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Dungeon Crawl Classics #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2014 06:17:12
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/29/tabletop-review-dungeon-
s-crawl-classics-80-intrigue-at-the-court-of-chaos/

Generally when you pick up a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, you are expecting a piece that is low on plot and high on combat with well designed dungeons and challenges for your characters. Well, Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is a very different adventure from what Goodman Games puts our for its core product. As the title suggests, this is a very intrigue heavy adventure with a lot of talking, politics and betrayal. It’s almost as if an old Vampire: The Masquerade adventure mated with a first edition AD&D adventure spawning the product that we are looking at today. The end result is a piece that will really test your characters and players, but in ways you normally don’t expect a DCC adventure to do so.

Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is an adventure for six first level characters. The adventure assumes the characters all know each other and have gone from 0-level to first level together – perhaps in a previous adventure. The fact the characters all know and accept each other is key to the adventure for as a party they shall be thrust in to the literal court of chaos, where the gods of this particular alignment all dwell. Here they shall be asked to undertake a task of great importance –recovering a stolen piece of Chaos that Law has sealed away. Now obviously Chaotically aligned PCs won’t have a problem with this. Even Neutral characters might be okay with it. Lawful ones however….might not enjoy being the chosen of Chaos. That’s part of what makes the adventure so fun. Characters will really be tested on what alignment means to them and it’s such a rarity these days. You see parties where Paladins hack and slash as if they were Chaotic Evil and DMs turn a blind eye. You see True Neutral characters championing the causes of good left and right. So it’s wonderful to see an adventure that really focuses on the idea of alignment and what it means to the character. What do you do when a god of a specific alignment chooses you to do a task for them?

Even better, since this is chaos we are talking about, each god of the court of chaos has a specific agenda on hand and will pick a specific PC or two to do it for them, promising them some pretty amazing rewards for working with them. This means, the PCs might be pitted against each other as they now have very different goals of their own. Can this lead to PvP battles? It definitely can. Even if all the players end up being aligned with the same goal, there will still be that festering bit of doubt squirming around in the back of their head wondering when someone will reveal they are working for a different member of the court and betray everyone. There are so many ways this can go, many of which involve player on player conflict (either through words or violence). While this can be exceptionally fun to run with a party of reasonable mature individuals who realize this is just a game and not SERIOUS BUSINESS, if you have a player or two (or more, Cthulhu forbid) that get whiny at the drop of a hat, this probably isn’t the best adventure to play with them. Of course, there is a chance that all the players are aligned in the member of the court they choose to work with (or perhaps they choose not to work with them at all or even betray the court to Law or Neutrality), things will run extremely smooth and without drama. However, this is very unlikely. Be prepared for some sort of player on player conflict, or even a full on pier six rumble.

Once the intrigue at the court is done, it’s time for the combat excursion side of the adventure. Still defying the usual Dungeon Crawl Classics tropes, this adventure does not have a dungeon. Rather it has a location with a series of trials. The trials can be done in any order. There are six of them plus a potential bit of violence preceding the trials. These puzzles range from brain teasing puzzles to facing extreme Lawful duplicates of themselves. The wide variety of these challenges just makes the adventure a lot of fun – so much more than if it had been a standard hack and slash affair. If the players succeed in vanquishing the trials, which again, are not necessarily combat in the usual sense, they can claim the stolen artifact of chaos and return it to the court where the inevitable chaos ensues. Depending on who the players side with and who gets the artifact, the adventure can have dramatically different results. Anything from the players uniting as a solid well oiled team to only one PC still breathing can happen at the end of this. The sheer openness of the adventure just adds to how fantastic it is.

I should also add a note about how fantastic the art is in this adventure. All the artists involved really outdid themselves here. Each of the Chaos gods gets a highly detailed full body portrait and they are all awesome to look at. They’re meant to be handouts and they really help the adventure to come alive. As well, instead of the usual dungeon maps that DCC are renowned for, we get a map of the Court of Chaos instead (oddly shaped like a Star of David). It is no less fantastic than the usual maps and I was happy to see a map of some kind included in this otherwise dungeon free adventure, because they are such a hallmark of DCC’s adventures.

While Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is far from the usual Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, it is a fantastic one and one of my favorites produced for the system. This adventure offers more role-playing opportunities than anything else for the system so far and you could easily spend several sessions just on the wheeling and dealing in the court. The crazy cast of Chaotic Gods will give the GM a wonderful array of characters to interact with the PCs and the combined experience will be a highly memorable (and hopefully entertaining) affair for everyone, even if their character is stabbed in the back (literally or figuratively) by another player before the adventure is done. I really loved this adventure and I do think it might be the best Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure yet. Of course, your mileage might vary. If you want something that is just wandering around a dungeon with more dice rolling than acting out your character, this probably isn’t for you. Still, it’s a fabulous adventure I can’t recommend enough. If you’re a DCC fan at all, you’re going to want to add this to your collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
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Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2014 06:25:15
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/28/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-the-book-of-familiars/

I really love how creative Troll Lord Games is with their Castles & Crusades line. A lot of retro-clone publishers put out content that sticks heavily to OD&D or First Edition AD&D with very little original thought or creativity. It’s just a giant mega dungeon or a generic hack and slash adventure. If you’ve been reading my Castles & Crusades reviews since I started doing them, then you know this certainly isn’t the case with this system. Perhaps no book highlights how outside the box Castles and Crusades is willing to go than The Book of Familiars. It takes a rarely utilized concept that 95% of all Wizard players tend to forget even exists after they take it, blows up the concept to where it fills an entire sourcebook and makes it apply to all character classes! This is an amazing idea, and it can really be a game changer. Even if it’s something you would never use in your own personal tabletop game, the concept is intriguing enough to read about, as you’ll walk away with a very different outlook on familiars and role-playing in general.

To be clear, The Book of Familars is not just about familiars. It also includes a good deal of information about animal companions and how the two differ. I know I see a lot of gamers run their animal companion like a familiar and vice versa, even though they are two very different concepts and the creatures in question have extremely different thought processes and intelligence ratings. Thankfully, The Book of Familars goes out of its way to compare and contrast these two different ideas and still give lots of ways each class can use either a familiar or animal companion. I loved this. Instead of getting one core, but rarely thought of, concept fleshed out, we actually get two for the price of one. How is that not awesome?

In addition to extensive familiar coverage, The Book of Familars also introduces a new concept in Advantages. These are similar to feats from D&D 3e/Pathfinder in that you get them every few levels. However, when you get them depends on the level of power and/or challenge the Castle Keeper has in their campaign. There is a suggested guide to when characters get Advantages, but it isn’t set in stone. Advantages differ from Feats in that they are more of a class ability rather than something you roll dice for. Almost all of them are passive bonuses that permanently affect your character. As well, Advantages can be purchased with experience points, and in some rare occasions, gold. Due to the nature of The Book of Familars, most of the Advantages contained therein revolve around enhancing your familiar or giving classes outside the Wizard a chance to have one of their own. Not all are familiar or animal companion based, but nearly all are. Whether or not Advantages are fleshed out in further books is something we will have to wait and see, although honestly, the idea in and of itself probably deserves its own sourcebook instead of being found piecemeal throughout multiple books ala prestige classes and feats in D&D 3.0 style systems.

Once the Advantages chapter is done, you have twelve chapters on familiars – one for each character class in Castles & Crusades. Each chapter talks about how its class can get a familiar and/or an animal companion and why they would do so. An Assassin might channel a reaper spirit, a cleric might be given their familiar as a gift from their deity, a fighter might get one as a reward for completing a special quest and so on. The type of familiars and their special abilities will differ based on character class as well. Some classes might not even have an animal based familiar. A Paladin could end up with a holy spirit, a Bard with a muse or a Druid could get an elemental as their familiar. Each chapter really takes the generic idea of a familiar and fleshes it out so that it becomes tailored to a specific class. Fighters can even get an intelligent weapon as their familiar! This is a really great read, and I think anyone who runs a fantasy RPG, even if it is not C&C compatible, should pick up this book just to take in the excellent ideas presented here. Kind of like how I feel even non Shadowrun fans should pick up a Shadowrun Missions adventure to see the excellent layout and flow of those pieces.

After you get through the specific chapters on class based familiars and animal companions, you still have a full fourth of the book left. What’s in it? Four different appendices – one for familiars, one for new monsters, one for new spells and one for new magic items/artifacts. For those of you who love stats and mechanics, you’ll have a blast looking through all four of these sections. Now remember, all the bits in these appendices are familiar oriented. This is The Book of Familiars after all.

So as you can tell, I really loved The Book of Familiars. It’s such a great idea. Innovative and outside the box yet such an obvious choice for a sourcebook that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before now. I loved see all the options, from a Koala familiar to over a dozen homunculi. Surprisingly though, there wasn’t an option for a rabbit or a hare. That would be only tiny minor complaint about the book. I mean giraffes and walrus familiars but no bunnies? Still, everything in this book is fantastic from cover to cover and I just really love seeing fresh new ideas like this come to life. Whether you want an in-depth look at what exactly a Paladin’s Mount is, or just a ton of fun new abilities and tables for your standard familiar, The Book of Familiars has it all. Again, even if you never plan on letting Rogues or Barbarians have familiars, the concepts and ideas presented in this book are well worth reading and taking note of, because they’re so well done. This is definitely one of those sourcebooks that is as fun to read as it is to implement. Between this and the upcoming Haunted Highlands and Codex Nordica books, 2014 is shaping up to be an awesome year for any Castles & Crusades fan.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
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Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2014 07:28:12
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/20/book-review-of-predator-
s-and-prey-the-hunters-hunted-ii-anthology-vampire-the-masqu-
erade-20th-anniversary-edition/

The Hunters Hunted II has been my favorite release for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. Like a lot of the Classic World of Darkness releases, The Hunters Hunted II was a very successful Kickstarter project. With overfunding came stretch goals, one of which was the anthology we are reviewing today. At only 115 pages, Of Predators and Prey is far shorter than other recent OPP anthologies. Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II was another Kickstarter stretch goal (this time for Werewolf: The Apocalypse) was 240 pages, and The Strix Chronicle Anthology was 154 pages. So it was a bit of a disappointment to see this collection turn out as short as it is.

Of course, the quality of this anthology is another disappointment. As much as I loved The Hunters Hunted II, this anthology left me cold, both in terms of editing and writing. Very few of the stories actually involve hunters. Most of them just involve humans who just end up encountering vampires through sheer dumb luck. At least two stories use the “Ho ho ho, the person you thought was a vampire was a ghoul and the ghoul was really a vampire.” At times, this collection seemed to be more about ghouls than vampires or hunters. Two stories also have strange editing. One has a little girl show up on the second to last page of the story without any mention of them before, but the characters all treat her as if she has been there the entire time. Another has a character there one paragraph, and the next they are dead without any explanation. It really feels like the collection needed to be edited and vetted better. When you only have nine stories, and several of them repeat themes and plot twists, you have to wonder why someone didn’t go, “No. Too similar. Back to the drawing board.” So yes, Of Predators and Prey is easily the weakest fiction anthology put out by Onyx Path for their various lines, but as you will see, it’s not all bad.

Our first story is “Shut-In,” and it’s about an old woman who needs to sell her house and the person who wants to buy it. Of course, the old woman is a shut-in, per the title, and the reason why relates to events that happened over twenty years ago. The woman won’t come out after dark, nor will she let anyone in after the sun sets, and the end result is a cat and mouse game between two beings, both of which assume they are the predator and the other is the prey. It’s a wonderful way to start off the collection, and it also highlights that even sometimes the hunter is more of a monster than the Kindred they want to destroy. A great way to start off the collection. 1 for 1.

“HOA/DOA” is done in an epistolary style and is a fun story about two anal retentive, uptight people in a community and the vampire that both unites and divides them at the same time. The story is a comedic romp at times, but the ending is quite dark. This is another story where the vampire seems like the lesser of two evils when compared to the obviously insane hunter. I had a blast with this story, and although it is very different in tone and style than most V:TM pieces, I think that only helped to make it stand out. It’s nice to get a breath of fresh air once in a while. 2 for 2.

“Lest Monsters We Become.” A story of two hunters, both with very different motivations for why they do what they do. This story actually involves the Sabbat and shows how different they can be from Camarilla or independent vampires. It’s also the third story where one of the hunters is worse than the vampires. The fact that this is three in a row with that sub-theme had my eyes rolling, but that’s an editing/selection problem rather than a writing one. “Lest Monsters We Become” is well written and a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the two different hunters. 3 for 3.

