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Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2014 07:18:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/06/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-bullets-bandages/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
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Atomic Robo RPG
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2014 07:00:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/05/tabletop-review-atomic--
robo-rpg-fate-core-system/

My favorite comic book of all time is Justice League International, which probably dates me as an old fogie. Still comics that have blend a blwend of comedy and action remain my favorites. I loved Sam & Max, Excalibur, Scarlet Spider, the John Rogers penned Dungeons & Dragons and of course, anything by Carl Barks, Don Rosa and Floyd Gottfredson. Currently I would say the three best action-comedy comics on the market are Archer & Armstrong, Quantum & Woody and Atomic Robo. While the Valiant crew has been releasing free teasers for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG, Atomic Robo RPG actually beat them to the punch with their comic book RPG release! Even though I am a big fan of Atomic Robo, and especially his nemesis Dr. Dinosaur, I tend to buy it in digital trade form rather than pay attention to any news or the like about the series. So I was caught off guard and pleasantly surprised when a review copy of Atomic Robo RPG showed up in my inbox. Now before we begin, if you haven’t read Atomic Robo, you really should. I will try to keep from comparing the game to the comic for newcomers sakes (and avoid spoiling them), but Comixology.com has a lot of digital issues of Atomic Robo for free, so either download those before continuing or boomark the Comixology link. FCBD 2009 and 2012 are my favorites of the freebies and rank up there with some of the best in the entire series. If you don’t at least crack a smile at those two, much less laugh at loud, then you have no soul. That’s all there is to it.

Atomic Robo RPG uses the Fate Core System, which is a pretty unique and well-designed system. Unfortunately, I’ve tried the new Mindjammer, Dresden Files RPG, Cthulhu in Space, Present Day Cthulhu and other titles/setting that have used Fate Core System, but I never really got into them. The only game that uses Fate that I’ve really liked was Spirit of the Century, buy my friends and I tend to use Basic Roleplaying or Amazing Adventures for my weird pulp style games, so it rarely sees use. Now that said, Atomic Robo RPG makes exceptionally good use of the Fate Core System. Modes, Aspects and even the die rolling mechanics seem tailored made for an action science somewhat comical RPG. Maybe I (or Fate) just needed the perfect setting to be tied to. After all, after reading the core Atomic Robo RPG rulebook, I can’t imagine this setting working better with any previous super hero or comic book style game, and this is coming from a pretty diehard zealot of TSR’s old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes game and an equally big fan of Mayfair’s DC RPG. I think Fate and Robo just complement each other nicely and deliver a RPG that is somewhat rules light while being incredible expansive in the field of character customization.

Now, if you’ve never played a Fate game, then I need to warn you: you’re going to need some special dice. Now, as a tabletop gamer, we’re already have special dice. We have D4s, D8s, d10s, d12s, d20s and the crazy Dungeon Crawl Classics dice. However, Fate games don’t use those dice. They have their own special d6 variants and they are nearly twice the cost of the polyhedral dice set tabletop gamers usually use. Expect to pay about between ten and twenty bucks for a set of Fate dice, depending on what type you get or where to get them. This does mean that the dice will cost you more than the PDF version of Atomic Robo RPG and while I realize that might put some off you off from purchasing the game, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it to people new to Fate and also say that the purchase is worth it. Amazon.com has a wide selection for those willing to buy the game and the dice.

So let’s talk the basic mechanics for Fate dice. You grab your four dice (rare situations can change things). They will either come up +, – or blank. A – is a negative and a plus is a positive. Add the results together with the appropriate skill and there you go. So if I got a +, +, ,-, I would have an end result of 1 which I would then add to my skill rating of oh, let’s say Burglary, which is Fair/+2. I would then have a grand total of +3 for my result. I mean, Fate is not rocket science people (although you can have the skill of Rocket Science since you are an ACTION SCIENTIST!). This is about 85% of the mechanics right here, so don’t be expecting a game like Pathfinder or Shadowrun where you spend more time looking up rules and mechanics than actually role-playing. Now obviously there are other modifiers such as Stunts or Mega-Stunts which are essentially powers or skills that let your character do comic book type things. You also have aspects of your character’s personality which can be invoked to give dice a bump. There are also Fate points similar to Bennies from Savage Worlds but closer to the GM Intrusion system you’ll find in Numenera. The bottom line is that with some rare exceptions, that paragraph above is all you need to know how to PLAY Atomic Robo RPG. You can pretty much start playing now!

One thing I absolutely love about Atomic Robo RPG is the character creation system…or should I say TWO character creation systems. You have an easy streamlined no muss, no fuss version to help you churn out a character for less experienced or younger gamers, as well as those that just want to play a run of the mill action scientist. Both versions are a lot of fun and due to how open concepts, aspects and stunts are, you can make whatever character you’d like without being restrained by die rolls, or predetermined categories. One of my big problems with the Margaret Weis version of their Marvel Super Heroes RPG was how you couldn’t really make your own characters and the premade Marvel ones were far from accurate. Honestly, the character creation system for Atomic Robo RPG is so fun, I’d use it (and the full mechanics) for other super hero licenses as well. There’s no reason why you couldn’t.

Which of course brings me to my next point. Do you have to be familiar with Atomic Robo to use or enjoy Atomic Robo RPG? Definitely not. The system does a great job of explaining the world of Atomic Robo, not just with words and descriptions, but with panels and sometimes full pages from the comic. Yes, instead of original art by guys like Larry Elmore or Timothy Bradstreet (I’m old!), Atomic Robo RPGAtomic Robo. To comfortably play in it, but you’ll be treated to some great scenes from the comic and even have a bunch of spoilers on the first eight volumes of the comic. Of course, those free Comixology issues I mentioned at the beginning of the review will also help to familiarize yourself with the game. Between the two, by the time you are done reading the core rulebook, you’ll be enchanted by the world and mechanically equally.

For only twelve dollars, you’re getting a complete 300+ page core rulebook and an in-depth look at the Atomic Robo universe. For that price, you should definitely pick up the PDF version of the game, even if you’re only mildly familiar with Fate or Atomic Robo. Now I can’t say the same about the physical copy as it’s three times as much. That’s probably best left to people who really love Fate or Atomic Robo. Simply put, the Atomic Robo RPG is exceptionally well done. It does an amazing job of explaining everything and at no point does it ever get dull, dry or boring like a lot of core rulebooks. With this in hand, you’ll definitely be able to “Tell Stores the Atomic Robo Way” (Chapter Ten). Again, grab those free comics from Comixology and if this review or those comic have your interest in Atomic Robo RPG piqued at all, just throw money at Evil Hat via their website or DriveThruRPG.com and download this game already. You won’t regret it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic Robo RPG
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d-Infinity Volume #6: The Mythos
Publisher: Skirmisher Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/03/2014 06:46:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/03/tabletop-review-d-infin-
ity-volume-6-the-mythos/

It’s hard to find a regularly published gaming magazine these days. The best ones, in terms of quality, like The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine, are published nowhere near the quarterly schedule promised. Other ones, like Savage Insider and Adventure Quarterly, are also unable to meet a regularly scheduled demand. It seems like the only thing that comes out like clockwork these days are White Dwarf and Pathways, which is a far cry from when you could see Dungeons, Dragon, White Wolf, Inquest, Scrye and the like every month at your local game store (or delivered via subscription). I love gaming magazines, though, and I find myself picking up even the ones that are of lower tier in both quality and scheduling, like & Magazine or some zines with low production values. Case in point, this brings us to D-Infinity or D-∞. Its last issue, Volume #5, came out in November of 2013, putting a full six months between issues. It’s still doing better than Gygax Magazine though. Still, while D-Infinity issues are usually very hit or miss in terms of article quality, I felt like reviewing this one because a) I like gaming magazines, b) you might not be aware this publication exists and c) this volume is dedicated to Lovecraftia and so I thought it would be a fun issue to read. Did I get my seven dollars worth out of this issue of D-Infinity? Let’s take a look.

•Editorial. This gives some highlights of what this issue of D-Infinity is all about and talks a little bit about Lovecraft. It serves its purpose well enough. 1 for 1.


•Their Blood is the Sea. This is a long (eight pages) and dull piece of fiction about some people during the Dark Ages and the problems they face, such as a storm and some enemy troops. The big twist is that one of the brothers is a Mythos priest or perhaps something else. It was really boring and hard to get through, and although I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I can say it was one of the worst pieces of gaming fiction I’ve read this year. It took a massive amount of effort to get through this. Don’t do what I did. Skip this entry. 1 for 2.



•Digital Dice: Mobile Game Support Apps. In theory, this is a really good idea for a column. Unfortunately, in practice, it’s not very good. The column specifically states, “In the interest of keeping this article relevant on multiple platforms and for a longer duration, it will not make mention of any specific mobile apps. Instead it covers what is currently possible with mobile devices and how to incorporate them into a game.” This is not a very good idea. For one thing, not a lot of people know this magazine exists. For another, if this is found a year later and read, mobile apps will have changed and provided new stuff anyway, and thus what’s here will be outdated in spite of its attempts not to be. People want to be given suggestions and reviews of apps so that they don’t have to do the search themselves. That’s why reviews are popular. This piece instead just gives some vague overviews of some types of apps and leaves the reader with no idea of which ones are good and which should be best avoided. This is pretty much the opposite of what I’d want to see from an article on Mobile Game Apps. Yuck. 1 for 3.


•The Prop Room: The Allure of Innsmouth Gold. This was another article that had a ton of potential but failed to live up to it. It’s about how to make realistic Deep One gold artifacts for your game sessions, be they tabletop or LARP. AWESOME idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually show you how. There are no steps or tips given. At most, you get a few pictures that don’t show the process from beginning to end and a statement to buy a mix of two types of clay. Had the article been given a half dozen pages or so to really show the step by step process of making these trinkets, it would have been amazing. Instead, the article assumes (perhaps because of page count) that you already know how to make props and are quite adept at it. This is the wrong path to choose. Always assume your audience is brand new to a topic and give them some meaty details. Sigh. 1 for 4.


•The Ageless. This is a WONDERFUL Cthulhu Live! adventure for ten to fifteen people. It’s about an ancient mummy and a dinner party gone horribly awry. This would be a lot of fun to pull off, but you’ll need a large home or location to do it in. My only real complaint is that, out of the fifteen playable characters, only two are women. The gender ratio should have been improved a bit, don’t you think? 2 for 5.


•Heroes and Heroines of KOS. This is an interesting article for The Sword of Kos role-playing system. Unfortunately, it is rife with bad editing. The first half of the first paragraph is repeated twice, making the piece look decidedly amateurish. You do get some nice bios of twelve different characters and they are stat-block free, meaning that you can put them into other games if you find them intriguing but you don’t play Sword of Kos. All but one character has appeared previous SoK releases, so I’m not sure what the point of this article was. Fans of the system will already be familiar with them and not need this piece, while everyone else might find the writing interesting, but not very useful. Alas. 2 for 6.


•Six Mythos Spells. Six new spells for Labyrinth Lord. This is pretty cut and dry, and well done. I especially like “Create Unholy Food and Water” and “Reverse Staircase.” 3 for 7.


•Artifacts of the Wasteland. Although this article has nothing at all to do with the titular subject of this D-Infinity issue, it’s an extremely well done piece for the Mutant Future system. I myself have never played Mutant Future, but this eight page article was so well done it’s made me consider giving it a try. I mean, I already have Labyrinth Lord and this uses essentially the same system. In essence, this piece is a collection of items broken down into four categories: Cloaks, Virtual Matter Projectors, Anti-Technology Weapons and Formulae. You are given several different types from each category and some in-depth descriptions of each example. There are no stats given for anything save Formulae, meaning you can bring a lot of these to different games if you own a different mutant/post-apocalyptic rules set. 4 for 8.



•Enter… the Living Building. This is another Mutant Future article, but there is no reason why it can’t be used in other settings, especially Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It would be a perfect fit for either. The living building is exactly what you might think – a organism in which people live. The buildings are not self-aware and are ammonite shaped. You get a lot of information about one of these, from why there are no windows to a look at how these buildings live and die. You are given a ton of in-depth information, ranging from the history of these buildings to a room generator to use with the provided map. There are even examples of built in defenses and monsters to turn this article into a full fledged adventure. Very cool! 5 for 9.


•Pathfinder System: Putting H.P. Lovecraft Into Game Terms. This is another really well done article. The premise is simple: the authors have taken lesser known Lovecraft creatures and given them stats to use with the Pathfinder and/or D&D 3.5 systems. There are six creatures in all, some of which aren’t even in Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu game, which I found interesting. It’s also worth noting the author’s version of Gnop-Kehs are very different from those in Call of Cthulhu. You also get a new skill, a new feat and some new spells. Great job. 6 for 10.


•The Saga of the Wyrm’s Son. Okay, I didn’t get the point of this article AT ALL. Yes, it’s a set of battles for Chevauchee: Rules for Battles with Medieval Miniatures, but it’s a system for low/null fantasy and this article introduces magic, trolls and other things to it. The end result has me wondering why they didn’t just use a system geared for fantasy miniature use instead of one for a more ground GMT Games style historical combat. This just didn’t work for me at all. Interesting ideas, but it just fell short of the intent. 6 for 11.


•Dagon Rising. This is a rules-light print and play board game. It’s very well done, but as with all print and play games, make sure you have the right materials on hand to properly make this thing, or the game will suffer for it. Dagon Rising is a random tile based game where up to four players work together to destroy the Pillar of Dagon… and try not to get murdered by Deep Ones. It’s very cute and well done. I hope people take the time to print it off and play it. The tokens and character standees are also very well done. There are two bonus Quactica gaming pieces as well, which are thrown in because they had some extra space I guess. 7 for 12.

