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Monsters Macabre (Cryptworld)
Publisher: Goblinoid Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2016 12:26:21

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/-
09/23/tabletop-review-cryptworld-monsters-macabre/

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Monsters Macabre is the first supplement for Cryptworld, the spiritual successor to the first and second editions of Chill. This is not to be confused with the actual Chill, Third Edition which has the legal rights to the game’s name, but none of soul from the previous Pacesetter and/or Mayfair versions. My strong advice would be to forgo Chill 3e and instead purchase Cryptworld. it’s closer to the original spirit of the game, has better art, and costs less money. You can read my review of the Cryptworld core rulebook here. That way, we can get more supplements like Monsters Macabre, which was a mild success on Kickstarter that deserved more attention AND more money.


Monsters Macabre is essentially the game’s Monster Manual. There are seventy-one monsters to be found in the pages of this supplement, which should keep you busy for a while. Some of these are classic monsters like Banshees, Minotaurs, Gargoyles, Mothman, Liches and Mad Scientists. These are things you would normally expect to find as antagonists in a RPG, be it fantasy or modern horror. Then there are some that are less unexpected but fit the theme of Cryptworld perfectly. These are creatures like the Plague Bat which a giant bat that well… eats people and spreads virulent diseases. I’d also include things like the Headless Huntsman, Incan Mummies, La Llorona and the Vapour From Space into that category. Then you have the really weird things that even veteran gamers might not see coming. These are the creatures that are just so weird and unexpected that they are perfect to throw into a game because how the heck can you prepare for a monster like the Batsquatch, Mongolian Death Worm, Murdermobile or the Creeping Eye? As long as you can craft an adventure where these creatures make sense, you’re sure to knock both the players and their characters for a loop when they finally encounter them.


Every creature in Monsters Macabre is well done. There is a nice balance between background text and stat block, so you get a real sense of how to run one of these monsters and how difficult a time the PCs will have in dispatching them. Obviously no GM will use everything creature in Monsters Macabre, but anyone who is even remotely interested in Cryptworld will want to grab this supplement as it really adds to the overall feel of the game. Plus, less work for the GM who previously had to design his or her own monsters outside of the few in the core rulebook.


There is more to Monsters Macabre than just stat blocks for monsters though. There are five other sections of the book to consider. “It’s Alive!” talks about how to build your own things for Cryptworld. It’s some advice on designs stats, background information and how much experience to dole out once the thing has been dispatched. Meanwhile “Play Things” gives you advice on having monsters as PCs. Of course, Cryptworld is designed to be humans facing evil monsters, but this section gives you ways to work around that. Here you can get a feel for how the game would play if the PCs are sympathetic monsters or if they are playing irredeemably evil horrors as the regular version of Cryptworld supposes. Either way can be a lot of fun if you have the right mix of players and GM. There are also steps for creating a monster PC including the way that they will earn and spend XP. For those of you who like a lot of mechanics and rules – you’ll find a lot here in regards to monster PCs. What to do when there are witnesses to the creature, mundane reaction tables, what to do when a monster is outed to the general public and more. It’s all stuff I personally won’t use as I’ll keep monster PCs to World of Darkness games, but what’s here is really well thought out and written. There’s some good stuff here and it will really change the dynamic of your Cryptworld game.


Section Five is “Random Organizations. This is two pages of tables that will allow you to roll up that are helping, hunting or harming monsters. Section Six is “Tangled Threads” This is a full adventure for Crypt Masters (I wish it was Cryptkeepers) to run for players. It’s a quick one-shot adventure where the PCs must investigate a spooky house that seems connected to four disappearances in small-town Pennsylvania. Of course, this being Cryptworld, there is something not quite natural at the root of the problem.


Monsters Macabre is an excellent supplement and should make most Cryptworld fans very happy. I’m very happy with what is here and I know I more than got my money’s worth out of this release. Here’s hoping we don’t go another two years before we get the next Cryptworld release though.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monsters Macabre (Cryptworld)
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Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/18/2016 10:15:12

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/05/tabletop-review-in-
to-the-unknown-the-dungeon-survival-handbook-dungeons-dragon-
s/


I’m not really a big fan of the Underdark or Drow, so I’ve been sitting out a lot of the recent Dungeons & Dragons products and encounters. I was more than happy to review Into the Unknown, however, as I haven’t had the opportunity since Heroes of the Elemental Chaos. I also loved the idea of a Dungeon Survival Handbook. In my mind, it brought me back to the days of First Edition and both the Wilderness and Outdoor Survival Handbooks. I’m surprised they haven’t done a book like this before, and after reading it, I’m hoping this becomes a book for D&D Next as well. Lately, the things I’ve seen come out for Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Labyrinth Lord and other D&D derivatives have been about big deep dungeons with little to no story. It’s as if all people for those lines wants is one big long hack and slash experience. That’s not what I want from a tabletop game – that’s what I get from video games. I want a thematically interesting dungeon. Why is the dungeon there? What purpose does it serve? Why am I going into this dank dark pit in the first place? Well, apparently I’m not in the minority, because the entirety of Into the Unknown is about making a memorable dungeon that is all about Role-Playing rather than roll-playing.


The book is divided into three chapters and two appendices. Let’s take a look at each one and see what makes a book a must buy for any 4e fan.


Chapter 1: Dungeon Delvers


This chapter highlights seven new Character Themes, three new playable character races and then wraps up with nearly twenty pages of new powers for various classes, skills and themes. Wizards of the Coast has gone all out here, and this chapter is the one that players and DMs alike will want to read through.


