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Gibbous Moon Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2016 08:26:06

As an interesting and quite thought-provoking adventure, Gibbous Moon makes an attractive side-adventure to slot into an existing campaign, or indeed to run as a one-shot game (perhaps using the pre-generated characters suppied).


As usual, we begin with information on how to read a stat block and the anatomy of an encounter, classing Raging Swan masterclasses that feature in every adventure (after all, they don't know which one you'll pick up first!). Then we get on to the adventure background: a tragic tale of someone afflicted with lycanthropy who's quite horrified at what he has become and is trying to find ways to live with his affliction.


OK, so how do you bring the party into the mix? As the lycanthrope has been raiding the nearby village, it may just be that the villagers will take advantage of passing adventurers to ask them to investigate just why their cattle are being stolen a few days before the full moon each month. To get them to the village, called Barlow, it may just be on their way to someplace else or they may be on a trip to pick up the bones of a hermit who used to live in a hermitage not far from the settlement.


For most, the starting point will be Barlow itself, however they came to be there. The village and its inhabitants are described comprehensively, with details of demographics, notable people and locations and of course a map. There's plenty to find out here, for those characters who enjoy investigating and asking around. Most inhabitants are either humans or dwarves, and there are some tensions between them - the dwarves are relative newcomers and some of the 'old' residents do not care for their modern ways disturbing a pastoral idyll. With this wealth of information it will be easy to bring the place to life.


The second part deals with the hermitage at Clear Pool... with the hermit dead (else why might anyone be after her bones?) it has provided a refuge for the lycanthrope. Of course, the party has to get there first, and there just might be something lurking in the undergrowth... Once there, the hermitage itself is actually a series of natural caverns in a cliff-face that have been adapted into quite a nice residence. Again it is described in immense detail, making it all sound very 'real', something to bring to vivid life.


And here it becomes interesting. Of course, many parties will just want to fight... but if they are willing to try talking. It may be possible to persuade or intimidate the lycanthrope into changing his ways - and he, of course, would dearly love to be cured of his affliction.


With the neat twist of several ways of resolving the adventure and a few ideas for further exploits - even including taking over the hermitage as a base - this is a fascinating little side-adventure that should prove memorable.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gibbous Moon Collector's Edition
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Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/10/2016 10:53:39

This adventure is intended as a bit of a sidetrek, or something to happen whilst travelling from one place to another, yet has plenty to keep the party interested and occupied. Starting with the customary Raging Swan masterclass in reading stat blocks and the anatomy of an encounter, we soon get to the meat of the adventure, with a background that - without giving too much away - tells of a tribe of orcs advanced enough to actually bury their dead and what happened to the tombs once the tribe was driven off.


If you want a reason for the party to get involved (rather than stumbling into the situation apparently by chance) a local lordling is provided to hire them to deal with a couple of dragons that have been seen flying around some hills a few days' travel away. There's some information to ferret out and a neat additional twist in the shape of a dream/vision for any half-orcs in the party.


Next, we get to find out about the local village, which has been raided by those flying varmints. It's sent on the edge of the Tuskwood and has a shrine to an historic hero that they are trying to build up into a pilgrimage destination. Most inhabitants are either farmers or loggers, and are a mix of halflings and humans for the most part. There's a map of the village and quite a lot of background information to make the place come to life.


The next section deals with the Tuskwood. If nothing else, the party will have to traverse it in order to reach their destination. It's pretty wild and dangerous with boars, wolves and worse to be found there. The party will have to travel through it for 3-4 days to reach their destination, and so plenty of material is provided to make that trip a little bit interesting...


When they reach their destination, they find a small network of caves in a small cliff within the forest. From then on in it is more or less a dungeon-delve, although even here there are opportunities to speak with at least some of the denizens rather than fight with them. Just to make things a little more exciting, part of it has been flooded by an overflowing pool. Rules for moving and fighting underwater are provided at the end of the book for those risking these passageways.


This makes for an excellent interlude, exciting and potentially lucrative, for any party travelling in the area. The whole thing hangs together well, with enough twists in the plot to lift it out of the ordinary.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
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Against the Cult of the Bat God
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2016 09:58:06

The usual preamble opens the book, a brief bio of the author, notes on how to use the adventure from a mechanical standpoint (reading stat blocks, the anatomy of an encounter and so on), and then there's a rundown on the Lonely Coast, the wild frontier in which Raging Swan's adventures are set. The default location for this adventure is a remote and insular village by the name of Oakhurst, but it's relatively simple to either use a village in your own campaign world instead, or relocate Oakhurst lock, stock and barrel to a suitable location there. If you do decide to use Oakhurst, it's presented in considerable detail including locations, principal inhabitants and a map.