There we are. Although this issue of D-Infinity started out rough, the good did eventually overshadow the bad with this volume (although it was looking dire at first). I honestly can’t say this is worth the $6.99 price tag, especially since previous issues are a dollar cheaper. Since the quality of this issue runs the gamut from awesome to terrible, I think you might be better off waiting for a sale or a permanent price drop to five bucks or less. There is nothing here of a timely nature, so you can hold off until then. There are definitely some fun pieces to be had in this issue of D-Infinity though, and if you are a big Cthulhu Lives! or Mutant Future fan, this might be worth paying the MSRP for. Otherwise, it’s a curiosity piece at best.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
d-Infinity Volume #6: The Mythos
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Alex! It\'s too bad you didn\'t like my article (I write the Digital Dice column), but I\'m glad that you found as many as 7 of our pieces valuable! It\'s tough being all things to all people, and that might be why many old school gaming magazine legends like the original Dragon Magazine have gone the way of the dodo bird. Just wanted to let you know that we care a lot about making d-Infinity an earnest and useful multi-platform gaming supplement and are always trying to make each issue better than the last. Thanks for taking the time to review the magazine and we hope you\'ll check out future issues as well! - Brendan
Plague of the Dread Acolyte
Publisher: Trollish Delver Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2014 06:39:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/02/tabletop-review-plague--
of-the-dread-acolyte-tunnels-trolls/

In early 2013, I reviewed a wonderful release for Tunnels & Trolls entitled The Trollmanac. It contained odds and ends for the T&T system, and it went on to be a runner-up for “Best Supplement” in our 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. So when I saw Trollish Delver Games had released an adventure for Tunnels & Trolls, I was more than happy to review it as well. Unfortunately, while interesting, Plague of the Dread Acolyte isn’t really an adventure as much as it is the early trappings or rough draft of one. Still, it’s only a dollar, and what’s here might be of interest to those of you who are diehard Tunnels & Trolls fans.

Plague of the Dread Acolyte is the first of three adventures in the Mask of Destiny series. It’s only nine pages long and all of the art is from the public domain, but it’s also only a dollar, so you shouldn’t be expecting Wizards of the Coast or Paizo production values here. However, it’s not really an adventure. There are only six pages of content (the first three are a cover, title page and introduction) and none of it is really arranged how you might think of an adventure. It’s an attempt at making a non-linear “sandbox” adventure, but at the same time, there is nothing really set in stone except for some locations. It’s left to the GM to flesh out why players are in the village of Rockwood, how to set players on the right path, design clues to lead them to the core antagonist and finally, create a climax and a resolution to the adventure that is open ended enough to let you move on to part two, whenever that comes out.

You are given a paragraph on what the adventure’s plot is about (an evil witch turning people into Plague Monsters), three pages on the buildings of Rockwood (the town has no map so you can place things however you want), a page of magic items (more than there are current residents of the town) and a little information on the main antagonist and its plague demon minions. So it’s more fleshed out than a story seed, but not quite what I’d call a true adventure by any means. It’s somewhere in between, and expect to go into Plague of the Dread Acolyte having to do a LOT of work to make this adventure playable.

Now, this doesn’t mean the adventure is bad – just that it feels extremely unfinished and that it is nowhere near playable right out of the box, so to speak. The core plot idea of a conspiracy to acquire the Mask of Destiny (which doesn’t actually come up in this adventure) is an interesting one. The title is pretty intriguing and helped me to pick up this adventure in the first place. Rockwood is nicely fleshed out, with nine locations getting a paragraph or two of description, including a possible sidequest or red herring leading the PCs into a cavern of orcs and other perils. Of course, you’ll have to flesh out this cavern (and most likely map it) to use it. So as I’ve said, there are a lot of interesting ideas, but the adventure just doesn’t feel finished to me. The author states he tried to take a minimalist approach to this piece to keep players from feeling “on rails,” but I think he took it a little too much to the extreme.

Right now I’d call Plague of the Dread Acolyte a curiosity piece at best. If you’re a Tunnels & Trolls fan, I’d wait until all three parts of the Mask of Destiny trilogy are released and decide if you want to pick up the full set or not. Plague of the Dread Acolyte IS only a dollar and a penny, so it’s not like you’ll be breaking the bank on this one if you do buy it, but be warned, it’s a pretty sparse piece and you might be better off writing an adventure from scratch instead.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Plague of the Dread Acolyte
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Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2014 06:40:14
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/30/book-review-delta-green-
-tales-from-failed-anatomies-call-of-cthulhu/

Tales From Failed Anatomies is the second Kickstarter Arc Dream Publishing has done for their (Originally Pagan Publishing’s) Delta Green – a modern setting for Call of Cthulhu. The first Kickstarter, Through a Glass, Darkly raised $27,000 from 346 backers. The newest one saw 1,085 backers raised thirty thousand dollars. It also went so far beyond the original goal, that Arc Dream was able to fund a second book, entitled Extraordinary Renditions via the same Kickstarter! That’s pretty impressive. While Extraordinary Renditions will be an anthology by multiple authors, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a collection of (lucky) thirteen short stories by Delta Green Co-Creator Dennis Detwiller along book ended by two pieces from Robin D. Laws. I’ll admit I took part in the Kickstarter primarily to get playtester access to the new upcoming Delta Green RPG that appears to be shedding its Basic Roleplaying roots. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Tales From Failed Anatomies. The book was not only top notch from beginning to end but it’s currently the best tabletop related fiction I’ve read this year, displacing Troy Denning’s The Sentinel and Richard Lee Byers’ The Reaver. Of course it might help that I’m a big fan of Delta Green, but as I think you’ll see from this review, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a book you can enjoy if you’re a longtime fan of Delta Green or if this is your first foray into this Call of Cthulhu spin-off.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Tales From Failed Anatomies consists of thirteen lightly connected short stories showcasing the history (and eventual future) of the Delta Green program. The phrase Delta Green isn’t used that often, which is a nice touch. Same with other references to the history of the game setting like MAJESTIC, but for the most part the book’s references to the myriad incarnations of the tabletop game are subtle. The book is exceptionally friendly to newcomers, all though this is partly due to the writing style of these stories, which is both inviting and yet esoteric. This ensures that all readers get a strong sense of what the story is about, while leaving aspects of the bizarre and incomprehensible left to the imagination of whoever is reading. In many ways, I found the stories in Tales From Failed Anatomies to be a mix of European Existentialism and a twisted version of Mexican Magical Realism (American Science Cthuluism?) which will leave the reader with a sense that there are two tales being told with each short story – the general one of a human encountering what its puny insignificant brain was not meant to understand, and another one that is only hinted at because of man’s incapability of properly understand what it unfolding before it. Detwiller’s writing style ensures that readers will find the tales eerie and more in-line with the origins of the Cthulhu Mythos than most modern takes which unfortunately come down to “blowing up Lovecraftian horrors with guns and bombs and other weaponry.” I always find a good Mythos tale to be one that leaves just as much unsaid as is explored in the written word, and each piece in Tales From Failed Anatomies hits the mark in this regard.

The first three stories in the book (“Intelligences,” “The File” and “Night and Water,” are all about the WWI to WWII era. As such, all three focus on Innsmouth and the Deep Ones. Delta Green gets its origins from The Shadow Over Innsmouth after all. Again, you do not have to be familiar with the Delta Green roleplaying game in the slightest to enjoy or appreciate these stories as you get a cursory look at the roots of the organization with this triad of stories. Perhaps because they are the core of what causes Delta Green to be, these three stories take up a full third of the book, but perhaps Dennis just really liked Deep Ones. I know a lot of Mythos authors do! “Intelligences” is many ways is yet another take on The Shadow Over Innsmouth‘s core twist, but it’s done in a very interesting way. “The File” is a wonderful look at Innsmouth from a not-so rank and file government employee’s point of view. While “Intelligences” and “The File” are both heavily centered around the events that went on in Innsmouth, “Night and Water” is only vaguely connected to the Deep Ones and is more a WWII story about Nazis using a hybrid of mad science and occult magics to create…well, something horrible anyway. Still, the Deep One connection has me group it with the other two. These first three stories are tremendous and by the time you are done you’ll have a hard time putting Tales From Failed Anatomies down.

“Dead, Death, Dying” gives you a look at a scientist forced to examine something horrible brought back from an excursion into the Soviet Union. “Punching” tells the tale of a Delta Green agent who has little to no sanity left and his trip back to Harvard for a class reunion. “The Secrets That No One Knows” is a foray into a more conventional and yet somehow Kafka-esque Mythos story. Everything is spelled out and yet nothing is ever truly said in regards to what is actually happening. I loved it.

“Coming Home” is a look at the horrors and metal issues plaguing many that returned from the Vietnam War and our other excursions into Southeast Asia. In the case of the story’s main character, this is compounded all the more by the pivotal events that shook out Delta Green in 1970. “Coming Home” is perhaps the least accessible to newcomers as there is lot alluded to from the tabletop game that is never expressly mentioned in the short story, but I think newcomers will still be able to enjoy it for what it is and will take the vague mentions the same way they do all the others in the collection – sinister allusions to something not said.

“The Thing in the Pit” is the story of a hapless IRS agent that gets in over his head. What starts off as a routine inquiry into fraud turns out to be far more than he ever expected. It also features what appears to be a husband and wife Shoggoth Lord tandem, which makes for an interesting tale. Usually I hate stories and adventures involving these creatures because they are done so poorly, but “The Thing in the Pit” is the best I’ve seen that uses them. Of course they might not BE Shoggoth Lords as they are never called that, so hey.

“Contingencies” gives us a look at the Russian equivalent of Delta Green, GRU-SV8 and one agent’s hapless foray into a strange machine known only as the Mironov device. This is a wonderful story that really looks at the fallacies of reality. What starts off as a story about mathematical equations ends up becoming a stark look at what existence really is…or is not. It’s a hard story to describe without piling on spoilers, so let’s just say that you never know what is taking place in the core reality of the tale and what is taking place in a splinter version.

“Drowning in Sand” is a look at an old, probably insane scientist and his reflections at MAJESTIC in what may or may not be Area 51. “Philosophy” looks at the “forced retirement” of a long running Delta Green agent. It’s also a look at how underground Delta Green is by this point in time (pretty close to the original release date of the game version).

The last two stories in the book are the weakest and by far my least favorite in the collection. While still entertaining in their own right, they are a bit lackluster compared to what came before them in the collection. I think this is because both stories take place in the near future. One very near (2015) while one in the latter half of the 21st Century (20XX). “Witch Hunt” apparently shows “Delta Green” being exposed to the American public at large and the cover-up that goes into it while “After Math” is the apocalypse of sorts. They definitely are the weakest in the collection and it’s sad to see the collection end on a down turn, but hey, I loved the first eleven stories in the collection, so it had a pretty good run. They can’t all be winners after all, and even if I didn’t care for these two, this was still the most I’ve enjoyed tabletop related fiction this year.

You don’t have to be a Delta Green fan to love Tales From Failed Anatomies. You don’t even have to be familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos at all. Newcomers will walk away from this short story collection wanting to know more about this agency that is almost as shadowy as the things it fights. Perhaps that will lead people to purchasing other Delta Green Fiction, but hopefully it will make them want to try the Delta Green roleplaying game, be it the original version or the new upcoming take. Either way, for $9.99, you’re getting a wonderful short story collection and it’s one you’ll be able to devour regardless of your prior knowledge of the setting. These days most tabletop fiction releases assume you are intimately acquainted with the world and/or characters in the novel and make no attempt to draw in newcomers. That insular style of writing only serves to push casual readers or newcomers away. Thankfully Tales From Failed Anatomies does the exact opposite. Pick it up, even if you’ve never heard of Delta Green before this review. Once you’ve read it, there is a whole wide world of horror for you to explore.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
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Shadowrun: Stolen Souls
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2014 08:41:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/26/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-stolen-souls/

Throughout Shadowrun, Fourth Edition, we saw hints and teases that something wasn’t right with FastJack, and perhaps a few other major players in the Sixth World, but it wasn’t until Storm Front where we got some definite confirmation as to what was going on. Apparently FastJack, Riser, Plan 9, Miles Lanier and several other metaplot characters picked up a disease that was somewhat reminiscent of developing Dissociative Identity Disorder. Except that this second personality appeared to be a second individual inhabiting the same body and slowly taking it over. Stranger yet, it wasn’t a disease as we know it, but something that appears to have been transmitted via technological means. Since then, Riser and Fastjack have all but disappeared, while Plan 9… seems to have his/her/whatever’s act together due to the rampant paranoia it has always lived with. Still, this vague threat of body snatching remained even more in the shadows than most runners. Characters and players alike were in the dark as to what was going on – until now.

Stolen Souls is our first real look at not only Cognitive Fragmentation Disorder (CFD for short), but also our first real major plot line for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. Although I liked the idea, I’m torn on the follow-through. You get roughly ninety-five pages of Jackpoint metaplot fiction on CFD, its possible origins and the many failed attempts to cure it. What, you thought they could fill two hundred pages on a single topic like this? Not hardly. The rest of the pages are on two very different topics. The first is a very nice look at Manhattan and some attempts to tie it into CFD by the very random decision of having a ton of CFD research occurring on the island, which makes absolutely no sense in or out of game because obviously you’d want to have an easily spread, incurable disease concentrated in the most densely populated area in North America. That makes SO MUCH SENSE! I loved the write-up of Manhattan proper, although this piece would have been better two Shadowrun Missions seasons ago, when the focus there was on New York. What’s here is really well written, except for the bad attempts to tie CFD research into Manhattan, because it is flimsy and nonsensical. Otherwise, the Manhattan piece is fantastic. It’s got a great travel guide, all sorts of extremely useful sidebars and it’s one of the better city guides CGL has put out for a location. Now, it could have been better with some maps or if the CFD bit had been excised. Manhattan’s guide would have stood out more (and possibly sold better) had it been a supplement on its own. I’d have rather seen this space go to the Sioux Nation, which would have fit in a lot better with the previous CFD information (no spoilers as to why) and so things would have flowed better thematically instead of feeling like you had three very different supplements crammed into one sourcebook. So, mostly positive thoughts to the forty pages given to Manhattan, and if you’ve ever wanted to run a Shadowrun campaign there, this section alone might be worth the large price tag associated with this. Although it is a hard sell if all you want are forty of the two hundred pages in this collection.