The new character themes are Bloodsworn, Deep Delver, Escaped Thrall, Trapsmith, Treasure Hunter, Underdark Envoy and Underdark Outcast. Remember that Themes do not replace core concepts like race and character class. Instead, a theme is just added onto the overall character, and lets you have a few new options for powers as you level up. Bloodsworn reminds me a lot of the old “favored enemy” aspect of the Ranger, although you don’t actually get bonuses against one specific race. Instead, attacks are just more likely to hit, and when they do, they are accompanied by more damage. A Deep Delver is specifically someone who goes dungeon diving. This class really gets the most benefit out of a high Dungeoneering skill, as you can re-roll missed checks, and even use it instead of a few other skill rolls instead. An Escaped Thrall is just what you think: Someone who once worked for a mind flayer or something other aberration and managed to break free of its control. Choosing this theme lets you have an emo background, along with some nice psychic bonuses. Definitely consider tying this theme into a psion. A Trapsmith is an expert at building and dismantling traps. In-game, this nets you special benefits towards resisting traps and even inflicting some on attacking enemies. A Treasure Hunter is self explanatory. The core bonuses with this theme aren’t combat related at all, which surprised me, as I thought they would be things like faster movement in a room with obvious treasure or a free action of taking items in addition to move and attack. Instead, it’s a free Skill Focus or bonuses checks related to ONE specific item at a time. Treasure Hunter is definitely the weakest of the new themes. Underdark Envoy is all about political intrigue. With this Theme, you get bonuses to things like Streetwise, Bluff and diplomacy. It’s a neat choice for the talker in your group. Finally, we have the Underdark Outcast. This is basically a person who is cast out from his original home, village, clan or whatever and is forced to take up residence in the Underdark. The powers here are more than a little odd, as the first one nets you a bonus to attacks when you are all alone from allies. That can come in handy at times, but we all know the “Don’t Split the Party” rule. At later levels, you get bonuses to healing, Endurance and Dungeoneering checks.


All in all, five of the seven new themes are pretty good. Treasure Hunter is pretty much crap and Trapsmith is cute but not very useful compared to the others. Underdark Enovy and Dungeon Delver are my favorites in terms of what you get as Utility and Optional Powers, but remember that the theme you choose also is a big part of your character’s past, so go for what fits the story you want to tell rather than power-gaming.


The three new character races listed in Chapter One are goblin, kobold and Svirfneblin (Deep Gnome). I was very intrigued by the Deep Gnome because you rarely see that as a PC race. I think I’ve only seen it in The Book of Humanoids and 3Es Forgotten Realms handbook. I’m more shocked that it took until now to get stats, powers and the like for a PC goblin and/or kobold. That seems like something that should have happened towards the start of 4e, not the tail end of it. Well, better late than never. Goblins basically get a lot of dirty fighting attacks, some of which even cause fellow PCs to take damage for them! Kobold Utility Powers are all about movement and grid management. Deep Gnome racial powers are all over the place, from temporary hit points and camouflage to outright turning invisible and summoning earth elementals! Wow. The Deep Gnome is definitely overpowered, but also pretty awesome.


The last twenty pages of Chapter One contain forty different powers for previous classes. I wish they were organized by class, skill or something other than theme because players and DMs will have to flip repeatedly through these pages to find what they are looking for. It’s just not very organized.


Chapter 2: Strive to Survive


Chapter Two is all about helping the DM craft a memorable dungeon-based experience. PCs can get use out of some sections, but really it’s all about setting the mood and setting up a dungeon for play. There aren’t any stats or rules in Chapter Two to speak of, but it’s all very heavy on substance. Think of it as a collection of essays from industry vets on how to make and play a dungeon that your players will talk about long after they have finished (or died in) the adventure. A lot of this chapter might feel like fluff or like it doesn’t cover the topic contained therein too deeply, and that’s a valid opinion. After reading it a few times, I believe it was written this way to get you interested in purchasing other books on the topic. After all, if the bit on Beholders interests you, there’s always a Monster Manual or three you can buy that goes into more depth about these aberrations.


The chapter starts off with the “Five Rules of Dungeon Delving.” These rules actually apply to any tabletop RPG. They are: Don’t split the party, map everything, gear up, track in-game time & know when to turn back. These are as applicable in something like Shadowrun or Call of Cthulhu as they are ion Dungeons & Dragons.


Expert Delving Tactics covers the basics of dungeon exploring. You might think this is all common sense, but remember: Common sense isn’t all that common. This section talks about dealing with natural darkness, finding secret doors, remembering to stop for rest and food, and the importance of stealth in a never before explored location o’ doom. I also really enjoyed how the chapter picked apart some of the stupider ploys PCs will try to get through a dungeon safely, like bring a herd of animals in to set off traps and the like.


Dungeon Types just gives you a long list of various dungeons and what the inherent dangers and rewards of each are. After all, a crypt will be a very different experience from a ruined castle that phases between two different planes of reality which in turn will be different still from an underground labyrinth. This is ten pages of pure information to help your imagination soar as you design the perfect test of your PCs skill and strength.


Dungeon Denizens is simply a brief rundown of monsters that tend to live in dungeons, especially underground ones. You’ve got aboleths, carrion crawlers, hook horrors, mind flayers, various oozes, purple worms, rust monsters, stirges, umber hulks and more here. Each monster gets between one and three paragraphs of description. It’s not much, but this is meant to help a DM realize what creatures should go where. Nothing more and nothing less.


