone for this new Deadlands setting. My only problem was the four dollar price tag, as you were getting less than two dozen pages of story in a day and age where you can get full novels for the same cost digitally. Still, they were great reads, and I’d heartily recommend them to anyone curious about Deadlands Noir or even people who don’t play tabletop RPGS but are looking for a good two fisted pulp short story.

Memories of Yesterday is a very different story. It’s not as spooky as previous stories, but it also ratchets up both the action side of pulp and highlights the prominent voodoo aspects of New Orleans – which is a must for Deadlands Noir, and it’s great to see that focus here. Your main character is Mac, a veteran of the Great War, who, like a lot of veterans that came home from that, is no longer right in the head. In Mac’s case, he appears to have been in a state of catatonia and/or shellshock when the story starts off. However, as it progresses, we learn the real reason for his mental state, and it’s both unexpected and very fitting for the Deadland setting.

Mac is brought back to the real world by the help of two people, O’Leary and Halloran. In exchange for restoring his mind, Halloran asks for his help against the Red Sect, a voodoo cult/gang who are running rackets against Halloran’s Teamster Union. Halloran doesn’t want to pay protection money and he feels that Mac, being an obvious muscle man and war veteran, could help him out in getting the Red Sect to back off, and he’s right.

What follows in a ton of revelations across the board. In Memories of Yesterday, nothing is what it seems – not O’Leary, not Halloran, not the Red Sect and certainly not Mac. There are double crosses, subterfuge and mystical mayhem as soon as the basic story hook is laid out. There’s a great fight scene in the story posing as a false climax, which I appreciated on multiple levels. However, just when you think the story is wrapping up, it hits you with more surprises and conflict. The story ends on a melancholic downer, but it does leave enough of an opening for a potential sequel. So instead of, “Rocks fall; everyone dies”, it’s more “Rocks fall; one guy lives but not in any state a sane person would call living.”

So far, the dime novels of Deadlands Noir have been fantastic, and I keep hoping for more, or, with luck, perhaps even an anthology of these once enough have been penned. I think Memories of Yesterday is slightly weaker than the first two stories, but it balances things out with a slightly lower price tag, albeit it one still higher than I think should be the sweet spot for these short stories to really sell. If you enjoyed the previous Dime Novels, or Deadlands Noir at all, than DEFINITELY grab this. It’s short and you’ll whip through the tale in under fifteen minutes, but it was a great read while it lasted. Again, these are a great way to test the waters and see if Deadlands Noir is for you. Hell, I’m not really a fan of The Wild West or Hell on Earth, but I adore Deadlands Noir. I realize $2.99 is a bit pricey for a PDF, when you can get full adventures or even a comic book for the same cost, but the Dime Novels ARE great, so if you have the money to burn, I strongly recommend picking this up.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir: Memories of Yesterday
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Lover in the Ice
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2013 06:42:30
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/11/22/tabletop-review-lover-i-
n-the-ice-no-security


Lover in the Ice is the third release from Hebanon Games, a new RPG adventure design company that got its start back in June of 2012 when 250 Kickstarter backers threw money at them. I’m happy to say I’m one of them. I love that Hebanon Games is not only taking adventures Caleb Stokes originally wrote for Call of Cthulhu (and a few other Cthulhu related systems). Even better, Hebanon has made all of their adventures free to the general public. Just peruse their site and download the ones you want. So far they have released Bryson Springs and The Red Tower, both of which are excellent. Unlike those previous releases, which were set in the 1930s, Lover in the Ice is set in modern times. 2008 to be exact. It’s a very different adventure to be sure and it’s going to take a very special Keeper to pull this one off without the game either degenerating into sophomoric jokes straight out of a bad B-Movie adult comedy or having at least one VERY uncomfortable gamer at the table.

You see, the entire adventure revolves around sex and violence. It’s an alien horrific form of sex, but that makes it so less rape-y and thus a problem to present at the table. There are a lot of gamers that either are uncomfortable with sex being the focal point of an adventure (especially a horror adventure) and some that as soon as sex enters become exceptionally immature because they can’t handle the topic appropriately. So if rape is a trigger for you or adventures that revolve around sex, especially very violent deviant sex (we’re not talking light BDSM here( is not something you can roleplay through without bringing the adventure down for everyone else experiencing, you need to stay far away from Lover in the Ice,free or not.

Lover in the Ice takes place during a massive ice storm in mid-sized Missouri town. The Nor’easter and rain combined to put the entire town out of commission and a huge chunk of the town is without power. Quite a few places has suffered damage from the crushing weight of the ice including a very unfortunate place that stored the slumbering remains of a strange South American creature whose entire body from the torso down is a giant phallus that it uses to rape, kill and impregnate its prey. Those impregnated (really it’s a parasite) by the creature become completely obsessed with sex and violence, merging the two into one in their now insane minds. This leads to some pretty messed up situations and the people killed by these “Seekers” them impregnate the corpses via the creature living inside them and the dead bodies become eggs of sorts for more of the original creature. It’s a weird way to reproduce to be sure, but players and their Investigators alike will be horrified by what they encounter, although not in the way they are accustomed to in a dark and spooky pen and paper style game. So if you do feel you are up to the task of describing lewd acts of sex and gore or describing what someone looks like after masturbating to Crush and Vore after several days straight without stopping, this may not be an adventure you want to run. Likewise if players have a weak stomach are aren’t comfortable with the subject matter, consider running one of the other fine adventures by Hebanon Games.