We then move on to the adventure itself, beginning with the background and a synopsis. Several ideas are provided to intice the party into visiting Oakhurst - they'll be needed as it is a dismal place with hostile and insular inhabitants, not somewhere you'd visit for pleasure. Like many of Raging Swan's adventures, there's a timeline of events that are going on irrespective of what the party does, not only providing a good feel of life going on regardless but also presenting a real threat: if the plot is not thwarted in time, disaster will befall the region!


To start with, the adventure will involve investigation and general poking about, but the more physical members of the party need not fear, they will soon have opportunity to engage in combat as offence is taken at their nosiness. To support the investigation, there are several locations which the party can visit, with notes on what they can discover at each one. Events - as detailed in the timeline - are presented with ample support to enable you to run them effectively.There are many little touches - such as a chart of 'Sights and Sounds' - to add flavour to proceedings.


After the investigative phase, the characters ought to feel moved to visit a decaying and decrepit manor house to pick up clues, and again there is a wealth of detail to make this a delightfully creepy exploration... even before they get down into a veritable dungeon underneath the house, and then the final part of the adventure leads them to a hidden cave deep within a cliff where they will (hopefully) thwart the cultists once and for all.


With plenty of traps and an abundance of mad inbred cultists to contend with, this is a classic and creepy adventure with plenty of brooding atmosphere.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Cult of the Bat God
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Retribution Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2016 08:38:31

This is a massive adventure which should allow successful first-level characters to make their mark... or find an early and chilly grave! The default setting is The Lonely Coast, a sparsely-populated frontier region just crying out for adventurers to explore it, which is available for free from Raging Swan Press, but it could just as easily be put in a suitable remote corner of your own campaign world.


To start off there's the customary masterclass in the anatomy of an encounter - if this is your first Raging Swan adventure, make sure to read it - followed by a brief introduction, complete with map, to the Lonely Coast. This introductory section also contains the background to the adventure, a synopsis of what ought to happen and notes on religion, for religious belief and betrayal lie at the very heart of this adventure. Two new faiths are presented here, but it is relatively trivial to substitute similar ones from your campaign or to just claim them as local to this particular area. Of particular note is how one cult, the Unalterable Way, takes the nice, fluffy, warm lawful good worship of Darlen and turns it into something grim and strict.


The adventure itself follows, falling into three sections. The first part, Sanctuary, involves actually getting to the Priory of Cymer, where the rest of the action is centred. It's no easy task as the weather has turned bad and is getting worse. Usefully, there are notes on how to deal with those parties who decide that the prudent thing is not to continue with the journey: the objective is to end with them trapped in the Priory as storms rage outside!


Once there, part two of the adventure is one of increasing isolation and fear as a dreadful plot is revealed, and part three leads the characters on a challenging delve deep below the Priory to put a stop to it. Throughout, detailed encounters replete with those little features that make the whole thing come alive are presented, complete with all the rules information you need to run them and plenty of hints and tips - everything from role-playing suggestions to troubleshooting unexpected party responses. Parts one and two of the adventure present mainly physical challenges, whilst part three is one of investigation, interaction and role-play. Thus there is plenty of opportunity for everyone to shine, whatever their preferences and talents.


The whole thing hangs together beautifully, a compelling dark tale to play out against rising winds and gusting snow. It's atmospheric with a real sense of danger, yet should the party prove successful they can bask in a real glow of satisfaction at having removed some evil from the world. You don't often get THAT at first level!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Retribution Collector's Edition
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00Games Presents: Weapon Cache Volume 01
Publisher: 00Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2016 08:41:40

Billed as '25 New and Amazing Magical Weapons for Your D&D 5e Game' this little product has a lot packed into its 12 pages. As the introduction states, they want to recreate the sort of wonder that magical items kindled in the hearts and minds of players reading Dungeons & Dragons for the first time. If you've been around since fantasy role-playing burst onto the scene 40 years ago, by now you will be more likely to assess an item for its usefulness - what bonus does it give? What normally invulnerable monsters can I hit with it? - rather than just stand all amazed at the idea of a sword that bursts into flame or has a mind of its own. One way to rekindle the wonder is, of course, to invent new items that are magical in more senses than the conventional ones, and this is what has been attempted here.


