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Band of Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2013 06:31:56
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/09/tabletop-review-band-of-
-zombies-a-world-war-ii-sourcebook-all-flesh-must-be-eaten/<-
br />
Man, do you know how long it has been since All Flesh Must Be Eaten received a new release? Several years! I think the last was Thar Be Zombies, and that was roughly three years ago. So it’s nice to see a new release for the line. I’ve been so desperate for new AFMBE content that I reviewed the 2011 free Quick Start Rules when they came out, and in August, I also covered the Kickstarter exclusive Zombiemaster screen that accompanied this book. Now Band of Zombies is finally out, and I’m happy to say that it is a fine addition to one of the best horror lines tabletop gaming has to offer.

Band of Zombies is a sourcebook for an alternate universe’s World War II era. Here, the Nazi’s obsession with the occult actually bears fruit, and they use it to stifle or outright squelch the successes the Allies had in our world. Imagine a world where SS troops get up and continue fighting after being shot dead. Where a Japanese kamikaze pilot has no fear or qualms about crashing his plane because he knows he will come back to fight for Emperor Hirohito afterwards. That’s a pretty scary picture. Not to be outdone, however, the Allies have found a way to harness the power of the undead without limiting the loss of humanity and subduing the earth to devour living flesh and blood. Enter the CAPTAIN PATRIOT program today soldiers! Yes, it’s a bit of a parody of the super-soldier formula from Captain America, but with more dramatic (and possibly gruesome) results.

It’s also worth noting that pieces of Bands of Zombies has been cribbed together from other All Flesh Must Be Eaten sourcebooks, like Atlas of the Walking Dead, Worlds of the Dead and more. In this respect, those that have every AFMBE release up to this point might be a bit disappointed by the repeated content, while those who only have the core rulebook and maybe a few other releases like Dungeons & Zombies or Zombie Smackdown! will be happy to have all the content they need to run this campaign setting without having to purchase multiple books, ala Shadowrun and several other games that do nickel and dime you in this fashion.

One thing I really loved about Band of Zombies was the in-depth coverage the book gives you about WWII and showing where and how the two timelines diverge. There is so much actually historically accurate (and detailed) information in this book, you could probably use it as a citation for a paper. Just make sure you use the real world stuff and not “the Auschwitz victims come back from the dead to devour their Nazi tormenters” part, or your professor will look at you funny… and fail you. It doesn’t pull any punches with the atrocities committed by the Nazis or their Japanese allies (the latter of which were often worse, which most people forget these days), but the Allies (specifically the Russians) weren’t exempt for a litany of horrors either. It’s good to see how much detail is put into the book in that regard without making readers squeamish about the events that occurred so very long ago.

Band of Zombies is divided into eight chapters, along with a ninth entitled “Shambling Commandos,” which are pregenerated characters based off some high level Kickstarter backers. Each chapter is primarily devoted to world background, setting detail and the timeline for this WWII era campaign, but there are stats and mechanics littered throughout. The Unisystem, which All Flesh Must Be Eaten uses, doesn’t really need any mechanics above and beyond what you find in the core rulebook, so what’s here are primarily WWII era vehicles, weapons, new (reprinted) zombies, pregens and some new walking dead like mummies, ghouls, vampires and the like. The extra undead were an unexpected highlight to me, as I loved the idea of Vlad Tepes returning to wage war on both sides and trying to make Romania the home for vampires, or the Ancient Egyptians rising and wanting all these crazy white people out of their country. Band of Zombies just is dripping with potential, and the book lets you set a campaign before any real zombie outbreak occurs, to after nuclear weapons have been dropped in Japan, which caused radiated zombies to shuffle across the floor of the Pacific towards the gaijin devils who slew them.

Chapter One, “Introduction” is self explanatory, as it gives an overview of the book, gives some DM hints and tips on how to use Band of Zombies, and has a list of books, movies and video games to help make the setting come alive. Chapter Two, War is Hell, is where you’ll find a lot of the new character creation bits, such as the new qualities, drawbacks, and hindrances. Want to make a Captain Patriot? You’ll find all the information on how to do so here. “Aces High” is the next chapter, and this is where you’ll find vehicle and weapon statistics along with the new sanity aspects, such as shell shock and combat fatigue. There are also rules for mass combat (slightly converted from Army of Darkness) and even a set of rules for miniatures in a tactical style game. Very nice! Chapter Four is “Altered History,” and it’s the big chapter for the alternate timeline that Band of Zombies takes place in. Chapters Five through Eight continue this trend, with each one being about a different section of the world. “Fortress Europe” is Europe, “The Eastern Front” is Russia, “Decaying of an Empire” is the Middle East and North Africa and finally, “The Heart of Darkness” is Southeast Asia. I would have liked to have seen more information on the Australia and South America of this time period, as both are so rarely and/or briefly touched on when looking at World War II, but what’s here is excellent, and this is a small quibble at best from me.

Basically Band of Zombies is a wonderful look at WWII, and there is a lot of potential for various storylines and campaigns using this book. Don’t want to use the exact alternate timeline unveiled here? You don’t have to! The sheer amount of mechanics, new creatures and items are here for you to design your own WWII era campaign. Your imagination is the only limit. I can’t emphasize enough how highly detailed and well written this book is. To be honest, I originally backed this on Kickstarter to support All Flesh Must Be Eaten. I had no real interest in the subject matter or time period. Now that I’ve read the book and spent a decent amount of time with it, I have to say I’m mightily impressed by the content, and think Band of Zombies is one of the best campaign settings of the year. With a price tag of only $12.50, this PDF is a must buy for anyone interested in AFMBE or who is just looking for a good guide to WWII. My only worry is that this will be the last All Flesh Must Be Eaten release for a while, if ever, but with enough support and attention paid to Band of Zombies, the game might have a lot of life left in it after all.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Band of Zombies
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Vortex
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2013 06:29:44
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/09/tabletop-review-vortex--
numenera/

Vortex was the Numenera adventure that people could peruse and play through at GenCon 2013 this year. Monte Cook Games has since made it available as an electronic download for those that could not attend, which is always a plus in my eyes. This also makes it the first adventure released outside of the ones in the core rulebook. I’ve really been loving Numenera so far, and it’s one of my favorite new games of the year, so I was excited to see the game get an adventure released so soon after the core rulebook and player’s guide came out. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything until The Devil’s Spine, so I was happy to see a review copy of this show up in my in-box.

Vortex is actually two pieces in one. You have your eighteen page adventure for the GM to run and six pre-generated characters, which adds another twelve pages of content. I really love the character sheet designs, especially since, unlike the D&D Next ones I recently have had to deal with, the lines are big enough to type and/or write on. My favorite of the characters is the Jack who wears a sheen of ice, but everyone will have their favorite. The characters are diverse enough that every one will stand out and become memorable characters, as long as the players get into the game. Of course, if you’re experienced in Numenera, you don’t need to use the pre-generated characters. You can either create your own, or if you are in the middle of a campaign, stick Vortex in for your players to experience.