The third section (I know we haven’t covered the first, bear with me) is roughly fifty pages on how to extract someone, be they willing or unwilling. This is divided into two chapters, “Stealing Living Goods” and “The Extractor’s Toolkit.” Now, both sections are really well written, but again, they have next to nothing to do with CFD, and thus they would have been better off as their own supplement instead of creating a patchwork sourcebook like this. Long time veterans of Shadowrun probably won’t find this section very useful at all, but only because they’ve been doing runs so long, all of this is old hat to them. Still, it’s very well written, and even if you “know it all” already, it’s a fun read for the fiction and Jackpoint commentary. Who knows – you might also learn something after all!

Where the extractor bits are really useful are for people new to Shadowrun. Fifth Edition is less than a year old after all, and in theory, it plus the video game that was released in 2013 SHOULD have brought in a lot of new players or returned some out of touch veterans back to the fold. It is for these gamers that the third part of Stolen Souls is written, and it’s something they definitely should read. It’s a great way to learn HOW to do various types of extraction runs, and you even get specific looks at poisons, chemicals, powers, spells and techniques that will help an extraction go a lot smoother than just busting into a joint and shooting anything that moves. Again, these two chapters on extraction are wonderful, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone new to Shadowrun. Again, if the price for this piece wasn’t so high, I’d say newcomers almost NEED this. So once more, we see that Stolen Souls would have been better off as a set of three smaller supplements rather than one large disconnected sourcebook. I honestly think CGL would have made more money going this route, and Shadowrun fans would be a lot happier, as they could have picked one or more that the needed/wanted instead of being saddled with three very different pieces merged into one expensive book.

So now let’s go back to CFD. You’re probably wondering why I covered the other two parts of the book first, rather than the beginning part, which also happens to be the title attraction. Well, the previous two bits are shorter and thus easier to talk about. The commentary is also mostly positive, and I’d rather begin a review on a high note. Which obviously means I’m not quite happy with the CFD section. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first is that CFD is pushed too hard, too fast. From the writing, you know that the disease is unstoppable, incurable and will plow through its victim like Goldberg in an old episode of Monday Nitro. There is no hope. Also, it’s spreading incredibly quickly, no one knows how, and there are huge infirmaries filled with nothing but CFD sufferers. From the text, it’s easy to assume that the disease is so big, like one out of ten or a hundred people has it and it’s only going to get worse. Yet SOMEHOW, the governments and megacorps are hiding it from the general population. The writing, while excellent in style and tone, just isn’t believable. CFD is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the superflu, Ebola, HIV and the Black Plague rolled up into one massive pandemic. The problem is you can’t actually hide a pandemic. CGL wants to have it both ways – a crazy unstoppable disease plowing through metahumanity, yet the general populace is woefully ignorant of it. It just doesn’t work the way it is written. It’s totally unbelievable, and when this is the thing that, after five editions of playing Shadowrun, breaks my suspension of disbelief, you know something is wrong here.

Now, the idea of CFD is solid, and the original build up to Stolen Souls was really well done, but this was a cluster of immense proportions. If you’re going to devote a hundred or so pages to the idea and then tell GMs “Oh, there is no canon known cure yet, so don’t infect PCs with it unless they specifically ask for it,” you know the idea has not been thought out in terms of actually PLAYING through this sub-plot. This is a regular problem with Shadowrun, and aside from the heavy mechanics, this focus on writing the metaplot over people actually playing the game really is the system’s big Achilles Heel. I don’t think anything showcases this underlying issue with Shadowrun more than the CFD section of Stolen Souls. This could have been done so much better in a myriad of different ways. They should have kept the build slow and subtle. A slow burn on the rise of CFD throughout many sourcebooks, with little hints both in metaplot and mechanics on how to deal with it. Then they should have done the massive sourcebook on it, but also provided GM only information on possible cures and/or fixes. By not providing this information right away, CGL has committed multiple grievous errors. The first is that they are fleecing gamers, who will now have to purchase one or more books to get the canon cure. That is not going to set well with a large percentage of Shadowrun players. They’re going to look at this as bait and switch, more or less. The second is that some GM is going to ignore the books strongly worded advice about not infecting players with CFD and thus screw over a character because they will play it to the letter that THERE IS NO CURE and cite all the possible examples in the book and how they have failed. CGL has forgotten that there are a lot of BAD GMs out there that view a game as Players Vs GM (as some players do) and/or that a game is something to win. By not providing a back door out of CFD immediately, there will be some games torn apart and some players left with a bad taste in their mouth regarding Shadowrun – perhaps bad enough that they stop playing altogether. Finally, vry few gamers are going to even want to touch the concept of CFD and put it into their game since Stolen Souls offers a comprehensive but ultimately incomplete look at the disease. A decent amount of Shadowrun gamers follow the metaplot extensively and tailor their games around it. As such, they won’t want to touch CFD until it is fully fleshed out and defined, because otherwise their group will come up with a solution that doesn’t fit canon and OH NO! More than any other system I have ever encountered, Shadowrun gamers seem afraid to go off the beaten path and not follow the canon metaplot provided. Not this isn’t all Shadowrun gamers. It’s just there is a noticeably higher proportion here than with other systems I talk to people about or play. This is mainly because Shadowrun puts the metaplot over playing the actual game and regularly drives this perception home with nearly every release done for it in the past few years. Sticking to the metaplot isn’t bad, but when you know your players are wont to do that, you can’t just trail off and go “Nanite Boogeymen are going to get you. Pay $25-45 now and more down the road if you want closure!” as this is absolutely the wrong way to do things if you want to keep fans of your product happy. Still, there has never been a better impetus for homebrewing your Shadowrun world than CFD as it is presented here.

What changes needed to be made with the disease? Well, a lot. It shouldn’t be able to pretty much do anything and infect this many people so quickly. The disease should take longer than 30-60 days to fully subdue the original personality of the meatbag it now inhabits. The disease shouldn’t infect some people other than the “undead” of the Sixth World. It would have been nice if it only infected those with Cyberware, making it a better disease metaphor. Sure, you don’t get the enhancements, but you don’t risk CFD. The fact that the disease can infect mages and especially physical adepts (and then use those powers after it has taken control of the body) just makes it too insanely powerful for most people to even think about using. It definitely should be a far slower burn, with less people infected than the text indicates. As I’ve said, you can hide a disease when it first occurs – you can’t hide a freaking pandemic. As the CFD bits go on, the disease goes from a fun concept to creep players out into something that feels like something a bunch of gamers came up with when high or drunk. “Dude, you know what would be cool? If there was X that did Y and Z.” Concepts like blinder, balance and how the end product might actually effect things rather than sound cool are definitely missing here. It would be one thing if this was a brief, cheap supplement that merely highlighted a growing problem starting to reveal itself in the Sixth World. It’s another thing entirely to throw all this at an audience at once without any true insights, ways to really use the concept in an actual game or some sort of end game resolution.

So how could this be salvaged? Well, I’m not sure. Unless you pick up Shadowrun releases just to read rather than implement, the only way to do so is to utterly ignore CFD until CGL has completed the storyline and then go from there. However, this is some pretty pricey fiction if you go that route, and as we’ve seen with things like the Vampire subplots, they can drag out for years without being touched again. Is there another way to CFD could have been tackled in a way that Shadowrun fans of all walks could have used and even enjoyed this information? There certainly is, although I’m not sure if it can work now. That would be to go the artifact collection route. Remember a few years ago when Shadowrun had a series of interconnected adventures about collected ancient magical artifacts and then followed it up with Artifacts Unbound? That’s what they should have done here. With each adventure, the CFD outbreak would grow noticeably worse. Leaving players hanging regarding a cure would have been more acceptable (and perhaps even fun) as readers and players alike would know resolution was coming quickly and that they could actually take active part in the storyline if they chose. Hell, players could even get infected with CFD and not feel like they have been screwed without a lifeline. They would know a fix would be coming in a soon to be published sequel. GMs could actually USE CFD in their campaign without players worrying about contracting it, or conversely, going “Meh. I know I’m NOT going to get this because I’ve read Stolen Souls.” What we have now is a juggernaut of a disease that takes only a month or two to wipe out a person, and that you can only interact with it in your game via NPCs, thus making the PCs little more than window dressing to the entire concept. What we could have had was a whole host of ways to integrate CFD into a subplot or even focal point of a campaign, while still being an entertaining metaplot read. CGL could have printed money hand over fist and reception would have been a lot kinder than what Stolen Souls is getting. This was a great idea, badly damaged by poor execution and follow through, and it will be interesting to see how/if CGL can salvage this or if we have another Amazonia/Aztlan War dud on our hands. Of course, all that said, Artifacts Unbound dropped the ball in some ways too, which leads me to believe that perhaps we have a larger problem at CGL – where ideas are thrown out and partially developed, but no one thinks out a conclusive ending or solution at the very beginning (which can evolve organically over writing and releases) and thus things fall apart big time at the end like this. This no real canon solution or explanation with CGL products would be fine if, like other games that did this, the metaplot wasn’t pushed as hard or as if it was the crown jewel of the system. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. So either Shadowrun has to start coming up with decent (or better) endings to their pretty awesome beginnings, or they need to really loosen the grip the metaplot has on the game. It’s one or the other people.

So yeah, instead of pushing CFD slowly in an entertaining fashion that any fan could enjoy on some level, we’ve been given a massive tome that is naught but Jackpoint metafiction, which reinforces the idea that Shadowrun is to be read and not played, and I can’t think of a bigger disservice done to gamers than what we’ve been given here. This is all the more unfortunate considering how good the Manhattan and Extraction bits were. As good as they were though, the execution of CFD just kind of ruins the overall quality of Stolen Souls; perhaps more so when you remember that this was the marquee of the piece. Am I pretty unhappy with the CFD section? Yes and no. The writing is top notch, and I enjoyed it as a fiction piece, but as a player the believability, brief mechanics, development of the idea and the corner CHL has backed themselves (and players) into is total crap. Can the idea of CFD be fixed and perhaps even made enjoyable as a playable component of Shadowrun after Stolen Souls? I’d like to think to so, but I think this was absolutely the wrong way to showcase CFD as well as write about it.

I do want to say that the CFD bit is not ALL horrible. The writing is pretty good, as if the author(s) is making the best of a bad situation left for them to clean up, and if this was straight up Shadowrun fiction like Another Rainy Night or Neat, I’d have been much happier. Novellas don’t change the face of a game I’m playing after all. I really liked how comprehensive things would start out, such as all the tests for cures, Clockwork’s attempt to find Patient Zero and Butch’s commentary on the disease. But then a pattern of dropping the ball begins to emerge. No cure even begins to appear to work. It just kills the victim dead. No patient zero is found. No conclusive leads to any Megacorp is given (However the GM only text at the back of the book names the two corps the canon metaplot will be leaning towards, which is a rather bizarre aside to give after all this page count devoted to a lack of credible findings) and so on. Again, there are so many ways this could have been done better, with plot threads dropped or some quality foreshadowing provided. We didn’t get that though. Instead, we got a concept pushed down our throats so far, that it is impossible to swallow.

Overall, Stolen Souls gets a thumbs in the middle. There are two great sections and one really poorly done one. It sucks that all three are thrown together into one big hodge podge of a book with a pretty high price tag instead of being released as three separate supplements that would have found a larger (and more receptive) audience overall. I can’t really recommend this as a whole, and I can’t think of an aspect of Shadowrun I’ve been this disappointed by, save for bits of Storm Front. I’m really hoping CGL can surprise me, turn the CFD concept around and save it, because right now it’s basically radioactive in a way the majority of Sixth World gamers won’t want to put it into their game until it’s been thoroughly cleaned up. At least the Manhattan and extraction bits are really well done. It’s just too bad they are lumped together with the CFD bit.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Stolen Souls
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Cursed Necropolis: D.C.
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/23/2014 19:54:45
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/09/tabletop-review-mummy-t-
he-curse-cursed-necropolis-d-c-world-of-darkness/

Back in January of 2013, 1,767 people backed a crowdfunding effort for the (then) newest setting for the New World of Darkness line: Mummy: The Curse. While the Core Rulebook received a rave review from me and it eventually won our “Best Core Rulebook” award in the 2014 Tabletop Gaming Awards but the system has been pretty silent since then. Sure we’ve gotten a Storyteller’s Screen, some pregenerated characters and the Guildhalls of the Deathless sourcebook (which was a fine follow up) but the setting has been quiet as a tomb since October, 2013. Still, our third release for the system is finally here.

Where the core rulebook gave us the mechanics and setting and Guildhalls of the Deathless gave us fleshed out information about the various factions that make up the game, Cursed Necropolis: D.C. is something different. It’s more in-line with the old XYX by Night books for Vampire: The Masquerade as it is a sourcebook slash campaign setting for a city, its history and its inhabitants. This makes sense when you consider that one of the people involved wrote D.C. By Night for V:TM and at least three of the people involved are “local to the area” (which honestly could meaning as far away as Baltimore or Fredricksburg depending on one’s outlook). Of course they’d focus on a location near and dear to them and which is rife with Egyptian imagery. Of course, as a resident of the District myself (walking distance of the Pentagon for my home, but with offices in Gallery Place and Brookland) I was torn. I was happy to see D.C. getting its own sourcebook, and for my favorite NWoD line to boot, but also worried because D.C. By Night was not very good compared to other By Night books and was/is especially picked apart or outright ignored by locals who are familiar with V:TM. So Cursed: Necropolis: D.C. had me wondering what the overall quality of the release would be right up until I finished the very last page. Unfortunately I do find Cursed Necropolis: D.C. to be a notable step down in quality from the previous Mummy: The Curse releases, which sounds worse than it really is as Mummy: The Curse‘s core rulebook was so out there that anything that came after would pale by comparison. There are several big reasons for this which we will look at later in the review, but I can’t deny that there was a lot of missed opportunity and lost potential in this piece. This does not mean the book is bad by any means. There is a lot of good, even great, stuff to be had here. It’s just while still a fun read and worth picking up for a Mummy completionist, I can’t help thinking about what this book could have been compared to what the end result actually was. This is pretty ironic if you’ve read the book as it means the product mirrors the core theme running through D.C. itself within it.