“Psy-Fri Friday.” Oof. This was a stinker. From being the second in the “Vince Russo style vampire reveal” in this collection, to the fact the story just ends at what feels like the halfway point without any resolution whatsoever, this was pretty much an example of how NOT to write fiction. When a story just ends abruptly for no reason with every single plot line left dangling and no resolution, you have to wonder if there was a editing error and part of the story was cut off, or how the hell this was accepted by anyone for publication. This was just bad in every way a piece of vampire fiction can be. If you really want a story about club kid vampires and the people they prey on, I guess you can read this, but the writing is terrible. Don’t say you weren’t warned. 3 for 4.

“Blood Will Have Blood.” This was just terrible. Bad writing, bad characterization, bad flow, bad editing, bad everything. It’s a story of a group of hunters and the revenge a pack of vampires takes on them. Also, one character just ends up being pyrokinetic at the end in a badly drawn out affair. This is the story where a little girl just shows up at the end who was never mentioned until the second to last page and everyone just acts as if she was there the whole time. It features a terrible dues ex machina ending, one of the worst written uses of spontaneously occurring Numera powers I’ve seen in V:TM, and I just found myself wondering how this got by editorial. This was painful to get through. 3 for 5.

“The Ivy Twines.” Surprise! ANOTHER story where a ghoul is the main focus. This is the fifth out of six stories with that aspect. Oh man, the selections really needed to be vetted by someone else. It’s just too much of the same themes reoccurring. No anthology should be this repetitive. Anyway, it’s yet another story where the hunter deals with a vampire and a ghoul and gets tricked/outsmarted to some degree. It’s also a love story… kind of. It’s also a story written by someone that really doesn’t seem to get how homeless/transitional/permanent supportive shelters actually work, as it gets everything wrong about them. Five to thirty minutes talking to someone from an agency like HUD or DHS could have easily made this from an erroneous, implausible mess to a pretty solid tale. The writing style is good, but the suspension of disbelief was totally lost because of the lack of knowledge about the subject matter the author was writing about. 3 for 6.

“Feeding Habits.” This is another story where you kind of feel the vampire is the good guy and the hunter is far more of a monster. Yeesh. The good thing is that “Feeding Habits” is really well done. It’s told from the point of view of a vampire who has spent the last eighteen years refusing to kill and trying to maintain his humanity as best a Kindred can, when he ends up being the target of a group of hunters. The story has a pretty dark and depressing ending, but it’s also a very nice twist. I was happy with this story from beginning to end, and it was a nice change of pace to see a vampire as the focus of the story and what it is like to be hunted from their point of view. 4 for 7.

“Showbiz.” This is a weird one, and I still don’t know if I liked it for the surreality of it all, of if I think the concept was incredibly stupid but that the author was such a skilled writer that they made it work. A set of three friends put together a faux reality tv show about vampire hunting. Sure, they meet people who think they are vampires, like psi-vamps and blood fetishists, but what happens when they run afoul of actual Kindred? The answer will both surprise and amuse you. This story was a lot of fun. 5 for 8.

Our final story is “Patrol,” and it just didn’t work for me. You have a bunch of high schoolers talking like thirty year olds, yet another story where the ones who are supposed to be vampires are ghouls, a vampire that is completely implausible by V:TM terms, a group of “hunters” that get mad at their leader when she kills obvious murderous bad guys, and a totally anti-climatic ending. The writing just is a bit nonsensical at times and the motivation of characters, especially the abrupt change at the very end, just doesn’t add up. This story had interesting ideas, but they just weren’t written or implemented very well. 5 for 9.

So there you go. Five good stories and four bad ones. So the positive outweighs the negative, but only ever so slightly. As a freebie to Kickstarter backers, I can’t really complain, because hey, free anthology. I can’t really recommend this for purchase unless it had something like a $2.99 price tag attached to it (Author note: Which they ended up doing! Hurrah!), simply because the stories weren’t all that great and Onyx Path really should have solicited more potential authors and vetted the submissions for quality. Compared to other World of Darkness anthologies (both Classic and New), this was really lackluster, and I’m kind of disappointed that once again, V:TM is getting the short end of the stick.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
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Spell Themes: Fog
Publisher: gannet games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2014 07:04:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/17/tabletop-review-spell-t-
hemes-fog-pathfinder/

I remember well my days with AD&D, Second Edition. With the help of a single first level, rarely used spell, I managed to stymie many a fon, stump several DMs and get some extra experience points for creativity with it. That spell? Little old Wall of Fog. I was able to do the same thing with Obscurement when I played a Cleric, but that would wait until I could cast second level spells. I have so many fond memories of fog based spells and how they’ve kept my characters alive even when my dice had turned against me, so it’s no wonder that I picked up Spell Themes: Fog, the second in the Spell Themes series by gannet games. Yes, they put their name in all lower case; I’m just following their lead.

For only a dollar, you get seven pages of mechanics involving fog. The other four pages are the two covers, the OLG and a cover page. There are new spells, new feats and new takes on old favorites that didn’t necessarily make the jump from TSR/WOTC to Paizo. I’m actually shocked at how much content is crammed into this piece. You get a whopping TEN feats and TWENTY new fog based spells. That’s right, all in just seven pages. There are no pictures aside from the front cover, just tiny text so that everything can fit into this one PDF. The layout is a bit odd as they have one feat, Fog Mastery, then the spells and then the rest of the feats. I think this was to highlight the aforementioned core feat, but the piece would have flown better had it been all spells and then feats or vice versa. It’s also a disappointment that the spells are Wizard/Sorcerer only, as several of them feel like they should be Druid spells as well. Still, these are minor quibbles on an otherwise amazing job.

Let’s talk about feats first. Fog Mastery lets you switch out a spell for a fog based one similar to a Cleric’s quick healing ability. Dismissible Fog lets you end your fog spells early. Energy Fog lets your fog do damage. Hollow Fog allows for a clear area in the mess, giving your side a tactical advantage. Moveable Fog is self-explanatory. Resilient Fog makes your fog spells hard to dispel. Curtailing Fog makes your fog spells harder to traverse through. Sickening Fog adds the sickened condition to any fog spell, making them all quasi Stinking Cloud spells. Finally, Sparkling Fog turns those that walk through it into a Mormon Vampire (Okay it hampers vision). These are all pretty interesting. Most of these require a specialization in Conjuration (Old school D&D in me save Evocation/Invocation or Alteration) or to have the feat Spell Focus (Conujuration). A caster’s Spell Level must be between 3rd and 5th as well, meaning these are out of reach for the lower level casters that live or die by fog spells. Now that doesn’t mean you still won’t use these feats once you have access to them, just that many gamers tend to go for the more damage dealing feats at that point.

Spells in this supplement are: Asphyxiating Fog (3rd Level), Choking Cloud (4th Level), Clinging Fog (3rd Level), Cutting Fog (4th Level), Dampening Fog (3rd Level), Expanding Fog (3rd Level), Fog Burst (0 Level), Fog Shape (0 Level), Following Fog (2nd Level), Greasy Fog (6th Level), Guided Fog (3rd Level), Hanging Fog (2nd Level), Intoxicating Fog (4th Level), Irritating Fog (3rd Level), Restraining Fog (5th Level), Rolling Fog (4th Level), Rusting Fog (6th Level), Shadowing Fog (3rd Level), Tenuous Fog (1st Level), and Wall of Fog (2nd Level).

Again, all of the above spells are a lot of fun and a very defensive or clever gamer can make great use of these. It’s also great to see Wall of Fog back, but it is a bit disappointing to see it at second level instead of first where I am used to it. Ah well, that’s why I’ll play 2e instead of Pathfinder, eh? The spells suffer from the same minor problem that the feats have and that’s that once a character is powerful enough to cast them, their eye is more on crazy damage or spells with more lethal effects. The 3rd level spells especially suffer from that since it’s the time you get everything like Fireball, Lighting Bolt, Vampiric Touch, Fly Haste and so on. That’s not a flaw with the spells in and of themselves – just a note at how most gamers tend to play their wizards.

Overall, Spell Themes: Fog is fantastic and the fact it only costs a buck means that any Pathfinder gamer worth their salt should download this. It will give you a ton of great options for a more defensive or trickier based wizard and more a DM, some of these spells will drive your players crazy. Big recommendation here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spell Themes: Fog
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Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 08:14:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/book-review-the-festiva-
l-at-glenelg-accursed/

The Festival at Glenelg is a new piece of fiction for the brand new Savage Worlds setting, Accursed. Like many RPG of this era, Accursed was a successfully funded Kickstarter project. Unfortunately for the game, it came out the same time as Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle, four different Werewolf: The Apocalypse releases, two Shadowrun supplements and a Numenera piece so I don’t know anyone who has really given the game a lot of attention. In flipping through it I have found it to be interesting, but not especially compelling. It feels rushed and disjointed but I do like the mix of White Wolf’s “You play as the monster” with a dash of Ravenloft‘s mood an atmosphere and a hearty dose of various monsters from across folklore. You have a world where at some point the Black Cauldron style undead of the UK met up with Russia’s Baba Yaga, for example. Maybe my opinion will change once I’ve spent more time with Accursed. However, this is a review of the novella not the game, so let’s get on with it.

The Festival at Glenelg is by Richard Lee Byers who is best known for his Dungeons & Dragons novels. He’s one of my favorite fantasy authors and I mainly picked this up because I had another month until his Sundering novel, The Reaver comes out, I needed something to tide me over. I should point out that unlike most RPG novels purchases that you pick up from DriveThruRPG, The Festival at Glenelg only comes in .epub and .mobi formats rather than offering a third version via PDF as well. This isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things, although because of the formatting, you can’t tell how many pages long the novella actually is. It took about 100 “clicks” on my Kindle to read through it, but since everyone sets up their e-reader differently saying “100 pages long” is far from accurate. I can however say that this is very long for a short story/novella, especially compared to a lot of Savage Worlds that I pick up like the Weird Wars Rome or Deadlands Noir dime novels. So although the price tag for this novella might seem rather high, you’re not just getting one to two dozen pages here. It’s a full on read in and of itself.

The Festival at Glenelg focused on a small corner of the world Accursed takes place in. It’s very similar to a Scottish town in our own world, using similar names, styles of clothing and jargon. Our main character is one Erik Nygaard. He is attending a highland games festival in the town of Glenelg, although he has not revealed his real name, nor his true nature to the locals. Interestingly enough, while we learn early on that Erik is a dhampir (although neither one according to folkloric tradition nor those akin to say Vampire Hunter D), we never are told the name the townsfolk of Glenelg know him by. The festival is off to a fine start until a band of undead in service to The Morrigan (the leader of this part of the world. Think a Darklord in Ravenloft) comes to town to join in the celebration. By joining in, I of course mean turn the games into an unwilling tryout for new members of their deathless legion, horribly scarring the brains of children for the rest of their mortal lives and at least one rape. It’s not pleasant by any means, but this is the world of the Accursed however, so you had to have seen that coming. I would like to read at least one story where a band of undead does indeed come to town simply to partake in the festivities. This is not that story though.

Erik, due to his quasi-vampiric nature has an opportunity to get out of Dodge before the dead realize what he actually is. Erik is not a hero by nature but as he is both a bard and a not quite vampire, he does have powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortal men. He also doesn’t feel like being fully undead either. By happenstance, Erik runs into a shadowy band of other like minded monsters with hearts of gold that call themselves the Penitents. It’s kind of like the Howling Commandos remake Marvel did a few years back or the Creature Commandos (most recently seen in DC Comics highly underrated: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). This team of characters just HAPPENS to highlight several of the different character options for you in Accursed, even if some of the choices seem more than a little out of sorts for the Scottish type setting of the story. You’ll mean Glynis the Scarecrow (a golem), Niels the Revenant, Yakov the Vargr (lycanthrope) and Sitamun the mummy. Sitamun quickly became my favorite character in the story and I’d love to get a full novella detailing her back story and how a mummy ended up in this part of the world. Sadly, the mummy is generally considered the least fleshed out of the classes in Accursed so it’s odd that the class Byers made me love the most is the one that needs the most touching up in the core setting.