Infamous Dungeons is my favorite section of the entire book. Not only does it discuss the eight most memorable dungeons from all corners of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse, but it gives you their history and evolution from old school basic D&D to modern day play. You’re getting a taste of how the story for each starts, but then the book encourages you to either go out and get the old adventures, or take the plot hook and make your own adventures with them. I have to admit, when I turned to this section and saw the old school First Edition art from Ravenloft, my heart skipped a beat. So wonderful. What are the dungeons included in this book? Well in order you have: Castle Ravenloft, the Ghost Tower of Inverness, The Lost City, The Pyramid of Amun-Re, White Plume Mountain, The Tomb of Horrors, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and The Gates of Firestorm Peak. Wow. It was so much fun to read about each of these and how they have changed from their original incarnation to their last remake (if there have been any). It’s no surprise, with D&D Next being more a throwback to first and second edition AD&D, that Wizards felt like giving a little history lesson here.


Chapter Two concludes with a section entitled Dungeoneers’ Tools, which contains a list of all the important items to take with you in a dungeon, along with some new items for use in your game. All in all, this is a pretty good chapter, and although there isn’t a lot of in-game information here, this chapter is fertile ground for any DM worth their salt.


Chapter 3: Master of the Dungeon


Chapter Three is comprised of four sections: Involving the Characters, Creating an Underdark Adventure, Dungeon Makers and Special Rewards. All of these are exactly what they sound like, but it’s worth taking a quick look at each of them.


Involving the Characters reinforces the themes of the book – that a truly great dungeon needs a truly great story to go with it. Otherwise it won’t be memorable or stand the test of time. This section helps you hook character themes to the story and how to make sure characters have choices instead of just going from room to room in a linear fashion. I also liked the two pages devoted towards how to make interesting puzzles/mysteries for PCs to solve rather than obscure crap that only makes sense to the one who created them. As a long time point and click PC adventure game fan, this section felt like it was plucked directly out of that gaming genre. It was also great to see the book talk about how to get around puzzles PCs can’t solve rather than saying, “Well, adventure’s over.”


Creating an Underdark Adventure is similar to the previous section, but it is specifically tailored to, well… playing in the Underdark. As I’m not a fan of the setting, nothing here interested me personally, but it was well-written and should be of help to DMs that really love to use the Drow. It contains ideas for stories, skill challenges, issues with light sources and more.


Dungeon Makers is a ten page section on the races or groups that might make a dungeon and why they do it. I loved that they devoted a piece to minotaurs, as they usually get overlooked. They also threw in Yuan-Ti and Kou-Toa, which I thought was a nice touch, as well as outside the box. The other races are the usual fare: Drow, Dwarves, Duegar, insane cults and wizards looking for a place to research or hold weird experiments.


The final section in Chapter Three is Special Rewards. It is divided into two topics. The first are rare but powerful scrolls like Mass Heal and Wish. I think this is the first appearance of Wish in 4e, and it’s interesting to see it here. The other topic is about dungeon companions, where you gain a special ally to serve/work/ally with your character. A few examples are given, but perhaps the most famous is Meepo, a kobold that gained particular prominence in 3e.


Appendix 1: Build Your Own Dungeon


This is just four pages on tips and tricks to help you figure out what you want out of a homebrew dungeon. It’s exceptionally informative, but perhaps the best part is that half page sidebar to close things out by the late, great Gary Gygax. In those two paragraphs he puts the art of combining a story with a dungeon crawl better than nearly everyone before or after him. I can’t think of a better way to end this section.


Appendix 2: Random Dungeons


Okay, this is pretty cool. The last five pages of the book are devoted to a random dungeon generator> I loved all the tables here. Not only did it remind me of old school First Edition AD&D where there was a table for everything, it really explains how to use a random generator rather than just simply rolling as an equivalent to throwing crap at a wall and seeing what sticks. This should be a lot of help to younger or less experienced DMs or anyone that prefers to use premade adventures and has never really tried to create their own. Using this won’t be the most amazing dungeon crawl ever devised, but it will help you take those first steps into adventure design.


All in all, I’m very happy with this book. Even if 4e isn’t your D&D edition of choice, there’s a lot of great ideas in this book that can be used by any DM. It’s very friendly to any fantasy RPG of choice (save for the specific game mechanics in the first chapter). If you’re a 4e fan, you’ll definitely want to consider picking up this book for the sheer wealth of ideas it contains. Even if you’re not using Fourth Edition, flip through Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook; you might just like what you see.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (4e)
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Legacy of the Crystal Shard (Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2015 17:55:14

Originally posted at: http://diehard-
gamefan.com/2013/12/04/tabletop-review-legacy-of-the-crystal-
-shard-dungeons-dragons/


Legacy of the Crystal Shard is the second Sundering adventure which helps take the world’s oldest role-playing game franchise from Fourth Edition into D&D Next, which is Fifth Edition. Besides the first Sundering adventure, Murder in Baldur’s Gate, there has been three novels based on the event (with three more to come). If you’re interested they are The Companions by R.A. Salvatore, The Godborn by Paul Kemp and The Adversary by Erin Evans. Click on through to read my reviews of each one if you are interested.


Like Murder in Baldur’s Gate, Legacy of the Crystal Shard is far more than a mere adventure that you open up and play with your friends. Rather it’s a huge collection of pieces that really helps to justify the MSRP of the collection. You get a thirty-one page adventure, a sixty-three page campaign guide to Icewind Dale and a nice DM screen. All of this is wrapped in an EXTREMELY FLIMSY slipcover that is guaranteed to be ripped, lost or outright destroyed sooner rather than later due to how thin it is. The slipcover is nice and glossy with some gorgeous artwork, but Wizards really should have sprang for better materials on this, especially since this is the piece that holds everything together. Murder in Baldur’s Gate had the same problem though, so it appears this is a trend Wizards is hellbent on continuing despite my (and practically everyone else’s) complaints about the slipcover. The good news is that the slipcover is really the only bad thing about the collection as much like the first Sundering adventure, Wizards has put together a pretty impressive and high quality package, making Legacy of the Crystal Shard one of their best releases in many years.