Cursed Necropolis: D.C. consists of five chapters and two prologues. The first prologue is a compelling short story called “From Tears, Dust” which makes a lot more sense after you read the full book. It sets up the overall mood and theme of Cursed Necropolis: D.C. nicely and I couldn’t think of a better way for the book to begin. Next up is “Kingmaker and Kings,” which is an intro to the book complete with the usual fleshed out chapter summaries you tend to find in a WoD style book. There’s also a sidebar about liberties taken since this is a work of fiction and not an actual travelogue. Said liberties include the murder rate but not say, Nation still being here. “Kingmakers and Kings” gives you a great look at what you’ll be getting from Cursed Necropolis: D.C. and just from reading those few pages you should know if this is a book you want to purchase or not.

Chapter One is “Moment To Fate” and it is here where you get the WoD take on Washington D.C. In a nut-shell, D.C. appears to be the vision of a single Arisen, Seb-Hetchet of the Tef-Aabhi, who sought to remake Lost Irem and learn from its mistakes so the new version of the empire would never fall. Washington D.C. would be the site of that location. “Moment to Fate” talks about the inherent problem mummies have with mortals and that for all their godlike powers, Arisen’s grand schemes and almost plans are damaged, if not outright destroyed, by the machinations and folly of man while they sleep. This chapter talks about the history of D.C. from the point of view of the Arisen and just how important the geometry, key locations and monuments are to both the city and the Arisen as a whole. It also covers key moments in history from the American Revolution straight through to today. The War of 1812, the Civil War, 9/11 and even the D.C. sniper get touched on. Honestly, this chapter is brilliant. I couldn’t have asked for anything better here and it alone is worth purchasing Cursed Necropolis for once it is made available to the general public. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.

Chapter Two is “A City of Pillars” and it’s a guide to D.C. in general for people to learn the city, its flow and key locations for gaming. Unfortunately, even though the people in charge of this say they are local to the area, there are a lot of big mistakes, glaring omissions and strange commentary that makes this chapter read like it was written by people somewhat near the area but not actual in the diamond zone of the District proper. Like down by Richmond or in Delaware removed. A local, for example, would never make the mistake of saying that Regan National Airport is accessed by the Red Line Metro when even a tourist who spends a minute looking at the map can tell you it’s on the Blue and Yellow Lines. There’s also not even a mention of the oft delayed Silver Line, which would connect with Tyson’s Corner and could really shake up getting around to parts of Virginia and even to Dulles Airport. That really should have been in here. There are also things like half truths such as how terrible driving on the beltway is. The Beltway is the loops that surrounds DC. Yet there is no mention about how 395 is usually worse (and also how it bisects the beltway. Heck, there’s no mention of 395 in the entire book! It also fails to mention how bad driving anywhere in DC is compared to other major US metropolitans. New York Avenue alone should get an aside! I mean, I love that the authors took the time to mention things like driving in DC and how rage inducing it is, as well as giving it an Arisen based reason for being the way it is, but then like a lot of this chapter, it drops the ball and only talks about the outliers or the experience a transient/tourist would have rather than what it would be like to actually live here. So much like D.C. By Night, the book is going to be picked apart by locals and lose credibility within the very city it is meant to represent.

There is more of course, the chapter pretty much just focuses on the Northwest quadrant of DC, with the Northeast only getting a single paragraph and a quick mention of two locations. The entire South of DC only gets two paragraphs between them. Virginia is barely touched. Alexandria gets a mention of Old Town briefly, but none of the actual temples or Egyptian bits in the city are mentioned. There’s a huge Masonic Temple right next to the Alexandria train depot. How did that not even get lip service. Same with Arlington. The National Cemetery is brought up, but not the Pentagon, even though in Chapter One the look and design of the Pentagon is integral to the flow of power in the city? Why touch on that in one chapter only to never bring it up again? There is so much missing from this chapter. Why talk about the importance of monuments in Seb-Hetchet design but then only bring up the three most famous and obvious ones? Why not mention all the others in even a sidebar lists and lets Storytellers decide their importance? Important areas like Gallery Place/Chinatown are missing from the book and considering how important that area is to the city, it’s kind of sad and shocking this was missing. Same with other important areas like the Nationals stadium and all the drama that went into and still exists over that. Hell, the Kennedy Center isn’t even mentioned and that’s the best place to find celebrities, politicians and the like all in one spot, not to mention the main source of highbrow entertainment in D.C. Yet, even though this is begging to be an Arisen hot spot, the very name isn’t so much as brought up.

I’d also have included a list of local celebrities ranging from Jose Andreas to Lynda Carter to give more detail to the piece, but that too is not included. This is odd because it would be a great parallel to the fact that D.C. has arguably the highest population density of Arisen in the world. I got to Guapos in Shirlington and there’s John Baynor. I’m driving home from the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Newt Gingrich cuts me off. I’m at Target and there’s Michelle Obama. I’m eating at MXDC and there’s Kojo Nnamdi. I’m a neighbor of Dave Bautista for crying out loud. You can swing a stick without hitting someone marginally famous here. I could keep going on and on about the many problems plaguing this chapter, but I think you get the point. Nothing but lost opportunity and missed potential.

As great as Chapter One was, Chapter Two is one of the worst city guides I’ve ever seen in a White Wolf/Onyx Press book. Now I can’t say it was the authors’ fault, or even the editors. This section needed at least a five to a dozen more pages and they might not have been given them. They probably had to cut, and cut a lot to make the page/word count and unfortunately, the entire chapter suffers because of it. At the same time, it could just be they did a REALLY lousy job here. From the fact the metro map isn’t in color (instead choosing to go with the usual color scheme of mummy pages, which is understandable to a degree, but when the metro is color-coded, the map should be too) to the fact the entire chapter is so shoddily done, “A City of Pillars” doesn’t feel like it was written by locals at all, but instead by people who picked up a Lonely Planet or Frommers’ guidebook and cribbed a bunch of stuff. This had SO much potential because D.C. and a Mummy based theme are pretty much made for each other, yet the ball was dropped in every possible way here. It’s just hard to believe that Chapters One and Two are in the same book and written by the same people. It’s that stark a difference. I think even non-locals are going to see the sheer lack of quality in this one, but as an actual resident, it’s hard not to be brutal on this chapter.

Chapter Three is “The Washingtonians” and it continues the strange bi-polar aspect of this book. This is the chapter where you will find all the different Arisen and a list of the Merets some are in. The Deathless are grouped by guild and then by ranking. The chapter is all over the place with quality. Some characters have in-depth bios and others don’t. Some have full character stat blocks while others don’t. There’s no uniformity and the chapter feels really piecemeal because of it. Some of the characters were really interesting while some definitely feel handed down by editorial or how a being thousands of years old would think or fit. I don’t know who wrote what here, so I’ll just say the chapter is a mixed bag, but for the most part I liked what was here. Some of the Arisen (and their concepts) are just stupid as all get out though, so when it’s bad, it’s really bad. Besides the Arisen you’ll also find some important human cultists in the city and this was a nice touch. I was glad to see more than just the mummies under the NPC lists. So a tentative thumb’s up for this chapter.

Chapter Four is “Ephemeral Strands.” This is the second best chapter in the book as it harkens back to discussions of themes, purpose, atmosphere and Storytelling ideas to make the D.C. of the WoD come to life for players. It’s wonderfully done and there are so many options provided here that even a Storyteller will have a plethora of ways to tailor his or her campaign. It gives you different eras besides the modern one to try and play in as well as different ways to group players. The chapter does feel a lot like it could be about V:TM/V:TR though and the writers themselves realize that which is why they give a half page sidebar about “Not that type of undead” showcasing how very different vampires and Arisen are in terms of thinking, goals and needs. I loved this. The chapter ends with five possible outcomes for Seb-Hetchet’s ultimate plan for his New Irem. Each one is quite different from the last and at least one of them will really make players and/or Storytellers happy. Just a great job here.

Unfortunately Chapter Five aka the Appendix aka “The Great Hunt” is to “Ephermeral Strands” as “City of Pillars” was to “Moment To Fate,” which is that it is so bad that the juxtaposition between the two is almost physically painful to experience. There are two big problems with the adventure, both of which are things that have severely hurt White Wolf games in the past, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade. The first is that after those five options in the previous chapter, well the adventure says “Just kidding! There’s a sixth and it’s canon so too bad!” The Old World of Darkness rightly gets criticized for having too much emphasis on the metaplot and forcing canon on players left and right whereas the New World of Darkness tends to be “Everything’s Optional.” A good comparison is that the original WOD was more a “clean your plate or else” sort of situation while the NWoD tends to be a buffet where you can pick and choose what you want to your heart’s content. While I do admit I prefer the old WoD overall, I have to admit that this common criticism of the line if well founded. That’s why I’m so surprised to see the adventure in Mummy: The Curse, a game all about personal exploration and discovery, be so “Ignore the end of the previous chapter. Here’s what happens and how.” If this had been a short story or even a full novel, I’d have loved it. As an adventure, though it’s a terrible piece because you’ve just determined the outcome for the core plot point of the city instead of letters players decide for themselves. Sure individual groups can ignore the story for their own game but it’s still forced canon that will be brought up if DC is ever tred upon again. So again, had this been a story or work of fiction – great. As an adventure though – it pretty much does everything one shouldn’t when giving a published adventure to players – ESPECIALLY for the NWoD.

The other problem is that the adventure is a little too on rails for my liking. Now obviously most published adventures are scripted paths players go down with a little railroading, but “The Great Hunt” feels like a lot of bad White Wolf adventures from the mid to late 90s where players are just along for the ride and the true stars are the NPCs. Often times “The Great Hunt” has the players is a mostly supporting role. Players should be the main focus of the adventure rather than bit players in their own tale. This is doubly true for Mummy: The Curse so I just don’t know how this adventure is able to coexist with the core rulebook I reviewed over a year ago because they feel like they are for two very different games.

So big thumbs up for “A Moment to Fate” and “Ephemeral Strands.” Big thumbs down for “The Great Hunt” and “A City of Pillars.” We’ll give a thumbs in the middle to “The Washingtonians.” As you can see that means Cursed Necropolis is just an odd collection of really good and really bad stuff and even at the tail end of this review I’m not sure whether to give I mild recommendation to pick it up or avoid it. I guess the best I can say is that when the book is good, Cursed Necropolis is top notch and perhaps worth picking up for those two chapters mentioned above. At the same time, when it’s bad it’s horribly bad, committing some previous grievous errors and dropping the ball where the sourcebook really had the most potential. It’s all going to come down to what Onyx Path Publishing prices this at. My suggestion is that if it’s ten bucks or under for the PDF, pick this up. Otherwise you might find it not worth the time or money. I’m glad it was a freebie to Kickstarter backers but I think if I paid full MSRP for this, I’d have been pissed rather than disappointed.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Cursed Necropolis: D.C.
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Numenera Character Options
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/23/2014 05:49:16
Originally reviewed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/23/tabletop-review-numener-
a-character-options/

Numenera: Character Options opens with an unusual question: “Can character creation be fun?” I was taken aback by that because honestly, character creation is one of my favorite parts of playing a tabletop RPG. If the character creation is dull and uninteresting – why would you want to play the game associated with it. I think my favorite character creation systems have been the old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes game by TSR, HOL by Black Dog Games and Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium. The randomness in each really helped get the creative juices flowing and the end result was always a character you felt emotionally connected too. Runner up systems are Mayfair’s Chill, the old World of Darkness games (Specifically V:TM and W:TA) and AD&D Second Edition. The latter of these runner ups was because of the sheer amount of options open to you, something my young brain was overwhelmed and blown away by back in the day. Besides the core Player’s Handbook options, there were all these Complete XYZ Handbook‘s and Player’s Option books to really give you more character building options than you would ever need. Sure, this is pretty standard now, but in the 80s/90s, this was a big piece of innovation. So I would like to start off the review by saying, the question shouldn’t be, “Can character creation be fun?” but rather, “How can we make it even better?” In the case of Numenera, which already has a pretty inventive character system, the answer seems to be – PILE ON THE OPTIONS!

Please note that these options do not replace the character creation method in the core rulebook for Numenera. Instead it’s just a plethora of new canon choices to give you more options – hence the name of the book. If you are at all familiar with Numenera, then you will see all the new Foci, Descriptors and racial options and be excited to make some new characters…or grumble and wish some of these had been around when you first started playing the game. You won’t see any new character classes though. You still have “only” the Glaive, the Jack and the Nano. The text also states there are no plans for any new classes/types and so instead the emphasis is giving you far more options to make your own personal character stand out and lessen the chance any two players picks the same “I am an Adjective Noun who Verbs.”

The first full chapter is “Character Type Options” and it’s a quick dozen pages of new options for the core three classes. Glaive’s get new fighting moves, Nanos get new Esoteries and Jacks get new “Tricks of the Trade.” Each level of the class, from First Tier through Sixth, gets at least a half dozen new options. A Second-Tier Glave might take Sense Ambush, which prevents them from ever being surprised by an attack, or they might take Stand Watch, which prevents them from falling asleep or alertness when on guard (for up to eight hours). A First Tier Nano might choose the abilities to erase the last five minutes of a victim’s memory while a Sixth Tier Nano can gain the ability to stop time itself! There are a lot of interesting new options to be had. Some players will stick with the old options from the core rulebook, other will want to take exclusively from this new book, but most will probably find some in each they enjoy. There’s no right or wrong here. You can’t really min/max in Numenera (although I’ve definitely seen attempts), so flip through the options and make the character you want to play.

“Descriptors” is one of the two big chapters in the book, taking up a full third of the book. The chapter is divided into three sub-sections: General, Location-Based and Racial Descriptors. With Character Options you know have thirty-six possible General Descriptors. Some of these has negative connotations like Clumsy and Craven, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Negative traits make for great roleplaying and even qualities such as these have positive aspects. Clumsy characters the dumb luck ability and bonuses to breaking things for example. Craven characters are fast and stealthy in addition to fearing physical violence being inflicted upon them. My personal favorite of the new General Descriptors is Perceptive, although Weird and Mad are pretty fun too. Yes, you might remember some of these “new” options like Weird and Doomed from previous Numenera supplements like In Strange Aeons. Don’t worry, you’re not paying twice for content you’ve already purchased – but do be aware SOME bits of Character Options have been previously published. At least they’re now all in one spot instead of strewn across multiple supplements.