One way is by introducing little quirks. Perhaps YOUR magical sword, whilst on paper is the same as any other one with the same stats, looks different or has some unique characteristics or preferences. Maybe that ring only works if placed on the fourth finger of your right hand, and sulks if you wear it anywhere else (look, they've got me doing it now, that was a Megan original spawned as I typed...). It may even be a slight flaw, not severe enough to be a curse but which perhaps means you'll be a bit more likely to sell or give away the item to some unsuspecting fellow.


So each of the 25 weapons in this collection is provided with a name, weapon type (that Arcane Reaver might not be a sword like the picture, maybe it's a great big halberd!), an indication of how rare it is and why, and a paragraph or two explaining what it does. Then you get several optional quirks and flaws uniquely suited to the weapon in question. Imagine for instance a magic blowgun that automatically coats darts from an inexhaustible supply of acid, but which makes its user crave spicy food! Just to add to the amusement, the text is spattered with pithy quotes, usually from someone watching the weapon in question being used - how about "It was horrifying watching Brogan beat that enemy soldier to death. But towards the end of their fight I found myself tapping my foot in rhythm with his strikes..." - what sort of an image does that conjure up?


They are altogether rather fun, and well worth introducing to your campaign. None are so powerful as to unbalance your game, but they could make good items of loot in a dungeon or removed from the body of a fallen foe (especially after the party has had the 'pleasure' of being on the receiving end of the item during the brawl...). Definitely worth a look!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
00Games Presents: Weapon Cache Volume 01
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The One Ring - Journeys and Maps
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/06/2016 11:37:37

Whilst in many games, travelling to a place forms part of the adventure, in The One Ring the journey often IS the adventure, so this is a timely and useful addition to the game line. Anyway, I love maps!


So, let's start with the maps. They're glorious. And big - looking at the PDF version, on a large-screen PC, I'm not even getting 50% of them full-screen. There are four maps in total: Rohan & Gondor, Mordor, Wilderland and Eridor... but each comes in two forms, one for players and one for the Loremaster. The Loremaster version has loads of locations and other details, whilst the player version is the sort of thing a local cartographer might have made and sold to the Company when they were planning their next trip. A real delight to the eye, and practical for the game as well. The paper ones will no doubt look nice on your wall or enhance your tabletop when playing.


The set also contains a 32-page book which explains that Journeys and Maps is all about the adventures a company can have on their travels - chance encounters, hazards, natural events and more. The first chapter looks at travel by road, with plenty of ideas for things that might happen to the company arranged by region, making it easy to select the most appropriate event for them. Unfriendly locals, opportunistic thieves, or darkness lurking in a ruined farmhouse and more await... or they might just get lost! There are also suggestions about tailoring Hazards to specific regions, with a wealth of examples to get you started. Any can prove a momentary distraction, many have the potential to be developed into far more.


The next chapter deals with Boats and Ships. This provides just about everything you might want to know about travelling on the water rather than the land, with both river and sea journeys being discussed. There are notes on planning journeys, the types of vessel available... and of course hazards specific to the water.


The next section looks at things apart from hazards that can be used to enliven journeys. Here are interesting things to see, places to spend the night, fascinating people to talk to... not every encounter or event need be a bad one despite the abundance of hazards provided earlier.


The last chapter, Bones of the Earth, discusses ruins and explains how to design your own. Start by deciding who built it and what it was originally used for, then think about its present appearance and what it is being used for now. A whole bunch of ideas here. Finally, there is an Index of Locations covering everything that's been published to date, telling you both the book and the page number you'll need to consult to find out more.


Overall, this is a well-nigh essential aid for the Loremaster, and the maps are beautiful!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - Journeys and Maps
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Road of the Dead Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/05/2016 06:28:06

The original Road of the Dead was an impressive adventure, both in content and in presentation, so it's hard to see how it can be improved upon...


The adventure is located in Raging Swan's Lonely Coast campaign setting but, as it deals with remnants of a far-distant past just about everybody has forgotten about, it can be placed in a suitable location in your own campaign world with minimal effort. Before getting into the adventure, however, there is a very clear explanation of how encounters are set out showing you exactly where to find each item of information you might need whilst running it. A lot of people lay encounters out clearly, but actually explaining your methods in advance is a nice touch. Traps and monster stat blocks are similarly laid out in detail, and this is followed by an overview of the Lonely Coast, to enable you to establish the adventure's location easily, complete with a good map.