First up – let’s look at the DM Screen. This thing is a work of art. Usually I think DM screens are silly, but the ones for The Sundering have really impressed me. In this package you get a four panel screen made out of very glossy and thick paper. This is the material I wish the slipcover was made out of instead of the tissue-like substance they actually used. The front of the cover (which players can see) contains three different maps. The center two panels make up one giant map of ten towns. It’s a very simple, rudimentary map, but then again, Ten Towns is a very simple, rudimentary locale with very little terrain, roads or distinguishing features (except for snow and ice of course). The other two panels contain a more in-depth look of one city and then a smaller look at the tinier towns in the community. The right panel (from DM’s point of view) highlights Bryn Shader and then touches on Bremen, Targos, Termalaine and Lonelywood while the left side focuses on Easthaven and has tiny supplemental maps of Dougan’s Tale, Good Mead, Caer-Dineval and Caer-Konig. On the inside of the screen is a map of all of Icewind Dale, along with some names (and corresponding pictures) of the big NPCs from the adventure part of the package. One panel is devoted to nothing but random encounter charts. There are eight different charts – each one for a different locations around Icewind Dale. The third panel contains a chart of how long it gets from one location to another. These are very helpful in fleshing out the area and will get a lot of use in the time based adventure piece of the collection. Finally we have some more tables on the fourth panel which range from name generators for Ten Town inhabitants to surprising weather conditions. All in all, this is one of the finer DM screens I’ve seen material wise and every bit of it is of use to players and the DM alike when running an Icewind Dale based campaign.


Like the first Sundering adventure, the best part of Legacy of the Crystal Shard is by far the campaign guide. These campaign guides have been some of the best offering from Wizards in the past two editions and they are by far the most comprehensive pieces in the history of Dungeons & Dragons for the locations they cover. The campaign book is sixty-three pages and every page is just amazing content that a DM from any edition can really make use of. Sure the adventure is set in the time period between fourth and fifth edition, but the information goes all the way back to the origins of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, so even first and second edition AD&D fans will be able to get their money’s worth out of just this piece alone. In addition to copious amounts of information on Ten-Towns, there is a synopsis of The Crystal Shard which was the first Drizzt novel (writing-wise, not chronologically) and a look at many movers and shakers outside of the towns. The barbarian tribes, local dwarf communities, the Arcane Brotherhood and other groups are highlighted in detail here. There is so much content in the campaign book, that you could easily create well over a dozen homebrew adventures for the region without touching the actual adventure packet in this collection. It is worth nothing that unlike Murder in Baldur’s Gate which really focused on the old Second Edition AD&D video games about the region, this campaign guide to Icewind Dale doesn’t bring up any of the either of the two video games that bear the same name. It’s a shame as with the renewed emphasis on demons and devils in 4e and Next, Belhifet would have been a find choice to rear his head somewhere in this collection. If you’re a fan of the Icewind Dale region at all, you’re going to want to pick up Legacy of the Crystal Shard for the campaign guide alone. It’s truly magnificent and I can’t say enough good words about this piece. Trust me when I say the best Campaign Setting award for 2013 will either be going to this or Murder in Baldur’s Gate.


Finally, let’s talk the adventure collection. I know the package says adventure on the cover and in the description, but it’s actually a full campaign, similar to how Murder in Baldur’s Gate was actually comprised of ten adventures. It will take you roughly a dozen sessions to play out Legacy of the Crystal Shard to its end, and even then you may have some dangling plot threads or new potential stories that spring off this collection. The adventure book itself is system neutral meaning it has no stats or mechanics of any kind within it. If you go online to the Sundering website you can find monster stats for 3.5, Fourth and Next versions of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s buried a bit so instead of making you dig through the site for the downloads, just go here. Like Murder in Baldur’s Gate I’m surprised and disappointed that Second Edition AD&D stats aren’t included as well especially as both adventures rely most heavily of seminal and iconic events that took place (and used) that system. Ah well, as the adventure is system neutral, you can easily adapt Legacy of the Crystal Shard to either version of AD&D or even OD&D. Hell, you can adapt it to an entirely different system to if you want, ranging from 13th Age to Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s the beauty of not having stats in this piece.


The actual adventure is a three-pronged affair. There are three different major antagonists, each with their own vile plan for Icewind Dale and the communities that make up Ten-Towns. The Arcane Brotherhood plans to conquer the region through political means. The Chosen of Auril plans to decimate the region and increase the power (and worship) of her Goddess and an ancient evil well known to long time fans of Icewind Dale rears its head once more – this time as one of the undead. Players will have to try and take care of the schemes and best they can in the ensuing chaos that envelopes the region. The adventure is an open world one, meaning players can more or less take care of things in the order they want, but that in doing so, repercussions are felt. Players will really only have time to deal with two of the three threats to Icewind Dale, meaning one big bad gets to see their schemes come to fruition. Of course players, don’t know this and as a result, one faction is far more powerful when they finally face it, which not only helps to make the player choices feel all the more important but also means the adventure gets more challenging no matter how they choose to let things unfold. Now Legacy of the Crystal Shard isn’t completely open world. There is a set beginning and ending much like most adventures, but as the vast majority of the campaign can unfold six different ways when played six different times, this means a DM can really get their use out of the collection. Maybe one team will seek to deal with the Ice Witch first and foremost while the a less combat oriented party ends up tackling the more political/subterfuge based plotlines first. There is no right or wrong here and the end result is a really great adventure that fans of D&D will remember for a long time to come. In fact the only downside to the adventure is that it is supposedly designed for Levels 1-3, but last I check Icingdeath was NOT something you wanted to face when you are just starting out. You might want to bump the adventure up a few levels, especially if you plan to play this before or after Murder in Baldur’s Gate.