I really liked how Byers was able to take the setting and make the inclusion of particular vernacular for the game feel natural instead of “LOOK I AM INSERTING GAME TERMS INTO THIS STORY SO YOU KNOW IT IS ABOUT A GAME. BUY THE GAME.” Like we saw with Devin Grayson’s recent train wreck in Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II. One of the reasons I love Byers’ writing is at no time do you feel you are reading a piece of licensed fiction. I could hand say, The Haunted Lands Trilogy over to my wife whose only exposure to Dungeons & Dragons are the Dragonlance novels and she wouldn’t have to ask me a single question about the Forgotten Realms setting. The same is true about The Festival at Glenelg. The story sells you on the game, or at least makes you curious about picking it up – even if you’re not a Savage Worlds fan. At the same time, you can read this story without ever feeling the story is doing a hard sell of the game. It’s a fine balance that a lot licensed fiction authors simply can’t pull off.

It was interesting to read a story by Byers where the entire tale is told from a single character’s point of view. I’m so used to him have a ensemble cast where the story goes back and forth between the characters that this was a bit jarring. I kept expecting the tale to go off to another character, especially when the Penitents came into play, but it never happened. It’s neither bad nor good that the story was written this way – merely a head’s up to other people who read (and possibly review) a lot of Byers’ tabletop based fiction.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Festival at Glenelg. It was a fine introduction to Accursed and it hits all the tropes and core aspects of the game setting. The story dragged a little bit at times, but for the most part it was a fun read and I found both the Penitents and the antagonists well written. I’d love to see more stories set in the world of Accursed by Richard Lee Byers, but then I also would love to see him writing something for Chill, Vampire: The Masquerade and Spelljammer, but those things aren’t likely to happen. Come on, you know you want to see Aoth Fezim on a Giant Space Hamster. Is this Byers’ best work? Well, no. Of course not. It’s his first time writing for this new Savage Worlds setting and so it’ll take time to get his bearings. Heck, Accursed is so new, that would be a problem for anyone taking on the same challenge. What I can safely say is that The Festival at Glenelg is very well written, a lot of fun to read and worth the cover price. Am I going to run or play a game of Accursed any time soon? No, probably not. Will I pick up more Accursed fiction? Probably, especially if Byers is the author.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
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Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 06:53:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/tabletop-review-blood-a-
nd-smoke-the-strix-chronicle-vampire-the-requiem/

Well, it took me a while to get this reviewed, but here it is. It’s a shame that Blood and Smoke came out so late in the year. It was hit with more delays that some video games. The key thing is that the book is finally out and V:TR fans can rejoice. At first I thought it was too bad that Blood and Smoke came out the same time as a glut of other releases like FOUR different Werewolf: The Apocalypse titles, two Shadowrun supplements, a new Numenera game, a Deadlands Noir adventure, the launch of Accursed and so many other titles. However instead of having its sales cannibalized by all the titles hitting at once, Blood and Smoke sold like it was the cure for cancer. It’s been the #1 seller on DriveThruRPG.com since it came out and is one of the 100 best selling titles of all time on that site – an impressive feat for a product that has only been out for a month.

It’s worth noting that even though Blood and Smoke is being sold as a sourcebook, it’s actually a core rulebook for Vampire: The Requiem in the same was you get a new edition of D&D, Call of Cthulhu or Traveller. It’s also worth nothing that for the first time in New World of Darkness history, you don’t need the World of Darkness core rulebook AND a second rulebook for the type of game you want to play, like Mummy: The Curse or Werewolf: The Forsaken. Nope, all you need is Blood and Smoke. It has all the rules you need to play the game. You don’t even need The God Machine Chronicle and it’s rules update from mid-2013. It’s about time the New World of Darkness did this and it’s long been a complaint I’ve heard about the system. It only took a decade, but it’s nice to see all the rules in one spot, and is no doubt a big reason why Blood and Smoke is selling as well as it is.

I’ll admit, I never really cared for V:TR when it first came out. Besides the having to double dip for rulebooks unlike the OLD World of Darkness line, the writing just didn’t seem as good (while the mechanics were improved) and the more the line went on, the more disjointed and piecemeal it seemed to become. Over the past few years, things have started to tighten up and flow better. There seemed to be more cohesion and continuity between products and a definite uptick in terms of writing quality. A great example was last year’s Blood Sorcery which dramatically improved Vampire based magic in the game. Then this year, between Reap the Whirlwind and The Strix Chronicle Anthology, I was actually excited for V:TR for well..the first time ever. The stories being told and the new rules that were showcased had me convinced that Blood and Smoke would be the overhaul Vampire: The Requiem desperately needed. It turned out that it was. I’ve never been happier with the new World of Darkness between this, Mummy and The God Machine and 2013 was definitely the best year for the NWoD EVER.

Although Blood and Smoke rewrites Vampire; The Requiem from the ground up, much of the book is a retelling of things longtime V:TR fans already know. It’s all new writing and there are twists on the history, timelines and different interpretations of things from previous releases, so that means even people who own dozens of V:TR releases can pour through Blood and Smoke and find it to be a fresh new read. I’m also glad that Blood and Smoke retells all the basic details, the most minute mechanics and explains that the core theme of Vampire: The Requiem is, because that means the book is extremely accessible and inviting to new gamers. One of the biggest detractions the NWoD gets is that the books have been written in such a way that they assume you already own everything that came before it. There’s no explanations for newcomers and thus the releases have tend to drive more gamers away than they have brought in, thus leaving the NWoD extremely insular and with a much smaller fanbase that the Old World of Darkness had in its prime. Again, Blood and Smoke is proof that OPP is learning from the mistakes the NWoD has made over the past 10+ years. The game hasn’t been this wide open to new and old fans alike since its inception and again, another reason why Blood and Smoke is selling like hotcakes.

For those new to V:TR, the book contains everything you need to play along with copious amounts of back story, description and content. You have the five clans, Daeva, Gangrel, Mekhet, Nosferatu and Ventrue. There are also short write-ups of the three extinct clans: The Akhud, the Juli and Pijavica. The Tremere don’t show up anywhere in Blood and Smoke even though they occasionally are referred to as a “Lost Clan” in some books. For newcomers, you’ll have to look to Mage as they show up there regularly (They’re considered Liches in the NWoD for people who only know the V:TM version.). You also get six Covenants and four “broken” ones. By broken they mean, died out in a figurative sense. Covenants are how vampires group their allegiance in V:TR. Again, if your only exposure is Vampire: The Masquerade, think of Covenants as much smaller organizations like the Camarilla, the Sabbat and the True Hand, except these organizations all work together (to varying degrees) instead of being at each other’s throats.

Much of the book is about the mood, theme and atmosphere rather than mechanics. Don’t worry dice chuckers and ruleslayers; there are plenty of mechanics in Blood and Smoke for you. But World of Darkness games have always been about the story first and so the newest version of V:TR is no difference. The book takes you through what it means to be a vampire and how the longer you stay a vampire the harder it is to hold on to your humanity. The core concept of humanity is redone for Blood and Smoke instead of basically being a chart where you compare what act you did to your humanity rating and then rolling dice to see if you’ve become more of a “monster,” humanity in this latest version of the game is more of an immersive role-playing experience. You have touchstones, aspects of your former mortal life which keep your grounded and your baser instincts in check. A Touchstone could be anything from your gravestone to the children you had when you were a mortal. It could be the baseball stadium that you always had season tickets to or perhaps an opera. Regardless these touchstones give your character something to work with in-game as well as story thread potential for the person running the game. Maybe a subplot of an adventure is that a character’s touchstone is a park and some unscrupulous builder wants to turn it into condos. Here then, the PC can protect the touchstone which makes the adventure a metaphor for protecting his or her slowly eroding humanity. Now, that doesn’t mean touchstones should always be in danger of being destroyed or tampered with. That’s only something a lazy or unimaginative Storyteller would do. Touchstones exist for the character first and foremost and help keep them grounded. Constantly attacking or threatening them just turns the game into the unfortunate “Storyteller Vs Player” setting where no one ends up happy and to be honest, is kind of spitting in the face of what White Wolf style games are supposed to be like.

It’s also worth noting that Humanity also effects how a vampire takes sun damage. The newer a vampire is to their unlife coupled with how high their humanity is, determines how much damage you take from the sun and how often. Higher Humanity levels can tolerate the sun for longer periods and the same with being a younger vampire. Now this is the inverse of V:TM or most horror games like Ravenloft where the older a vampire is the more sun they can withstand. Personally as a folklorist, I prefer the pre-1922 vampire where sunlight was an annoyance at best and never lethal. Stupid Count Orlock. However, the past century has pretty much cemented sunlight as a weakness for vampires (unless they are sparklepires…), so as much as I was hoping that sunlight would be downplayed entirely, I do approve of this reworking of the weakness. In a sense, sunlight damage becomes a metaphor not for a character’s purity or how good they were as a mortal, but rather how much they are able to cling to the being they used to be. Humanity in V:TR isn’t where a ten rating equals Lawful Good Paladin from Dungeons & Dragons, but rather how much you have held it together in the face of your new existence. When you lose Humanity, you lose what you once were. Memories, emotional, connections, empathy and the like all erode. The less Humanity you have, the more bestial or instinctual a vampire becomes until they are an animalistic predator with no thoughts but the most basic on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So in this respect the more sunlight you can tolerate, the more of yourself you are and the more damage you take from it, the more you have slipped towards the embrace of the Beast.

Another unusual aspect of V:TR is Blood Potency. While this goes up with age, it can also go down from entering a deathlike sleep called torpor. Blood Potency not only determines a PC’s power level but also drawbacks as well. For example, the higher the Blood Potency, the more limited your feeding options are. You might lose the ability to feed off animals and then humans, leaving your only prey option to be other vampires. At this point, you might choose to enter Torpor to lose BP and thus feed normally. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of benefit Vs drawback and I enjoy the concept, but I can definitely see where others would have a problem with it, especially munchkin/power gamers. Blood Potency kind of prevents the min/max’ing you see in other games, which I personally approve of.
So two things. First, notice how in the previous paragraphs you have rules and mechanics, but without dice. They are pure storytelling. I love this. Sure, the option to roll or whatever is still available, but Blood and Smoke does put an emphasis on as little rolling as possible. It’s proof you can have the rules without bogging a game down with check on the exact implementation or stopping the pace or flow of an adventure every few seconds with rolling dice. This is kind of a throwback to older RPGs rather than the 3.0/Pathfinder era of games where there is a roll based mechanic for everything. Again, I prefer the limiting of dice to big moments and letting the group of players and Storyteller control the majority of the tale. That’s just me though so again, enjoyment of this play style may vary. Second, notice how in the previous paragraphs I also commented how a play mechanic is a metaphor for something else. This is constant throughout Blood and Smoke. I love this. I love games where mechanics flow into the story rather than run parallel with them. It makes the game a more immersive experience overall.

We also see Conditions make their return from God Machine Chronicle. Conditions are similar to derangements in that they are mental states a character can enter. Unlike derangements conditions can be temporary as well as persistent or permanent. There are nearly fifty Conditions, and each has their own way they can be developed and beaten. I like this because it ties a specific mental state down to the character and make them actual act it out. Too often I’ve seen people gain derangements and pay them no mind. We’ve probably all seen the one person who plays a Malkavian without any specific derangement and just has them be “crazy” which everyone else interprets as “annoying to the point of PvP occurring.” Some gamers might not like having a specific Condition forced on them, but I feel it makes for better role-playing potential and ensures someone will act out their insanity. Conditions feel a lot like the temporary insanities, phobias or philia you can pick up in Call of Cthulhu. Plus, you can gain a beat for some of these, which is a nice reward a la the GM Intrusion from Numenera. Beats are fractions of experience points by the way. Get five and they become 1 XP.