Now I’m not saying all this to run you off or to suggest this is a badly done adventure. It’s a very good adventure that is assured to shock and disgust those that play through it. It’s pleasure and violence taken to the nth degree and rolled up into one when someone is implanted with a Seeker. I kept thinking about the old Hellraiser comics Marvel put out via its Epic imprint when I was a kid. Those filled with Seekers should bring about that sort of atmosphere and the creatures themselves should just creep out everyone who encounters them. I mean, a Deep One or a Star Spawn is one thing, but at least they are trying to jam the genitals down your throat while deciding if they want to eat you or just maim you up a bit. Anyone who plays through Lover in the Ice will remember it for a long time.

Of course you could always play the adventure like an over the top B horror movie like those USA Up All Night used to show. I mean, you have a South American sex monster who is trying to turn sorority girls into sadomasochistic nymphomaniacs and the adventure culminates with the creatures crashing a college dorm party in an attempt to turn all the teens into Seeders with uncontrollable appetites for sex and violence. So if you feel your troupe can’t handle the course nature and graphic descriptions of running Lover in the Ice seriously, make it into a softcore horror movie straight out of the 80s.

The only bad thing I can say about Lover in the Ice is that the art isn’t very good. I know there were some delays with the art caused by Hurricane Sandy and that Hebanon games sent out an artless version on November 2nd, but the version with Art we got on November 19th…well it’s not very good. Especially compared to the previous two releases. The cover looks almost like bad 90s video game CGI and the main creature art in the middle of the book still looks like a rough etching. The art for the Seeker creature is pretty good, but it doesn’t match with the description given for it. The maps are just not very well done. Basically the artwork is nowhere as good as the previous two releases. Let’s be honest though – you don’t pick up an adventure for the artwork; you get it to read and/or play, so the low quality of the art in this release is a minor issue at best.

For those that have played/read through previous Hebanon Games releases, or at least listened to them via Role Playing Public Radio, you might be lucky enough to find Easter Eggs relating to those adventures. That’s a cute little touch that people who have played through things like The Red Towerwill definitely appreciate. Of course, there’s a chance you might never encounter these things, but it’s no big loss if you don’t.

At the end of the day, Lover in the Ice is the hardest of the Hebanon releases to recommend. Although you can play the adventure as a schlocky B-movie or a very straight laced, either way the theme of the adventure and several of the encounters may be hot button issues for some gamers…or just something they can’t roleplay through seriously. You’ll need a very specific team of players and a really good GM to make it all the way through the adventure without it degenerating into something that will leave at least one player annoyed or squicked out. It’s well written and can be exceptionally creepy if framed correctly, but it’s decidedly not for everyone. I’d definitely recommend either Bryson Springs or The Red Tower over this, if only because they’re going to be appreciated by a much larger audience. Lover in the Ice is a little too niche for everyone and the rape-y/kill-y aspect will leave some gamers unsettled and horrified – just not in the way you expect to be from a Cthulhu-esque adventure.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lover in the Ice
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Bryson Springs
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2013 06:41:31
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/27/tabletop-review-bryson--
springs-no-security/

Bryson Springs is the first of five (six if you were a special Kickstarter backer) scenarios from the “No Security” line of adventures being put out by a brand new company, Hebanon Games. These adventures are meant to be used with a wide variety of systems, although it’s definitely apparent that they are best suited for Call of Cthulhu in terms of tone and style. Best of all? These adventures are free to the general public! I was happy to support the No Security Kickstarter campaign to get this set of adventures off the ground. Now I’m sure some would say it’s silly to have given money for something I’d eventually get for free, but I enjoy knowing that I helped a new company get their adventures out to the world and enjoy a few free perks like the bonus adventure and a little miniature. Best of all though is that the No Security adventures are set in 1930s America, which is a wonderful and underutilized period. The Dust Bowl, the CCC, the Great Depression, the WPA and so many other things are prime for horror storytelling hooks; it’s just so few people ever put anything out for that era. I was a huge fan of Children of the Storm, a Chaosium monograph full of Call of Cthulhu adventures set in the 30s and now No Security allows me to jump back into setting, with brand new horrors and eldritch abominations to boot!

Honestly, Bryson Springs felt like a continuation of Children of the Storm, which is an awesome thing. If you are running a 1930s Call of Cthulhu campaign, Bryson Springs can easily be fit in either before or after the adventure “ENTR’ACTE,” as both take place in California. Whereas “ENTR’ACTE” deals with the horrible racism dished out to Chinese immigrants of that era, Bryson Springs is more the type of adventure you come to expect from a Lovecraftian-inspired adventure. Your adventurers are sucked into what seems to be a mundane mystery (in this case, the death of a Chinese railroader in a WPA washhouse), but as things progress they discover that all is not what it seems and that the underlying cause is an otherworldly horror that tests the limits of both man’s understanding and sanity. Once the adventure is finished, the PCs view on reality will be drastically changed, never to return to the numbing ignorance they once knew.

All in all, that description sounds like one of dozens of adventures for systems like Chill, Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Age of Cthulhu and possibly even Pokethulhu. It is a very run of the mill plot when you look at the bare bones synopsis, but honestly, the devil is in the details. Caleb Stokes creates a very memorable story, complete with some new horrific adversaries for the players to encounter and gives the usual Cthulhuoid horror tropes a nice twist. There’s also the dust bowl setting and the realization that nearly every character in this adventure will be destitute…or worse. Bryson Springs might not be the most original of horror adventures, But I really did enjoy it and the creatures responsible for the bedlam in this near ghost town.