Vortex is almost two interconnected adventures in one. The town it takes place in (Jutte) can be placed anywhere within the Ninth World. The first half of the adventure, “The Temple” has the PCs discovering a cult worshiping at a strange location known as the Temple of the Vortex. The PCs will encounter a cult member who has escaped indoctrination, but her brother wasn’t so lucky. She asks the PCs to enter the temple to save him. “The Temple” is pretty open ended, and there are lots of subplots/subquests to engage in around Jutte if the players don’t want to deal with the cult right away (or at all). The cult is pretty big (especially for First Tier characters), so players may want to find a way other than combat to deal with them. Exploring the temple is a lot of fun, and the twists and turns the adventure throws at you are not only memorable, but a great way to introduce people to Numenera and show them just how alien the Ninth World is, even if it is our own, a billion years in the future.

“Through the Vortex” is the second part of the adventure, and it is a wonderful example of how weird the Ninth World can be. Here, players will be transported to an alien structure within the sun itself known as the Temple of Radiance. In this tale, players must help a strange being known as Aerridomos save the Temple of Radiance from collapsing upon itself, all while dealing with the fact their very presence within it is speeding the rate of the temple’s demise. Can the PCs save Aerridomos and/or the temple? It will be hard to do so, but the knowledge and experience gained from such an encounter is well worth the players’ time. It’s a bit of a melancholy affair, especially if the PCs can’t fix the Temple, but it’s also a great lesson in how the residents of the Ninth World understand so very, very little about what is around them.

What makes Vortex so interesting is that it’s pretty open ended. There isn’t a linear path the PCs will follow, and there are many methods to get through the adventure(s). Stealth, talking, madcap violence and scientific acumen are all ways to get through the adventure and accomplish the set goal. Both “The Temple” and “Through the Vortex” can be played concurrently or separately. Perhaps part two even happens weeks, months, or years after part one, although the adventure is written in such a manner that “Through the Vortex” occurs soon after the removal of the cult leader in “The Temple.” I also enjoy the one-two punch of this adventure, with “The Temple” being a very straightforward, simple affair, reminiscent of fantasy RPGs, while “Through the Vortex” is an over the top sci-fi affair that feels like a dungeon crawl without any actual monsters. The exploration and discovery replaces combat, and I really enjoy that. Some players may be too used to hack and slash RPGs to appreciate this, but most gamers, I think, will appreciate the alien nature of the Temple of Radiance and enjoy testing and prodding all the strange things within it. Unless they were really burned by The Tomb of Horrors or The Temple of Elemental Evil as kids, then the GM has their work cut out for them in order to get them to shift their paradigms towards exploring strange places.

Vortex is another terrific addition to the Numenera world. The adventure is simple, yet complex, while being inviting to players of all RPG skill levels and experience. The six dollar price tag is a bit much, especially compared to, say, Shadowrun Missions adventures, which are of a similar length and scope, while only costing half as much, but it’s also the only option for a published adventure outside of the ones in the core rulebook. This means if you don’t like to create your own homebrew adventures, you’re kind of stuck. I do think Vortex is better than most, but not all, of the adventures in the core rulebook and offers a little more in the way of flexibility and discovery. I do give this adventure a hearty thumbs up save for the cost, and would also like to point out that if you’re willing to wait, The Devil’s Spine is coming out next month (supposedly) and for a little more than twice the price of this PDF, you can get a physical copy with nearly five times the page count and multiple adventures to experience. The Devil’s Spine is obviously the better deal on paper, but we’ll have to wait until its release to see how good the adventures are.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vortex
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Shadowrun: Firing Line
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2013 06:47:52
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/05/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-firing-line/

Firing Lines is a collection of previous conventions exclusives bundled into one black and white compilation. Not only does this give Shadowrun fans the world over a chance to get adventures that were previously nigh unobtainable, but they get to do it for a fraction of what the dreaded secondary market would charge for them. Now this fact alone should make the adventures a must buy for a Shadowrun collector, but Bull and his team have gone the extra yard yet again. All the adventures contained in Firing Line can be played with both Fourth and Fifth Edition rules, bypassing the usual edition wars whining that comes whenever a new version of any game comes out. Hate Fifth Edition and spend time on the Shadowrun message boards decrying CGL and all who write for them? Good news – you can still cling tightly to your 4e books and get new content for them. Loathe Fourth Edition and all it stands for? Here are another four adventures that you can play with the new rules while waiting for something that ISN’T a reprint to come out for 5e. This idea of dual stat’ing long out of print and/or hard to find adventures was an awesome idea back when CGL did it with Sprawl Wilds in July and I’m glad to see the trend continuing. Will we get anymore collections of old Shadowrun Missions done in this manner? I certainly hope so!

So sure, getting four adventures in one PDF for three bucks a piece is an obviously awesome deal, but of course you also have to consider the quality of the adventures in question. That means we have to do take a look at each one and if they are worth your time because four adventures for twelve bucks is a good deal but four TERRIBLE adventures for twelve bucks is not. First, let’s start with the format. All the adventures in Firing Line are done with the Shadowrun missions format, which I absolutely adore. I think the layout and style of these adventures are the best on the market today, with every possibility and contingency getting covered. Shadowrun Missions are laid out in such a way that even a rookie or inexperienced GM can run one of these with little to no problems. In the hands of an experienced GM, each of these adventures can be easily customized with all the pertinent data in easy to find spots. I’ve been saying this for the past three years but it still holds true, if you want to learn to GM, be it Shadowrun or any other system, grab a few Shadowrun Missions and read them over and over again, seeing how things are laid out, flow and presented. These things are awesome.

Our first adventure in the Firing Line collection is Lost Islands Found. The discovery of a new island has always been one of the biggest bragging rights for explorers and it continues even into our own modern time. In the Sixth World, it gets far more complicated thanks to different borders, magic powers, dragon machinations and more. In this adventure we get MAGICAL islands that will only be around for a brief moment in time before returning to the aether. Now the rush is on to explore, exploit and excavate the islands before time is up. The players are hired to extract a college professor on behalf of the Atlantean Foundation to get him to lead the expedition to these strange islands and also providing bodyguard like support for the exploration team once that first mission is accomplished. At the same time, a crazy group known as the Knights of the Dragon have got it into their heads that these new islands are the home of Dunklezahn’s spiritual remnants. This of course means the Knights of the Dragons are recurring antagonists throughout this adventure and will inevitably make the PCs wants to murder them repeatedly. What players find on the island will remain protected from spoilers, but needless to say, the action is fast and frantic in this one, while also giving a GM a chance to paint a picture of a highly memorable one time location that his or her players can reminisce about for a long time to come.

The second adventure in this collection is Deconstructing Patriots, where we move from Seattle to Manhattan. This adventure really requires a strong knowledge of the events around Crash 2.0, the New Revolution and more. As such, the adventure’s going to be lost on people new to Shadowrun with Fifth Edition but is still playable. It’s an interesting affair to be sure, but probably left best in Fourth Edition and with those that have a long running experience with the metaplot. It also doesn’t help that the adventure suggests you should buy a previously released PDF separate from this one to make it work.

Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty straight forward extraction run. The PCs are hired to nab an Ares employee and then are given a counteroffer by Ares to betray their current employer and give the target back for more money, Now in this regard, Deconstructing Patriots is a very newcomer friendly affair that hits on all the tropes and tenants of a paint by numbers run, including potential betrayal on all sides. If there was a way to have the adventure without all the political/crash backstory required to make the why and hows of this adventure make sense, this would be a great experience for a newcomer. A newer or more casual GM won’t be able to make that happen, but a more experienced one WILL be able to. Perhaps the best thing to do is for a person well versed in Sixth World Lore to take this adventure and use it with people new to Shadowrun and help teach them the basics why shrugging off the metaplot.

The third adventure in this collection, Congressional Conspiracies is a direct sequel to Deconstructing Patriots, and so you will run into the same inherent problems for running this adventure with newcomers and especially those for whom Fifth Edition is their first taste of Shadowrun. The adventure does work best as a one-two punch with the previous one too, so there are a lot of limitations in trying to make Congressional Conspiracies a one shot adventure, a throw away affair or anything close to a good choice for new players. It can work, and Cthulhu knows the adventure tries to be extremely inclusive to gamers no matter how they come to this adventure,but it falls a bit short in this regard to me.

With that out of the way, Deconstructing Patriots is a pretty interesting adventure, even if it feels like it was written by Vince Russo. There are so many swerves here ranging from the original missions idea presented to the team being a crash and burn to being hired by the side you were trying to humiliate in the previous adventure. Players might need a scorecard when all is said and done to remember which side they are one and who they have helped but this being a Shadowrun Missionsadventure, the GM actually has one! Players will also be working directing for The Man this time – literally, as their employer is none other than the Director of Strategic Intelligence for the CAS! From then on the PCs will have two missions to complete – although as usual, something isn’t what it seems. At least there’s an homage to the ol’ Fast Food Fight adventure here. Another fun adventure and a great choice to have reprinted, although a very odd choice to have as one of the first playable adventures for Fifth Edition because it’s so intrinsically tied to an older system.

Our final adventure in this collection is Stormcrow Undone and it takes us back to Bogata in the midst of the Amazonia/Aztlan War. Like a lot of Shadowrun fans during the 4e/20AE era I think Catalyst Game Labs devoted far too much time, energy and resources to something very few people actually cared about and that how they ended the war in Storm Front was terrible across the board. So as you can imagine, my reaction to having to revisit one of the lamest aspects of the previous edition’s metaplot didn’t thrill me. Of course, I never got to read or play this adventure when it originally came out, so who knows? It could have turned out to be a bright spot, right? Right?

Well…yes actually. The crux of the adventure has you getting hired by Amazonia to get of the horros that Aztlan is committing. A lot of players (and thus their characters) won’t do pro-Aztlan missions as they are completely evil through and through and while Shadowrunners are supposed to be mercs pure and simple, that tends to be the minority in practice. Mercs with a heart of gold or anti-heroes tends to be how PCs act or view themselves and so anytime an adventure pushes a pro-Aztlan agenda, there is often friction or outright refusal from at least one character in a group. So instead of risking an adventure where players will revolt and thus leaving the GM to scramble, Stormcrow Undone has you definitely in the role of the White Hat here, which helps makes the adventure more accessible to all players, especially newcomers to Shadowrun who might be used to protagonists bring “good guys.” Plus long time Sixth World fans love to see horrible things happen to Aztechnology, so hurrahs all around!

The adventure is a bit convoluted in that your characters first have to get to Columbia, then have to be stuck in a situation where helping Amazonia is their only way out, both of which aren’t things a published adventure should put on a GM, especially in the case of a Shadowrun Missions. A published adventure should never just drop the adventurers a few chapters into the story. Otherwise what’s the point of purchased a published piece instead of writing something for your players on your own? The adventure suggests just kind of waving away the getting there and crux of being stuck there, but players generally bitch and moan about adventures that start off where a huge chunk of story is missing, so my advice is to play out the precursor to all this or at the very least, write up an opening explaining what happened and what went wrong. If you have a more tolerant or less anal tentative group, I will say the “set up” for this adventure is somewhat hilarious.

Stormcrow Undone is one of the better Bogota related adventures out there. Players have to focus on camerawork over out and out violence or corporate espionage, and so it really forces players to change up their usual game plans and strategies. There are a lot of horrors and atrocities to witness here and players will become a target of Aztech’s forces. With everything from a full blown riot down to the usual fire fights, there is still a lot of combat here and even with the awesome Shadowrun Missions layout, the climax of this adventure will test ever a hardy GM with all that is happening at once. It’s a fun experience for everyone involved though, and that’s what counts.

All in all, Firing Line is a nice collection, especially for the price point and doubly so when you remember that these adventures were one time convention exclusives. The adventures aren’t as good as those in Sprawl Wilds and they aren’t as inviting to newcomers, so my advice would be to play that collection first and then move on to Firing Line once the PCs have some Karma under their belt. Now here’s hoping we start to get some Fifth Edition releases that aren’t reprints, am I right?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Firing Line
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/02/2013 08:32:45
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/02/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-78-fates-fell-hand/

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to review a Goodman Games release for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The last first party release for the system I reviewed was #72, aka Beyond The Black Gate, back in September of 2012. That’s nearly a year ago! I have reviewed eight other releases for DCC since then, but they were all third party releases (two from Purple Sorcerer, one from land of Phantoms, one from Dragon’s Hoard, and four from Brave Halfling), so it’s nice to take a look back at a release from the people behind it all. I’m glad I chose this one to delve back into Goodman Games’ releases, as Fate’s Fell Hand is an amazing adventure, albeit a complicated one. The end result is an adventure that takes an expert GM to pull off, but the end result is well worth it.

Fate’s Fell Hand is an adventure for four to eight Level 2 characters, along with a stream of henchmen. In this adventure, players are sucked into a demiplane (no, not Ravenloft) where three powerful wizards (one of which bears more than a passing homage to Lovecraft’s scribe of the Necronomicon) do battle in an attempt to escape this prison of their own making. Only when one Wizard obtains all twelve cards from the deck of fate will they have enough power to escape. The catch is that each day, the armies of each magic-user are reset and reshuffled, meaning victory is all but impossible. That is, until the PCs are sucked into the demiplane as well, upsetting the ancient balance. Now the party has to decide which of the three wizards to aid, or if they want to capture the cards themselves and let their own magic wielding allies set the team free. Who knows? The party could even split between the armies! Once allied with one of the three spellcasters, the PCs must play by the rules of the location, meaning that each day, their alliances could reset.

At the same time, the same act of eldritch power that brings the PCs into the demiplane has also caused the magic powering it to take the form of giant hideous worms bent on eating this plane of reality until there is nothing left of it. This means not only do the PCs and mages have to deal with the daily resets, but they are now stuck with a finite amount of time. Can anyone escape the demiplane before the worms devour it into non-existence? That’s a heavy plot to be sure!

Although the adventure sounds like a guaranteed TPK (even for a DCC affair), there are actually a lot of ways to get some, if not all, of the adventuring party out alive. Unlike a lot of DCC adventures, where the entire piece is a dungeon hack favoring roll-playing over role-playing, this is definitely one adventure where you can’t just stab your way through things. A solid, well thought out game plan is needed to survive. It’s refreshing to see a DCC adventure where players have to rely on their wits rather than their stat blocks and magic items to make it through things. The adventure is just rock solid from beginning to end, and it’s easily one of the most memorable adventures for the system. It’s a very long adventure with a lot of potential encounters (that could be repeated many times over due to the nature of the demiplane).