Okay, I should probably move on to the titular aspect of the book, which are the Strix. Although in previous versions of V:TR supplements and sourcebooks, information about the Strix has been contradictory and oddly defined. At times it felt like all of the people writing about the Strix didn’t bother to read what anyone else had written and so their entire history felt very poorly done (as a whole, some individual pieces were quite nice), disjointed and kind of like a flesh golem if it were words instead of people parts. If there was one thing I was really looking forward to being overhauled and getting some much needed cohesion, it was the Owls. After all, the Strix represent all the bits of folkloric vampires that the more Hollywood/20th century style Kindred lack. The overwhelming hunger, the pure monstrosity, the bizarre weaknesses, the ability to go out in the sun. Hmm. Vlad Tepes can go out in the sun in V:TR, yet he is NOT an owl. Or is he? So many possibilities there! Anyway, with the Strix, VLTR pays homage to the vampires from yesteryear as well as the modern incarnation. Even better, they’ve shored up what the Strix are instead of making them unstoppable boogeymen that just kill PCs left and right. Now, they’re still fearsome SEEMINGLY unstoppable creatures, but there weaknesses and powers are better laid out and more thoroughly defined. What this means is that a Strix is still a monster for the monsters, but that they can be defeated in a similar vein to Call of Cthulhu where investigation and knowledge helps a mere mortal stop the machinations of an being utterly alien to our own form of existence. Hmm. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the changes to V:TR so much. I am a long time CoC fan…

There’s a lot more to Blood and Smoke than what I’ve covered. I mean, I’ve only written 2,500 words and the PDF is 311 pages long. I could touch on character creation, but it’s pretty much the same as any White Wolf game. Masks and Dirges are the equivalent of Natures and Demeanors. Disciplines, Frenzies, ghouls and everything else are similar to earlier incarnations of Vampire: The Requiem. Are they exact? No, but they are so close that the devil is in the details. Again, if you’ve never played V:TR before, this is definitely the book to get. It gives you all the rules and is as inviting to newcomers as it is full of references and telltale hints that only long time fans of the game will pick up. I honestly feel Vampire: The Requiem is SO MUCH BETTER than it used to be. The game has gone from my least favorite New World of Darkness setting to third or fourth (behind Mummy, God Machine and maybe Mage. I go back and forth on it. I absolutely think this is a step in the right direction and with these changes I am actually inspired to run a game of V:TR. I can’t think of the last time that has happened. This was just a fantastic job all around by the writing team. The question now is, where does V:TR go from here?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
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Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2014 20:06:04
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/22/tabletop-review-mummy-t-
he-curse-ready-made-characters/

Not be confused with the Mummy Interactive Character Sheets, which are customizable and editable free PDF character sheets, the Ready Made Characters pack features pregenerated characters, complete with a one page bio to help players run the characters. These characters are perfect for newcomers to roleplaying in general or Mummy:The Curse in specific, or those that haven’t had time to make characters and just want to play a quick pick-up session. Likewise, these pregenerated characters come with story seeds to make a Storyteller’s life easier. Writing an adventure for Mummy: The Curse is a daunting task because of the unique way a Chronicle of this game unfolds. This means the Ready Made Characters are pretty versatile. From using them to get a novice into a new game or to help you write an adventure for a convention, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line of products.

The five characters in this pack control a dance and fetish club known as Club Taboo. It’s hard to imagine any five Arisen working ala a vampire coterie, especially when the one presented here has a character from each of the five guilds, along with five different judges and five different decrees. That means there is absolutely no common ground for any of these characters, and one would think that would cause more problems than anything else – at least at first glance. Thankfully, the background of each character and the page of Storyteller seeds limits the potential group infighting and gives them a few allied tasks to work together on. In fact, there one very BIG group goal that is all but impossible to achieve, but it’s a great idea for an entire chronicle. It also helps that all five Mummies will rarely be active at the same time, meaning that you have an easy out for some of these characters if you only have a group of two to four people that can get together. One thing this collection doesn’t address is how all five manage their individual cults and get THEM to work together. That’s a pretty big oversight.

Each of the five Arisen has the own role to play. One is the money handler and long term thinker of the five. One is the face of the group (and the club) who has some severe family codependency issues. One is the meat shield who has transitioned from a force of mindless destruction into an anachronistic protector. One is an information broker with trust issues who sticks with the group only because he’s in love with the female Arisen in the clutch. One is a sneaky, cynical Jack of all Trades. Together they fight crime work together, furthering their own goals while continuing their mission regarding Lost Irem. The characters are very diverse in terms of stats, skills, powers, utterances and personalities, so players will each have their own moment in the sun.

The only negative things I can say about this pack are intertwined. All five characters have only a Memory of three, which doesn’t jibe at all with the level of detail in their biographies. Nor does a group of five Arisen coming together to work as a mostly organized family unit with that low level of Memory. This is hard to justify, especially since so much of Mummy is discovering who you are. With bios this detailed, there’s too much defined for the Memory level. It’s disappointing to see this getting by editorial. I guess it’s also worth noting that Neith is actually missing his Memory rating, but it’s easy to assume he’s at a Memory rating of three as well, since everyone else is. Besides, I can’t think of the last time I saw a release for ANY tabletop game without a minor error like this. Add these in with the lack of any real Cult discussion and the Ready Made Characters pack isn’t perfect, but these are minor complaints, and for a free Kickstarter backer bonus you won’t hear me raise any real ire here.

As I’ve said, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line so far. It’s nothing you need to play the game, like the core rulebook, or an optional piece that enhances the game, like Guildhalls of the Deathless, but as a freebie, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure if I’d pay money for this if there is a price tag attached to it once the piece is available to the general public, though, unless I was specifically planning to run games for people completely new to the concept of Mummy: The Curse or I wanted to run an adventure for a convention and make things extra easy on myself. Still, Mummy: The Curse is batting three for three so far, which is an impressive streak indeed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
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W20 Rage Across the World
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/01/2014 07:41:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/01/tabletop-review-rage-ac-
ross-the-world-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edit-
ion/

Rage Across the World is not a travelogue as you might expect from the name. Instead it’s meant to be a companion piece to W20 in the same vein as the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Companion was. Well maybe not the same EXACT vein as the V20 Companion was pretty reviled and cost Onyx Path a lot of goodwill with its fans (that it has since won back and then some.), while Rage Across the World is actually pretty good. It’s mostly a fluff piece with a few mechanics interspersed here and there, but it’s better written, better laid out and far more useful than the V20 Companion. Part of that is because OPP has learned from its mistakes (poor V:TM – always the testing ground) and partly because Rage Across the World was a free stretch goal to Kickstarter contributors while you had to pay money for the V20 Companion You’d be surprised how far free goes towards placating people. Would V20 Companion have fared better if it had been free? Almost certainly…

Rage Across the World is short and less focused that the original six “Rage” books from earlier incarnations of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The book touches on each of the classic locations: Egypt, the Amazon, Appalachia, New York Australia and Russia, but only briefly. If you want to get a more in-depth look at these locations, you’ll need to pick them up on Ebay or in digital form from DriveThruRPG, either in single volumes or in the three Rage Across the World volumes (Each contains two of the single locations in one big book). Although the original six Rage locations are only touched on briefly in this new Rage Across the World, they are updated for modern times. Those three pages on Cairo, for example talk about the Arab Spring and all the political upheavals that have been occurring in Egypt since 2011. Remember the original Rage Across Egypt is almost thirteen years old and as such is missing concepts like smart phones, 9/11, hybrid cars, drones, and other faces of life we regularly see today that simply didn’t exist back then. So if you own the original Rage Across XYZ books, the updates in Rage Across the World might be worth admission price alone. If you don’t own any of the originals, it’s not a problem – they’re not required and are more curiosity pieces at this point.

The introduction gives us a quick overlook about what the book is about, as well as a way to fast forward your characters in power and rank so that you’re not always starting off with Rank 1 characters. Similar to the Age background trait from V:TM, the increased rank gives you a lot of experience to spend on your starting character. Being a Fostern gives you between 45-75 experience to spend while an Elder gives you AT LEAST 600. Cripes. Imagine how over the top that would be if these were Freebie Points rather than XP!

Chapter One, “Life Among the Warriors” is told completely “in-character” until the very tail end of things. A young recently changed Garou wants to leave the cairn, finding the Garou Nation’s way of life to alien and stifling. He sits on the dock talking to a Silver Fang named Sarah, born and bred into Garou life, but ostracized because of her sexuality (Which amongst the Garou actually had a modicum of rationale behind it besides the usual straight up homophobia or religious based prejudice) . As such, she is the perfect candidate to explain to this young cub what are the benefits and drawbacks to Garou society. You get a solid look at the differences between sept, pack and tribe, along with the sometimes convoluted (by human standards) systems of laws and litanies the Garou live by. It’s an interesting read, and very much a quality primer for people new to W:TA, but it’s not a “must read” by any means, as it’s all information long time Werewolf fans (the vast majority of the target audience for this piece) are already well aware of.

Once we are past the in-game fiction, we are given a dozen pages of mechanics. These are not new rules that involve dice rolling or the like, but are instead all character creation based. Pack Status is a combined group trait where you can spend points on temporary things ranging from a tent to crash in on sept grounds all the way up to borrowing four or five dot fetish for a fortnight. This is a nice way for a Pack to make an adventure slightly easier for them and also cash in on their previous exploits. Sept Positions are specific roles a Garou can earn. Once obtained these roles become a part of who they are in the larger scheme of things and in return for taking the task on, they gain some mechanics bonuses. Take Keeper of the Land, which is a two point Sept Standing. This garou ensures the sept is kept clean, environmentally sound and occasionally dealing with local spirits. In return for taking on this role, the PC gets a +4 to its social die pool when dealing with the Sept’s totem and any other spirits affiliated with the location. Not a huge bonus, but a +4 bonus can come in pretty handy at times. Other than that, the chapter gives you one new rite and eleven potential caern totems.

Chapter Two, “Weaver” is all about the Garou’s take on well…the Weaver obviously. Told via in-game fiction by a Stargazer Galliard, you get a look at how the Weaver is affected the modern World and how the Garou have to deal with it. Locations covered in this section include Pittsburgh, Shanghai, Cairo (which is why this isn’t by a Silent Strider), Seattle and London. It’s an interesting read and it really showcases how dangerous the Weaver can be, as well as why some Garou consider it to be the true enemy rather than the Wyrm. Again, it’s a fun chapter to read, but it’s not something that is going to wow any long time W:TA fan or change how they look at the Weaver. It’s all common sense stuff regurgitated in a fun piece of fiction. Mechanics wise, you get five new fetishes and five new totems.

Chapter Three, “The Wyld,” isn’t about Gaia, but what the Garou nation needs to do to win the war against the Wyrm, as well as how to keep Kinfolk and wolves alike safe and healthy. Some of the suggestions make a lot of sense (more Lupus Garou need to be born as they can have more babies than a human and become Garou five times faster than a Homid born cub) while others are a bit harsh or dark to our conventional human morality (Breed, breed, breed as there is a war going on. Which explains the disdain Sarah gets from other Garou in Chapter One for being homosexual. Homosexual couplings can’t produce children and thus she is far less likely to make little garou babies so that the war against the Wyrm can be won. Hey, at least it’s better than “Bing Gay is evil for no vague undefined reasons based on an interpretation of a religious textbook that may or may not be in line with the point of view possessed by the deity in question!”) We’re also treated to a look at various wolf populations across the world and the threats they face. Locations include Minnesota, Ethiopia, Yellowstone National Park, the Australian Outback, the Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia (Specifically five ex Soviet Union nations). Besides the in-game fiction we get the concept of spontaneous Metis (created by radiation exposure), a new gift, a new rite, a new fetish, two new talens, and a quick write-up of caerns in the aforementioned locations. Again a fun read, but nothing that makes Rage Across the Worlda must-own by any stretch of the imagination.



The Appendix, "Gaia" is perhaps the most interesting piece of the book and it also presents things from a different viewpoint than most players and/or in-game characters have. The fact the first section is entitled, "Why We've Lost" is probably pretty unexpected and jarring but it drives home the core concept of the W:TA (The end of days and the final battle are nigh) and it's a reminder that Gaia is much more than trees and rocks or water and air. Gaia is life and creation. Locations include New Guinea, The Arctic Circle and the one two punch of Tanzania and Kenya. The latter gives us a hint of things to come in the upcoming W20 release: Changing Breeds, which is a look at the other shapeshifter races across the world. We’re give a nice look at the fall of Black Tooth (a despotic werelion) in this book, something that will be touched on in far greater depth in Changing Breeds. Mechanics-wise you get some new rites, gifts and totems and then…the book just ends abruptly. That’s it. No conclusion or short piece to wrap things up. Just an odd for the eventual Wraith 20th Anniversary Edition promised for 2014 (Ha ha ha…now that’s a pipe dream) even though we’re still waiting on Mage.