One thing that will make or break the adventure for most of you reading this is the fact that Bryson Springs does not have any game stats of any kind. It is pure narrative, so you won’t have any information about what to roll or when, the stat blocks for NPCs and most importantly – any sort of in-game mechanics for the antagonists. On one hand, this makes the game easily adaptable to any system from a modern day D20 campaign to Savage Worlds. Again, Call of Cthulhu keepers will probably have the easiest time with this since it really does feel tailor made for the 1930s stuff put out for it earlier this year. On the other, when a lot of people pick up an adventure, it generally means they don’t have time to do the leg work for an adventure, or simply don’t want to. The fact they will have to do this for Bryson Springs may keep them from playing it or even picking up the adventure at all. Of course that’s not true of everyone that does. I just like to read adventures (hence my 150 issues of Dungeon magazine, even though I rarely played AD&D) for example. Still, those running Bryson Spring should be made well aware that they’re going to have to sit down and make a list of things that will come up for situations where the dice will be chucked as well as stat blocks for characters. I personally would have liked some stats but the adventure is free, I’ll be getting NPC and pregen stats later as one of my Kickstarter rewards, and I totally understand why Hebanon games went this route, even if it meant less people playing and/or reading the adventure. It all just depends on if you look at running a game as something where the rules and rolls are tantamount to a good experience or if you view it more as improv theatre.

Basically, I had a blast with Bryson Springs. It’s an extremely well made adventure that is made all the more impressive by the fact Hebanon Games is just giving it away. There’s a lot of detail and substance crammed into these thirteen pages and it’s well worth your time just to read through it even if you have no intention to play it afterward. Plus – it’s free. It’s a no lose scenario! Sure some people will be put off by the lack of stats or ties to any specific system, while others will find the adventure has a very similar progression to a lot of other Lovecraftian inspired adventures, but the setting, locale and style should make up for the latter, while a good DM/GM/Keeper/Storyteller should be able to easily adapt the story to whatever setting he or she is using. I would strongly advise anyone running Bryson Springs to pick up Children of the Storm though – not only for the fact that would give you four more adventures with a 1930s setting, but because it contains a lot of helpful information on the time period that will go a long way towards making Bryson Springs an even more memorable adventure for you and your players. For a first release, I’d say Hebanon Park is off to a very impressive start and if the other adventures are as good as this money, I definitely got my money’s worth in helping to make them free to the general public.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bryson Springs
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The Red Tower
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2013 06:40:33
Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/01/tabletop-review-no-secu-
rity-the-red-tower/

The Red Tower is the second offering from Hebanon Games’ No Security line of system-less horror RPG adventures set smack dab in the Great Depression. The No Security adventures are made free to the public thanks to 250 generous Kickstarter backers. I reviewed the first offering, Bryson Springs in late June and found it to be a nice compliment to the Call of Cthulhu adventure collection known as Children of the Storm, which is also set in the early 1930s. The Red Tower also fits nicely into a Children of the Storm campaign as it’s an even better and more twisted adventure than Bryson Springs. Not only was this adventure a blast to read and play through, but I also enjoyed the audio recording done by the Role Playing Public Radio Cast.

Now you may be wondering why I’m tying The Red Tower so tightly to a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Well, it’s not just that the two have compatible dates, times and themes. The Red Tower was originally written to be a Call of Cthulhu adventure, which you can not only hear from the podcast of the play, but it almost becomes instantly obvious as you read through the text of the adventure. All references to exact CoC gameplay mechanics are whitewashed, but with terminology and phrasing that strongly refers to things like Sanity Rolls, Persuade checks and the like. I know Caleb Stokes, creator of the scenarios, is trying really hard to go system-less with these, but unlike Bryson Springs, this adventure would read, flow and play a lot better if it had just stayed a Call of Cthulhu one. DMs/Storytellers/Keepers/Judges/etc that have never played a CoC game will have a bit of trouble trying to translate “PCs will feel ‘stressed’” into their campaign simply because it’s too vague a wording. DMs using Trail of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, Shadows of Cthulhu and the like won’t have too much of a problem converting this adventure to their system of choice, but doing The Red Tower is something like Modern d20, Don’t Look Back, World of Darkness, Macabre Tales and the like will have a bit of trouble or be outright stymied by the conversion process. Again, I adore The Red Tower, but unlike Bryson Springs which works perfectly well as a systemless adventure, this particular offering’s roots in CoC are both too obvious and too strong for it to not to use Chaosium’s mechanics.

It’s 1931 and even the Windy City isn’t immune to the effects of the Dust Bowl. Illicit trades such as racketeering, gambling, bootlegging and more are also hit by the Depression. In Chicago, the mob is still a jumbled up mess due to the arrest of Al Capone for tax evasion and the hole created by his absence as yet to be filled, although several have tried. At the same time, the government is in overdrive with both the Bureau of Investigations and the FDA flexing their muscles on various industries to shake out the corrupt and inept alike. Meanwhile the power of both unions and socialists are growing in larger cities, although both are often at odds with each other. So how do all of these things tie together into one creepy adventure? The surprise answer is – the meat packing industry. All of the aforementioned players want a piece of the action. The mob wants to reassert control over it, the unions and socialists want to guide the workers in this industry (often undereducated, illiterate and immigrants) toward their way of thinking. The Bureau of Investigation wants to squeeze the last bits of mob control out of it, and the FDA wants to tighten regulations on it to prevent another Upton Sinclair style expose.