Overall, Legacy of the Crystal Shard is an amazing collection that is sure to make any D&D fan happy – regardless of what edition they love best. The adventure packet is long enough to keep your party busy for weeks or even months (depending on how often you get together) and it can easily be adapted to whichever version of the game you want. You’ll have to go online to get monster stats for 3.5, 4e or Next but that’s not really that big of a deal. Now in a few years if you need to redownload things and Wizards of the Coast no longer has them available – THEN you have a problem. The campaign guide and the DM screen are the two best pieces of this collection and the campaign guide alone is worth the asking price for this set. You can get the entire collection on Amazon for only twenty bucks right now, which is an incredible deal that I heartily recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the Suffering Icewind Dale or D&D Next. Sure the slipcover is tissue paper thin and will be shredded by you sooner rather than later, but everything else about this collection is simply fantastic. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this high on D&D branded releases, but so far the Sundering adventure collections are amongst the best releases of 2013, regardless of tabletop branding. Pick this up today and see why firsthand.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legacy of the Crystal Shard (Next)
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Castles & Crusades Lost City of Gaxmoor
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/12/2015 15:25:20

Originally posted at: http://diehardgam-
efan.com/2015/06/05/tabletop-review-the-lost-city-of-gaxmoor-
-castles-crusades/


Most Kickstarters run for thirty days. Troll Lord Games however decided to run a very short campaign (only 17 days) for The Lost City of Gaxmoor. It worked out for them though, garnering 446 backers (the second most out of their ten campaigns) and netting nearly $22,000 – far more than the $4.500 they originally sought. What helped make Gaxmoor such a success considering it had such a short campaign life? Well, three things. The first is that simply put Castles & Crusades is awesome. You can check out the many reviews I’ve done of products for the game (most of them are positive) here. The second reason why this was a success is because The Lost City of Gaxmoor is actually a remake from when Troll Lord games published d20 products instead of using their own Siege Engine system. The third and final reason might be the biggest draw for many gamers. The writers of Gaxmoor are none other than Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. & Luke Gygax. If you don’t know who they are (or their father) than I guess this is your first time being exposed to the tabletop side of RPGs (perhaps you visit Diehard GameFAN for our video game coverage?) and you’ve picked a great piece to start you on your journey into pen and paper gaming.


As mentioned, Gaxmoor started out life around 2002 as a d20 product published by Troll Lord Games. You do not have to have experience with the original to enjoy this. The Castles & Crusades version is not a sequel, prequel or follow-up. It is its own beast. If you want to purchase the original, you can find it on Ebay or Amazon.com for under ten dollars. C&C is flexible enough that you can interchange it with d20 pretty easily, but it is closer to AD&D 1e/2e in feel. So even if you are beholden only to Pathfinder, you can still pick up the new version and use it with your game pretty easily.


The Lost City of Gaxmoor is both a setting and a campaign. The original d20 version was designed to take characters from Levels 1-10 over many play sessions. With the Castles & Crusades version, we have more of a city guide filled with specific encounters and plot hooks rather than one overarching adventure that you have to follow. In this regard Gaxmoor is more like a sandbox video game RPG akin to Skyrim or Fallout where you end up spending more time exploring and getting sidetracked by side-quests rather than being railroading on to a singular linear plot. This makes DM’ing The Lost City of Gaxmoor more work than the average published adventure, but it also means it can be a lot more memorable for the players. So Gaxmoor isn’t a piece I’d give someone new to running a tabletop game, but it’s a great choice for someone to first play as they won’t feel “on rails” and they’ll encounter a wide range of antagonists and NPCs while learning the mechanics of a game. You have a set story hook and four encounters before hitting the city, but after that – everything is wide open.


I should also add that unlike the original version of Gaxmoor which laid out the levels characters should start at and advance to by the time things are ended, the new C&C version does not. Encounter strength varies wildly, which can lead to a total party kill, but it should also teach the team to be cautious and not rush in, weapons a’ swingin’. I mean the second encounter in the game (and it’s fixed) it up against an Ogre-Ghoul! You usually don’t see 4d8 HD creatures as an early encounter in an adventure made for Level 1 characters. So expect a lot of PC death as your party combs Gaxmoor. This is balanced out nicely though as Gaxmoor has many places for new characters to pop in and join the party. I love how this was done and it prevents a player from sitting around twiddling his or her thumbs waiting to get back in the game.


The plot revolves around the city of Gaxmoor suddenly re-appearing in our dimension. It has been gone so long that most humanoids forgot it ever existed. Your party is chosen to help investigate the location and see who (or what) dwells within the walled city. There are over a dozen factions within Gaxmoor to suss out, wipe out or ally with. Even though much of your time will be spent in the confines of a single city, make no mistake, this will be a full length campaign and then some. The adventure requires as much detective work and verbal solutions as it does the hacking and slashing of foul beasties, which means there is something for every gamer with this piece. Remember this is an extremely open ended adventure/campaign, so there is no actual ending or sorts. It’s a very non-linear piece and it’s up to the Castle Keeper and the players to decide when and how the adventure ends. In addition to the campaign itself, you’ll also get a history of Gaxmoor overview, seven new monsters, fourteen new magic items and many, MANY maps. So players and Keepers alike will be able to take more than just the experience and memories of The Lost City of Gaxmoor with them.