Overall, Rage Across the World is a fun read, but by no means a must have. As a Kickstarter backer freebie, this was an excellent way to spend those stretch goal funds and there is little to complain about here. If you did miss out on the W20 Kickstarter, only time will tell if this is worth purchasing. It’s all going to come down to the MSRP Onyx Path saddles this book with. As there is very little content other than the in-game fiction pieces and all the mechanics pieces are optional and minor at best, only extremely devoted W20 people should pick this up and even then, that core demographic have almost assuredly gotten this as a freebie because they backed the Kickstarter campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Rage Across the World
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Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/31/2013 14:12:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/31/book-review-rites-of-re-
nown-when-will-you-rage-ii-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anni-
versary-edition/

It’s been a very good year for gaming fiction anthologies, even though full fledged gaming novels (like The Sundering series) have been a bit lackluster. Shadowrun Returns, The Strix Chronicle Anthology and Tales From the Ninth World have all been pretty solid. Now, Werewolf: the Apocalypse gets its own anthology to boot. I’ll admit, Rites of Renown has me wishing for a V:TM fiction anthology, but this particular book came about only because of the abundance of funds raised in the W:TA 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter. There are nineteen stories contained in this collection by as many authors, which is a lot compared to other White Wolf/Onyx Path anthologies. Like any anthology, the quality of the pieces are all over the place, from so bad I’d be embarrassed to be the person who approved the publication of the piece to worth the cost of admission alone. Of course, the problem is defining which piece is which. No two people will read through an anthology with this many stories and like the exact same ones, but as this is my review, we’ll have to go with thoughts and opinions on the specific pieces. Just remember one man’s opinion (no matter how well respected) is not the word of God coming down from on high, so pieces I utterly hated you might love and vice versa.

1.) Throated. Wow, this was really bad. I mean really bad. The worst way to start off an anthology is with a piece so utterly horrible in style, tone and flow that it makes you want to stop reading the entire book right then and there. Unfortunately, “Throated” is just such a piece. I really wanted to give it a chance because it was by Devin Grayson, who is one of the most maligned comic book writers of all time. Just bring her up to a collective of Nightwing fans and you’ll see a level of hate usually only reserved by X-Men fans for Chuck Austen. However, I’ve missed Ms. Grayson’s comic run and I really liked Chuck Austen’s run on Exiles, so I wanted to give her a chance, especially since the only thing I’ve read of hers is her novel Inheritance, which, admittedly, is not very good. In her defense, DC Super Heroes are very hard to write in novel form. Even Alan Grant, who I love, wrote a slight stinker with Last Sons, and the only DC novel I’ve enjoyed is by Roger Stern.

But I digress. Back on topic with why “Throated” is so terrible. Basically it reads like it was written by a person who has only ever flipped through the first edition W:TA handbook and is pulling out buzzwords left and right to prove they know something about the system. Throw in a very bad narrative style told by an extremely unlikeable and annoying narrator and a very implausible plot about a Kinfolk teenager saving his sister from Pentex, and you have a story that hits all the bases. Unfortunately, it was all the negative bases; this was just chock full of every one of my pet peeves wrapped up into a short story. “Throated” was so bad, I had to constantly put it down to groan. I really wanted to be positive here, but when I was done reading it, I couldn’t imagine a worse story for Werewolf: the Apocalypse. 0 for 1

2.) Unwind. Well, unfortunately for this anthology, they followed up the worst W:TA thing I’ve ever read by something EVEN WORSE. I guess that’s a feat in and of itself, because I didn’t think it was possible to get worse, but “Unwind” accomplished it in spades. You know a story is bad when you could take it out of the anthology and no one would realize it was a story about a Garou’s first change. Honestly, if one were just given this thing, it would come off as nothing more than an extremely disturbed and horribly written tale about a teenager running around killing people in gruesome fashion simply because they were insane. This is like the type of story someone writes in Middle School simply to freak out the teacher and get a chuckle out of their friends. Sadly, “Unwind” has the writing quality and narrative style of someone in that age group as well. It’s truly just terrible on all levels. At least with “Throated,” you could tell it was a W:TA story. “Unwind” is just someone’s extremely uncreative (and poorly written) ode to torture porn. Honestly, it’s so awful that I think we have a winner for the worst piece of RPG fiction that someone actually was paid money for. I’m honestly embarrassed that there are people at OPP that thought this was quality, and doubly so that someone got a paycheck for this. For shame. Seriously. There has never been a worse 1-2 punch to start of an anthology that I have encountered. 0 for 2.

3.) The Lost. Thank Nyarlathotep the entire anthology gets better from here. “The Lost” is a fine story about three homid Garou who underwent their first change by themselves and have found each other without any knowledge of the culture and history they are a part of. Together, they find their place in the world and come to terms with their new bestial side. It’s very well done. 1 for 3.

4.) Scar Tissue. This is a story about how nasty and subtle the Wyrm can be. The main character discovers she is a Garou… again. How does that work? You’ll have to read to find out. The entire affair is a pretty entertaining read, with some great descriptions of the Seattle area and a possibly unintentional reference to Twin Peaks. There are some extremely memorable characters here, and even though the entire tale wraps up nicely, I wouldn’t mind reading further adventures of Indria and Dr. Editon. 2 for 4.

5.) Why Old Wyrm Devours His Tail. I think this might be my favorite story in the collection. It’s a story about stories and their importance in the world. As a folklorist, I loved this piece. Aeden MacGowan is a Fianna trying to collect stories from all the tribes in an effort to keep them preserved. It’s a beautiful piece in all respects. There are some definite sad moments, but also some brilliant ones as well. The author is one of the few to actually get Black Spiral Dancers RIGHT. The vast majority of writers use the Dancers as poorly as V:TM writers use Malkavians – as nonsensical annoying loons. We get a really strong look at how sane, cunning and even noble a Dancer can be. It just happens that they’re on the Wyrm’s side. Corruption isn’t akin to madness, and it was a breath of fresh air to see that. This is definitely one of the jewels of the collection. 3 for 5.

6.) Hairshirt. The winner of the weirdest title in the collection, “Hairshirt” is a fun look at the old trope of multiple people telling the same story about a cub’s first change, a battle with Weaver spirits and the origin of the pack’s name, but from a radically different point of view. It’s a well told, and often times funny, look at how just because you are in a pack, it doesn’t mean you are bosom buddies. I also found that I loved the character named The Unlidded Eye… although he did seem more Hakken than Shadow Lord. “Hairshirt” was a really fun story, and it was great to see a W:TA take on an old classic setup. 4 for 6.

7.) The Magadon Job. The flow of this story is similar to “Hairshirt,” but slightly different. Instead of five retellings of the same story, it’s five different Garou telling one story in parts. The job in question involves a team of Garou being hired for a snatch and grab operation inside one of Pentex’s branch corporations. The catch is that the grab is the sister of the Black Fury that hired them. The story doesn’t have a happy ending by any means, but it’s a well told piece of fiction, and each of the five Garou are very clearly defined. You really walk away with a sense of who each one is. Another thumbs up here. 5 for 7.

8.) Tears on a Tainted Blade. I just didn’t care for this story. It was extremely cheesy on all levels, and I can’t say I cared for any of the characters in the slightest. The story is about three different sides of Garou all after the same item – the very first Klaive ever created. I hate when people go that route, as the end result is never satisfying and revealing the origins of the first ANYTHING is always underwhelming, not to mention forces everyone else to shoehorn in a badly done piece of canon. The Silver Fangs come off as more psychotically evil than slightly crazy aristrocrats. The Shadow Lord is more Hakken (a trend in this collection), and the story ends about as stupidly as it is abrupt. “Oh no, Wyrm! Let’s instantly put aside an entire tale of HATE to team up and fight them. The End.” Not very good on any level. 5 for 8.

9.) Straw Death. This is the tale of a Get of Fenris Garou near death and her decision to fight and die or run away to fight another day. The main character is not very likeable, but the author does a good job of showing her thought process, complete with her reasons for wanting to flee or fight. Although it’s not my favorite piece in the anthology, it’s well done. It’s also another piece that actually gets a Black Spiral Dancer correct. I know – two in one collection. I’m as shocked as you are. 6 for 9.

10.) That Kind of Kin. This tale is told from the point of view of a Kinfolk that doesn’t really like being Kinfolk. No, she has no plans to become a Skinwalker. She’s loyal to Gaia – she just hates the attitude and personality of Garou. This tale takes place at the tail end of a fierce battle between a pack and some Black Spiral Dancers, and gives you the aftermath of the event. The story is pretty dark and there is no happy ending to be seen here, but it’s really quire enjoyable. It’s also nice to see someone take a look at how shabbily a lot of the Garou treat their Kinfolk – almost similar to how Kindred treat their Blood Dolls. They are a means to an end and little more. A definite read, especially if you plan on ever playing a Kinfolk. 7 for 10.

11.) Moonshine. I just couldn’t get into this story at all. The plot of a Garou pack breaking up a wacky Wyrm conspiracy is fine and all, but I just didn’t care for any of the characters or the narrative style. If I want a tale about a hillbilly furrie jugband collective, I have Emmit Otter’s Christmas Special for that. I just couldn’t get into this piece at all. I had to keep putting the story down because my eyes were glazing over from boredom. 7 for 11.

12.) Rhymes with Food Truck. This was a very funny piece about a Garou (Bone Gnawer from the description) that drives a food truck, the Pentex scheme he uncovers and the Glass Walker he has a feud with. All these things come together in a pretty ridiculous but well written and highly entertaining story. It’s nice to see a light comedy piece in the bunch, as you rarely seem something like that in a WoD anthology. Even in the World of Darkness, not everything is overly angsty gloom and doom. 8 for 12.

13.) Gryphon, in Glass and Steel. A Garou stops what appears to be an everyday mugging, which of course turns out to be anything but. It’s a nice set up, but the end story not only ends abruptly, but without any real resolution. I liked the two main characters, but the story definitely felt like it was missing a few pages or that editorial made the author shorten things. I could go either way on this one, but I’ll be nice and count this in the positive column. 9 for 13.

14.) Tatters of Honour. The Shadow Lords and the Wendigo end a centuries old blood feud. It’s a nice look at how the Garou often hurt themselves worse than the Wyrm ever could. Are these two ancient but proud tribes able to stop the cycle of mistrust and violence between them? A fine read indeed. 10 for 14.

15.) Cleanup. I just didn’t care for this one. I think some people will be surprised to learn that the story’s description of immigration centres in England are actually more accurate than people want to believe (save for the WoD aspects like Garou after all), but the story just didn’t seem to gel together very well. A pack of Garou breaks into an immigration detention centre to help save a cub on the brink of first change, and it all goes to pot. The story is fine up until you get into the centre, and then the narrative just breaks down big time. It’s like two different authors are telling the story. The twist that comes at the midway point just doesn’t hold up, and the story never recovers. 10 for 15.

16.) Things Seen. This is a fun story. It’s W:TA meets The X-Files. A group of parapsychologist Garou track down a mysterious creature they identify as a Wog, but what is it doing in Pickens County, GA (A lot of the stories in this collection are set in GA and WA BTW…) and what does it have to do with the Croaton tribe? This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. You see the heel turn coming pretty easily, but not the other swerve the story throws at you. Really well told, and the author does a nice job clinging to the core tropes of W:TA while also giving us a more unique story. 11 for 16.

17.) The Stone is a Mirror Which Works Poorly. Another stinker. This story has an amnesiac protagonist – always a red flag that the tale will be uninspired drek. The author tries to present multiple chapters of dreamlike imagery and Dubliners style stream of consciousness, but it never ends up being more than chaotic, confusing babble where more of the story is between the lines and outright off the page than actually written down. Yuck. 11 for 17.

18.) Eyes Towards Heaven. This is a hard one to judge. The first five chapters of this story are exceptionally well done. The author does a great job of defining all the characters, giving them a surprising amount of background and personality for the page restraints, and it’s a really fun read… up until the W:TA aspect of the story shows up. Then the entire thing goes off rails and just falls apart. This is another story where it feels like the author combined two very different stories into one, hoping to make them work, but instead of a juxtaposition of Wyrm and Wyld, you get totally abrupt and almost nonsensical personality changes for the two main characters. The entire story loses that wonderful sense of imagery it had contained up until then, and you lose the entire suspension of disbelief. From a late blooming first changer and his friend taking down an entire pack of Garou to the really terrible portrayal of the Black Spiral Dancers, in the same way a lot of bad writers take the Sabbat and make them little more than psychotic Satanists, I found myself going from loving this story to just being utterly disappointed by it. I respect and like what the author was trying to do here, but it just didn’t work. 11 for 18.