Next comes an Adventure Background and an Adventure Synopsis. The Background gives all the detail you need about the situation, and the Synopsis walks you through the intended sequence of events. There's a note about the best way to relocate the adventure if you don't want to use the Lonely Coast, and then more detail of the complex whose exploration forms the actual adventure, complete with a beautifully-detailed map that has a 'hand-drawn' feel. Several ideas are provided for why the characters come across this adventure, including blind chance (after all, it's over ten centuries old and most folks don't even know it's there!) as well as reasons for why they might be in the area about other concerns. Neat.


The adventure proper then begins, with everything you need to run the characters through finding the entrance... complete with pictures to show your players as well as detailed plans of each location. This is well-resourced indeed! Everything is very clear and detailed, you will not need to spend time rummaging through other books to find additional information.


The adventure itself is deliberately challenging for the intended Level 3 characters, partly because they have ample time to rest, regain spells, etc., as they explore and partly because, well, it's intended to be a dangerous place anyway. But the rewards are pretty good, especially for those who like - or know where they can sell - ancient artefacts and knowledge.


It is a well-devised and beautifully-presented dungeon crawl, with a coherent underlying rationale and plenty of exploration and combat to challenge the most determined adventurers. Moreover, it is not - as so many such adventures are - very linear, the characters have quite a lot of freedom in where they go and what they do whilst exploring the depths. There's an excellent atmosphere of treading ancient halls that have not been disturbed for countless generations... and even some follow-up activities if desired.


Some six pregenerated characters are provided, each with loads of detail, complete equipment, etc., not just some stats, should you wish to dive straight in to the adeventure; and there is a goodly amount of background material about the Lonely Coast setting so that you may place this adventure there even if you are not already familiar with it. All this makes it easy if you are looking for a one-off stand-alone adventure rather than one to slot in to an existing campaign.


It's a fun delve with a coherence often lacking in your average dungeon-crawl. Things, creatures, are where they are for a reason, not just because there was an empty patch on the map. That's the sort of thing that I like, a place to explore that actually works within the context of the shared alternate reality of the game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Road of the Dead Collector's Edition
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The Sunken Pyramid
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/04/2016 08:04:17

This may be the 'free' version but you get a lot for... well, nothing. It's a good way to take a look at the quality work Raging Swan Press does before shelling out your hard-earned cash for one of their adventures.


We start off with some humerous remarks from the publisher (who is also co-author) and the standard Raging Swan Press masterclass in the anatomy of an adventure (which is so good I'd say grab this even if you are not in search of an advenure right now, it will help you organise your own better!), then we move on to the adventure background. There's this strange sunken rock offshore, you see, and nobody's quite sure if it's natural or was constructed... and the background explains, for the GM's eyes, what actually is going on there and why it's so much of a threat right now.


Then it is explained that as the adventure involves exploring this sunken pyramid, as it's known, you can drop it pretty much into any suitable coastal area in your own campaign world - you can use a town there instead of White Moon Cove. However, with it being an underwater adventure, you'd better ensure that the characters have access to some means of breathing underwater, indeed, that they can swim! There's also an appendix on Underwater Combat that ought to come in handy. There are several plot hooks to get the party involved, or you can run an introductory encounter that takes place in White Moon Cove (or whatever settlement you are using in its place)... and there are even a couple of suggestions aimed at the more mercenary types who want to know what's in it for them if they undertake this dangerous exploration.


Next there is a timeline for the adventure, a neat device that gives the feel of events moving on irrespective of what the party is doing, and some quite extensive notes on sahuagin, some of whom will be encountered along the way. We then move on to White Moon Cove and there's sufficient detail for you to run that settlement... indeed all those little touches like completely unrelated rumours that serve to bring it to life. And a sketch map, so nobody need get lost.


Then the adventure begins, with the introductory encounter Night Raid. It's a bit of stirring action in its own right, as well as leading in to the adventure proper. To start with, of course, the party has to get to the sunken pyramid, which requires a sea-going boat. If they don't have one, arrangements are in place to have one turn up at a convenient moment (complete with a reason for the captain to cooperate). Once there, they need to swim down to it, some 30ft - a respectable SCUBA dive in the modern world, so you see the need for fantasy equivalents in the shape of spells or magic items. There's a neat cross-section of the pyramid to give you a feel for it, and the notes required to explore the uppermost level... if you want more than that, go buy the full version of this adventure!