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the art in this adventure. Sure, Dungeon Crawl Classics is well known for the quality of the art accompanying its adventures, but wow, are things turned up a notch here. I just absolutely fell in love with the cover to Fate’s Fell Hand. It’s so striking. I decided to pick this up just because of that cover, and that’s an extremely rare impulse decision for me to make. The rest of the art is equally impressive, and of course, like all DCC adventures, the accompanying maps for this adventure are amongst the best in the industry today. Most DCC adventures just have one or maybe two maps if it is an especially long adventure. Fate’s Fell Hand has FOUR. That should give you an idea of the size, length and scope of this piece. The adventure even contains twelve half page size cards to represent the playing pieces from the Deck of Fate. These things are gorgeous, and I’m glad I have the PDF version of this adventure so I can print and cut out as many are needed. I’d hate to ruin a physical copy of this thing.

Fate’s Fell Hand is one of the most impressive and comprehensive adventures I’ve encountered this year. It is definitely not for an inexperienced GM and/or newcomers to Dungeon Crawl Classics though. This adventure is best left in the hands of a very experienced GM willing to put in a lot of extra effort to make this run smoothly, take copious notes about the ever changing alliances and plaque locations and so much more. In the hands of an inexperienced GM, Fate’s Fell Hand will simply fall apart and be a disappointing disaster for all involved, so be very sure of your ability to run a DCC game before going through with this one. It’s still a blast to read through, as well as for viewing the art, but I can’t express enough just how detail oriented a GM has to be to make this work. It’s one of my favorite adventures of the year, but Fate’s Fell Hand certainly needs a specific person to make it reach its true memorable potential.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
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Shadowrun: Parazoology 2
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2013 08:17:20
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/30/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-parazoology-2/

I know, I know. I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing the core rulebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, but that’s because I’ve been kind of swamped with all these other requests. Rest assured I will get to it, but this and Firing Line are first up as they’re brand new and it’s easier to write two short reviews than one mammoth one. So stop asking/whining for it already.

Parazoology 2 surprised me, as it’s a release for Fourth Edition/20th Anniversary Edition instead of the recently released Fifth Edition product. I’m actually glad to see CGL still supporting 4e/20AE as it gives the people who are still in EDITION WARS mode or who haven’t had the chance or funds (or who are waiting for the physical version of the game) to pick up the PDF of 5e yet. Diehard to Fifth Edition can easily convert the stats to these creatures in Parazoology 2 with little to no effort, so everyone wins here with this supplement. I’ll admit I’m a big fan of all the “Para” releases for Fourth Edition as they’ve really showcased imagination, originality and a willingness to go outside the usual box of corporate espionage. Things like Parageology and Parabotany really showcase how unique, weird and vast the Sixth World is and these types of supplements should help GMs realize just how much they can do beyond the typical run.

Parazoology is a fun guide to thirty new creatures to populate your Shadowrun campaign with, along with a page of new rules for abilities some of these creatures have manifested. All creatures are sorts by type (Awakened, Toxic, Mutant) and then by alphabetical order, making the entire PDF easy to read through. This listing order also makes things exceptionally easy to find when you’re looking for a stats block or description. The layout and art simply add to the overall appeal of this product and make it a joy to read.

Of course, substance is far more important than style when we talk about an RPG supplement and I’m happy to say that I really loved Parazoology 2. There are so many fun and bizarre creatures here that I don’t know where to begin. There’s more than just a regular creature feature going on here through From Jackpointer Am-Mut weighing in on the Awakened Ammit to the return (and potential vindication of) Plan 9, the metaplot is still in full effect here. It’s interesting to note that perhaps FastJack was wrong about Plan 9 in Storm Front. Either that or “Plan 9″ is a far better manipulator and actor than anyone gave him (it?) credit for. I also noticed they turned my long running in-joke with my wife of Grandmaster P, the Awakened Parrot who only speaks in rap lyrics into a canon creature….although they did it via Slamm-O (My least favorite Jackpointer). Ah well, still hilarious and awesome.

So let’s talk a bit about the animals you’ll find in this digital menagerie. There’s an Awakened Manatee that can turn into a Metahuman and is carnivorous. Holy crap, look out Florida! There are adorable Awakened Flying Squirrels that are excellent little urban thieves. You can find a freshwater octopi, a Fiji Mermaid (which may be my favorite entry in the collection), an aquatic monkey (a literal sea monkey….groan), a giant badger, and perhaps a nod to the Vampire: The Requiem reboot, an owl known as the Strix. There are also some really interesting sidebars about an expedition to find the Napoleon Rex (mini T-rex!) and an essay about whether animals Goblinize at a certain age or are born that way. The creepiest are the Awakened diseases though. Can you imagine if Ares developed an Awakened Leprosy or Dysentery launcher? Eek. There’s a lot more to Parazoology 2 than just this snippet, so if your intrigued by any of this, well go ahead and purchase it already!

With a price tag of almost eight dollars, Parazoology 2 might seem a bit spendy for the forty-one pages it contains, but I feel it is a worthwhile purchase you will get your money’s worth out of. With some incredible full colour art of various creatures, some great stat blocks and thirty new beasties to add to your version of the Sixth World, if you don’t come away from Parazoology 2 with a bunch of new ideas for adventures, subquests or general scenarios, then I don’t know what to tell you. I love this thing and here’s hoping the Fifth Edition of Shadowrun continues to get Para supplements of the same quality that 4e has received.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Parazoology 2
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Numenera
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 06:22:57
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/29/tabletop-review-numener-
a-core-rulebook/

As seems to be the growing case with all major tabletop RPG releases, Numenera began life as a Kickstarter campaign, convincing 4,658 people to donate $517,255 to its creation. Then seven months later, the Numenra brand was paired with video game developer inXile Entertainment for the Numenera video game: Torment: Tides of Numenera. This time, the brand brought 74,405 people into the fold and raised 4.1 MILLION dollars. Holy crap. So as you can imagine, Numenera has a lot of hype to live up to and a lot of backers to please. I myself missed the original Kickstarter as there were six others I was backing at the time, but I definitely made sure I was a backer for the video game. I’m normally not a Sci-Fi person, but the way Monte Cook described Numenera and how easily it would feel like a fantasy game without actually being one intrigued me. In my head I was picturing thing like Jim Starlin’s old Epic comic series, Dreadstar and C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. Of course, I’d have to wait and see the end product to determine if my first impressions were correct.