There are also now thirteen Location-Based Descriptors. Now these don’t give you special abilities based on where you are in the Ninth World, direction sense or an inherent GPS. No, Location-Based Descriptors are ones steeped in the culture of a country or region. These are for characters who have especially strong ties to a certain place and embody the stereotypes of the nation they are a part of. There are some really fun options here, all of which should give a character a ton of potential story seeds – as long as you have a creative GM to play off of them. My favorite is Icebound, as it’s not only one of the more unique locations in the Ninth World, but you get some snazzy perks to go along with it.

Racial options gives you four new racial options in addition to the two non-human races found in the core rulebook. You’ve got the Diruk, which remind me of the Obsidians from Earthdawn as both are rock based lifeforms. The Golithar are one eyed green plant people. The Mlox look human, but have a third eye in the middle of their forehead which they can hide. The third eye is actually a mechanical brain, making the Mlox a very unique type of cyborg. Finally we have the Nalurus which are a humanoid race carrying a Medusa-like effect on those that view their face. Except. Instead of turning to stone, your brain melts. Now of course, long time Numenera fans will recognize some of these races from previous releases like The Ninth World Bestiary, but this is the first time these have appeared as playable races.

The other large chapter in Character Options is Foci. Not only do you get the clarification that no two PCs should have the same Foci, but you get twenty-five new Foci, complete with different powers for each of the six character tiers. “Consorts With the Dead” is a personal favorite as I always love Necromancy and to see how clever players use it instead of “UNDEAD HORDE OF DOOM.” “Explores Deep Waters” is a really cool one too as it makes your character specialize in a terrain you don’t usually think about and gives the GM a ton of ways to spotlight your character. Sees Beyond is a great choice for a non combat oriented character. You might not be a killer but you should be able to plow through puzzles pretty easily!

“Optional and Additional Rules” provide some interesting variants for character creation. Here you’ll find ways to tweak what your characters starts out with, a ton of new connections and ways to change Descriptors and Foci after character creation. There is also a brief blurb about how characters can advance once they reach the Sixth Tier. Of course, anyone doing that is pretty much just powergaming in the first place so the advice here will probably be ignored. After that you get a few pages of character portraits and an index, and you’re done!

Overall, Character Options lives up to its name, giving players a lot of new options for their PC. With only a ten dollar price tag, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of this book as there are so many fun new options to play around with. Character Options is by no means a book you need to own in order to play or enjoy Numenera, but it is a wonderful compliment to the core rulebook.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera Character Options
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Pirates & Dragons Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cakebread & Walton
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2014 06:30:42
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/22/tabletop-review-pirates-
-dragons/

Hey look! I’m FINALLY getting around to review it. What can I say – April and May have been busy month for me reviewing-wise. Still, I finally got a chance to look finish my thoughts on this weight tome from Cakebread and Walton, so let’s get into it.

Pirates & Dragons was a successful Kickstarter back in October of 2013. While the first attempt failed, the second succeeded and a 114 gamers invested in the system. While I was not one of them, I did decide to pick it up upon release. This is partly because there hasn’t been a dearth of new games/systems like the past two years and partly because other reviews have enjoyed Cakebread and Walton products. Chuck Platt for example adored their, Abney Park’s Steamship Pirates while both Lowell Francis and Matt Faul enjoyed Clockwork and Chivalry (First and Second Edition respectfully). I felt it was my turn to give Cakebread and Walton a try. What I found was an interesting game that, while not my favorite new game of 2014, was definitely worth the time and energy to both read and try.

Pirates and Dragons uses the Renaissance system. Now I haven’t played anything using those mechanics so I can’t compare the P&D rules with the core ones, so please don’t be looking for that in this review. One thing that I can state is a bit of strangeness that caught my eye almost immediately. You’ll see the third page of the PDF (second page in the physical copy) has the Wizards of the Coast OGL. However, the system used in Pirates & Dragons is Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing. I’m a little confused and perplexed why the play note to WotC but not the company that actually owns and controls the system P&D (and thus Renassiance) is based on. Just look at the character creation process. It’s ripped right out of BRP (Or Call of Cthulhu if you prefer). The stats, how they are rolled, professions, skill points and everything else aren’t based off d20 mechanics. I did a word search on the entire PDF for “Chaosium” and nothing came up, which is interesting and although potentially legally shady. Ah well, that’s more publishers to duke it out about. At least you know the groundwork for the game is based off one of the best systems ever, right?

Chapter One of Pirates & Dragons talks about the games setting. Here you’ll find quick summaries about all the factions in the Dragon Isles (where the game takes place). The world is set up similar to our own with the Dragon Isles appearing to be in the equivalent of the Caribbean. The main ocean the game takes place in is the Adalantic and on the eastern side of said Adalantic is the continent of Uropa. Yep. Different factions include Islanders, Dragon Tribes (islanders ruled by a dragon), the Uropans, Pirates and of course, Dragons. The game isn’t low fantasy considering there is magic and dragons, but it’s definitely not high fantasy either, as things are somewhat grounded in the real world and there aren’t a ton of fantasy races running around. It’s just humans and dragons for the most part.

Chapter Two is “Characters” and its here where we get the BRP style character creation system mentioned earlier. Here’s also where you start to get specific lingo for the game. The person running it is the GM. Characters are Adventurers. So on and so forth. Starting skills are done slightly different from BRP. Instead of set values per skill to which you add bonus points, in Pirates & Dragons all the core skills are determined by a specific stat times or plus a multiplier. So Ranged Combat is INT+DEX while Influence is CHAx2. You then pick your profession and culture which gives you further bonus points. There are a lot less skills than in BRP and it is worth noting only Islanders start off with a Magic attribute (MAG) where most BRP games use POW for Magic. Finally you pick a talent which makes your character stand out a bit more, and then you’re done. It’s a pretty fast and easy character system.

Chapter Three is “Skills” and here is where we start to get into mechanics. Skill tests are rolled via d100 (again similar to BRP). Equal or less to your characters rating in the skill and you succeed. If you roll over, you fail. Again, pretty cut and dry. The game also included Doubloons which are similar to Savage Worlds‘ “bennies” or the XP method in Numenera. Doubloons are super useful as they can give characters automatic successes. However, one doubloon in each game is actually a cursed one and instead of giving an automatic success, it is an automatic failure. This is a cute system actually, although unless the GM is paying close attention, it will be easy for players to peak and see which is the cursed doubloon and thus keep away from it.

Chapter 4 is “Combat” and you get things like initiative, distance modifiers, how to attack, parry and so on. Like BRP, you roll a d100 and if you roll equal or less than the skill you are using, you succeed. However the opponent has a chance to dodge or parry, but only once a round. There are various combat maneuvers to give the system a bit of depth, but it’s pretty simple over all, and I mean that in a good way. Pirates & Dragons should be a very easy system to learn, allowing gamers of all skill levels to just jump right in and have fun.

“Rules and Systems” is the name of Chapter Five and it’s more mechanics ahoy with this one. Do you want rules for travel speeds? It’s in here. Need mechanics for how weather effects skills? It’s in here. Want to know what darkness does to perception tests? It is in here. This is obviously the most rules heavy part of the book, as well as the driest and dullest, but when aren’t these things true for a RPG? Fatigue, fear, falling, poisons, encumbrance and all the usual rigmarole can be found here. Just be aware there isn’t any set order for this section. It’s a bit chaotic and can be hard to find the bits of mechanics you are looking for the first few times through the book. Trust me when I say the index is your friend with this one. This is also the chapter where you learn how Adventurers advance. You actually get XP (called Improvement Points here) instead of the usual BRP advancement system where you get a chance to improve any skill used in the previous adventure. Here you earn a few Improvement Points per game and then can spend each point on a chance to improve a skill. You then roll your d100. If you go over your current rating, you get 1d4+1 points added to your skill. If you get under or equal your rating, you get a single point added. It’s also worth noting that skills do not have a set maximum, so you could keep spending points on a skill you have at 100, only to raise it a single point each time. With perseverance and a lot of sessions, you too can get that skill up to 150 (although it might showcase you as certifiably insane).

Chapter Six is “Ships and Crews.” This is pretty much what you would expect. There is a long list of different types of ships followed by a chart showcasing the stats for said ships. There’s a also a short list of upgrades and a host of combat rules for naval vessels. What’s here is very interesting, but also a bit chaotic. The chapter could be easily re-arranged for better flow as well as putting things in a more logical or intuitive order. The chapter ends with various ways (legal or otherwise) to obtain a ship and/or crew. Because some ships can have hundreds of crew people, this is also where you will find rules for large scale combat between crewmen.

Chapter Seven is “Equipment.” It’s worth noting that Silver Ducats are the primary coin in the game and instead of the old 10: 1 ratio that exists in most fantasy RPGs, you’ll find 20 Silver Ducats equals a single gold one. This chapter has everything you will ever need for your characters and then some. Clothing, general home items, food, weapons, even animals or prosthetics are in this chapter for you. You’ll also see two “Dragon Artifacts” mentioned quickly in the chapter, but most eyes will pass over them as the weapons and respective charts for killing implements follow immediately after.

Chapter Eight is “Magic,” and remember, only Islander character start with the ability to cast spells. There are two types of magic – Island Magic, which is basically white magic cross with shamanistic style spell casting, and Dragon Magic, which is black, foul necromantic type stuff. The rules are mostly the same, but a character can only cast one form of magic or the other – NEVER both. So be aware of that. Dragon Magic will almost always be used by evil NPCs while Adventurers will pretty much only have Island Magic unless you are playing a game of evil dragon worshippers. It’s also worth noting that there is no Magic in the east aka Uropa…even if the book has a typo and calls that the West. This is the chapter where you learn how MAG works such as the number of spells one can cast per day and how one learns new spells. There are eighteen pages of spells to close out the chapter. Some have descriptions as short as a paragraph while others are half a page long. Regardless, these spells should keep PCs and GMs busy for some time. Who knows? If the game is successful, maybe we will see a supplement for new spells. The chapter ends with Adalantan Magic Items and it’s simply a list and decription of magic items PCs might come across in their game. The chapter also suggests they shouldn’t be sold ala D&D and that cursed items are very rare indeed. Most of the items provided here are combat oriented. It’s a pretty short and sweet chapter.

Chapter Nine is “Cultures,” and it’s a deeper, more fleshed out version of Chapter One. You get the history of the known world and the nations (including pirates and dragons) currently engaging in intrigue within the Dragon Isles. This chapter is perhaps my favorite in the book as you really get to know all the nations in the game. I walked away from this chapter feeling Pirates & Dragons is basically a nautical D&D mixed with BRP and of course, 7th Sea. There are no secrets or GM only tidbits to be had here. It’s just a straight up, extremely informative look at the fantasy world that Pirates & Dragons takes place in. Everyone will find a particular group that they will especially love. In my case, it was the dragons. There are some fantastic takes on the old tropes here.

Chapter Ten is the Gazetteer and it gives a list of islands in the area along with a description of each. If you’re looking for a full map of the Dragon Isles, you’ll want to go back to Chapter One for that. The information here is extremely brief with each island only getting a paragraph or two at the most. The exceptions are Paradis, Safehaven and Nieuw Brugge, which gets a full page of content devoted to them. It’s a very sparse and underwhelming chapter. In some ways, it is the opposite of the previous chapter.

Chapter Eleven is “Creatures” and this is the equivalent of the game’s Monster Manual. Now the creatures in here aren’t going to be orcs or hobgoblins. Nor are their wights or death knights. These are all creatures that fit the game’s theme and atmosphere. For example, you have a Aspidochelone, which is a turtle so large, vegetation has begun to grow on its shell, making it resemble an island. Now the game does have Cyclops, ghouls and Insect people, so those of you used to more D&D style monsters have options here. Otherwise, expect to see an Island style Lich (who is somewhat different from the version we are used to in RPGs), Krakens and even south/central American style mummies. Perhaps my favorite creature in the section is the Monkey Bat, although the fowl mouthed parrot comes close.

Our final chapter in the collection is “Games Master” and this is obvious for GM eyes only. So don’t look players, or you’ll get spoilers. In truth, all that is here in this chapter is the usual GM tips and tricks every core rulebook gives you. It’s advice on how to run a game and keep it fun. There are a few adventure seeds to be had too. There are seven pretty generic seeds here, but they are meant to help you learn how to create adventures for the game, rather than dazzle you with their complexity and/or originality. The chapter ends with a list of NPCs and…that’s the book my friends. Well, aside from characters sheets and an index.

So overall I liked Pirates & Dragons. it probably won’t ever be a game I play regularly and it certainly won’t replace options like 7th Sea in my collection, but I enjoyed it for what it was. The game isn’t perfect by any means, and there is definitely room for improvement, but what first edition core rulebook can’t you say that about? I think that a pirate/fantasy hybrid is probably a niche title at best, and also one that could already be done by other systems so I’m not sure how big of a market there is or will be for Pirates & Dragons. That said, the world is nicely fleshed out and I do hope to see some further supplements for the game. I’m definitely glad I got to spend time with Pirates & Dragons and although it’s a pretty expensive PDF compared to other options out there, if you’re looking for a pirate oriented mid-fantasy RPG, this is your best (only?) option that I’ve seen so far.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Pirates & Dragons Core Rulebook
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Thanks for the review! Just a quick note on the OGL licence, since you were a little perplexed... The Renaissance rules (which are OGL) are based on the OGL OpenQuest rules, which are based on the OGL Mongoose RuneQuest rules (licensed from Greg Stafford), which were one of the branches of BRP, which *isn\'t* OGL. Mongoose\'s Legend system is also OGL, and is more or less the same as MRQII. The reason Wizards of the Coast gets a mention is that the original Open Gaming Licence legal document is copyright WotC - this is to stop people tweaking the wording to their advantage and still claiming it\'s an OGL game. The license itself can be applied to *any* game system, not just those based on WotC products. The full small print of the OGL is to be found at the back of P&D, and there its lists all the other OGL games we\'ve referenced and borrowed from when creating P&D. So nothing dodgy going on! :-)
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/19/2014 08:08:04
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/19/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-bloodshot/

At the end of April, Catalyst Game Labs released the first of many free Quick Start rules sets for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG. I reviewed it two weeks ago and liked what I saw. It took aspects of Savage Worlds and the few good things that exist about the Cortex engine and blended them together in what seems like it will be a fun game. The rules gave a quick overview of how to play, provided some PCs to try out and a full adventure comprising the first arc of the Unity comic. Now the second QSR has been released, and this time it focuses on one of the first four characters from the New Valiant – Bloodshot.