In The Red Tower, player characters will more than likely come from one of the above four factions, which means they’ll be butting heads with each other for much of the adventure. This is actually the point of The Red Tower. Generally when PCs begin infighting, it signals a disastrous adventure that can often lead to hurt feelings amongst the actual player. With The Red Tower, the theme is “How long will diametrically opposed factions keep fighting in the face of imminent doom and certain disaster.” Modern-era Republicans and Democrats should take note. As PCs play through The Red Tower, they’ll discover a horror within the meat-packing industry that is far worse than diseased cattle or an e. coli breakout. The question then becomes how do the players deal with their discovery and whether or not they can put aside their ideological differences to defeat a menace that has slowly been growing all around them for decades.

The Red Tower, like all truly good Call of Cthulhu style adventures, offers a slight chance at a “happy” ending, but more than likely one or more PCs will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the horror that lurks in the heart of the meatpacking district. There are several ways to “beat” the adventure but they can range from full scale demolition of a large urban area to defeating the evil by BECOMING IT. Which of course, doesn’t really solve anything as much as it does change the focus. Players will have to do a great deal of investigating to get the full story of The Red Tower as well as deal with an entire race of horrific creatures with an unholy appetite. Perhaps more horrible still is the fact that the greatest evil in The Red Tower is human born and bred.

The adventure is wonderfully laid out for the Keeper to run, right down to an easy to read flowchart highlighting all the possible ways the scenes in The Red Tower can unfold. The entire affair is mostly non-linear save for the beginning and end. I’m never a fan of adventures (or video games) that are a 100% strictly linear affair and I love that The Red Tower takes into consideration nearly all the way players might react or the locations they might try to visit. If you’re the one running the adventure it might be a good idea to have the flowchart page bookmarked for easy access.

Once again, I am thoroughly impressed by a Hebanon Games adventure. The Red Tower is fun, creepy, memorable and a blast to run. Best of all? It’s absolutely free to the general public so the only two reasons to not to go back to the top of this review and download are that you either hate horror RPGs or you’re lazy. If it’s the former, you can always pass the link on to friends who do like Call of Cthulhu style games. Seriously, even if you don’t run the thing, it’s a really fun read with a rich back story and some great artwork. With four adventures in the No Security line left to go, I can’t wait to see what Hebanon has in store for us next.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Red Tower
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The Fall Without End
Publisher: Hebanon Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2013 06:39:44
Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/02/01/tabletop-review-no-secu-
rity-the-fall-without-end/

The Fall Without End is the fourth release from Hebanon Games. While all of their scenarios so far were originally penned for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu system, the actual releases Hebanon has been putting out have been systemless so that they can be used with everything from the origin material to more obscure systems like Don’t Look Back or Chill. Best of all, all of Hebanon Games’ releases have been free, so if you and your friends enjoy a good horror tabletop RPG adventure, there’s no reason not to hurry on over to their site and download these puppies. So far I’ve reviewed Bryson Springs, The Red Tower and Lover in the Ice. The Fall Without End, however, was the one I was most looking forward to, mainly because it was such a unique idea and I loved the podcast version Caleb and the crew over at Roleplaying Public Radio did.

Like all No Security scenarios, The Fall Without End is set in the 1930s, a time of depression and despair for the United States of America. This melancholy atmosphere is a perfect backdrop for horror roleplaying, not only because it is so gloomy to begin with, but because it ensures that players can’t say, shoot missiles at a Deep One or nuke a vampire. This particular adventure takes place on and around Mt. McKinley, the highest elevation in North America. Players are attempt to scale the north side of the mountain for riches and glory. It’s the government’s attempt to help take mind off America’s financial woes and give the average Joe a hero to look up to. Unfortunately there are two problems. The first is that the players have some local competition that want to get up to the summit first and the other is that the mountain has a gateway to a hideous nightmarish alternate reality populated by fiendish thingies that will attempt to devour anything they come in contact with. So you know, there are some complications to be had. Of course that still doesn’t take into account the treacherous nature of mountain climbing, especially one as dangerous as Mt. McKinley. All of these things combine to create a wonderful mood rife for picking off PCs one by one, be it by environmental hazard or alien monstrosity.

Of course, there aren’t too many adventures where all the action is based around climbing a mountain in hazardous conditions. So unlike previous Hebanon Games releases, the Keeper is really going to have to sit down and plan things out. They’re going to want to understand a little bit about mountain climbing. Why people do it, what is possible, slang and terminology. Things like that. The good news is that The Fall Without End contains a little primer to help Keepers understand how to best run the adventure and keep things grounded in the realm of reality. Well, aside from the terrible nameless horrors trying to eat the PCs that is. It’s also important that the players go in with a bit of understand on what they can or cannot do. If they don’t understand the relationships between a two man climbing team, the adventure can fall apart. So while The Fall Without End does require a bit of extra prep work by all involved, the end result is well worth it.

It’s also worth noting that The Fall Without End comes with a handy dandy flowchat which the Keeper will absolutely need to run this adventure properly. The choices that PCs can make are pretty open ended. After all, there are multiple ways to scale the mountain and different routes to take. As well, as people will be climbing in two man teams, the Keeper will more than likely need to be running two or three concurrent teams as they try to ascend the mountain. It’s a contest after all. My advice is to make liberal use of the flow chart and also mark on it where each team currently is. The one thing I do wish the scenario had was a little drawing of McKinley – one with locations marked for the Keeper and one for the players to see where they are and how much further they have to go. That would have been pretty cool. That said, this is a FREE adventure, so I doubt I’ll be complaining any time soon. What’s here is better than a lot of adventures with a price tag attached to them.