19.) Vigrid. Although this collection started off really poorly, I’m glad it ended well. It’s the tale of Karl, a Garou Elder at the end of his lifespan, and how he spends the last bits of his existence. Of course, as a member of the Get of Fenris clan, you can pretty much guess how that goes. The story is a pretty touching one, which is all the more impressive considering the level of violence in it. You get a really great look at the family structure of this Get sept (perhaps even a full Caern by the size of it) and it’s one of the most balanced and in-depth looks at Garou structure and thinking that I’ve seen in a piece of W:TA fiction. A really excellent read, and while not my favorite story in the collection, it is definitely the best way to end things. 12 for 19.

So a thumbs up to twelve stories and a thumbs down to seven. That’s a sixty three percent quality rate, and the good obviously outweighs the bad in this one. While Rites of Renown won’t be a contender for our “Best Tabletop Related Fiction” award this year, it’s still worth reading through and picking up if you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Again, my opinions on each of these stories are just that, and the ones you like in this collection may very well differ from mine. The one thing that is for sure, though, is that there are some very good stories to be had in this collection, and that WoD fans will have a fun time reading through this one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
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Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2013 06:20:50
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/30/tabletop-review-artifac-
ts-and-oddities-collection-i-numenera/

Similar to the Cipher Collection I, Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a list of objects that a GM can throw into their Ninth World campaign for players to find and use. Where Ciphers tend to be items good for only a single use, Artifacts are longer lasting items, and thus can have a more powerful effect on a adventure, or even a campaign. As such, it’s harder to design one without risking the balance of a game. Oddities, meanwhile, are just super strange things that have no real use or benefit to players, save for being weird and puzzling reminders of the previous worlds that came before. To help GMs out, Monte Cook Games has created this ten page collection.

There are thirty-three Artifacts and fifty Oddities to be had in this piece. That’s a lot of new items to pack into ten pages, isn’t it? Well, the Oddities only take up two pages in this supplement, and one of those pages is merely descriptor text about the concept of Oddities. The last page is the Oddities in a single list, each getting only a sentence of description. I was a bit disappointed in that respect, but the Oddities do live up to their names, with the level of weirdness I keeping hoping to find on every page of a Numenera release. These include things like a piece of cloth that is oddly pleasing to touch, a small jar that fills with one ounce of green paint every morning at dawn, a glove that makes your voice extremely high pitched and a metal rod that makes anyone who touches it sneeze. These are great and really showcase the billion years of history that came before the Ninth World. Just drop one of these into an adventure and players will agonize over the original purpose and how it can help them on their quest du jour. It has to have a purpose, right? WRONG! It’s flavor, pure and simple.

The thirty-three artifacts are far less weird, unfortunately. Each of the thirty-three items gets a paragraph of text to describe their use, so they are pretty fleshed out. Like many of the Ciphers, though, these items seem to be more run of the mill dungeon crawl loot than things that truly help to define Numenera as something new and different. Indeed, many of the items merely feel like scientific versions of Dungeons & Dragons mainstay magical items. The Handy Hollow is a Portable Hole variant, for example. The Interceptor is simply a Protection Against Missiles spell, but in tech form. The Spider Harness is a more literal version of Spider Climb, and the Skin of Water Breathing is like any magical item that gives you a water breathing effect. I was a bit disappointed that the team behind Artifacts and Oddities Collection didn’t get more creative or bizarre with their artifacts, as too many of these items feel too similar to your standard hack and slash fantasy loot – which is not what I (nor really anyone) wants from Numenera.

That’s not to say that all the Artifacts fall into fantasy loot trope town. Some are pretty innovative and outside the box. Take the Foldable Coach for example. This is an interesting little vehicle that is sure to make characters stand out wherever they go. There’s also the Obedient Rope, which is a semi-intelligent (perhaps sentient) piece of cable. The Yesterglass is perhaps the most out there item. When held before a user’s face, this glass panel will show the last major event to happen in the general vicinity, even if it happened hundreds of years in the past. That’s pretty crazy and can, in and of itself, set off many an adventure.

All in all, the Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a nice little collection. At $2.99 I’d say it’s probably one or two dollars overpriced, especially if you’re good at homebrewing your own items for PCs to find. If, however, you like to stick to only published material, you’ll probably get your money’s worth out of this collection. Again, I’d personally like to see some weirder and more nebulous items in these collections, but opinion may vary on that one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2013 Holiday Module: The Old God's Return
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2013 06:20:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/30/tabletop-review-the-old-
-gods-return-dungeon-crawl-classics-2013-holiday-module/

Tabletop companies really like to release items as close to Christmas as possible. Goodman Games is no exception. This 2013 Holiday Module, entitled The Old Gods Return is full of homages and nods to Christmas. The main antagonist has a reindeer’s head. The tontuu resemble Santa’s elves. There are some seriously screwed up evergreen trees and the joulbok is reminiscent of the Krampus in design if not personality. This is a cute little idea for an adventure, and it’s well done enough that you don’t have to play it around the holidays to get the full effect.

The title of the piece is a bit misleading. The Old Gods do not in fact “return.” There is only one god, a fraction of its former self and near the end of its existence due to a lack of worship in this piece. That said, it IS the principal antagonist of the adventure, and even weakened, a god is a pretty powerful enemy for Level 1 characters to be taking on. Even with a party of six characters, expect some, if not all, to fall as you strive to complete this. Even if you beat the god, there is still a very large chance of a Total Party Kill after the fact (no spoilers as to why), so GMs might want to run this as a one-shot rather than risk beloved characters.

The plot of the adventure is pretty straight forward. Villages around the area are seeing their children struck with a strange illness for which there seems to be no recovery – magical or otherwise. The children fall comatose and appear to be suffering from symptoms akin to frostbite. Thankfully it has not affected the village of the PCs – until the adventure is underway. Attacked by strange gnome-like creatures with a perchance for murder, the PCs and their home village repel these invaders, only to discover at least one child has been struck by the malady. The PCs are chosen by the High Priest of Lopitar (god of fire) to smite the menace plaguing the land. In a sense, the conflict becomes more than PCs Vs. antagonists, but that of fire Vs. ice and old gods Vs. the new régime. Characters participating in the conflict will receive a special bless from Lopitar that allows them a wide range of fire based abilities. These powers are not permanent and will almost certainly exhaust themselves during the adventure, but they will be a lot of fun to mess around with while the players have them.

From there, the players will have to deal with a flying iceberg, three levels of dungeons, figuring out the mystery of the evergreen grove and do battle with an ancient god itself. It’s a pretty daunting adventure, and as mentioned previous, it’s not a question of IF a PC will die, but how many. Hey, if you’re reading this, you’re more than used to the DCC death toll by now, and this shouldn’t surprise you in the least, right?

There isn’t a lot more to the plot here. After the players leave there village, The Old Gods Return is fundamentally a straight forward hack and slash dungeon crawl experience. The emphasis is on roll-playing over role-playing, but again, you kind of expect that going into a DCC adventure. The adventure is quite short, able to be played in a single session. Although the dungeon is three levels deep, there are only three real combat encounters to be had, four if you count the one that sets up the adventure, and a fifth optional one that most players won’t run into unless they are poking their heads into everything.

As always, the art in the first party Dungeon Crawl Classics pieces are fantastic. Doug Kovacs does an amazing job, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the map for this adventure was a two page spread. DCC has the best maps in the industry, so you’re getting twice as much of the thing they do best. That’s a holiday present in and of itself! The other drawings are also a lot of fun, as they really help to showcase how much of this is an homage to various Christmas characters and themes. Without the visuals, a good portion of the piece may be lost on gamers, to the point where they might not realize this has an undercurrent of a holiday theme going for it.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Old Gods Return. Although I’m not a person who celebrates any of the assorted December holidays, this adventure really blends the season with Dungeon Crawl Classics tropes, and the end result is a very memorable adventure you and your friends will no doubt talk about for some time after. Is it the best DCC adventure I’ve ever played? No it’s not. The Old Gods Return is a lot of fun, though, makes for a great addition to any DCC fan’s library and is well worth playing through. This is a great way for Dungeon Crawl Classics to end 2013, and if you have a DCC playing friend, this would make a great late Christmas present for them – plus you’ll be able to share in the experience as well!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2013 Holiday Module: The Old God's Return
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2013 06:16:25
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/26/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-coyotes/

..and with this, I believe I’ve cleaned up my backlog of reviewables that came in while I was on vacation. Except for White Wolf’s Blood & Smoke: The Strix Chronicle of course. That’s a big one. Anyway, Coyotes is the latest supplement from Catalyst Game Labs. Unlike Gun H(E)aven 3, which was released the same day, I really liked Coyotes, even if the price tage may give you some initial hesitation as to whether you should pick this up or not. Eight bucks for thirty pages of content is a bit high to me, especially for a PDF, but at least there’s actual CONTENT to this piece (all of which is really well done) compared to say 50% blank space, a picture of a gun, line of mechanics and three to four sentences of Jackpoint snark. Best of all, the content in Coyotes is wonderful and you’ll easily get your money’s worth out of this release. Let’s show you why.

In the Sixth World, the term “coyotes” is slang for smugglers. This might throw you for a loop because of the emphasis the game has on Native American folklore and culture. In many NA tribes, the coyote is the symbol of the trickster god. So why use this term for smuggling? Well, it makes sense if you think about a smuggler being a trickster itself. After all, they have to use wits and many a clever scheme to get their cargo to their destination as well as past corporate and government snoops. In this sense the trickster version of coyote is somewhat applicable, at least more so than the animal itself that bears the name. I’m not sure if that is the same train of thought the writers of Shadowrun used to come up with it, but I’d love to see the process. A book showcasing the process for Sixth World slang would in and of itself would be a great read….but I’m going off topic. Let’s talk Coyotes.

Like a lot of supplements for Shadowrun, Coyotes is a multi-faceted piece. You have some short fiction (three pages) to start things off and then it goes into a Jackpoint discussion post. Unlike most supplements of this nature which have the metaplot piece first and the mechanics at the tail end of the book, the crunch and fluff are seamlessly integrated into this release. It’s a bit jarring for those used to the old way these types of pieces were done, especially when you go to flip towards the back for a piece of mechanics and find it’s not there anymore, but it’s well done and if this is the way these pieces are going to be done for Fifth Edition, we’ll all get used to it. Finally, the piece concludes with an adventure, which was a nice little surprise. This is rarely done in Shadowrun supplements, so I loved seeing this at the end of the piece. The adventure, which we’ll look at in depth later on in the review is written with the Shadowrun Missions format, which I loved seeing, as it’s my favorite adventure format, regardless of system/setting because it’s so inviting to GM’s of all skill levels. All in all, you’re getting an amazing amount of content jammed into these thirty pages and I’m really impressed by this release.

“Transporter” is the name of the piece of short fiction that starts this piece off. It’s about a coyote named Tim (Who also appears to be a Rigger BTW) and his unfortunate dealings with a less than professional team of runners. The story is a fine read and makes a great warning for what happens to PCs that think all NPCs are disposable idiots. The story ends a bit abruptly and I’d have liked to learn more about Tim (especially how he gets away with using a “real” name) and Pax, but that’s what sequels are for, right?

The core metaplot content is done in the usual Jackpoint style. The author here is one Timothy Movo, presumably the same Timothy from the previous short story. It’s a great look at the ins and outs of human trafficking (which is mostly what this piece is about, not cargo) and it’s one of the more faceted pieces I’ve seen CGL do on a particular Sixth World profession. You are given examples of what is needed to survive as a coyote, why it’s hard to get out of the job once immersed in it, and the big mistakes people make in the field, which leads to them dying. This section also tries to differentiate between a coyote and a routine smuggler, but it mostly came off as semantics for me.

This piece also covers the various type of situations where PCs might encounter a coyote. Are you in a game where all the PCs work for a specific corporation? There is a section on corporate coyotes. Want to make a Coyote a big NPC contact for your PCs? There is a lot on how to contact and eventually befriend a coyote. There’s a ton of information on border crossings ranging from “very easy” to very hard” along with the types of security, both mundane and magical that you are likely to encounter. These sections really blur the line between metaplot and mechanics, so you would do well to go over this area several times if you plan on making use of it. Of course, where there are descriptions of security measures, there is also commentary on how to get by them, so you’ll want to read that as well, especially if you play Shadowrun rather than run it.

The metaplot bit just kind of tapers off without warning or any real conclusion. It just suddenly goes into six sample NPC coyotes for use with your game and then into the adventure. Three are riggers, one is a guide, one is an adept and one is a technomancer. If you don’t like any of these, at least you’ll come away with an idea for how to design one of your own.