In June, I got my first taste of Numenera with the short story collection, Tales of the Ninth World. I completely and utterly loved it. It was exactly what I had hoped for with writing that made the tales sound both magic and yet full of future science. Of course, a trio of short stories is a very different thing from a 400+ core rulebook and there are lots of times where the fiction writing around a game is top notch, but the mechanics are terrible and vice versa. So I would have to wait until August 14th, when Monte Cook Games sent me a review copy of the Numenera Core Rulebook to make that final call. When after two weeks of devouring the game, I can easily say Monte Cook has a tremendous hit on his hand that is sure to please a portion of gamers. I can’t say all, because Numenera does eschew certain gaming conventions that many assume are a trope of the genre (such as killing monsters = XP) and the book comes right out and says story trumphs rules and actually includes a bit to put rules lawyers in their place. So gamers that want roll-playing over role-playing, hack and slash dungeon crawls or a game that is heavily combat oriented should look elsewhere. Instead Numenera gives you a very story oriented game where combat should be rare but conflict is constantly in the air (sometimes literally!) and ensures the focus will be on discovering the world around you. It’s also worth noting that in some way Numenera takes the concept of the “Monty Haul” campaign, a term we older gamers use for games and/or adventures (usually with a bit of derision) where the PCs are up to their necks in loot, and it not only embraces the concept but while doing so turns it inside out and completely changes the reason why players have an opportunity to get scads of crazy items with a myriad of in-game effects. As a gamer who primarily plays Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Ravenloft, games that normally eschew copious amounts of high powered magic items in favor of more mundane equipment, this was one personal paradigm that I had to break. Unlike D&D games I played as a kid where paladins would just find a Holy Avenger lying around in a goblin den at Level 1, I found the way characters obtain potentially beneficial items on a regular basis to be well done, and also balanced out so that a Tier 1 character isn’t character a miniature black hole launcher on their wrist…and if they do it’s only good for a single use. So my usual disdain for Monty Haul style games went out the window here and I found myself coming up with all sorts of items to give my players and see how they experimented with them. The end result was great fun for both the GM and the players, which is how things should be.

Numenera takes place on the Ninth World, which is basically Earth one billion years in the future. Yes, I know, the sun won’t be around in a billion years, but remember that 1) this is just a game so you should really just relax and 2) that right there is a potential story arc in and of itself for you to write! By this time, Earth has been home to eight previous empires/dynasties/cycles of existence. So in some ways this idea of “worlds” is similar to the concept of worlds you find in Shadowrun, save Shadowrun has cycles of 2,500 years and Numenera‘s worlds are literally millions of years apart. Some of these previous worlds were populated by humans, while others were races that bore little to no resemblance to humanity. There is no way to know save for the things left of the planet littering the landscape. Some of these worlds had science beyond anything we can imagine, some of these worlds were the center of intergalactic empires and some of these worlds are completely lost to the sands of time. All we know (in-game and out) is that those empires have come and gone, never to return and all the Ninth World has are various objects and artifacts from those previous time periods. Sometimes a person can figure out what they do, while other times the item is so completely alien, experimentation is the only option. Perhaps the item creates bubbles that when popped release a jaunty little tune, perhaps the item is a piece of mirrored glass that when stared at long enough causes a sandwich to appear in midair. Perhaps the item is a weapon of great power. Perhaps the item is a piece of broken junk. It’s all up to the GM to decide what he wants to populate his world with and a good portion of the fun is placing these items for the PCs to discover and try to find a use for. I can’t stress enough that Numenera is a game of discovery first and foremost. Most of all those is that while the GM and the PCs discover the world of Numenera together, they’ll also discover ways to have exciting and memorable adventures – many of which will never have a single combat based roll to them. I love this.

I absolutely love how the game flows. Every roll of the die in Numenera is by the players only. The GM is there to tell a story and facilitate what happens. The players are the ones actually playing, so no DM screens with fudged die rolls nor any time where the game feels like it is PCs vs. the GM. As well, character and thus player cooperation is intrinsically tied into this mechanic. For example, whenever the GM wants to add a bit of conflict or chaos to the proceedings, it is called “GM Intrusion.” Say the GM wants the player to miss his attack so the antagonist can get away or decides to make climbing a sheer wall harder with a sudden torrential downpour. With this intrusion, the GM gives the player in question 2 XP. So you’re still getting experience points for conflict or overcoming obstacles but not for randomly going into a village and killing all the 0 level humans and justifying it because you are a chaotic evil cleric of death. When a player is given these two experience points, he or she immediately gives one of them to another player and must state why. So when a GM intrudes, two players benefit. You can see why this fosters a team cooperative environment rather than some games that end up having one dick PC who wants to do everything, be the center of attention or who just wants to antagonize the other characters. Sure you can still play an annoying twat who is trying to hurt the other characters if you want, but watch as you get little to no XP and are more than likely abandoned to something like the iron wind or a giant cyborg reptile with chainsaws for teeth. As well, intrusion can be blocked by the player in question if they are willing to say no to the 2XP AND spend 1 XP of their own. This is a great way of letting players maintain some degree of control and makes sure all people involved in a game of Numenera remember that they are telling a story TOGETHER. There are other ways to earn XP, such as completing an adventure, discovering new items or locations and accomplishing set goals the GM has in mind for you, but GM Intrusion is perhaps the most striking, memorable and frequently occurring in a Numenera adventure.

Roughly a fourth of the book is devoted to the world of Numenera such as the nine kingdoms, the Beyond and organizations within the giant supercontinent. There’s far too much to go into here but suffice to say, I was impressed by how much detail was packed into the world in the core rulebook. Many a game keeps this information spare or brief and then has you buy later releases to fully flesh out the game world. Not with Numenera. Everything you need to fully immerse yourself in the setting in within the 418 pages of this book. The same is true for various creatures/monsters you will encounter as there are a whopping forty pages devoted to those and roughly the same amount of pages are devoted to just a sample of the ciphers, artifacts and oddities you can dispense to players in this game. Now the game does strongly and freely encourage GMs to create their own as the only limits within Numenera are created by your own imagination. That said, the game has at least four other releases planned for the near future starting with The Devil’s Spine in October, which is a collection of adventures and it will be followed by The Ninth World Bestiary, which is an entire book devoted to new creatures and characters, the Technology Compendium which will offer hundreds of more Numenera for your campaign and The Ninth World Guidebook, which will be a supplement to the core rule book. Again, you won’t NEED any of these as Numenera is pretty self-contained with this one book, but for those that fall in love with the setting and/or prefer canon pre-created pieces and adventures over homebrewing it, Monte Cook Games has you covered.

The rules for Numenera are extremely easy to learn. Most of the time you don’t roll. If it’s a basic easy action, you just tell the story together as players and GM. It’s only when a task is required that you roll. There are ten levels for a challenge. A level one challenge requires a 3 or higher on a d20 while a level ten challenge requires a 30 or higher on a d20. Obviously the latter is impossible, but it can be done based on your character build. You might have an item that lowers the difficulty of a challenge or your character might be skilled enough in the task to lower it. These lowering bonuses stack, so if say, a character has an item that makes climbing easier by two levels, which level ten difficulty drops to a level eight. If you are trained in climbing, that difficulty drops to level seven and if you are specialized in climbing, it would instead drop to a level six challenge. Suddenly that impossible 30 you needed to roll is now an 18. Still quite hard to do, but it is now in the realm of the possible. You can further spend Effort Points to reduce the difficulty further. Like the item and skill, effort can reduce a challenge up to two levels and it also stacks, so if you spend enough points, this level ten challenge could drop even further to a mere level four. So the impossible task of 30 could be reduced fully to only needing a 12 if you have all the right gear and skills, as well as enough effort points. Hey, it might be less than a fifty percent shot, but I’ll take it over an impossible number to roll any day, right? There’s a wonderful play descriptor section in the book where three players name Bruce, Diana and Clark (please tell me you get the joke there) take their characters on a Numenera adventure. Not only is it wonderfully done in terms of showing how one rolls and plays Numenera, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