I do feel it is obvious that The Fall Without End was mean to be used with Call of Cthulhu rules and that perhaps it would work even better if it had been released as a product for the system it was originally intended for. Of course, I could be skewed by the fact I heard the podcast version first, and it coloured my reading of the adventure. Now NONE of this means the adventurer wouldn’t work with Savage Worlds, or World of Darkness rules. Far from it. Just that the adventure reads like it has been reverse engineered from Call of Cthulhu, which of course it has.

The Fall Without End is more akin to a horror film than the typical Call of Cthulhu adventure. After all, PCs will be dying at an extremely high rate, and you’ll be lucky to have even one survive the adventure. That’s okay, because this really is meant to be a one-shot affair. A dramatic one time occurrence if you will. I keep thinking of Carpenter’s The Thing is regards to The Fall Without End, but the plots are very different. What the two have in common are themes of isolation and environmental hazards prevents the protagonists from escaping their inevitable doom. There are many ways to end the scenario. Everyone dies on the mountain, someone survives to discover the origin of the creatures and wishes they had died horribly, or someone manages to get down the mountain and “win,” albeit they will most likely be physically and mentally ravaged by their experience, unable to return to a normal existence. Any of the above are awesome and will ensure that you and your friends will talk about The Fall Without End for some time to come.

Basically, The Fall Without End is one of the most unique and enjoyable adventures I’ve ever come across. How often do you run or play a mountain climbing scenario? The creatures are horrific and unique, something that can and will only work in this specific situation, making the adventure all the more memorable. Players are as likely to be devoured as they are go insane or be killed by the elements without any cultists of nefarious schemes by an Outer God anywhere in sight. I absolutely adore this thing and it’s an adventure I would love to run myself. It’s a bit of an undertaking for the Keeper, especially compared to most horror adventures, but the reward is well worth the investment. Most importantly, The Fall Without End, like ALL Hebanon Games releases is FREE, so anyone reading this has no excuse not to go download this, especially when it’s vastly superior to most of the horror scenarios one pays for these days. Just go download the thing already. Even if you never play it, you will have a blast reading it. I couldn’t tell you whether this or The Red Tower is my favorite release by Hebanon Games, but since all are free, I don’t have to. You can just go get them all. So do it NOW!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Fall Without End
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Christina Stiles Presents: Races Revised - Cackle of the Gnolls
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2013 06:36:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/07/24/tabletop-review-christi-
na-stiles-presents-races-revised-cackle-of-the-gnolls-pathfi-
nder/

Christina Stiles Presents: Races Revised Cackle of the Gnolls, written by Mike Welham, is the latest in a series of Pathfinder supplements designed to expand upon races that are generally only used as NPC threats. In this offering we are presented with rules and options for creating more diverse and interesting variations of the standard gnoll. The PDF is thirteen pages long with one page being dedicated to the cover artwork and the final page presenting the OGL license, leaving eleven pages of content.

I will be honest and preface this by saying that I have always been a fan of gnolls and found this supplement to be both interesting and useful. I enjoy the thought of packs of gnolls, accompanied by cackling hyneas, prowling the savannah seeking out prey. The way they are powerful hunters yet often rely on simple scavenging and living off the cast-off of others gives them an interesting feel that most creatures simply don’t have. They are, simply put, lazy predators like vultures – only cooler. Of course there is the fact that I like them visually as well.

The supplement begins by giving a general overview of the gnoll race including a detailed physical description as well as information pertaining to the type of weapons and clothing they prefer. The gnoll racial traits are presented on the first page for making quick character and NPC generation easier. After the descriptions of the race we move on to an in depth look at the gnoll society and how they relate to other races. Included in this section are notes on gnoll adventurers as well as their relative age and size categories as well as modifiers that affect a gnoll as they get older.

As is necessary for any new player option there is a well presented section of alternate racial traits and subtypes. There are also a variety of other racial tidbits including new racial archetypes, feats, and spells specific to gnolls. The gnoll racial traits rage from Feral which grants the character additional class skills at the cost of their Intelligence, to the Savant which gives some information about the rare hairless gnolls that are adept at spell-casting.

The racial archetypes include the Feral Soul, which is a sub-type of the Oracle class, and the Pack-Bonded Hunter, which is a variation of the Ranger. For me the Pack-Bonded Hunter is at the center of being a gnoll as it represents their innate desire to form “packs” with others, even if their compatriots are non-gnolls. The new feats provided range from Bone-Crushing Jaws which improves the characters bite attack, to those that improve the gnolls teamwork abilities and one, Unsettling Foe, that aids the gnoll in intimidating others. While many of the new feats are combat oriented it is nice to see several that provide the character with advantages in other areas such as Desert Runner which provides the gnoll a bonus to their base movement rates.

In addition to all of this there are a variety of magic-oriented details such as a handful of new magic items. A new cleric sub-domain Ferity, which is based off of the animal domain helps bring out the characters bestial nature. Finally there are four new spells including Bloodlust which improves the targets ability to battle their opponents.

Personally I would have really liked to see a picture or perhaps a better description of the gnoll triple-flail found in the equipment section but this is a minor quibble really. The artwork that is presented is clean and evocative of the race.