The Lost City of Gaxmoor is a wonderful homage to the old school days of roleplaying. The Gygax brothers more than live up to the family name with this piece, giving you a campaign that will last you for a very long time and provide you with many subquests, dungeons to explore, allies to make, and monsters to slaughter. You can play through the campaign several times and discover new things, or even entire sections that you might have missed previously. You will definitely get your money’s worth with The Lost City of Gaxmoor and if you have yet to experience Castles & Crusades, then this might be the best way to get started. As soon as The Lost City of Gaxmoor becomes publicly available, order this from Troll Lord Games and/or DriveThruRPG.com. Even better, while you are waiting for this campaign to come out, you can pick up the Castles & Crusades starter pack giving you the Player’s Handbook, Monsters & Treasure a set of character sheets and three adventures. I know I sound like a shill, but it’s a great deal and I do think most fans of old school or fantasy RPGs will love Castles & Crusades when they give it a try.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Lost City of Gaxmoor
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Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/13/2015 07:37:56

Originally published at: http://diehardg-
amefan.com/2011/09/28/tabletop-review-mordenkainen%E2%80%99s-
-magnificent-emporium/


There are lots of iconic characters in Dungeons and Dragons. Drizzt and Eliminster are legends from the Forgotten Realms. And anyone that ever stepped into the Demiplane of Dread, will never forget the name Strahd. But before there was a Ravenloft and a Forgotten Realms, and heck before there even was a Dungeons and Dragons, there was Greyhawk. And probably the most important character from Greyhawk was Mordenkainen, because you see Mordenkainen was Gary Gygax’s player character. So when Gary played the game that would become Dungeons and Dragons, he played as Mordenkainen the wizard. Over the course of time, Mordenkainen became a powerful wizard that kept the peace in Greyhawk. He maintained the balance between good and evil. He also obtained and cataloged the many fantastical magical items he came across in his travels. And this compendium of magical items is contained in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium.


At first glance you may assume Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium will be a book of nothing but magic items for your game. If you thought this you are wrong. It’s more than just magic items. It’s more of a book of anything your character may want to buy. You’ll find a wide assortment of magic items, standard adventuring gear, and hirelings and henchman. You’re also given the cost of buildings as well. What better way to help part your players from their gold than some real estate speculation. There is wide variety of items, with something for every class. So let’s delve a little deeper and see exactly what we will find in the emporium.


First you are greeted with an introduction by Mordenkainen. He also introduces every subsequent chapter. This adds some nice flavor to the book, which is very flavorful in general. In this book you will not find a generic +1 sword. Every magic item has a description with a little backstory as well. The main goal of this book is to give you unique magic items to add to your game. Long time Dungeon and Dragon’s players may even recognize from of the magic items from early editions. The Helm of Brilliance returns to D&D in this book. It has a similar feel to its 1st edition counterpart but is not quite as lethal to the character if they are hit with a giant fireball. Ioun Stones are another item returning to D&D. With the Ioun Stones you lose some of the variety contained in the 1st Edition stones. The stones that enhance your ability scores are still present, but the stones that absorb and store spells are nowhere to be found. There are lots of items that players of previous editions will recognize, but all of them have a slight twist that prevents them from being their identical to their previous versions.


And the reason for those changes, besides the obvious rules changes, I suspect are due to a change in philosophy in Wizards of the Coast. Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium originally had a Spring 2011 release date but was pulled from their release schedule for additional playtesting. WotC is now focusing on playtesting more and making sure what is in the books work as intended. They want to minimize the online errata and offer a better playing experience straight from the book. And in a book of magic items this is appreciated. I’m sure long time player can all think of a magic item from an earlier edition that were quite game breaking when left in the hands of an ingenious players.


Something else WotC did unique to this book was make it a Game and Hobby Store exclusive. You will not be finding this book in a Barnes or Noble or being sold directly by Amazon. The only place this book is available is your friendly local game store. This doesn’t mean you cannot find a copy online since FLGSs can sell this book online. But this book is another way WotC is helping drive people to their local game store.


There are a lot magic items in the book. You have magic rings, swords, implements, armor, and other miscellaneous magic items, but there is also some content specifically for players as well. Several new armor types are introduced in this book that will be familiar to older players, such as banded mail, ring mail, splint mail among others. And with those armor types comes the appropriate armor proficiency feats. There are also new weapons and weapon feats. There are two types of weapon feats Weapon Training and Strike Specialization. The three new weapons training feats are Fail Expertise, Pick Expertise, and Polearm Expertise. Each gives you a bonus to your attack. As for Strike Specialization, there is a feat for each melee weapon group and each has a different effect depending on the chosen weapon group. Power Strike is a prerequisite for the feats so really these feats will only appeal to the melee combat heavy characters in the game. Do not think our magical characters have been forgotten about though. There is a new for them as well Superior Implement Training. This gives characters access to the superior implements in the book, which enhance the magical ability of the user by increasing their attack bonus, enhancing damage, or giving a defensive bonus among other things.