This twenty page PDF focuses on the Harbinger Wars event Valiant had last summer, which pitted Bloodshot, The Harbinger Foundation, the Renegades and the Hard C.O.R.P.S. against each other in an ECW style four way dance. There was a lot of death and violence to be had, but in the end, the Harbinger Foundation won. With the included adventure in this PDF, you and your friends can play as Bloodshot and the psiot children he is guarding in an attempt to either rewrite Valiant history or watch the events unfold in the same tragic way.

One thing worth noting is that the basic rules presented in the Unity Quick Start rules are not in the Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot release. So you will need to download BOTH PDFs to play the adventure provided here. Now, that shouldn’t be a big deal as both sets are FREE after all, but it does mean that if you download the Bloodshot set first, you might be left wondering how to play the included adventure.

While we are on the topic of the Quick Start Rules, I should point out that the mechanics in the Unity PDF are definitely less detailed that what you will see in the eventual core rulebook release. I mean, these are QSR sets after all, so don’t go looking for character creation sets or extremely detailed character sheets. What’s here is simply meant to give you a taste of the game and some idea about how the mechanics will work in the end product.

So what do we get in the Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot? Well we substitute out the rules for a longer adventure and more character stats! You get a brief overview of the Harbinger Wars event followed by a half page of commentary by Bloodshot describing his history (or what little he knows of his) and his goals. The adventure is then broken into four pieces, each of which could technically be an adventure on their own. This essentially makes this PDF a mini-campaign depending on how draw-out each of the four sections are. It’s also worth noting that the adventure is designed for four players, which means with four parts, each one will have a chance to play the Lead Narrator in addition to their character. The fact everyone takes turns running the game is one of the more unusual and potentially interesting aspects of the Valiant Universe RPG, so you may want to decide ahead of time the order each of you will run parts. Of course, as always, you can have one set Narrator. It’s totally your call.

The first part “Forced Entry” (like most of the scenes in this adventure) actually takes place before Harbinger Wars proper, and is when Bloodshot tries to save the Generation Zero kids from Project Rising Spirit (Who in the comics…he eventually ends up working for again. It’s a long story). This scene is interesting as the PCs are in two different groups – you have three PCs playing psiot children. (only the selected three are given stats here. The others will probably be in later PDFs) and one playing as Bloodshot. The kids know Bloodshot as a soulless killer and so have a flee or fight response to him. Meanwhile Bloodshot has to convince them he is there to help rather than murder them…as he did their families when he was under P.R.S.’ control. This does mean things can boil down to PvP and leave one side dead, thus preventing the other three scenes from being played. That’s not a bad thing though. You don’t have to replicate the events of the comic.

Part Two is “The Harada Protocol” where the kids and Bloodshot have to deal with the big bad of the Valiant Universe Toyo Harada. Of course, Harada seems himself as a hero, but that’s a story for another time. This is almost pure combat and gives players a great chance to see the battle mechanics in action. Savvy readers will notice the stats for Toyo Harada as a NPC antagonist are ever so slightly different from his stats in the Unity PDF where he was a PC. It’s simply to make running the game easier as NPCs have truncated stats from the core characters. The only real difference is he is missing the Luck stat, but that’s only for PCs anyway. Since you’ll have both PDFs, if someone really wants to play Harada in a PvP situation, just pull out that character sheet and use it instead.

Part Three is entitled “Promises Broken,” and it has the characters looking for an appropriate source of protein to refuel Bloodshot’s nanites. It’s combat heavy, but it’s also very quick. In our test run, Bloodshot got his nanites back by EATING THE CORPSES OF THE FALLEN OPPONENTS. Which is totally a way to get protein. Just a head’s up.

The final part of the adventure is “Showdown on the Steps” is the one piece that actually takes place in the mini-series. Here you again have Bloodshot Vs Harada, but Harbinger students come into play as well. These are generic students rather than the Eggbreakers from the comic. This is done for simplicity’s sake, although you could get Livewire from the previous QSR and have her as one of the Harbinger Foundation members if you choose. Overall, it’s a fun adventure that sticks closely enough to the Bloodshot side of Harbinger Wars while still being loose enough that players won’t feel they are on rails replicating the comics exactly. Another fun adventure as well as a fine way to continue building hype for the eventual Valiant Universe RPG release.

Again, these PDFs are free, so there is no reason not to pick them up. With each release I’m getting more and more excited for the eventual game and this will be the first super hero game I’m considering purchasing a physical copy of since Mayfair’s old DC line. I’ll be back in two weeks to cover the second of the five Harbinger Wars Quick Start releases. This release will focus on Generation Zero and when it hits on May 31st, it will be as free as all the others, so start making a folder on your computer for all these free Quick Start Rules sets!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Bloodshot
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A Single, Small Cut
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2014 07:18:02
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/16/tabletop-review-a-singl-
e-small-cut-lamentations-of-the-flame-princess/

A Single, Small Cut is an adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess by author Michael Curtis, who I normally associate with Dungeon Crawl Classics. He’s written some great adventures for that system like Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, The Old Gods Return, and The Sea Queen Escapes. He’s also the author of The Chained Coffin which is currently on Kickstarter and smashing through stretch goal after stretch goal. Since I enjoy his stuff it and it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a LotFP release, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone with this one.

A Single, Small Cut is a short little adventure than can be played in a single session. The PDF is eleven pages long, but only seven pages are the actual adventure. The other four pages are the covers, the title page and a map. The adventure is mostly text. Mechanics only show up in the form of three antagonist stat blocks and a large side bar about the adventure’s MacGuffin. This means you can easily convert A Small, Single Cut to other fantasy games if you prefer, but the flavor and atmosphere will remain LotFP style weirdness no matter what you convert it to. The adventure is designed for six Level 3 characters, but the text does say you can adjust it to higher or lower levels if needed. So all, in all, A Small, Single Cut is a pretty flexible adventure.

In many ways, A Single, Small Cut is about the hypocrisy of religion and a look at how many zealots become the very thing they hate, if not worse. In this case, we have the Order of Kites who have pledged to stamp out heathens in the name of the Church by any means necessary. The leader of this order used a small red bell to summon an extraplanar creature known as The Corrector of Sins to the world. Yes, it’s pagan magic that probably invokes a demon, but hey – there were horrible pagans to uproot and eviscerate! Upon the leader’s death, the demon summoned by his bell was no longer able to be controlled, so it was buried with their leader and left undisturbed for decades (although how did they put the Corrector back after they realized it could no longer be controlled).

This is where the adventure starts as well as where the PCs come in. A magic user and his band of rogues have discovered the whereabouts and powers of the bell and have decided to claim it for their own, not realizing it no longer functions as it did all those years ago. To get it, they are willing to murder the entire congregation of a local church. Unfortunately for everyone involved the Corrector of Sins has special abilities related to humanoid corpses and is pretty ungrateful to the band of baddies who have summoned it to this plane anew. Can the PCs stop both a cadre of mortal evil doers as well as a being beyond mortal comprehension? What ensues is a three way dance of chaos that players will be lucky to survive.

The adventure, as I have previously stated, is a short one. It can easily be played in a few hours or less. Most of the experience is combat related. You get a short set up of talking heads at the beginning of the piece (which I suppose could become extremely long and drawn out depending on the group makeup, but it is unlikely) followed by madcap violence as each of the three sides tries to do away with the other. Honestly I think there is more story in the backstory setup than the adventure itself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the adventure is so short and straightforward, it can definitely be used to introduce people to the LotFP rules-set. There are several plot threads left dangling at the end of the affair thanks to the amount of back story provided. This means curious PCs and enterprising GMs can probably create a few adventures from the aftermath…if anyone survives the experience, that is. The entire affair is a lot of fun and has some definite macabre comedy moments, such as what happens when if the players find the bell.

I really enjoyed this piece. It’s definitely a weird and memorable adventure and highlights the strengths of both Curtis’ writing style as well as the old school mix of cruelty and bizarreness that is LotFP. With a price tag of only two dollars, fans of either DCC or LotFP will definitely get their money’s worth out of this purchase. Again, the adventure should be playable in an hour or three depending on the troupe’s play style (Hack and slash Vs talking heads). Whether you want to play a session but don’t have enough time or are looking for something short and sweet to showcase what LotFP is all about, A Single, Small Cut is an excellent option you should strongly consider.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Single, Small Cut
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Ninth World Assassins
Publisher: Ninth Realm Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2014 08:24:18
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/14/tabletop-review-ninth-w-
orld-assassins-numenera/

I’m always a little worried with licensed third party releases on the tabletop market. Some companies tend to have really good product control of third party releases, like Chaosium. Others tend to let anything and everyone put something out for their line, ensuring that the brand is diluted thanks to having one high quality third party release for every dozen or so terrible ones. I’m looking at you WotC/Paizo. So when Monte Cooke Games announced a OGL for Numenera, I was worried that we’d see a score of third parties releases turning the game into a hack and slash dungeon crawl type thing. You know, the exact opposite of what Numenera was meant to be. I’ve managed to avoid Numenera third party releases up until now, mainly because I haven’t been sent any to review. Knowledge of the Ninth contacted me a few weeks back and asked me to look at their latest Numenera release – Ninth World Assassins. I’ll admit I was torn. On one hand, I love assassins. I play Shadowrun pretty regularly so I’m used to adventures and characters specializing in wetworks. Plus my first ever characters for 1e and 3e D&D were assassins, so I have a special place for them in my heart. On the other hand, I was worried this would be a short supplement filled with bad Assassins’ Creed or Hitman homages and page upon page of nothing but lists of weapons, poisons, and combat maneuvers, In other words my worst fear for the Numenera OGL. Is that what I got? Let’s find out.

First of all, you get a ton of content with Ninth World Assassins Generally Numenera releases are pretty short affairs. Look at Love and Sex in the Ninth World. It’s thirteen pages long. Taking the Narrative? Seven pages. In Strange Aeons? Twelve. You get the picture. Ninth World Assassins however clocks in at a whopping 103 pages, making this the third longest release for Numenera yet! You’re getting three versions of the PDF as well – one high resolution and two low resolution. Now, don’t be fooled as one of the low res PDFS clocks in at over 22 MB! If you’re going to read this on an e-reader, you’ll want the one that is “only” 13.3 MB. These are some pretty big PDFs size wise, especially compared to a lot of third party releases (and even some first party releases), so expect to encounter some loading time issues on weaker computers and/or devices. The reasons for the PDF being so huge are pretty obvious once you open one. They’re in full colour, they use a HUGE font size (especially compared to first party Numenera releases), the formatting is a bit wonky and the layering on the PDF is not very good. With the latter, the background image is causing most of the problems on weaker devices as it’s so huge. That coupled with the layering will make even a top notch computer have an issue with the PDF for a few seconds. Someone more experienced with InDesign or Pagemaker could have prevented these issues, but honestly, these are minor problems. Since this is a digital only release, the PDF can be corrected and re-uploaded. If there is ever a PoD version, well it certainly won’t having loading issues. Anyway, Ninth World Assassins is definitely a great deal in terms of the page count to money ratio, but be warned going in this thing is very unaesthetically pleasing in terms of layout, font, formatting, PDF structure and other little things that make it very apparent this release is on the lower end of production values for third party releases (as compared to say, The Island of Ignorance which had better production values than some of the first party releases for which is was made!).

Production values are a minor thing at the end of the day though. You can always get better (or hire better people) on the technical end of things. Maybe if this was a video game it would be a bigger deal, but this is tabletop gaming where CONTENT is king. I’m happy to say that not only does Ninth World Assassins have a metric ton of content, most of it is quite good and there are some wonderful ideas in this piece, which breaks itself into eight chapters, one of which (Chapter Two) is included in the core PDF but also as two separate smaller PDFs focusing on Descriptors and Foci. So technically you’re getting five PDFs for five bucks. That just sweetens the deal.

Chapter One is “Introductions” which gives you an overview of what an assassin is and why there is a need for them. You are given a wide range of potential character options including why the character is an assassin, how they got started, their thoughts on killing and how they take on clients. These are all nice things to look at, especially for less experienced gamers who aren’t sure how to create a compelling backstory for their PC or for younger gamers who think an assassin just wanders out stabbing everyone they see. There is also a wonderful look at the steps involved with the planning and execution of a hit. It’s only three pages long (In this giant font) but it hits all the bases one needs to think about. In many ways, it reads like a primer for any game big on heists, be it Shadowrun or Leverage. The only real thing I didn’t like about Chapter One was that it included (ugh) mechanics for determining how much the Assassin charges. This is needless crunch in my opinion. Never include rules for roll-playing when the action could/should be determined through straight up role-playing. I guess if you REALLY want to include mechanics for everything, have the core price be determined through role-playing and let someone whose dice are getting antsy roll after the fact for small incremental increases in pay.

Chapter Two is “Character Options” and it’s here where we get a lot of the material for character creation. There are ten new Descriptors, some of which are really well balanced, and other which are not. It’s a bit of a crap shoot. Others have some odd aspects. Blind, for example, makes you Trained in Philosophy, which makes no sense to me. It’s otherwise well balanced between positive and negatives. Some of the Descriptors like Brave and Chivalrous need tweaking as they are too powerful and unbalanced. Others like Daring and Cautious are extremely well done and I would definitely allow in my Numenera game. Overall, the good outweighs the bad with the Descriptors but we do see some evidence of power creep (albeit probably unintended) with a few of these.