All in all I give Cackle of the Gnolls a thumbs up. It is excellent not only for creating gnoll player characters but will also help to make great NPC foes and foils for a party of adventurers. By using this product there is no reason to simply use run-of-the-mill gnolls anymore and you can really throw a party for a loop when introducing all the options available here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Christina Stiles Presents: Races Revised - Cackle of the Gnolls
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The One Ring - The Heart of the Wild
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2013 06:52:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/07/23/tabletop-review-the-one-
-ring-the-heart-of-the-wild/


First off : I need to clarify that I am doing a review of the PDF version of the product rather than the physical copy. Now, products for The One Ring have been slower than anticipated so far, with Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild (Main Rules), Tales From The Wilderland, and the combined Loremaster’s Screen/Lake Town combo preceding it. This makes The Heart of the Wild the fourth release.

For those that are not aware, The One Ring is the latest in a series of roleplaying games that have directly allowed players to explore Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The previous games (Middle Earth Role Playing by Iron Crown Enterprises and Deciphers’ short lived Lord Of The Rings) each had their own take on the setting, and were met with some acclaim by fans of the books. Unfortunately, the edition released by Decipher never really got off the ground, but did show some promise. After the lapse of the license, Cubicle 7 picked up the reins and released the new rules set back in August 2011, with a tentative release schedule that was very ambitious considering the size of the company, and one that it couldn’t both maintain and keep the quality of. For myself though, I really would prefer one excellent release to several poorer ones.

So, how does this stack up and what is it all about ?

Well, The Heart of the Wild is a sourcebook rather than a campaign or series of adventures. It details the area of Middle-Earth known as Mirkwood and its immediate surrounding area in some considerable depth. It offers new options to players and introduces some fresh Fellowship Phase actions for the environ as well. It is intended as a companion to The Darkening of Mirkwood, a forthcoming Campaign, but is usable in its own right.

First impressions : Like all the other releases, The Heart of the Wild looks gorgeous. Cubicle 7 really excels with presentation and layout. Most other companies should look to them and use them as a benchmark for their own products. The background texture to the pages enhances rather than detracts from the content. The colours used are easy on the eyes, as is the font, and the art fits the setting perfectly. On PDF, it is truly a very attractive looking book, and I am sure the hardcopy with the high grade paper that Cubicle 7 uses for this product line will push the production standard up even higher.

Heading more in-depth now : The book consists of 128 pages, including covers, which is split into the obligatory Introduction, two gazetteers: The Lands of the River and The Greatest of the Forests; a bestiary entitled Monsters of the Wild and, finally, an Appendix. I will cover each of these separately.

The Introduction is just that. It consists of two pages and explains how to use the book. I must say, though, that the accompanying artwork below the text really does set the scene in itself. It depicts an Adventuring Party looking out over Mirkwood itself.

The two gazetteers break each larger area down into more sizable chunks and provide a general overview of the terrain, then go into more detail about the locale, giving information about the features, flora and fauna to be found, notable NPC’s that may be encountered as well as specific locations.

The first of the the two gazetteers, The Lands of the River, covers the area to the west of Mirkwood: The valley of the river Anduin. After the overview and history of the area, it is separated into eleven separate regions, each laid out in the format previously stated. The text is crisp and to the point, yet entertaining. You can certainly see Gareth Hanrahan’s style of writing coming to the fore. In addition to the standard content, there are several sidebars that present adventure ideas in the form of snippets of additional information, such as one entitled “Forgotten Treasures” and another called “A Campfire Tale”. As well as these, a “new” set of player options are presented, including the option to play Woodmen of Mountain Hall and Wild Hobbits. Add into this a nice map of Beorn’s Hall and more background on the Eagles and you begin to realize the ambitious scope of what is a 128 page book.

From the river, it moves into Mirkwood itself: The Greatest of Forests. This section consists of eight geographic regions within the borders of the the forest, again following the same layout as that found in the preceding chapter. The history section here is very well researched and has taken Tolkien’s works and notes for the area and expanded on it in such a way to keep the flavour, and more importantly, the essence of Mirkwood intact. Side bars here cover the Elves of Mirkwood, presenting more options for them but not overpowering them, making them a “must play” race (which other game companies are wont to do with a new release), more adventure ideas and further background. The sections that really jumped out concerned the Elf Realm, Rhosgobel and Dol Guldur. I do need to say here that, although the maps for Rhosgobel and Dol Guldur are excellent, I found the map for the Elf City to be less so, and not to the same standard of the rest of the illustrations.

Next comes the Monsters of the Wild. These are excellent and worthy additions to the bestiary. Each is well written up, statted and illustrated, with a personal favourite of mine being the Wood-Wights. I will say there are enough variations on spiders here to give even the most stout-hearted fly nightmares.

Finally The Appendix, which is basically the map from the core rules but with the locations mentioned in the gazetters added on there, making life a bit easier for the Loremaster.