As ever, a well-presented and resourced adventure. The one error I've spotted is that 'grizzly' is normally a term reserved for bears, when speaking of fates they are usually 'grisly'... but overall this is a good taste of what Raging Swan Press can do, so get it and have a look. Likely you'll be back for more...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Sunken Pyramid
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Dark Waters Rising
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/03/2016 10:28:14

In essence, this single-session adventure is a dungeon-crawl but one which incorporates time pressure caused by a flooding dungeon, tricky puzzles to circumvent, interesting terrain and lots of undead. If that's your thing, you are in for a treat!


An entertaining foreword from publisher Creighton Broadhurst and his customary masterclass on the anatomy of an encounter later, we reach the Introduction, which explains a little about the frontier village of Swallowfield, the jumping-off point for the adventure. Naturally, you can substitute a similar starting point from your own campaign world or - if you like the sound of the place, Raging Swan Press has a whole product devoted to it! Next is the Adventure Background which gives the rationale and backstory for the adventure, for the GM to read and understand. Basically, a concatination of unfortunate events lead to the collapse of a mill and the release of some undead which have been trapped for a long time... just when the party happens to be in town, of course!


There's an ancient crypt down there, you see, that nobody knew about... and the river that powered the mill is now threatening to flood the place and drown several villagers who fell into the hole or were captured by the undead. And presumeably the undead themselves, if they can drown, that is. That's the nature of this adventure, a race against the river to explore the crypt and rescue people.


There are notes on the Lonely Coast setting, which is where Swallowfield is to be found: this is a good introduction to the area, or provides indications as to a suitable equivalent in your campaign world, and a lot more information about Swallowfield itself, complete with a couple of maps showing both the village and the surrounding area. The adventure proper begins with the collapse of the mill into a sinkhole... which releases a load of ghouls which all appear to be spoiling for a fight. The intention is that the characters will be swept up in the action even before they are asked to investigate what lies beneath.


Several people are trapped in the wreckage and need rescuing, and the various options available to the party are laid out clearly - as are rules for fighting in water, which will come in useful later on. A map of the crypt - quite a small place, no wonder the ghouls want out - and detailed description follow, and the exploration may proceed without delay, necessary as the entire place will be completely flooded within 24 hours.


The wealth of detail about what's down there lifts a basic delve into something far more interesting and the time pressure of the water pouring in adds an edge to proceedings. It's a delightful way to ruin a nice quite afternoon in the local village for your party!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Waters Rising
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Dwellers Amid Bones
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2016 09:21:33

It appears that nothing is sacred: the burial cairn of an orc tribe has been utilised as a lair by a couple of drakes whose marauding has led the local lordling to ask the party to clear them out. That's the adventure in a nutshell, but of course there is quite a lot more than that!


There's quite an amusing foreword from the author where he explains that he has up to now avoided asking any party to fight undead AND dragons at the same time... and the customary masterclass in the anatomy of an encounter which every GM ought to read at least once. This adventure is designed to be run in a single session, so can make a good side adventure during the course of whatever major plotline you might be running.


The adventure background for the GM explains the history of the burial cairn - quite an advanced concept for normally savage and uncivilised orcs - which is probably of more interest to archaeologists and historians that your average adventurer, then we move on to look at how to introduce the adventure to the party. As mentioned above, the local lordling would like the problem dealt with and sends one of his staff to speak with them. Provision is made for Knowledge (local or history) checks to reveal more information and for asking the locals what they know, with an added twist if you happen to have any party members with orcish blood - rather neat it is, too!


The site that must be visited is a few days' travel away in the hills. It is a small underground complex, replete with detail... and the possibility of an unusual ally should the party choose to talk rather than fight upon encountering him. Part of the cave system is submerged which presents its own challenges. Several suggestions are nade as to further adventures stemming from this one, a nice way to embed even a side-adventure into your campaign.


Overall it presents a neat and believeable interlude with a few interesting choices to be made, particularly if you have half-orcs amongst your party.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dwellers Amid Bones
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Gibbous Moon
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/01/2016 10:54:32

The author's foreword extols the merits and usefulness of short 'filler' adventures during a long-running campaign, hence this adventure which is designed to be played in a single session. We begin, however, with Raging Swan Press's usual detailed analysis of encounter structure and stat blocks, showing you how everything fits together.