There are also five new Foci in Chapter Two, all of which have applications beyond (or indeed, instead of) murdering things. “Conducts Covert Affairs” lets a character be more of a spy or work for an intelligence gathering agency. There is no shortage of guilds or societies in the Ninth World. This foci is more about giving you some nice NPC aides and contacts, but the character also gets things like a sleeper hold and the ability to be silent in combat. You know, just in case. “Crafts Powerful Poison” is a pretty cut and dry option. These poisons just aren’t damage dealing though. You have sleep and blindness poisons at Tier 3 for example. I really liked this, especially the concept of the Poison Pool (A great job of light mechanics that enforces role-playing). “Dances in Shadow” is basically the old Shadowdancer prestige class from D&D 3e or the Lasombra from V:TM. “Studies Anatomy” is by far my favorite option as it is the most versatile of the five and it can really open up Numenera to a lot of options like playing a doctor, serial killer, forensic scientist or even couple with Nano necromancer! It’s well balanced between offensive and defensive/supportive Tiers and I could see this becoming the defector “cleric” option for Numenera. Finally we have “Steals Faces” which allows a character ever increasing doppleganger abilities. It’s not necessarily unbalanced, but I can definitely see a player really abusing this if their GM isn’t up to snuff. Overall, all five Foci are quite well done, and this might just be the highlight of the book.

Chapter Three is “Tools of the Trade.” As you can imagine this chapter is all about various gear a PC can find, acquire, or already have in their possession. The Chapter breaks down into Equipment, Poisons and Traps. Equipment is actually special exotic stuff rather than standard gear. You have everything from an alien doll (good for distractions) to an Apothecary’s Kit. There are also items that can be used to create or enhance traps, even if that isn’t the first use players (or their characters) might have for them. There’s some very creative stuff here. Poisons makes up the bulk of this section though with nearly twenty pages devoted to the concept! This could have been a supplement in and of itself to be honest. It makes sense though as Ninth World Assassins was conceived of due to the author’s original confusion and issues with poisons as portrayed in the core Numenera rulebook. This area really is a top notch affair with an in-depth guide to making poisons, lists of ways a poison can be delivered (touch, injection, swallowing, airborne, etc) and so much more. You also get a list of twenty “mundane” poisons along with their effects followed by another list of twenty “Cipher” poisons. Mundane poisons are more common ones that players will find or perhaps learn to concoct themselves while cipher poisons are well, ciphers. Things they will find and not really know what they are until they ingest them or make someone else do it.

Finally, Chapter Three gives you a list of ten traps. Traps aren’t something Numenera has really covered, which means an enterprising person could make a supplement just for this concept. Personally, I’ve been using the Grimtooth’s Traps series from Flying Buffalo games when I have need for such an option in an adventure, but they are more geared for a fantasy game. Here we have some light rules for creating your own Ninth World style trap which break down into Difficulty, Assembly and Effect. It’s very nicely done and the example traps given should hold you over if you’re not having any luck designing your own. This is followed up by sixteen cipher traps which can really surprise players, especially if they are used to only picking up positive items. Whoops, now they’re being attacked by holographic luchadores.

Chapter Four is entitled “Numenera” and you know what to expect here. There are ten interesting artifacts that are geared for rogues, assassins and spies. Things like sonic dampeners, thermal projectors (to hide a specific heat signature(s)), a Ninth World version of the classic web spell and more. You also get a d100 table of oddities. This chapter is fairly short but it’s always fun to look at new devices for the Ninth World. The oddities are a bit too mundane/unimaginative for my liking, but you can’t win them all.

Chapter Five is “XP Options,” and it simply gives you new ways to spend those hard earned XP instead of just Tier climbing. Some of them like “Join Guild” and “Guild Advancement” are better off as things that are roleplayed rather than purchased for a character and it disappointed me greatly to see those as the first two options. Joining a guild should be a story in and of itself, perhaps a slow buring suplot that takes place over an adventure or three. It should be something you go, “Oh, I have these experience. By the way, I’m in Guild XYZ.” That’s not how these options were intended by the author, but unfortunately it IS how a lot of gamers will use them. This is something to definitely watch and again, if it can be achieved through role-playing alone, it shouldn’t have the option as something to directly purchase for the character. This is also true of the “Home-Base Enhancements.” This is something characters should use currency or trade on, rather than XP. The “In-Game Application” choices are better thought out as they include things like Poison Resistance and Convenient Pocket, but it still includes things that should be earned through roleplaying rather than via XP expenditures like Informant and Safehouse. Player Intrusion gets nearly an entire page of descriptive text and I’m torn on the concept. It’s not something Numenera needs, as you already have counters to GM Intrusion and in the way it is written, it’s definitely something players can abuse, especially if they are of the mindset that a RPG is something to be “won” rather than experienced. The concept of players pooling together 3XP to create a positive (or less than negative) effect occur is definitely an intriguing and interesting one, but it really needed to be defined better than the nebulous bits show here. This is an idea better left to Monte Cook Games than for a third party to try and develop because well, this is exactly what happens. A paragraph and two examples simply isn’t enough to properly flesh out and/or balance the concept to what it should be. In the form it is in here, it’s just way too easy to derail a game.

Chapter Six is “Organizations and Guilds” and it’s pretty self-explanatory. THANKFULLY this chapter talks about earning guild membership and ranking instead of purchasing ala the previous chapter, which hopefully will be how the majority does things. We also get a list of various services guilds can provide, but they are unfortunately coupled with DLs that you have to roll on to access. This is a terrible idea because access should either be universal or by your straight-forward rank in an organization. Again, these are role-playing opportunities reduced to roll-playing opportunities, which unfortunately is a recurring flaw in Ninth World Assassins. Maybe if the Guild as an organization was rolling for something obscure or hard to get sure, but a character should be rolling against their own organization to get access to something that will benefit them both. Anyway, the rest of the chapter gives a set of seven example guilds, which are fun to read and should hopefully get your troupe’s creative juices flowing.

Our penultimate chapter is “Characters and Creatures.” This gives you some notable monsters, antagonists and NPCs to inflict upon your players. It’s an odd mix. I’m trying to figure out while someone in the Ninth World would be dressed in a set of gold plate mail ala a D&D game, but whatever. The two creatures are both creepy looking and related so you can use them in tandem. I didn’t really care for the first two NPCs as they seemed a bit generic and like they belonged in a hack and slash fantasy RPG in both art and description, but the Lightning Horror has potential. There’s not much here and it’s definitely one of the weaker chapters in the book.

Finally we have our last chapter which is three pages of adventures seeds. These are what they are, and it really depends on the GM using one (or more) of these to determine the quality of the ideas. After all, a good GM can make anything work while a less experienced one pretty much needs their hand held.

So overall, I’m pleased with Ninth World Assassins. It definitely has its flaws such as a recurring desire to stick in mechanics where they aren’t needed and the production team could really use a refresher on how to make a PDF smoother as well as aesthetically pleasing, no release for anything game is without its issues or things that you can justifiably gripe about. The key thing is that the good definitely outweighs the bad in this piece as it gives you a ton of fun new fleshed out ideas for your Numenera campaign. The fact this is so reasonably priced at only five dollars means you’re getting a real bargain if you pick this up. If Ninth World Assassins is an example of what we can expect to see from the Numenera version of the OGL, then then I think Numenera is going to be in fine shape. Let’s just hope this is the standard and not the exception.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ninth World Assassins
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Alex, Thanks for pointing out the file loading due to the background image. I just re-uploaded the three files with low-quality background image, also total file sizes are respectively smaller. To also clear up immediate viewing, I set the base view at 75% zoom, the book is written in a 6x9 page space, so having it show up at full-page-view does make the text look enormous. \"Holographic Luchadores,\" I couldn\'t stop laughing after I read this. ;) For the XP Options I see your point about making them more roleplay related than player options. There were two directions with these XP options, (1) to give players more options to use their xp in-game, and (2) giving GMs alternatives to XP as a reward (and giving them xp-equivalent rewards). This was directed to slow player advancement and grant additional options for players who want to continue growing once they hit Tier 6. Guild Mechanics was a tricky business as well, and whether to give a DL range on services I was conlflicted about. I aired on the safer side and gave DL ranges, to give the GM a better idea of the complexity and integrating the advancement mechanic. Joining and Advancement was intended to be more of a GM reward to a player, rather than a free player option, this was also true with advancement. This could have been iterated in the book, but as you had said, as you would prefer to handle things by role-playing and through the story, you can remove the DLs and make it more immersive for your players. I\'m glad you were overall impressed with the book, and I hope to continue raising the bar of Numenera supplements! I look forward to your next review of my products! Thank you for your honest feedback Andreas
Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper's Guide
Publisher: Modiphius
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/08/2014 06:44:58
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/08/tabletop-review-achtung-
-cthulhu-keepers-guide-to-the-secret-war-call-of-cthulhu-sav-
age-worlds/

I reviewed Achtung! Cthulhu’s Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War last month but had a number of things set me back from getting to my review of the Keeper’s Guide, which functions as the Dungeon or Game Masters’s Guide for the game using either Call of Cthulhu rules mods or Savage Worlds mods, most of which, aside from character creation, are contained here in the Keeper’s Guide. Both of these books started life on Kickstarter, and I’ve loved the end results that they’ve produced. Where the Investigator’s Guide offered up a nice supplement for playing a soldier with some unique investigative charges, going so far as to convince me that you could play it as a straight World War II RPG, the Keeper’s Guide unleashes the little tidbits lurking in the dark corners and provides the game master with all the tools to let the Old Ones and the cult side of the Nazi war machine which is great because if you can keep your player’s out of the Keeper’s Guide, they’ll have no idea what’s coming their way. Let’s take a look.

The layout scheme from the Investigator’s Guide continues, looking like a series of case files strung out over someone’s desk or put up on a corkboard with notes and photographs taped in for emphasis. It gives the book layout a distinct period feel that adds to the atmosphere of the game and keeps the book readable as well which is important when you’re using it as entertainment and a rulebook. The titles are set up to look like they were punched onto the page by a type-writer but they opted to give the main text you read a far more readable font, thankfully. When you are presented with a table or stat block, it’s done up like it was formatted on a large index card and hastily taped into place but is still legible. Both this and the Investigator’s Guide would be amazing to have as print copies when I stop to think about them in my hands I’m actually disappointed I only have access to the PDFs for review. If you thought the Investigator’s Guide only having 4 pages of ads, you’ll love the Keeper’s Guide only having 3.5 pages of ads and subtracting those, plus the covers, the splash pages, and a thanks to the backers of the game, you’re looking at 283 pages of content for your use. That’s impressive.

As I mentioned, Achtung! Cthulhu is set up to work with two different rule systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. The bulk of the time you’ll see rules for each of these game systems printed side by side with each other with color coded names to better tell which rules go with which system, but like the Investigator’s Guide, sometimes it’s just easier to delve into a chapter on specific rule changes for each system, but while the Investigator’s Guide split this off into 4 chapters, 2 for each system, the Keeper’s Guide keeps this number down to just one chapter per system, each one aptly titled and marked based off the rules it’s written for. Both of these chapters are very similar in content with various tweaks for each, so I recommend looking each over even if you’re just running one of the systems, but you don’t have to know each to run. There will be later chapters that offer more for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, but that’s more because some of the spells, effects and monsters are already covered in the core book for Call of Cthulhu and aren’t in Savage Worlds. There is new material for Call of Cthulhu in these mixed chapters, it’s just not as thick as Savage Worlds.

Chapter 1, From the Shadows, is a 12 page chronology of events that sparked World War II as well as the Secret War going back to 1907. While a good chunk of this time was covered in the Investigator’s Guide, this timeline deals with different events and details different people than was covered before so it’s not simply a retread of material you’ve already received if you have the Investigator’s Guide. It’s a pretty decent way to mine for more story ideas as well as being something your players haven’t seen yet unless they’re familiar with World War II history and even then there are things mentioned that I only know because of various documentaries I’ve watched over the years. Chapter 2, Inside the Reich, is another 7 page chronology, much like they revisited the idea in the Investigator’s Guide, but this is tailored more to events directly dealing with Germany. The other thing I find interesting in this chapter are short messages about how to run the Germans during the war and the fact that what they’re doing and actions they took are theirs alone and that the Mythos would have come to them because of it and not that the Mythos drove them to do those things. It helps avoid a slippery slope, I think, and keeps things going along the lines of what Lovecraft envisioned for his creation and makes it all the worse because of it. Chapter 3, Might Makes Right?, weighs in at 27 pages and covers a variety of topics, mainly the German forces and their make-up as well as structure. Later in goes into providing some example soldiers for the Allies and Germany as well. They cover a lot in there and do it pretty well.

Chaper 4, The Other Secret War, delves into the Intelligence forces active during World War II. Covering all the agencies active with an emphasis more on the Brits than the U.S., French or Germans, at 11 pages this is more of a summary but is still pretty decent and well laid out information on each. If any of your players heads that route or you need to use them, most of what you’d need as far as structure and who does what is covered in here. At 51 pages, Chapter 5 Secret and Occult Societies, is easily the meatiest chapter in the book covering a lot of what you’ll need to run the game depending on your setting and what you’re trying to do. The big things covered here are the Occult heavy hitters working for Germany, the Night Wolf and the Black Sun. One is a spin-off from the other and while they’re both working for Germany, they have very different methods and outlooks on how and what they’re trying to accomplish. While those two get a big spotlight, other groups are also covered so you can have them working against your group in America, France or Britain just as easily within their own soil or even groups designed to stop whatever is coming.

Chapter 6, Planes, Trains and Things That Go Bang, is another hefty 48 page chapter that serves as your equipment and weapons chapter. This covers gear, vehicles, and weapons that you average Investigator wouldn’t necessarily have access to on their own, but might acquire through killing an enemy or during a mission, or might just get as the key to getting through a mission alive. Not every piece of equipment in here is standard to World War II and there are definitely some interesting toys to use on your palyers here. Chapter 7, Into the Fray, is the first of the two chapters detailing specific rules for one of the two game systems. This 11 page chapter is all new rules and updates for Call of Cthulhu, including aerial and naval combat and a few other useful bits just for running in this time period. Chapter 8, Rules of Savage Engagement, is 12 pages covering aerial combat and cover for Savage Worlds, but instead of navel combat it instead covers Sanity and all the wonderful ways you might lost it being exposed to the Mythos.