There is also additional content for DMs beyond the slew of new items to integrate in your game. DMs are introduced to artifacts. These are the items legends are made of. These are one of a kind, super powerful items that can be the focus of an adventure or campaign. It’s also best these items are in the hands of players temporarily otherwise you may find the players are powerful beyond their levels due to these items. And once again we see a two items from prior editions return one being the Codex of Infinite Planes and the other Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty. Something that I miss in the artifacts in this book that was present in prior editions is the customizability of the 1st Edition artifacts. The 1st Edition artifacts have power slots that a DM could fill in from several lists of powers. Some were good for players, some were bad for players and some were just plain annoying. This made the artifacts truly unique and no amount of player knowledge would help players when dealing with the artifacts since no two DM configure the same artifact identically.


The next thing present for DMs is something I love throwing in my games, cursed items. These are great for a group of players that insist on looting everything in the game. You have Boots of Uncontrollable Dancing, Armor of Vunerablity, and a Backbiter Spear among other things to make your player’s a little more cautious about picking up those gauntlets in the corner.


The concept of Story Items is also introduced. These are magic items that require no game mechanics and help the players overcome an obstacle. Basically you use the item, it helps you get past a specific obstacle and it’s job is done. They give an example of Jack’s beans from Jack and The Beanstalk as an example of a story item. The beans give Jack a way to the giant’s castle, with the obstacle being overcome in this example getting to the giants castle. This seems like a concept most experienced DM would already be using, but this could be good for newer players teaching them new concepts to integrate into their game. Several pages of examples of story items are given and these are worth looking through, whether you’re an old or new player, for potential story ideas for your game.


Out last chapter is our standard adventuring gear. This section is a mixture of standard items and alchemical items. The standard items focus on the concepts of kits, pre-grouped items that would be useful for a particular task or tape of character.. There’s a charlatan’s kit for the con-artist, devotee’s kit for the religious, a delver’s kit for those that go deep in the earth, a sage for the sage, and a travellers kit for well….the traveller. Each kit contains items appropriate for that type of character. Also tucked in this section you’ll find a sidebar with rules for gambling and how to use the gambling cheat items in the charlatan’s kit. So if you ever wanted to know how to run gambling in your game without slowing the game down by actually playing a game of chance, now you have your rules. The alchemy section adds another feat, Alchemist that gives a character the ability to construct alchemic items. There are several pages of alchemical items as well. There is enough variety to keep the alchemist in your group in the lab for quite some time. It’s also in this section we are told the cost of building construction. So just remember a castle with a dungeon cost 1,000,000gp before you go plopping them in your campaign willy nilly.


The final section of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporioum is the appendixes dealing with hirelings, npcs, and henchmen, and some charts breaking down the magical items contained in this book by level and rarity. In the NPC section you will find the cost for hiring an experienced crew for your ship or a linkboy to hold your torch. It is nice for those DMs that want to know the abilities and cost of skilled NPCs the players may hire. Henchmen on the other hand are the NPC that go adventuring with the players, the rules for creating henchmen are actually contained in the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, so all you get here is a brief description the three types of henchman and 5 sample henchmen complete with backstory for your game.


Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is a book filled with both fluff and crunch. You have tons of stats for new magic items and new feats mixed with the backstories and descriptions of the unique magic items. I can easily recommend this book for DMs that are looking to add some flavor to the magic items in your game. There is also enough fluff that a DM should be able to walk away with many ideas for their home adventures. Now if you’re only a player, then it’s not as easily recommended. Yes there are some new feats and equipment, a majority of this book is geared towards DMs. It’s hard to recommend this book to player’s with the amount of player’s content it contains. If you’re a player that likes reading the fluff of magic items then it may be worth looking at. Really I don’t see the need to have more than one copy of this at the gaming table. But I think there definitely should be one copy of this at the gaming table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium (4e)
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Neverwinter Campaign Setting (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/13/2015 07:26:06

Originally published at: http://diehar-
dgamefan.com/2011/08/15/tabletop-review-dungeons-dragons-nev-
erwinter-campaign-setting/


Although Ravenloft is my favorite campaign setting from Dungeons & Dragons, the City of Neverwinter and the Sword Coast nearby it are where I’ve spent most of my D&D days. Whether it was playing in the first ever MMORPG in the early 1990s, creating adventures with the Aurora tool kit in 2002, or playing in a tabletop Forgotten Realms campaign, everything always comes back to Neverwinter. So when Wizards of the Coast decided to focus on a specific region of Toril, I wasn’t surprised Neverwinter was the chosen land (although part of me did think it might be Waterdeep). With the campaign setting hitting tomorrow, it’s time to see if Neverwinter is worth picking up, or if it’s just a supplement to the 2008 Forgotten Realms campaign setting.


First of all, Neverwinter clocks in at 223 pages with a full color glossy pages, a full fold-out map (that you do have to tear out of the book) and a very striking cover of a black dracolich squatting on the reminants of an old keep, now mostly washed away by the tide. It’s probably my favorite 4th Edition cover to date, but a good campaign setting needs more substance than style, so let’s crack the pages open.


Neverwinter consists of four chapters and an introduction. The first chapter, Jewel of the North is only about ten pages and it tries to cover the entire history of the Neverwinter region in that span. Don’t think that the book tries to flesh out every detail from first to third edition – it doesn’t. Instead it gives you a paragraph or two on twenty-one different important locations in the area, such as Neverwinter itself, Helm’s Hold, the Sword Mountains, Waterdeep and more. The chapter then completes itself with a “History of Conflict,” which gives a running timeline for the area, starting with -22,900DR up to the current year. This time line only takes up two pages, so again – there’s not a lot of detail there and longtime D&D players might be a bit miffed at the lack of history in this opening. It’s very truncated, but if you’ve been playing in the Forgotten Realms setting prior to this, you probably know most of the history by heart (or have old gaming books to fill in the blanks) and if you are new to Dungeons & Dragons with 4th Edition, you likely don’t care. Still, it would have been nice to have a more in-depth piece on what happened from the start of the Spellplague on other than a few novel series.