Then it's on with the backstory to the adventure for the GM. Various suggestions are made for involving the party, from merely coming across the hermitage that is the focus of their explorations in their travels to being hired to go there for a completely different reason from the main thrust of the adventure (neat!) or being in a village where there's been a bit of trouble concerning missing livestock and starting from there. If you choose either of the reasons, then you can spread rumours and encourage the characters to ask around a bit before they set out... some of the information they can gather might even be useful! Everything has been set up so that it can fit easily into your own campaign world - just find some village in a reasonably remote, frontier-style region. To make life easier, a couple of the series of villages published by Raging Swan Press are mentioned as suitable, if you don't have any of your own to hand.


Anyway, however you get the party there, they need to travel about six miles from the village to find the remote hermitage. The immediate surroundings as well as the hermitage itself are described in comprehensive detail, enabling you to make it come to life for your players. You even get little mannerisms to aid in roleplaying the people the party will meet - one, for example, licks his lips when he is nervous. Have fun with that...


Whilst a basic delve at a quick glance, there's a lot more depth to this adventure with a 'villain' who is in some measure quite sympathetic, and both he and others encountered can be talked to as well as fought... if that's what the party choose to do. The outcome of the adventure is thus left open-ended, it very much depends on what the characters decide to do about what they find. That gives a feeling of satisfaction, that they have some control over events, that their actions matter: neat. There are also some suggestions for follow-on adventures including not only the suggestion that they might like to settle in the hermitage themselves but what might happen if they do!


Overall, a neat and thought-provoking interlude to drop into an established campaign, well worth having to hand for that occasion when, for whatever reason, you need an evening's adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gibbous Moon
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Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2016 10:28:22

Billed as a 1st-level adventure and suitable for starting off your campaign, this is almost a mini-campaign in its own right with the added advantage of providing a place suitable for the party to use as a base if they fancy doing so. There's a lot packed into these pages!


We start with evidence of the mature and ordered design process that typifies Raging Swan Press product in the shape of a set of notes detailing how to understand the anatomy of an encounter. This shows the various components, and then goes through them explaining how to read the details presented and use them to effect. If you like writing your own materials, it's worth studying these to help you structure them effectively, especially if you want other people to be able to run them. Don't be baffled by a stat block or flounder when the party wants to identify what they've found ever again!


We then move on to the background to the adventure. Whilst this is summarised here for the GM, much of it can be discovered by the players either by research and rumour-hunting before their characters set off or through the adventure itself. The keep - whose proper name is Ironwolf Keep, but few people call it that - is situated on a hilltop in the middle of a dense forest, a bit off the beaten track, and whilst the Keep and its immediate surroundings are well detailed, it is designed so that you can drop it into any appropriate location in your own campaign world.


Next comes the introduction to the adventure. There are several ideas that you can use to get it off to a flying start, pick whichever you think will appeal to your party. Once you have them hooked, there are two ways to find out more: a character may roll on Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (history) if he has them to recall some information, or anyone can ask around and pick up some rumours about the place... not all of which are true, but what do you expect of gossip picked up in taverns? Armed with whatever they manage to find out, the party then needs to reach the Keep so there's a section about woodland travel and the dangers that they might encounter... including a bear and wolves, as well as other creatures that may be less friendly. There's plenty of those little details that make the whole thing come to life as well.


This attention to detail continues throughout the rest of the adventure, which falls into four parts: The Watchtower, the Donjon, the Realm of the Blood Moon and the Undercrypt - all parts of Ironwolf Keep itself. In nature this adventure is pretty much of a sandbox with the party free to explore as they please... yet in a neat embellishment there is a 'timeline' of what is going on in and around the Keep, things that will happen irrespective of what the party is doing, but which gives that air of reality - this is a living setting which will carry on regardless of what the characters do or even if they are still there. It's a really nice touch, and something worth considering for your own adventures (or even for adding in to published ones, if that's what you prefer). Yes, the party are the heroes of THIS story, but there are other stories going on around them.


Each area of the Keep is described in detail making it very easy to picture in the mind's eye - and so describe it to the players. Further aid is given in a series of handouts including illustrations you can use as 'This is what you see' as the party explores. Throughout, there are various options as to what they can do, with the ramifications explained clearly. These touches would make it easy for a novice GM to run, yet serve to enhance the ease of play even if you are no stranger to that side of the screen. There are opportunities aplenty for combat, but also times when stopping to talk could prove to the party's advantage.