Chapter 9, Artefacts and Tomes, is the first of three chapters that start to lean into more information for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu. While there is some new information here for both games, some ground that Call of Cthulhu covers is re-tread here over the 8 pages so you can use this with Savage Worlds as well. This chapter covers items that are tied directly to the Mythos that can have certain benefits and definite drawbacks for the players, especially if they’re not the first to find them. Chapter 10, Deadly Illusions and Cursed Knowledge, clocks in at 23 pages, only 3 of which contain new material for Call of Cthulhu. This part of the book delves into magic and spells specifc to the Mythos so you can see where the bulk of it may have already been covered by the Cthulhu core book. To avoid being completely useless for Cthulhu in this chapter they’ve added some new spells and effects however and some would be interesting to see outside of Achtung! Cthulhu in a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Chapter 11, Horrors and Monstrosities, serves as a kind of Bestiary for both games and is the last really lopsided chapter. At 28 pages, only 12 of these are for both games and feature things you haven’t seen before if you’ve played Call of Cthulhu. It goes through the Gods of the Mythos for the Savage Worlds players as well as some of the typical critters that serve before diving into the new creations that have shown up in World War II and not all of them are tied to Nazi creation.

Once you’re out of the monsters, they move onto the human element in Chapter 12, Allies and Nemeses, which covers the big important people like Hoover all the way down to the Man on the Street. There are a lot of examples of NPCs to run into as well as example locations and who you might find there. At only 20 pages this feels a little brief, but there’s enough variety here and between the other chapters that you shouldn’t have a problem assembling enough NPCs to fill out a campaign without much effort. Chapter 13, Adventure Seeds, is woefully short at only 6 pages and is actually the one chapter I wished could have been filled out more. You do get ten adventure ideas, so that’s great, but I would have liked to have seen more. Yes there are some more books incoming, and yes I have all I’d need here to make my own campaign between the two books, but when they go through the trouble to provide these hooks, I always want more to mess around with. Chapter 14, Quick Play Guide, is great if you’re already familiar with Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds, otherwise the list of page numbers and summaries of the new rules from this book are going to not really help you start quickly. It feels like 6 pages of fluff and I wasn’t too thrilled with the Quick Start Guide in the Investigator’s Guide either. Chapter 15, Suggested Resources, has a few more listed for each section than the Investigator’s Guide did but not enough that I don’t think they couldn’t have just pointed to the other book and said go here. After that is the backer’s thank you list, the index, a few ads and a different map of Europe than the one the players get.

Much like the Investigator’s Guide, I’m a bit over-whelmed with how much they’ve crammed into this set of books and not made it feel over-whelming at all. It’s organized pretty well and they’ve broken up the different sections so that it’s easier to locate the different information you might need. There’s much more here on the Secret War end of things than in the Investigator’s Guide and they’ve managed to not make it feel like a re-hashed book and more something that works in concert with the other book to make a whole expansion to either Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds. The artwork and photos they picked look great and the placement and feel really sold each of these for me on top of the content. I did enjoy reading the Investigator’s Guide more than the Keeper’s Guide, but they’re both extremely well done. While the book is weighted a little more on content for Savage Worlds than Call of Cthulhu, there’s definitely material here enough for both games to warrant the price and it’s a new setting with a great twist for both and definitely something you should be picking up if you’re looking for something with a different kind of horror vibe to it. The bundle for both books is more than reasonably priced if you’re getting the PDF version as well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper's Guide
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Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts
Publisher: Moebius Adventures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2014 06:25:00
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/06/tabletop-review-the-big-
-book-of-little-spaces-haunts/

This nineteen page PDF is a collection of six previous Little Spaces releases that have come out intermittently over the last year or so. All six (Abandonded Places, Creepy Copses, Ghostly Effects, Gruesome Graves, Horrid Hallways and Scary Basements) shared the same horror theme, so Moebius Adventures decided to bundle the collection into one supplement. Each PDF in the Haunts series sell for a dollar each, so you’re saving two dollars by buying the collection, and you only have a single PDF to manage as well.

So what is The Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts? Well it’s a collection of system neutral random charts. Now, these charts aren’t for random encounters or loot, but rather they are to help the Storyteller/GM/Whatever get their imagination churning, and thus provide better descriptions, moods and overall ambiance for his or her gamers. You essentially have three charts. The first one you roll a d8 for and it gives you a Sense. The second chart has you roll a d20 and you get a Descriptive Element. The third chart has you roll a d100 on the specific sense chart you rolled for with the d8, giving you a specific sense descriptor. After getting your three random bits, the DM using Little Spaces should be able to put the three pieces together to create a creepy piece of background text for their adventure. Does it work? Let’s try it together with a Scary Basment.

First I roll my d8. I roll a 5 which, according to the chart, is “Taste.” On the second chart I roll a d20. I get a 6, which correlates to “Kitch.” Finally, I roll a d100 on the Taste chart. I get a 21, which is “Burnt.” This means I have to put all three together into a narrative that will help my game. Of course, kitch are usually cheesy knick-knacks, so it’s hard to imagine when you would taste one, but let’s see what we can do.

You slowly descend into the burned out cellar. Like the rest of the amusement park, you appear to be the only human visitors in some time. As you wade through the spider-web that seem to saturate the room, you can’t help but notice the taste of smoke and charred wood tickling the back of your tongue, as if the disaster that befell Funland happened only recently. You know this to be a trick of the mind, and that the taste is probably just the amount of ashes and dust that proliferate the basement, but you can’t help but wonder what it is about this place that seems even creepier than the rest of the park. Perhaps it’s the scores of scorched midway prizes lining the far wall. Their melted eyes staring at you. Their scalded plastic and fur ensuring they will never have a home or a moment where a young child regards them with love or fondness.

So yeah, The Big Book of Little Spaces works, more or less. Of course, I’ve been playing RPGs since I was in first grade, and I’ve been writing for the Industry since I was in high school, so while that took me thirty to sixty second to write, it might not be that easy for other people. Veteran gamers are probably set in their ways and thus either don’t need help doing descriptions for their adventures or they don’t bother with descriptions since they run hack and slash affairs that are nothing but dice rolling, and thus while they NEED something like this, they also don’t realize said need. New GMs will probably get the most use out of this, as The Big Book of Little Spaces is more a creative writing tool than anything else. Even then, the possibility arises for a set of rolls you simply can’t work with.

While I can’t necessarily say that The Big Book of Little Spaces will ever find a large audience or be that helpful to many a GM, it is worth noting it might have missed its calling as a beer and pretzels style game where each player rolls on the charts and has to come up with a short scenario featuring their rolls with only a minute of prep time. If you can’t pull it off, you’re out. Keep going until only one player remains.

I like the idea of The Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts, as it was fun to flip through and was well written, but I can’t say it’s something I’d ever make regular use out of. Nor can I think of people that really can use this other than neophyte gamers. It’s an interesting piece, and the potential for fun is there. It’s just trying to figure out who to recommend such a PDF to is the hard part.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Big Book of Little Spaces: Haunts
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for this great review! And yes, there is always the possibility for rolls you can\'t work with, though for me that always serves as more of a challenge than a road block. It\'s part of the fun of getting a collection of random items together and figuring out how they go together. :) Glad you liked the product overall. And the idea of a beer & pretzels game utilizing this approach might be worth exploring!
Adventurers Compendium
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2014 06:20:20
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/06/tabletop-review-tunnels-
-trolls-adventurers-compendium/


Although the deluxe version of Tunnels and Trolls is nearly a year late (for very understandable reasons), Flying Buffalo Games has done a great job of putting out the Kickstarter backer stretch goals like clockwork. So far, we have gotten remakes/reprints of Deluxe City of Terrors, Saving Fang From the Pits of Morgul, Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeons, The Complete Dungeon of the Bear and of course, the Quick Start Rules for DT&T that went out last Free RPG Day. So although the core product has been delayed due to illness and other issues, Kickstarter backers have definitely gotten their money’s worth and then some. Even better, none of these re-releases have been Kickstarter exclusives, so if you are a T&T fan, but you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pick these up… but you do have to pay.

The latest release from the Kickstarter is the Adventurers’ Compendium, which collects old adventures from the long defunct Sorcerer’s Apprentice Magazine. Now, I was born in 1977, and by the time I was learning to game, SA had been gone for a few years. I discovered Tunnels & Trolls later in life and loved the solo adventurers that were put out for the game, because it was a lot like the Lone Wolf or D&D solo books that I loved in elementary school. So for me, all of these adventures were brand new. Now, a few adventures come from other sources, like Pocket Adventurers, but the majority are rare and long out of print adventures that were originally published in magazine form. You’ll find ten solo adventures and three adventures for a party. Now the back cover only says nine solo adventures, but as you’ll see below, there are ten. Hey, you’re getting more content than you expected, right?

The layout for the Adventurers’ Compendium is a bit odd. You have the first nine solo adventures, all complete with “Choose Your Own Adventure” format up front. There is also an introduction to the tenth adventure, Circle of Ice. Then you have all the content for the first nine adventures. Then you have the beginning of the tenth solo adventure all by itself (which at first seems to be a second adventure by the same name, which is VERY confusing), and then you have the three GM/Party based adventures. This gives the book a strange feel when you just flip through it to peruse the contents. I think Adventurers’ Compendium would have flowed better with the GM adventures up front and the solos in the back, but then the primary appeal of the release is the solo adventures, so it makes sense to some degree that they are front and center.

I should also point out that the first nine solo adventurers are not separated out. Instead, you get the first page of each of the nine adventures in a row, and then all the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of formatting has the contents of the adventures lumped into one big mass. I’m not sure why they did that for the first nine but not the tenth, as it adds to the strange formatting feel of the piece. You might completely miss the second Circle of Ice intro due to the layout if you aren’t careful. While the lumping all of the adventure content together in bulk form may sound strange in this review, it works really well when you actually play the adventures. Because each solo adventure is so short, it would be easy to see all the content and “cheat” your way to a successful completion. With everything mixed together it’s harder to do that, and come on, everyone who has ever played one of these types of adventures has done so at some point. So you may have to wrap your head around the fact each adventure isn’t segregated out, but once you get over it, you’ll find the adventures play better for it, even if reading the collection is harder with this layout.

So let’s take a quick look at each of the solo pieces.

•Kingwalker. This is an adventure for a 1st to 3rd level character where they complete a series of trials. Originally published in SA#1.


•Seven Ayes. This adventure is for a 1st to 3rd level non-magic using humanoid. The adventure can determine what your character is if you don’t have one already, and it is best to go that route. The choices are Dwarf, soft-hearted Orc or evil Human bandit. The adventure is pretty much a bar brawl. Originally published in SA#2.


•Golden Dust, Red Death. This adventure is for a 1st to 3rd level character. Most spells and missile weapons are not allowed, so a fighter might be the best choice for it. Here you are a skeezy drug smuggler. Originally published in SA #4.


•A Sworded Adventure. This adventure is only for a sword wielding warrior of 4th level of higher, so it’s a toughie. It can also lead to adventures NOT in this collection, so be warned. While I found Naked Doom on DriveThruRPG.com, I had no such luck finding Arena of Khazan. As such, this might be the hardest adventure to play through as originally intended, but the text does give a slight workaround. The adventure is basically about your character going shopping at a bazaar and the weirdness that befalls them. Originally published in SA#5.


•Stop Thief! This adventure is for non-magic using characters of 6th Level or less. Your character is hired to stop a group of thieves from their regular looting of the docks. Originally published in SA #7.


•Thief For Hire. This adventure is designed for rogues or warriors between Levels 1 and 4. Your character is offered 1,000 gold pieces to steal a scroll from the royal library. It sounds simple, but it definitely isn’t. Originally published in SA#12.



•The Legend of the _____(adj) _____(n). This is a comedy solo adventure where your friends help out beforehand by filling in the various blanks with the adventure Mad Lib style. Class and levels aren’t important. It’s simply meant to be a very silly adventure with a very silly trial at the center of it.


•First Command. This adventure is for a humanoid character between Levels 2 and 10. You are put in charge of your own ship (complete with a slave galley), and your mission is to sail south to pick up a tribute for your Empress. Originally published in SA#15.


•Hot Pursuit. This adventure has no class or race restrictions. You are hired by the captain of the city guard to ferret out spies from an organization known as The Rangers that have infiltrated the city.


•Circle of Ice. This adventure is for characters of any class between Levels 1 and 4. As mentioned earlier, you are given an intro page on Page 18, similar to the first nine solo adventures. Then you have all the choose your own text for the adventures except this one, and finally on page 58 (61 in the PDF), you get another, DIFFERENT intro to Circle of Ice, and then the text for playing it. It’s all very oddly done. It’s a fun adventure, just like the rest of them, though.


So that’s it for the solo adventures. Now we have the three GM based adventures designed for an entire party.

•SeaReaver’s Tomb. This adventure is for a party of middle to high level characters on a general tomb robbing expedition. The adventure relies more on wits and puzzle solving than straight forward hack and slash though. It’s a fun little dungeon that can kill characters in a lot of ways. Originally published in SA#3.


•The Tomb of Axton. This adventure is for seven characters, with each player controlling two or three of them. I don’t see why you couldn’t do the adventure with more players controlling less PCs though. This is another dungeon crawl where you rob a grave of a long dead guy for profit and glory. It’s a small dungeon, only fourteen rooms long, but each one takes a while to get through. In some ways it is very similar in style, theme and climax to SeaReaver’s Tomb. Originally published in Sorcerer’s Apprentice #9/10 (it’s what the text says).


•The Black Dragon Tavern. This adventure is for characters below Level 9. It’s not a normal adventure, being more a collection of encounters characters may or may not take part in, depending on their actions. There are NPCs to meet, games to partake in and things to eat. It’s not an adventure in the way most people think of them. Rather, it is a regular place for characters to meet and story seeds to be planted. Originally published in SA#11.

So there you go – fourteen long out of print adventures for only five bucks! That’s an excellent deal no matter how you look at it. Adventurers’ Compendium also includes a Sorcerer’s Apprentice cover guide, a random treasure generator, a few puzzles and more. Long time T&T fans who remember the SA magazine will no doubt love this collection. Younger gamers or those new to T&T will be impressed by the fact you are getting so many adventurers for such a low price, not to mention getting all these old, out of print pieces without spending time and a lot of money tracking them down on the secondary market. Adventurer’s Compendium is a must have for any T&T fan. It’s that good.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventurers Compendium
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