Character creation might be the weakest area in the gamer at first glance. After all, there are only three character classes and three stats. You also have to pick a character descriptor, but there are only twelve to choose from. The same is true for a character foci, but there are at least thirty of these to choose from. Finally, characters start at First Tier and the maximum one can advance to is Sixth Tier. When you read all this on paper, it looks like character creation options are extremely limited compared to other games and that if you play the game regularly, character builds might start to look a lot alike. After all, pretty much every game I can think of gives you far more options for character building. Yes, options are limited and no, from what I’ve seen there are no plans to expand this, but just because the options feel spare, doesn’t mean they actually are. After all, the character creation chapter itself is sixty pages long and even with what is provided there are still plenty of ways to customize your character so that it stands out even if two players decide to make a Mystical Nano that Employs Magnetism. There won’t be a lot of difference between the two, but their Stats of Might, Speed and Intellect will be different as these are customizable. The powers one gains with each tier and through character advancement will more than likely be quite different too as there are several to pick from. Finally, the personality and background the player infuses the character with will really make the two stand out from each other. So yes, while the options for character creation and advancement are far more limited than in a lot of others games, there are more than enough options in Numenera to make a character that stands out from the rest of your party.

After my two weeks with Numenera, I have to admit I am extremely hooked. I love the mechanics, the character creation process, but most of all I love the world and the almost limitless range I can have with it. If I want to write a horror adventure where something unspeakable is stalking the players, I can. If I want to do a more fantasy dungeon crawl type adventure, I can. Hell, I could even do a Shadowrun style raid or an adventure that is nothing but talking heads engaging in political intrigue and you know what – each of the above would fit the game perfectly and stay true to the world and/or setting. It’s a wonderful game in every respect and it has me extremely curious how the video game will play since video game RPGs are almost pure combat and Numenera is anything but. It seems like it the setting would work better as a point and click adventure game, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll admit that I’m still kicking myself for not having gotten the chance to back Numenera via Kickstarter (I did back the video game though), but I’m utterly in love with the setting right now and honestly, between Numenera and Mummy: The Curse, this has been one of the best year for brand new tabletop IPs in a very, VERY long time. I can’t recommend Numenera enough. The game is well done and so rules light that even someone completely new to tabletop gaming can play this with ease, while long time vets will fall in love with the fact the game is written so wonderfully and the mechanics are almost instinctual. You can get the core rule book for insanely cheap on Amazon right now ($36.85 instead of the MSRP of $59.99), so by all means grab it there if you would prefer a physical copy over the even cheaper ($19.99) extremely hyperlined PDF that is available at DriveThruRPG.com. At the end of the day, Numenera is a game of storytelling and discovery and is designed to help foster a cohesive and cooperative atmosphere between the GM (who probably should be called a Storyteller for this game but White Wolf might get grumpy if Monte did that…) and players. My only worry is that future releases won’t be as brilliant as this core rule book but between Tales of the Ninth World and the Numenera Core Rulebook, this fledgling brand is two for two in my book and I’m excited to see what is next.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera
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The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2013 06:51:52
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/21/tabletop-review-the-sen-
se-of-sleight-of-hand-man-call-of-cthulhu/

The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is a Call of Cthulhu campaign that takes place in the Dreamlands. It was originally funded by 403 Kickstarter backers and was scheduled for September 2012. Well, things spiraled out of control and what was to be a 128 page book ended up becoming a nearly three hundred page one and was released in July of this year – almost a year late. Personally, I’ll take a book a year late if I’m getting more than DOUBLE THE CONTENT for the money I paid for it, especially when the content is quite good.

Although labeled as a Dreamlands campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is probably more accurately described as a campaign setting. There aren’t any actually adventures in this massive tome. Instead the book highlights a bunch of options for characters to engage in all around the dreamlands. It’s more a collection of plot hooks and story threads than a set of interlinked adventures, but Arc Dream calls it a campaign so just be aware of that fact if you were looking for something more like Masks of Nyarlathotep or Horror on the Orient Express. The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is nothing like your typical Call of Cthulhu campaign, or a campaign for any setting really. It’s closest to the Shadowrun books Catalyst Game Labs puts out where you have twenty or so rough adventure outlines where the DM (or Keeper in this case) has to really flesh things out to make them playable. Now that doesn’t make SoSoHM a bad book – far from it! You just have to be aware that the Keeper has a lot of work ahead of them and must craft the adventures themselves rather than rely on the book for such a thing. As such, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is definitely best in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, especially one who has made their own homebrew adventures before.

The hook for The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is that all the player characters are down on their luck opium addicts. The person who supplies their opium has decided to get their payment by hook or by crook and ends up sending the PCs to the Dreamlands. Unlike most cases where an Investigator’s dream self has been transported and keeps the same stats throughout, in this campaign the bodies and souls of the characters are merged, transported to the Dreamlands and implanted in human cadavers. Thus players will more than likely have very different physical stats in the Dreamlands than they had on earth and could even end up as a different gender. Character creation is also a little different where players will have higher than normal POW and lower that usual starting SAN. They will also gain extra skill and attribute points too. With all this extra buffing for the Investigators and the overwhelming amount of magic and magical items the players can get their hands on in this campaign, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man almost feels like a D&D-esque Monty Haul campaign at times. It’s not a bad thing and all these little changes add up to make this campaign really stand out, even from other Dreamlands releases for Call of Cthulhu. Some purists may poo-poo the higher stat characters and the sheer glut of magical power a character can amass in this campaign but others will get a kick out of it. It’s just a matter of finding the right audience for this tome.

There is so much content in The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man, it’s all but impossible to talk about it all. The campaign covers every major location, denizen and race Lovecraft ever wrote about in the Dreamlands. You’ll encounter everyone from Randolph Carter to aspects of Nyarlathotep. In fact, the crux of the campaign is defeating the Crawling Chaos (or at least his minions and machinations) and finally finding a way back to Earth. However, that will take many play sessions for that climatic ending to occur, if it ever does. The book is extremely open ended and there is no set order for events to occur save for the initial setup in an opium den. In some ways this resembles a sandbox or open world video game, which is awesome for the players to experience, but it means the Keeper has copious amounts of work to do to make the campaign flow smoothly. The keeper will have to constantly be taken notes in regards to where the players have been, who they have met, what events have unfolded and the like. The vast majority of people who like to run Call of Cthulhu games, even gigantic published adventures may find the layout and format of The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man to chaotic and/or daunting to even try and properly run for their players. For example, The Ten Thousand Steps that lead to the Underworld and the start of events there are brought up on page 44, but then are not mentioned again until page 72. So the layout and order in which things are written could have used some tightening. In some ways, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man feels like it was edited for grammar and diction, but not for flow. Again, this is one of just MANY examples of how Keepers will have to take notes and spend a dozen, if not dozens of hours taking notes and writing down how best to make this campaign flow. Otherwise it will just fall apart and leave everyone who encounters it with a bad taste in their mouth. Please don’t think this is me poo-poo’ing the book. Rather, this is a warning of how labor intensive The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man will be. Again, this is less an adventure or even a campaign as it is a campaign setting with a set beginning and end, but nothing but hooks and possibilities in between. It’s going to take a VERY specific Keeper to make this work, but for those that play The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man under them, the end result will be a very fun, memorable and awesome gaming experience.