If the party is so minded, once cleared the Keep could make a good base for them, and you could build future adventures around them settling in and then using it as a base from which to explore their surroundings and seek excitement and profit... or they may prefer to loot what they can and move on. If the entire place is explored and cleared, the party should be 3rd-level by the time they are done. And there are plenty of little snippets scattered here and there to spawn ideas for further adventures.


Overall, if you are looking to start a campaign from scratch in a temperate frontier-type setting, this would be ideal. There are even nine pre-generated characters for your players to choose from if they'd rather jump straight into the action than roll up their own, each fulled armed and equipped and ready for play. This is truly a campaign start in a single package.



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Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands
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Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (Free Version)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2016 13:04:42

This is intended as a 'teaser' for the full Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands adventure, but contains quite a lot in its own right. There's certainly enough there to let you decide if this adventure is for you and your group of players... reading through it certainly makes me want for more!


As is common to Raging Swan Press product, there's a very logical and ordered approach, starting with an extensive analysis of how encounters are designed and presented as well as their customary page on how to read a stat block correctly. This advice dispensed, on to the adventure background - and this is the background to the WHOLE adventure, not this cut-down version. It tells the history of Ironwolf Keep, known these days as the Shadowed Keep and why it now stands ruined. Although of itself very detailed, its surroundings and location are left vague so that you can put it somewhere convenient within your own campaign world. You just need a handy hilltop surrounded by dense woodlands to put it on.


Next come some hooks to get the party interested - choose whichever seems best to you - and some rumours and information that they can pick up if they ask around before diving in to the adventure proper. The next part deals with the approach to the Keep, which is somewhat off the beaten path. This provides opportunity for some woodland travel, enlivened with the presence of a bear, some wolves and other potential dangers.


Once the Keep is reached, there's an overview description along with a nice sketch (which is repeated in the handouts section so you can show it to the players easily). Likewise there's a sketched plan with both marked and unmarked versions. Before launching into detailed descriptions of locations there is another nice touch: a timeline of what is going on in the Keep and vicinity. It's intended that this should run irrespective of what the party are doing, a neat reminder that life goes on no matter what they might do, even when they are not there at all!


There are notes on how to use the timeline as well as ideas for further adventures (most of which assume you have played the full adventure, not just explored the surface ruins presented in this version). Then come the detailed descriptions of the above-ground part of the ruined keep, a section entitled Donjon of Ruin. There's a fair bit to explore... indeed, this could make an adventure in its own right! It's quite amazing to have this much detail in something intended as a free taster for an even bigger adventure. Each location is covered in considerable detail, all laid out clearly making it easy to describe the location to the players and administer whatever events take place there.


As an adventure, this would prove an interesting interlude, as the introduction to an even bigger scenario... well, it certainly makes you hungry for the rest of it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (Free Version)
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Dark Oak
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2016 11:42:51

The backstory to this adventure sets the scene for the GM: a dastardly druid, a distraught treant and a bunch of inbred lizardfolk creating a fetid mix that attempted to bring woe on a village near the swamp in which they dwelt many years ago... and it looks as if they have resumed hostilities, given recent evidence of attacks. Once you've got that straight, there's a synopsis as to how the adventure might play out, and then we're off!


The actual locations used in the adventure are richly detailed, but their surroundings are not: thus it is easy to set it anywhere suitable in your own campaign world - just find some swampy woodlands and you are good to go. It's also self-contained enough to make a good one-off game, you ought to be able to run it in an evening's play.


Several hooks are provided, you can choose whatever seems best to get the party interested. What's even nicer is a selection of 'pre-hooks' - rumours that you can sprinkle into your campaign in advance of running this adventure that set the scene for when you do decide to unleash it. Getting the party to the lair is, however, otherwise left up to you - although some unpleasant splashing through a smelly swamp is recommended.


Once the party has arrived at the location the detail kicks in. It's not a nice place to live, dank and smelling of mud (and probably worse) and with a river actually flowing through it. There's a wealth of information about the lair and its residents, making it all come to rather unpleasant life and giving you everything you need to run the party's exploration and every encounter. At least twice, encounters are written two ways: one way should the party decide to fight and one way should they choose to try negotiations first. (Of course, if talks break down you can always go into fight mode.) Detailed stat blocks and tactical notes are provided, along with scaling notes if your party is more or less capable than the four 5th-level characters for which the adventure is intended.


Handouts/play aids provided include an unlabelled map of the lair (with or without a grid), details of magic items that may be found and copies of some of the artwork to use as 'this is what you see' when certain individuals are encountered. There are also six pre-generated characters, should you be running this as a one-off and are in a hurry to get going. Two new magic items and a couple of drugs/diseases are also included.