The included adventure is entitled, “Piping Hot” and it’s a one shot adventure designed to introduce new players to the game (or just Fifth Edition). The adventure is for Fifth Edition only, but with some slight modification, I have no doubts it could be played with previous editions of the game. The adventure takes a bit of explaining. The PCs are all unrelated to each other and are called by a Mr. Johnson individually. It seems he needs someone smuggled into Seattle but his usual coyote has up and disappeared. The good news is that the coyote left a set of instructions on how to do the run. The bad news is the runners, all totally new to the concept of human smuggling, are tapped for the job. It SOUNDS simple enough – drive a van into Salish-Shidhe, pick up the client and come on back to Seattle, but when is a run ever as easy as it sounds? The adventure gives characters and players alike a chance to taste the coyote lifestyle and see if it is something that they would be interested in pursuing further. If so, the GM and PC get a chance at exploring a very different aspect of the Sixth World. If not, hey, it was a one-time experience they wouldn’t otherwise get, right? Either way, the adventure is pretty interesting and a nice change of pace.

Overall, Coyotes is a nice purchase that gives you a taste of everything – a fleshed out concept, some short fiction, a full adventure, some Jackpoint material and a decent amount of mechanics (far more than we normally see in a supplement of this type). Basically it has something for everyone. I’m very pleased with Coyotes and can happily recommend it to Shadowrun fans across the board. Definitely pick it up if you haven’t already.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2013 06:15:49
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/26/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-gun-heaven-3/

Oh, Shadowrun. Leave it to you to release two supplements the very day I go on vacation for a week without any internet. So these reviews are later than I am comfortable with and then my readers would like, but at least they are getting reviewed, right?

Thankfully Gun H(e)aven 3 is an exceptionally easy product to review. It’s a thirty-eight page supplement in the same vein as the Para series, Mil Spec Tech and Used Car lot. Each page is devoted to a specific item. You get a piece of art to showcase said item (in this case, guns), some snarky JackPoint commentary and finally mechanics. It’s worth noting that the mechanics side of this piece gives stats for both Fourth/20AE AND Fifth Edition. Catalyst Game Labs has been doing this a lot lately and it’s nice to see them supporting the most recent version of the game as well as the previous version which some gamers have been slow to adapt for reasons ranging from limited disposable income to edition wars drama. This way fans of both versions can purchase this supplement and it also gives CGL more potential profit than if they only released this for a single system. WotC’s Dungeons & Dragons has been doing a similar thing with their Sundering line, but CGL has been giving mechanics while D&D has been going systemless. Point in the favor of CGL.

Unfortunately, Gun H(e)aven 3 is insanely priced. Eight dollars for roughly thirty guns? Without the art and copious amounts of white space, this supplement would be about ten pages tops. Hell, you can go to the last two pages of the collection and see the mechanics are repeated in a condensed fashion and each edition’s stats are less than a page. There’s so very little content, perhaps a paragraph PER PAGE, that it’s hard to justify the price tag on this, especially when similar releases like, say, Parazoology 2 has more pages, better art and a ton more content in terms of both mechanics and Jackpoint jargon. I realize there isn’t much that one can say about a gun without starting to get repetitive, but man, you are basically paying for a supplement that is more than 50% blank space per page. That’s just wrong to me.

Another big problem I had with Gun H(e)aven 3 was this following paragraph: “Not all of the standard modifications listed with the weapons in this book are detailed in Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. A book with more weapons and combat options called Run & Gun will be released shortly after this book, providing details on these modifications.” Why does this bother me so much? Because this means Gun H(e)aven 3 is incomplete and you need to purchase a SECOND SUPPLEMENT to actually get full usage out of this one! That’s insane. What’s worse is that said second piece isn’t out yet, meaning you have to wait to actually use this properly with Fifth Edition. So not only has there been some bad editorial decisions here, but Gun H(e)aven 3 comes across as a cheap cash grab that only the most devout (or stupid) Shadowrun fans will pick up. It’s kind of insulting and I feel bad for the author because I’m pretty sure this is editorial all the way.

Now aside from these two big quibbles, Gun H(e)aven 3 is a nicely done piece. The mechanics are solid, the Jackpoint banter is fun to flip through and you get thirty new weapons to add to your game, not that you probably needed them. I did find it a bit odd than some of these guns were complete junk that the Jackpoint crew ripped on. At first I was like, “Why devote an entire page to a weapon you’re basically saying players shouldn’t use?” but honestly, it would be weird and unrealistic if every firearm was a must have piece of awesomeness. By having crappy weapons in addition to high quality ones, the Sixth World becomes just a little more fleshed out in ways other games aren’t. If you’re really unhappy with all the gun options presented to you throughout both 4e and 5e or you are unable to stat out new items yourself, then yes, you may want to pick this up because now you have several dozen new options for your players and NPCs to equip themselves with. My personal favorites in this collection are the Krupp Arms Kreigfaust, the Winchester Model 201, and the Shiawase Arms Incinerator, the latter of which is probably going to be the favorite of many who pick this up because hey, flamethrower.

Overall, let’s give this supplement a thumbs in the middle. It’s deeply insulting to be told that you need to purchase another supplement in addition to the one you just purchased because the team behind it couldn’t be bothered to throw in a bit more mechanics, especially when so much of this release is blank space. It’s doubly so to do it at such an inflated price. There’s no way you should be paying more than five bucks for Gun H(e)aven 3 and even then, it’s really more of a curiosity piece than anything which will truly add something new to your game. I mean, if you want to spend eight bucks on a bunch of guns you could come up with yourself in a few hours and fit the stats into two or three pages of Microsoft Word, knock yourself out. I’d personally be pissed if I had spent money on this thing, though, considering how little you get for the price tag.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
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Deadlands Noir: The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/25/2013 11:16:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/25/tabletop-review-deadlan-
ds-noir-the-case-of-the-jumbo-shrimp-savage-worlds/

Wow. I honestly though 2013 was going to be the year of Deadlands Noir when it was first released at the tail end of 2012. The core rulebook was simply amazing, and then it was immediately followed up by a high quality adventure in The Old Absinthe House Blues. After that though, the campaign setting rather dried up. We had three “dime novels (short stories) released for Deadlands Noir and the less than impressive Deadlands Noir Companion…but that’s been it. In fact, only a single eighteen page story was released for the setting in the second half of 2013, until now. The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp might not sound like something you’d see for a 1920′s noir/horror mashup tabletop RPG, but it covers all the bases: Mob bosses, cannibal cults, crooked unions, murders, a frame up for a crime characters didn’t commit, backstabbings, double crosses, triple crosses (maybe even a quadruple cross!) and so much more. Sure, the name of the adventure is a bit wacky, but it helps to lower the guard of your players and suck them into an ever escalating scenario where multiple sides want their heads and the only way out may be to decide who is the lesser of several evils.

The adventure begins with players being hired by one Travis Evans, a young man running for the leadership role in the local teamsters union. The current incumbent is Simon Beauregard, who Evans believes has mob ties. Evans feels if these are exposed, he can secure the nomination. At the same time Evans’ assistant , Chelsea Golden has a father who has died (and believed murdered) and the players will have to look into this as well. Both paths lead the investigators down an ever growing path of depravity and weirdness that they may never recover from.

Much of the adventure is mundane, such as doing Legwork for information, checking ledgers for embezzlement and racketeering, interrogating/questioning NPCs and the like. It’s a dry adventure compared to what most people think of when they hear Deadlands. It’s much like a Call of Cthulhu adventure without the Mythos aspect. I really enjoyed that this was more or less a straightforward detective piece, but those who want a little more blatant supernatural experience or some monster bashing may be a bit disappointed. That said, it’s not as if the supernatural is completely absent from The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp; merely that it is exceptionally subtle. In the back story there are references to spells of prolonged life and of course, some occult circles believe that cannibalism gives one extraordinary abilities. As the players investigate the crimes before them, they’ll also discover the use of a spell to snuff out a critical NPC’s life. So again, there is supernatural occurrences in this adventure (It wouldn’t be Deadlands otherwise) but it takes a trained eye, ear and nose to spot them. There is one big blatant potential supernatural threat, a Swarm Man, at the tail end of Chapter 2, but it doesn’t really seem to fit the adventure, so my advice would be to excise it unless your players are really aching for combat and/or monsters at this point. It does kind of change the dynamic of the adventure for a single experience though, so I think you’ll find the mood, theme and flow of the adventure is better off without it.

Of course all this talk about subtle supernatural elements goes out the window with act four of this adventure. There, PCs will be travelling to a creepy bayou island full of bloats, voodoo zombies (as opposed to the Romero style zombies) and trying to end the reign of an ancient cult. This is the most action packed and violent part of the adventure, and if PCs are going to die, it will probably be here. Thankfully though, even if a TPK (Total Party Kill) occurs, the PCs can still win. It’s a nice touch and considering how the characters are going to be thrown through the wringer here, I was pleased to see how death is far from meaningless in this piece.

The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp takes place over four chapters, each of which could be considered their own adventure. As such, that makes this more of a mini campaign than a single adventure. It will take you multiple play sessions to get through all of this (more than likely with one or more PCs meeting a grisly demise if they aren’t careful). This helps to offset the $9.99 price tag, which would be a bit high for a single adventure in digital format. As such I think the sheer amount of content The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp ensures players and the GM will get their money’s worth out of picking this up. The adventure works especially well as an introduction to the Deadlands Noir setting due to how the emphasis is on investigation and discovery over combat or supernatural horror. Of course, there are only two published adventures for the setting outside of the core rulebook and the Companion, so it’s not like you have much of a choice if you prefer to run published adventures. Who knows? Maybe Pinnacle will throw more Deadlands Noir content our way in 2014.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir: The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp
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Gygax magazine issue #3
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2013 08:28:23
Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/06/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-3/

Well, this was a nice surprise to get in the mail. With the previous two issues of Gygax Magazine, I didn’t get my issue until well after a month after non-subscribers had received theirs and only then after asking TSR’s customer service about the whereabouts of my copy each time. Now, I get the magazine before it’s even announced on TSR’s website, Facebook or G+ accounts. That’s pretty awesome. I had to check and see if I missed an announcement, but no, the digital copy isn’t out yet and from only a few comments on the Facebook page for Gygax Magazine, this really was a stealth release! I’m happy to see early subscribers getting their issues well…early, as that’s a nice touch of customer service and even happier that issue three is out three and a half months after issue two. That’s pretty close to the quarterly schedule they are aiming for. Compare that to the six-seven month gap between issues one and two and you can definitely see that each issue of Gygax Magazine is getting better in terms of turnaround and customer service. Of course the contents of each issue might vary in quality depending on what type of articles you are looking for, but that’s the point of these reviews, right?

Issue #3 does have only sixteen articles compared to Issue #2′s 19 but that’s because we’ve got a huge dungeon for first edition AD&D taking up a lot of pages. This dungeon is party of the giant Mega Dungeon that was previously only playable up at TSR’s Hobby Shop. This inclusion is actually a tease for The Hobby Shop Dungeon which will be released by TSR at the tail end of 2014. So yes, you have to wait a full year for the release, but hopefully this will tide you over until then. Plus this way you don’t have to experience a Lake Geneva winter. Brrr.

1. Editorial. Jayson Elliot gives us a quick rundown on what’s in this issue, why they use (BOO! Boo, I say!) sentence case for article titles instead of Title Case and how annoying it is for a magazine to have a URL in it only to have readers go to the link weeks, months or years later and find it no longer leads to anything but a 404 error. There’s also a tiny bit of errata (Hey, it was only the second issue) and overall the Editorial does what it needs to. 1 for 1.

2. How Do You Stop a Space Amoeba? Well, that’s definitely a title that grabs your attention. This article is for a game called Federation Commander, which is apparently an officially licensed Star Trek game. I’m not really a Star Trek fan (or anything Sci-Fi really), so it was fun to learn about a game I didn’t even know existed. This is exactly what I wanted to see from Gygax Magazine – a nice blend of articles for games I know and love, and some that may introduce me to something new and nifty that will suck away some of my disposable income. Anyway, you get a full solo scenario for the game in this article (although you do have to download the First Missions rules either directly from the Federation Commander‘s Website, or from http://gyg.ax/firstmissions….which I don’t provide a hyperlink to as it gives me a 404 error. Oh the irony when paired with Jayson’s editorial, eh?