With a current price tag of less than twenty dollars, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is well worth picking up, even if you don’t bother to ever play. It’s simply a fun (but sometimes dry or even dull) read and is an obvious labour of love that showcases how awesome the Dreamlands can be. This one purchase will provide enough adventures for your Call of Cthulhu players to last them months or even over a year depending on how much they explore the “landscape.” It’s definitely not for everyone and for many Keepers, the work you have to put in won’t be worth the return you get, but for a very dedicated and detailed Keeper, The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man is arguably the best tabletop release to ever showcase this lesser used Cthulhu Mythos setting.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man: A Dreamlands Campaign for Call of Cthulhu
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Gygax magazine issue #2
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2013 06:51:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/21/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-2/

So far, we’ve only received two issues of Gygax Magazine and I’d dare say it has been a mixed bag. The issues themselves have been a wonderful bit of nostalgia, featuring articles by big names for tabletop gaming’s past and present, beautiful covers reminiscent of the old Dragon magazine we all miss so much and so much more. On the other side, the fulfillment side had been lackluster at best. Subscriptions take forever to arrive (I had to nag for my own personal issue even though I paid for it and it took roughly two months to get to me – long after others received it), crazy international shipping rates, larger than expected delays between issues and non subscribers getting their issues before subscribers. It’s a new company and so there is always room for error, but when you’re taking on the name TSR and your magazine espouses arguably the bigger name in our industry, the errors you do make are going to be magnified and scrutinized. Basically it comes down to the fact that the magazine is splendid, but TSR needs a lot of work on the business and customer service side of things if the company is to survive. Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s hard to find a gaming periodical work with even the best versions in the industry like The Unspeakable Oath or The Rifter not even being able to put their product out on a quarterly basis. Some like Pathways and Savage Insider are able to make a regular schedule, but these also happen to be free and much shorter in length. Ah for the days of Dragon, Dungeon, Inquest, The Duelist and other tabletop magazines were able to meet a regular monthly or quarterly schedule, eh?

Now then, it’s been six months since the first issue of this magazine. Justin Jeffers reviewed it for us then, but he’s got a tiny tot to take care of now, so I’m more than happy to handle the reviewing duties of this issue, especially since I do tend to review a lot of gaming magazines for the site. I have to say that like the inaugural issue, Issue #2 is an incredible read and a lot of fun to peruse, especially if you’re a gamer of accelerated years like myself. From that striking cover of a red dragon tending to its young, to the magazine ending with an Order of the Stick comic, I felt like I was a kid again. It was also interesting to see what a range of articles there were in this issue. Instead of being strictly old school and looking primarily at AD&D and the origins of this most wonderful hobby (although it did have some bits on ICONS and Pathfinder, this issue contains pieces on Cubicle 7′s Doctor Who game, Savage Worlds, The One Ring and more! I’m really happy to see such a fine spread of articles, although I would like to see some older games that are still going strong like BRP, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and more. Perhaps even a look at games that dies long ago but are still loved and fondly remembered ranging from Chill to TSR’s FASERIP version of Marvel Super Heroes. Heck, maybe I should pitch that to Jayson Elliot myself! With nineteen articles to talk about, I suppose it’s time to get started!

1. Editorial. This one page intro by Jayson Elliot explains a little about the contents in this issue. It does what it needs to and sets up the magazine nicely. Even through it’s an introduction rather than an editorial, I suppose there’s not actually much TO editorialize just yet. 1 for 1.

2. Tactics in Samurai Battles. I have NEVER played Samurai Battles and after reading this article, it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to play in the first place. That said, I learned a LOT about the game from reading this article and if I ever did choose to give it a whirl (always try something new, right?), I would have some tactics and knowledge that should (hopefully) give me a leg up on other newcomers. Unless of course they too read this article… Hopefully this article will help Samurai Battles find its much needed (and deserved) audience. 2 for 2.

3. The Evolution From Wargaming To Roleplaying. Ernest Gygax’s articles are always a highlight of these magazines, and this was no exception. It shows how the Gygax clan went from Avalon Hill wargames to Chainmail to adding fantasy aspects to said game and finally the eventual creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Of course there is a LOT more to the article than that quick summation, but it’s a really fun read. I loved hearing about that first dungeon crawl and how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson collaborated to make their seminal product. I also liked hearing about Ernie’s character Tenser (whose name you should all recognize) and stories like how he came up with the cone of cold spell. A wonderful article indeed. 3 for 3.

4. Hitchhiking in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. I’ve never gotten the appeal of Doctor Who, so much of this article was lost on me. That said, fans of Cubicle 7′s licensed game should find that this hodgepodge of an article provides them will all sorts of new things to bring into a game or campaign. There are three new races and ten new gadgets most of which are homages to Douglas Adams, of which I highly approve. Although I’d never use this, this was a really fun article to read and I think fans of both British Sci-Fi classics will have a blast seeing this quasi-crossover. 4 for 4.

5. Leomund’s Secure Shelter. This is an interesting look at death in D&D/OD&D/AD&D. Usually we think of death in D&D as being at -10 Hit Points, but here we get a bunch of charts which randomized death. Now, if your con is high enough, you can hold on until you are at -15 Hit Points. Of course this first chart is only about when you are instantly dropped to a particular HP total. This article also includes a chart for losing consciousness as well as a list of actions a PC can take when clinging to consciousness. Obviously, if you’re having a hard time staying conscious due to pain, blood loss, a concussion or whatever, you’re not going to be able to run that 100 meter dash at your usual speed. These optional rules are a lot to take in and while they make the game more realistic, some players will balk at not being able to say, use their Vorpal Sword at full capacity or cast Chain Lightning when they only have a single Hit Point remaining. As well, these charts only seem to apply to high level characters. What about those first level characters unlucky enough to have between one 1 and 3 Hit Points? Perhaps this idea would work better if it was percentage based instead of a specific set number based. Still it’s an interesting article. 5 for 5.

6. A forgotten grimoire, and its curse. Yes, there’s no capitalization in the title except for the opening article. Odd, isn’t it? This article is by the author of Playing at the World and his quest to find the oldest written version of D&D. This mysterious MacGuffin was believed to be penned by Dave Arneson back in 1974 late in stages of D&D development. In the end Peterson feels the Dalluhn Manuscript is indeed post Blackmoor and Chainmail but pre D&D. Is it an early draft by Arneson, or something else? We may never know, but the article is a fun and fascinating read and complete with plugs for Peterson’s book and for his website, where he goes into more detail about the manuscript in question. 6 for 6.

7. From One Geek to Another. This is an etiquette guide for gamers. While I admit that I’ve encountered a lot of gamers who are lacking in the social skills, common sense and personal hygiene categories, I can’t really say this article was all that useful. Don’t get me wrong; I think an gaming etiquette piece would be highly useful. The problem is the author spend very little of the article actually covering the proposed topic at hand. Instead it’s mostly rambling. The majority of the article is on introducing yourself to others or friends that have not met to each other. I guess this would be helpful if I or the target audience of Gygax Magazine were in elementary school, but honestly, if you’re an adult and you need a gaming magazine to tell you how to introduce yourself or others, then you probably have more than a few issues on your plate to resolve. This is just kind of a nonsensical article to me and makes me sad that the author and the editors thought this was something actually needed. 6 for 7.