So, there we have it. To sum up: This is a lovely product and a great aid for Loremasters in running a game in the Mirkwood area. Players will find it less useful and reading it will remove a lot of the mystery for them, making their travels here less fun. The only part I can find fault with is the aforementioned map of the Elf City but even that is not bad by any stretch. Well done to the authors, artists, layout people and Cubicle 7. A superb release and well worth the wait.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - The Heart of the Wild
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Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2013 07:35:24
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/07/18/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-sprawl-wilds-fourth-and-fifth-edition/

Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds is a reprint of four previously published Shadowrun Missions adventures collected and bound into one document. I’ve been praising the Shadowrun Missions line since I started reviewing tabletop games here at Diehard GameFAN as the best adventure format currently available, and you can’t get any of the Missions in this collection at DriveThruRPG.com or from CGL’s website, so it’s nice to see them collected here. As well, the price point is pretty solid. Usually Shadowrun Missions are $3.95 each, or less than a comic book. So the PDF price of $12.99 is a further discount on adventures that really are the best deal in gaming today. It’s such a crazy good price point that the cost alone is reason enough to empathically recommend this product to you as you’re getting four adventures for basically the price of three. The $19.99 “regular” price is a bit high, however, especially as these adventures are black and white and we’ve been spoiled by color adventures through this line for the past few years, so it’s hard to recommend at THAT price simply because it’s silly to be charged $4.99 for adventures that usually costs $3.99 if you buy them separately. So if you’re on the fence, get this collection NOW rather than later while the price is awesome rather than slightly overpriced compared to normal.

Another thing worth noting about Sprawl Wilds is that this is not your typical reprint. After all, we just saw the release of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition and as such, these Shadowrun Missions adventures have been reworked to be playable by both the new rules set and the old 20AE of Shadowrun. That means everyone wins with this collection. A big fan of the new edition (as you should be!)? Then you can replay some classic adventures with the new system and see how they compare? Absolutely hate the new rules and want to cling to fourth edition until they pry it from your cold dead hands, chummer? Well you can still play these adventures as they fit the version you love best. See? Everyone wins…except first through third edition fans that is.

If you’ve never played a Shadowrun Missions before, you’re missing out. As mentioned for THE PAST FEW YEARS, I’ve yet to find an adventure layout better than the one used with theShadowrun Missions line. Everything is laid out so wonderfully, even a brand new GM can run one of these. Then for the long time Sixth World Veteran, there are ways to scale the adventure up or down depending on the player’s skill at the game and/or the build levels of the characters. These things just flow so smoothly, I recommend them even to non-Shadowrun fans as an example of how to outline an adventure with the least amount of chance for GM screw up or confusion. I’m really glad the first official adventure release for 5e is simply taking some old SM adventures and giving them the new rules set. Fifth Edition is the perfect chance to jump on to Shadowrun for the first time and giving newcomers a set of easy to run, play and understand adventures is the best thing that could have happened for the game, especially as it had become far too insular and newcomer unfriendly towards the end of 4e.

So now let’s talk about the adventures themselves. There are four of them here and as they are four adventures, the quality does vary. The collection starts off with Manhunt and it’s a personal favorite of mine. Back in the day (AKA a few years ago…) I turned this adventure into a Shadowrun/Werewolf: The Apocalypse crossover, which is surprisingly easy to do once you read the text (I don’t want to spoil it.). Basically your characters have been hired to investigate a string of mysterious animal killings up by a hydroponics farm. Not your usual Shadowrun, is it? Well, it stays that way throughout, believe me. The adventure features some unusual antagonists and NPCs. It’s a great introduction into just how weird the Sixth World can be as well as showcasing how not every adventure needs to be wetworks or industrial espionage. The Plastic Jungle is always a memorable and far underutilized backdrop and I love that this collections starts with Manhunt as it will really stick out in the minds of newcomers and also keep them from being introduced to the system via the usual tricks and tropes. Character will use a range of skills, many of which aren’t killing things related.

The second adventure in this collection is Carbon Copy. I honestly didn’t remember this one at all, and the events seemed out of place since it’s the “third” appearance of the Mayan Cutter and a major Shadowrun Missions character that was alive all throughout last season has a pretty good chance of being axed here, so I had to go look and discover that this one is an all new adventure just for the collection. Nice! Well, not so nice for CHARACTER NAME REDACTED, as I’ve always liked them. Boo-Urns. Of course the synopsis is written in a way that had me thinking they were definitely killing a certain Knight Errant NPC that is quite popular with Shadowrun fans, but thankfully that was just a very bad turn of phrase not caught by the editing team.

Carbon Copy is a fun little adventure, but there is one rather big problem that lessens its impact. While it is nice to have a new adventure, without any connection to the two previous Mayan Cutter adventures, the importance of who and what the Mayan Cutter is or the potential death of a longtime NPC will be lost on a lot of people who picked this up. Even more important, as the first adventure collection for Fifth Edition, Sprawl Wilds is the first introduction for a lot of gamers to Shadowrun and already they’re going to be in over the heads thanks to an adventure that harkens back to a veritable dump truck load of Fourth Edition metaplot points, making it a bit confusing and inaccessible to newcomers – the exact problem I feared we would see with Fifth Edition and the EXACT OPPOSITE thing you would want to see with the only premade adventures currently available for 5e. Now don’t get me wrong – the adventure is quite good, but it would have had far more impact had it been released in the closing days of Fourth Edition.

As the first truly new adventure for Fifth Edition you get a well written story but it does breaks every cardinal rule and commits every faux pas one can when it comes to releasing something for new players and a new system. Seriously, this would be like me writing for Vampire: the Requiem and then having the entire adventure reference Vampire: The Masquerade Second Edition and the death of Lodin, prince of Chicago or some such. Had Sprawl Wilds been a Mayan Cutter collection, this would worked so much better for both longtime Sixth World fans and newcomers alike. Instead you get an adventure that is awesome (I can’t stress that enough; I really liked the adventure) if you are a longtime fan of the metaplot and Shadowrun Missions in particular or if you are new to Shadowrun it becomes a mediocre experience that highlights the disconnect between the current writing staff at Catalyst Game Labs and their need to bring (and keep) new gamers into the fold instead of writing for the longtime SR zealot, because eventually that audience is going to dry up. So much for hoping Fifth Edition would be less about the metaplot and more about the game and gamers.