Fancy seeing your party splash through a fetid swamp? This is for you!



Rating:
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Dark Oak
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2300AD: Atlas of the French Arm
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2016 13:28:06

In the French Arm, you'll find the oldest, richest colonies, many of big enough and strong enough to survive as nations in their own right. Here is a mammoth work, atlas and gazetteer and source of many an adventure idea, to fuel your party's explorations and adventures here.


Exploring the French Arm, the first chapter, gives an overview of the history and current state of affairs. It all paints a picture of a living dynamic area, with various tensions and problems arising, being resolved or then fading away again, layering to create the present-day situation. It also shows how the use of languages has followed, with both French and English being useful for the would-be spacefarer.


This follows on naturally into the next section, Conflict on the French Arm. To start with, things were peaceful with exploration rather than conflict occupying people's minds, but of late things have become more contentious. Many conflicts have their origin in squabbles back on Earth that have spilled over to space, with colonies perpetuating the differences begun on Earth and indeed sometimes acting as their proxies. There have also been minor skirmishes as different factions and groups have butted heads. Most recently, however, the source of conflict has come to the Arm with the ever-mounting threat posed by the Kaefers.


Next is a chapter on Organisations, those extra-governmental entities that have a profound effect along the French Arm, influencing policies and decision making across over a dozen systems and countless worlds. Many are commercial in nature, massive corporations that rival governments in scope and influence. Some are 'private security companies' - mercenaries for hire, in other words. There are also those organisations lumped together under the term 'foundations' being any non-governmental, non-commercial group. Several dedicate themselves to 'pure science' or so the PR goes, although they're not backwards in monetising their discoveries. And of course there are terrorists, outlaws and organised crime, pushing their 'cause' or merely lining their own pockets at everyone else's expense. In some way, most of these will impact on anyone visiting the French Arm - suppliers, employers, enemies or allies... or just names in a news bulletin.


Then comes a chapter entitled Libertines. These are the folk who occupy a niche on the spacelanes equivalent to where Romany or Gypsies or Travellers fit in on Earth. It's a fascinating web of relationships and concepts, wrapped up and living in space, roving the French Arm although they are actually more prevalent in the Chinese Arm. Families are at the core of their culture, with ships crewed and run by extended families, some of whom we meet here. In similar vein the next chapter deals with the Belters, those fiercely independent souls who mine asteroid belts for whatever valuable materials they can find.


Next we hear of Mysteries of the French Arm. The tall tales you hear in spacer bars. Strange ruins predating exploration. Unidentified alien objects, some being actual artefacts, others glimpses in the distance... and this leads neatly in to a chapter on Intelligent Life, there being at least three known non-human intelligent races to be found in the French Arm - the Pentapods, the Kaefers and the Arbors.


Scene now set we move on to the Atlas proper. In the fairly large volume of space there are but twelve inhabited colony worlds, with many systems lacking really habitable worlds although many sport outposts. There's a quite lengthy discourse on 'planetology', the science of describing star systems, showing what the various descriptors applied in the Atlas to follow mean. First up, however, are the Outposts - small settlements that are not fully-fledged colonies in their own right but which serve as way-stations on the route to someplace else or which have other purposes.


The listing of outposts is followed by a chapter on Colonies, which introduces the twelve colony worlds. They then get a chapter apiece, with all the information you need to understand what they'd be like to visit in the course of your adventures. For each, there is system data, notes on each planet and the settlements upon them, then the history, native wildlife and more about the mainworld that is the colony itself. Maps, weather charts, a wealth of detail to enable your party to visit or even settle there.


This raises the question: is this a book for all players or the referee alone? The answer is, probably a bit of both. Most of the information here could be researched by an interested character, some at least will be covered in a normal education or is the sort of thing you pick up if you pay attention to documentaries and travel shows. It's possibly best to restrict access a bit, but when direct enquiries are made be open about the information that answers that enquiry... but no more. Make players work for the information, but provide it when they do.


Finally there is a chapter called Exploratory Worlds. This provides details of just a few of the worlds that have charted but barely visited yet - ideal for a game in which exploration of new worlds is to be a feature. There's enough here to get you started and plenty of scope to develop them however you wish.


In short, this is a massive and excellent resource for anyone planning games set in the French Arm. It makes you want to take ship and visit forthwith...



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2300AD: Atlas of the French Arm
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