8. Building a Winning Spell Book in Mage Wars. I don’t play Mage Wars but I enjoy seeing the wide range of games and systems being covered in this issue. Much like the article on Samurai Battles I learned a lot about this game, but unlike that article, I didn’t feel this one was written very well. The article tries too hard to sell the game (Note, if you actually refer to a product as a “Gamer’s Game,” you’re doing it wrong and coming off as a fanboy – not a journalist or critic), the information is too mish-mashed and the article just…ends. There’s no closing paragraph or summation – it literally seems to end with the author having more to say but the text is just missing. I actually went skimming through the magazine to see if the article was simply missing the “continued on p.XX” piece, but it wasn’t. This simply isn’t written very well and although it was educational, it wasn’t quality and not something that endeared me to trying the game. 6 for 8.

9. Heroes, Kings, and Champions. I love Ken St. Andre. I love Tunnels & Trolls and I’m one of the few people that review that game’s releases regularly. However, I just didn’t get this article. I guess it’s because it felt more like a blog entry than a review, treatise or journalistic piece on gaming. It’s all over the place, starting off talking about classic heroes in literature and how some writers like Fielding and Chaucer wrote about common people (although in both cases cited, neither book named in this article actually features common people or even common situations, which kind of kills the point he is trying to make) and then it abruptly shifts into a weird conversation about what type of character are you making and/or are you writing the adventure for. It’s a little rambly and I honestly don’t get what the intent of the article was or what the author was going for. It’s just not very coherent. 6 for 9.

10. The Old School Renaissance. In a nutshell, this is an article about helping younger or less experienced gamers discover older editions of D&D along with their retro-clones. Personally I’ve never understood Edition Wars. Do I like 1e and 2e better than say 4e? Yes, but that won’t keep me from playing or running 4e if something from that line catches my fancy. At the same time I really like how some dedicated passionate gamers have kept old editions alive. This article does a great job of explaining why those people do what they do and also highlighting the difference between the two styles. I will say that the article does make new games sound like they are about roll-playing over role-playing and I have to say, I think every edition of every game has equals amounts of players who play both ways. I know a lot of OSR gamers who just roll dice and barely give any depth to their character and 4e players who spend more time with their characters talking rather than fighting. It’s all about who you game with more than the system. Still, it’s a great article and really highlights why some of us stick to the older games. 7 for 10.

11. Weird Vibrations. Any article that starts off by citing Lovecraft and Ashton Smith instantly gets my notice, I’ll tell you that. This is a fun look at changing the Bard class in Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea into something more Call of Cthulhu-esque. More specifically, using the short story The Music of Erich Zann as a bard template, which I think is a wonderful idea and something I did with a Bard back in 2e AD&D’s Ravenloft. What’s here isn’t just for S&S though. The article can be applied to any system that has a Bard or even systems like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess as it is all ideas rather than stat blocks. Anyway, I just loved this article, and the full page piece of art that went with it. 8 for 11.

12. The Inkubus. This is a weird little article written as a fiction story about a new monster for the Savage Worlds system. I love seeing SW covered here, but Savage Insider obviously does a better job on that system because that magazine is geared solely for it. I didn’t think the fiction here was very good at all and the new monster did nothing for me. Bleh. 8 for 12.

13. The Blighted Lands. This article is by Luke Gygax and is all about his new fantasy setting of Okkorim. This is a great look at a new setting, although the article doesn’t say what edition of D&D or AD&D it is for. Obviously it’s for an older one, but some clarification would have been nice. Okkorim isn’t a full world, but it’s meant to be a supplement to your already existing setting. It’s a dessert slash Arabic setting, so you might start to think of Al-Qadim which was an AD&D Second Edition setting. In fact, Okkorim is more of a low fantasy setting and players will find that having enough fresh food and water is perhaps a bigger challenge than any sword wielding antagonist. You get a full adventure, a few new monsters and, for print versions of the magazine, there are two foldout map insert. Just a lot of nice work from beginning to end here. 9 for 13.

14. The Hare and the Hill Giant. It’s odd to see Shane Ivey writing about The One Ring instead of Call of Cthulhu, but I’ll take it as I’m a fan of both systems. This is a full length adventure and easily the longest article in the magazine. It’s a pretty simple conflict where your heroes will have to do battle with trolls, but it’s well written and a lot of fun. 10 for 14.

15. Super Science in Fantasy Games. The title says it all. This article basically gives examples of futuristic scientific devices for use in fantasy settings. Force fields, ray guns and the like are here. The article doesn’t specifically say what system these are for, but the text and the appearance of the OGL (along with the fact it’s in the “Kobold’s Den”) should tell you it is either for 3.0, 3.5 or Pathfinder. Thankfully the table of contents specifically calls it a Pathfinder article, but a good editor (and writer) would specifically state it in the article or via a sub-heading so this is slightly sloppy here. At least the content is good. 11 for 15.

16. Dueling Through the AGEs. A look at various forms of duels. This article uses the AGE system rules. It’s not a system I use, but the article is well written and the information is both interesting and potentially useful for those that do. 12 for 16.

17. Lost Wonders of Calemarath. This article is for use with the Midgard campaign setting and I just didn’t care for it. Poor writing, poor layout, poor formatting and it really needed to be fleshed out more. I think this might be the worst article in the magazine. 12 for 17.

18. Full Frontal Nerdity. This was a humorous two page comic that takes a nice satiric look at some of the things gamers will do to get more cash for their characters. In this case, it’s serving up the remains of your slaughtered enemies as delicious meals. Soylent Green is Black Pudding I guess. 13 for 18.

19. The Order of the Stick. OotS is the best fantasy gaming comic today, bar none and it’s great to see it back in a magazine. Roy and Haley meet a good or neutral aligned wererat. Hilarity ensues as they try to help him. 14 for 19.

So there we go. A 74% quality rate, which is pretty good for a magazine which has only seen two issues and is still working out a lot of kinks. I’d be remiss if I did not note a lot of editorial mistakes, especially with heading capitalizations, which is a shame to see in a professionally published magazine. Here are also an insane amount of ads in this issue, which was also something that many people remarked on in this first as well, but you have to pay the bills somehow, right? Overall, the good definitely outweighs the bad in Gygax Magazine, but there’s no denying that there is room for improvement. It’s still a quality magazine and it really is between this and The Unspeakable Oath for our “Best Gaming Periodical Award.” We still have a quarter of the year to see if either puts out a third issue. Fingers crossed there.

The bottom line – Gygax Magazine is worth the cover price and the team behind it will only get better. The articles are generally quite good and it’s fun to flip through this. If you’re nostalgic for the gaming magazine of the 80s and 90s, you should definitely grab this and maybe even contemplate a subscription.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #2
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Better Angels
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2013 06:37:28
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/08/16/tabletop-review-better--
angels/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mythos sections present a wide variety of different cultures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring: Loremaster's Screen and Lake-town Guide
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