The article is well done, although the author’s narrative style felt a little too rambly/rushed and not explanatory enough for my liking. You know when someone is SUPER EXCITED about a topic and they start speaking a little too fast and a little too loudly because of their passion for it and you find yourself a bit lost? That’s what this article reads like. I can tell the editor of the article felt a little similar since it’s the first and only time I’ve seen an editor explanatory note to the readers in one of these magazines so far. Even though I had to read the article twice, I understood how to play the game. Did the article or the First Missions download make me want to purchase Federation Commander? No, but I think if you ARE a Star Trek fan, the one-two punch combination might make entice you to pick up the full game. Two small issues I had with the article though. I HATE when a magazine splits an article up. The article is on pages 5,6 and 64. Why not just go pages five through seven? As well, the article gives two different “continued on” page numbers. The top of page six says it is continued on page 62 and the bottom says that the article is continued on page 64. Believe the bottom – page 62 is an ad for GaryCon. 2 for 2.

3. The Dwarven Rune Priest. Hey! An article for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Now this was right up my alley, as often times I feel like I am the only person reviewing this awesome line from Goodman Games (and third party companies like Brave Halfling or Land of Phantoms). This particular article is about a new character class called…the Dwarven Rune Priest. You probably didn’t see that one coming, eh? I really liked this article, but then I’m a big fan of DCC and will be happy to try out this class in a game down the road. I’m not sure how it will fit in as a player goes from Level 0 to Level 1, but I’m sure I can explain how a lowly Cheesemaker becomes one with the earth elements. Now if you’re looking for this article to explain DCC to newcomers, you’ll be disappointed. This is written specific for people who know the system, which make it a niche piece. However that’s true of any article in a magazine that covers all forms of gaming. About the only thing I, as a DCC player, could ask for is more rune options! I really hope to see more DCC articles in future issues. 3 for 3.

BTW, the ad across from the start of the Dwarven Rune Priest article? It’s for a Kickstarter that happened back in October. It’s now December. Whoops.

4. The Airlancer. Here we have another new character class for a system, but this time it’s for AD&D, First Edition. Unlike the Dwarven Rune Priest though, the Airlancer is more than a little unbalanced. I hate to be so blunt, but man, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of AD&D can take one look at this and tell it’s got Mary Sue issues. First, it’s meant to be a warrior option. However, it keeps getting d10 hit dice until Level 12 when it starts to get +3 HP per level. Fighters and Paladin stop getting full hit dice at Level 9. Rangers stop at Level 10. Right there, you know something is up when this new class gets noticeably more Hit Points than the original. The Airlancer gets Illusionist spells, a Hippogriff at fourth level (then a griffon at level nine), special armor (along with penalties for not using said armour), an enhanced version of a Ranger’s favored foe status (or what we’d know as that ability from 2e on), the ability to instill fear (basically turn) in that favored foe and the ability to use and make poisons a la the Assassin. Oh, they can also spend a round to recover from any intoxication or non-magical mind altering substance. Ouch. All while using the Ranger’s XP table. Oh man, this is not well thought out. The class even requires one to stay true neutral although by every bit of descriptor in this piece makes it clear there are anything but the 1eAD&D definition of “True Neutral.” Man this was a stinker. If you want to do an air-based combat class, why not focus on actual things that revolve around that? Jettison out something like the poison and give them a bonus to altitude or low oxygen based situations. That’s more fitting to the concept. Maybe switch out Illusionist spells for animal based Druid and Cleric ones as that would still give them spells but also pare down how overpowered the class currently is. It would also relate back to their mount, being thematically correct. Yep, this is our first stinker in this month’s issue, and it’s a doozy. You might get more out of the article than I did though. 3 for 4.

5. Artifacts to Impart Ancient Lore. This is a fun little article that talks about five different magic items that can give your character some boosts to skills or non-weapon proficiencies. None of these artifacts impart anything major or game-breaking, which is nice, and no player is going to turn down any new abilities, even if it’s gaining Knowledge (Religion) or a +2 to Craft (Siege Weapons). Sure it might not be that Holy Avenger they were after, but ever little bit helps. Even better, the article gives ways to use these artifacts in Pathfinder, every version of D&D except Fourth and even generic applications so you can use them with something like Chaosium’s BRP. Nice job. 4 for 5.

6. Master Mariner. I had totally forgotten about Pirates of the Spanish Main until this article. I know fellow DHGF staffer Matt Yeager was really into that game for a while though. This four and a half page article builds off of and replaces much of the old Heroclix rules for this game. Of course ?Pirates of the Spanish Main and its subsequent sets have been out of print for a long time, so I’m not sure who will get much use out of these. That said, the rules are really well done and I loved the art in this article. I tried the rules out with Games Workshop’s Dreadfleet ships and they still worked pretty well. These rules probably aren’t something I’ll ever make use of again and this might be the most niche article out of all three Gygax Magazine issues, especially as you’ll need mini pirate boats and the original WizKid rules to make use of this article. I think I’d be afraid of the Venn diagram results showing the portion of gamers that have pirate ships minis, PotSM rules and this magazine. I’ll be kind though and give this a point although it was touch and go due to usability for a while. 5 for 6.

7. Nuffle’s Academy. This is a two page article on Blood Bowl league play. I’m kind of surprised Games Workshop didn’t get its feathers ruffled over this. Anyway, this is a pretty straightforward article. Fantasy Football is a popular game and there are Electronic Football leagues, so why not do a Blood Bowl one? I never really cared for the game (and the video game version was pretty terrible) but this article does a great job of introducing the game to newcomers and giving them some ideas for their first team. As a long time Lizardman army owner for Warhammer Fantasy, I was happy to see their Blood Bowl equivalents get a plug. Honestly though I’m so out of the loop on Blood Bowl, I didn’t even remember there was a Lizardman option for the game. Fine piece and the type of article I wish White Dwarf would do. 6 for 7.

8. Argyle & Crew’s Scavenger Hunt. Holy crap! I never thought I’d see an article about Argyle & Crew in a gaming magazine, much less Gygax Magazine, which tends to talk about older gamers and have an older audience. Argyle & Crew is a rules-lite game designed for younger gamers and it uses sock puppets. I’ve picked up a few of the free pieces Troll in the Corner has put up on DriveThruRPG.com and found it quite adorable. This article lets kids, parents and whoever jump right in and play without any of the core pieces already made for the game. This particular variant of the game revolves around a Scavenger Hunt and trivia content. As such, it’s not an exact 1:1 of the tabletop game, but it makes for a really cute one-shot when there is a big gathering of tots, say a birthday party or as an after-school activity. A&C lets kids gets really imaginative and creative, but it might not be for everyone. I mean, when I was at the recommended age for Argyle, I was playing TSR’s FASERIP Marvel RPG, but I still bet I would have had fun with this too. I’m not sure how much the audience of Gygax Magazine will get out of this piece, but it’s well written and it’s great to see this game get covered. 7 for 8.

9. How to Split Up the Party. Oh god, another one of those terrible “Dear Abby” style articles I railed against in the review of issue #2. Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea? All it does is perpetuate the myth that all tabletop gamers are socially awkward wimps that can’t handle normal everyday issues. In this case, it’s about dealing with someone in the group they don’t like as a person or a gamer. How sad do you have to be if you can’t nut up enough to tell someone what you think of them in an honest and forthright but respectful tone. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you have to say, “You suck. Die. I hate you.” However, it’s not that hard to say, “I think you are acting like a bit of a putz when you do XYZ. What’s up with that?” Or, “When you do XYZ, you kind of are bringing down the game.” Chances are they might not realize what they are doing is offensive. They might not even be conscious of it. If they are doing it purposely, then you have to realize they are intentionally being a dick and stand up to them. Look at that. A whole paragraph to do what a two page column does – and I did it for free. Seriously, these type of articles are embarrassing to the reader and they drag the overall quality of the magazine down. Yuck. 7 for 9.

10. They all Died at the International Space Station. Wow, talk about bringing back a dead system. I’ve never known anyone that played Metamorphosis Alpha. Hell, I belong to some pretty active online gaming communities (especially ones for old fuddy duddies like myself) and I never even see this game get brought up. That said, it’s pretty cool that the creator of the game, James M. Ward, penned a full length adventure for the system this mag. DriveThruRPG.com has a few MA items, including the core rulebook (1st and 4th Edition), but this magazine is really rocking the lesser known/played games this issue.

So I’ve mentioned I don’t really do Sci-Fi but this was a pretty neat adventure. I’m totally ignorant of the games’ rules, so I had to do a lot of inferring and educated guessing, but the plot sold me on the adventure, if not buying the game. In a nutshell the ISS goes a little HAL and tried to kill the PCs. How the ISS became alive (or if it even is…) is one of two problems the PCs have to solve. The other is trying to stay alive as the very thing keeping them alive is also trying to murder them. There’s no set solution to the adventure and the author doesn’t even try to write one in. it’s merely a set of problems and solutions which the GM will have to string together until the PCs figure something out or they all die horrible. 8 for 10.

11. The Hobby Shop Dungeon. This is a one page essay about the history of the Hobby Shop Dungeon which sees print next year. It’s short, entertaining and crammed with a lot of information. 9 for 11.

12. The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat’uul. This adventure for first edition AD&D not only takes up eleven pages of the magazine, but it also include a very nice gatefold map showcasing just how vast (and deadly) this location is. The adventures is designed for characters between 1st and 3rd level, but there is no mention of how many should be playing at a time. The adventure is primarily a hack and slash dungeon crawl where you’ll roll-play rather than role-play, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t be looking for some grandiose plot or overarching mystery to solve. PCs are going into a tomb for adventure, riches and danger and that’s just what they will find. The adventure is very solid and although it might be too simplistic for those that like a little more intrigue or investigation (Say CoC or V:TM gamers), old school D&D fans will really enjoy this piece. Heck, including a Horla pretty much won me over. 10 for 12.

13. Order of the Knights Incorporeal. Although I know a few people who love 13th Age, the system hasn’t really done anything for me, similar to how Fourth Edition D&D hasn’t captured my interest. That said, this article about a new set of antagonists for the game was pretty interesting. Although obviously heavily influenced by ring-wraiths and death knights, these undead have a pretty cool backstory and there are even rules for allowing PCs to play as Ghost Knights. Neat. 11 for 13.

14. Savage Charms and Monstrous Fetishes. This is an article for Pathfinder and I really wish it wasn’t in the magazine. It’s not bad – just that we already have multiple Pathfinder publications and it’s space that could easily be out towards a different game that already doesn’t get much time in the sun. If I want to read a Pathfinder piece, I could pick up Pathways or literally dozens (maybe even hundreds) of other options. I get this is Kobold’s section and Pathfinder is primarily what they do but I’d rather see some systems covered with this space like Shadowrun, BRP, Cryptworld, and other systems that don’t have regular articles written about them elsewhere.

Anyway, this article talks about the fetishes used by primitive cultures and barbarians. It tells how to make them and also gives mechanics, feats and a list of nineteen sample fetishes. It’s interesting and I can definitely see some Druid, Barbarian, Kobold and goblin players using these, but I don’t see many people actually following through. Still, it’s well thought out and is an interest option to flesh out your Pathfinder PC. 12 for 14.

15. Full Frontal Nerdity. Eh. I just didn’t find this comic funny. I generally like it, it’s just this particular strip did nothing for me. Sorry. 12 for 15.

16. The Order of the Stick. A nice one shot by Rich really ripping on the reboot trend in comics, as well as the “No More Marriage” trend we’ve seen hit characters ranging from Superman to Spider-Man. It’s a few years late to be topical, but still funny. Plus V has a gender change. Cute. 13 for 16.

So this was a pretty good issue. 81.25% quality rate compared to issue 2 being at 74%. That’s a nice jump. Interestingly enough, while issue #3 has the least amount of content pertaining to the games I actively play, I do think it’s the best overall issue yet in terms of article quality. This is a great sign for the magazine as each issue gets better in all ways. We’re seeing better editing, faster turnaround on issues, better customer service, a wider range of articles from all aspects of gaming and more. I’m more than happy with what this magazine contained for the $8.95 cover price. Now that it’s obvious the magazine is sticking around for the foreseeable future, I’m hoping more systems from throughout tabletop gaming’s history get to show up here. Chill, Earthdawn, Spellfire, All Flesh Must be Eaten and many other games could stand to have an article in Gygax Magazine. I’ll definitely be renewing my subscription to Gygax Magazine but as always, reviews are a matter of opinion. Mileage will vary based on your interest in the games talked about in this issue. If the only thing you like to play is Savage Worlds, you’re a bit out of luck here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #3
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