Adventure number three is called Ashes. It’s been modified a bit from the original version, at least metaplot wise. Now the adventure takes place after Election Day and/or Dirty Tricks with Proposition 23 passing. This changes the adventure slightly, but not enough that it affects the outcome or flow. People who played the original Ashes might be a bit disoriented and like, “That’s not how it happened,” but GOOD! It’s like the old B1 In Search of the Unknown or a Tunnels & Trolls in that you can replay it and still get something new out of it. As well, the changing of the metaplot actually makes the adventure a little more welcoming to newcomers as Proposition 23 is done with and they aren’t coming into the middle of this massive metaplot aspect that is actually already said and done from the closing days of Fourth Edition. It’s done and over with and so the changes let the players cleanly deal with Fifth Edition instead of retconning bits of Fourth Edition and I like that. An introduction to the Ork Underground in this collection is a wonderful idea, as it’s a defining aspect of 2075′s Seattle. Out of all the Ork Underground adventures, Ashes was also the easiest and most inviting to newcomers because the others were so intricately woven around the then upcoming referendum vote that a complete rewrite would have been needed to make them work. Even better, Ashes contains a nice primer on the Underground and its various sections, making sure new players and GMs alike will be able to understand its organization (or sometimes, complete lack thereof) and how different it is from the rest of Seattle.

The actual adventure itself is another high quality affair. What was supposed to be a simple courier job explodes into something else entirely – literally. What then follows is one of the more open ended Shadowrun Missions ever written. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still basically an on-rails shooter, but there are so many different things for players to do (or attempt to do) and a myriad of directions the adventure can go, that it really tested the Missions layout back in the day and proved how incredibly solid the format is. If Ashes hadn’t been written in the SM format, I think a lot of new or inexperienced GMs would have been lost or let things got to pot. Instead, the format of these adventures keeps things nicely contained while still listing (and organizing) all the possible outcomes of the sheer chaos and bedlam this adventure degenerates down to. Ashes is very different from the stereotypical Shadowrun experience while also introduces players to a regularly occurring location within Seattle, so it’s a wonderful juxtaposition of things that will be all too familiar to players as they get more experienced with the system and location while also reminding them that not every mission can be solved by a decker and a metric ton of bullets. This is another great choice for the collection and although I’m not generally a big fan of retconning adventures timeline wise (system wise is fine), Ashes is one of the better examples of this actually succeeding.

The fourth and final adventure is Humanitarian Aid, which got a sequel in the latest edition of Shadowrun Missions entitled ugh…Romero and Juliette. Yes, R&J was easily the worst Shadowrun Missions adventure of the season, and arguably ever, and it was lambasted from here to DrivethruRPG.com and back to ever major Shadowrun site out there, but good news everybody – Humanitarian Aid is written by a different person altogether, it’s of a much higher quality and it actually gets how to use a shedim correctly! So if you’re had the misfortune of sitting through Romero & Juliette and the inclusion of this adventure feels you with worry that Humanitarian Aid is just as terrible – sigh in relief because it most certainly is not.

Humanitarian Aid is a great way to end this collection, not just because it features a pretty powerful end boss which lets the collection end with a pretty powerful and memorable battle, but it’s another adventure that breaks from the usual, “break into location A and steal Object B or kill Person C” format that it is all too easy for homebrew adventures to fall into. At the same time it does bring into play one of the big Mega-Corps for the first time (Horizon – run technomancers, run!) in this collection and revolves around a nice kindly mission where you are retrieving a vaccine for a town in need. Clearly the players have a pure white hat on for once and they’re doing a mission where they can feel good about themselves, actually be as close to heroes as it gets in the Sixth World and earn some figurative Karma in addition to the literal Karma that acts as the XP system for Shadowrun. Of course things are not as easy as this adventure also introduces the shedim to newcomers. Shedim are not the Hebrew demons of lore, at least not in the Sixth World. Instead they are astrally existing spirits capable of possessing physical bodies. They’re a pretty loathsome and fearsome enemy in the Sixth World (although perhaps not as creepy as Insect Spirits, which thankfully show up in this collection, but just wait until the Chi-Town Rumble season of Shadowrun Missions starts up!) The whole adventure is a thrill ride from beginning to end and I’m happy Catalyst included Humanitarian Aid in this collection as it’s a great introduction to balls to the wall combat Shadowrun style, the Shedim, Horizon and how even the simplest mission in theory can go haywire, but also it gives newcomers and vets alike a chance to finally own this adventure which while, cited recently, hasn’t been availably digital before now (at least that I can recall. Hey, I’m old!).

Overall, Sprawl Wilds is a truly top notch collection. You get reprints of three well done adventures and a brand new one. I loved them all, even if one is too metaplot heavy for newcomers to truly get into. The price is especially good, and doubly so when you consider this is the first time any of them have been seen since 2010′s convention season. The Shadowrun Missions format is exactly what I hoped I’d see for the first official Fifth Edition adventure release(s) as it’s a great way to help people learn the system as well as keep GMs focused. This is simply a wonderful collection across the board and, while not perfect, is an easy recommendation to all Shadowrun fans out there new and old, fourth edition stalwarts or those who heartily embrace the fifth rendition of the Sixth World.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sprawl Wilds
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