Chapter Two, Character Options is far meatier and it runs nearly seventy pages. The chapter can be divided into four sections: Character Themes, Racial Backgrounds, Warpriest Domains, and finally, a brand new character class known as the Bladesinger. We’ll take a VERY in-depth look at the character themes tomorrow in their own special feature, but the book gives you thirteen: Bregan D’aerthe Spy, Dead Rat Deserter (Wererat!), Devil’s Pawn, Harper Agent, Heir of Delzoun, Iliyanbruen Guardian, Neverwinter Noble, Oghma’s Faithful, Pack Outcast (Werewolf! ), Renegade Red Wizard, Scion of Shadow, Spellscarred Harbinger and Uthgardt Barbarian. I have mixed feeling on the themes ranging from “Holy hell, that’s awesome” for the lycanthropes and “Wow, that is pretty underwhelming” for the Red Wizard. For the former, I was really pleased to see Lycanthropes get their biggest “player character” push ever, while as a long time fan of Thay, I was disappointed to see how well, weak Red Wizards are in 4th Edition. I’m by no means a power gamer or stat min/max’er, but still, the Red Wizards seemed…far less impressive that I would have expected.


Choosing one of these themes (which the book all but insists that you do) gives you a new starting feature to lay on top of everything else your character would have, along with some additional features and optional powers you can pick up as you level up. Each Character Theme has specific class and race prerequisite, although many are merely suggestions instead of hard and fast rules ala AD&D (No halfing wizards!) When you choose a Character Theme as your specific background, you also get to add a +2 bonus to a specific skill related to said theme OR you can pick one of those background skills and add it to your class’s skill list and even become trained in it. Themes were something completely missing from the original 4th Edition books, and it’s interesting to see players getting some new stat and power bonuses. My only complaint is that several themes are unbalanced and it would have been nice to have more than thirteen. Perhaps twenty or so, Because of the imbalance, you’ll quickly see certain ones become prevalent over others.


Racial Variants provides two new Dwarf types to play as, along with four new Elf types. Of course, longtime D&D fans will recognize all of these and it’s nice to have these specific sub-races back with distinctions on how they differ from their generic counterparts. Say welcome back to Shield Dwarves, Gold Dwarves, Moon Elves, Sun Elves, Wild Elves and Wood Elves. Choosing any of these races instead of the standard dwarves, elves and Eladrin yet you change the languages, skills and benefits you would otherwise get. For example, a Gold Dwarf gets +5 to any saving throw involving psychic damage or psionics instead of Cast Iron Stomach while a Sun Elf gets +2 to Bluff and Insight instead of the standard bonuses to Arcana and History an Eladrin would otherwise have.


The four new Warpriest Domains are: Corellon, Oghma, Selene and Torm. While Torm and Corellon make sense to me, a Warpriest of Knowledge is a bit…odd to me. Same with a Warpriest of Selene. The book does try to justify these, but I still think someone like Bane, Cyric or even Kelemvor would be better suited to having a specific Warpriest theme after theme. Still, the book does give a slight guide on what Warpriest set from other D&D supplements can be used for a dozen or so other FR gods.


Chapter Two finishes off with the Bladesinger, which is very similar to the 2nd Edition AD&D Fighter/Mage dual class elf. This character class is only supposed to be used by Elves or Eladrin, but with some tweaking, it could make for a good swashbuckler human as well. We’ll cover the Bladesinger in detail on Wednesday but for now, I’ll say it is a pretty interesting class that lets you be both mage and warrior at once and some of their spells are old Gygaxian favorites.


Chapter 3, Factions and Foes is about fifty pages long and the title kind of says it all here. This is where you’ll find a lot of plot hooks around countries or organizations that will make up the majority of your antagonists in a Neverwinter setting. You’ve got Lord Neverember, The Abolethic Sovereignty, a cult of Asmodeus worshippers known as the Ashmadai, Thay, the Netherese, the Cult of the Dragon, the Harpers, Mind Flayers and more. Each section tells you about a faction’s goals, allies, enemies, relationships and more. You’ll also get stats for some monsters and NPCs here along with suggestions for possible encounters in each area. Neverwinter is pretty much populated by very low level characters and monsters – almost shockingly low in some areas. For example, Neverember is only a Level 7 Soldier while Valindra Shadowmantle, a lich and Thayan higher-up is only Level 9. Maybe it’s because I grew up with 1st-3rd Edition, but that really low to me and she’s the highest level NPC in the book. IF you have characters that have been playing for a while that you just want to move into Neverwinter for a change of pace, you’ll have to make up some new enemies or expect your players to steamroll through the region.


Examples of some of the cast and creatures you’ll find in Chapter 3 are: two aboleths, a grell(!), two kinds of Nothic, some devils, Unhallowed Wight, stats for undead members of the Neverwinter Nine (!), stats for Clariburnus Tanthal, Werewolf Stormcallers and more. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get any real Harper information which is really odd since neither the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting nor its Player’s Guide had any real information aside from “They broke up and the band is getting back together.” It would have been nice to see this FINALLY fleshed out. Aside from that minor quibble, Foes and Factions give both players and the DM a lot of story hooks and new enemies (maybe even allies?) to encounter in Neverwinter. It’s very well done and contains the kind of depth a lot of people were hoping to find in 4th Edition.


The final chapter of the book, Gazetteer takes up half the pages contained therein and it pretty much answers all the complaints people had about earlier 4th Edition Forgotten Realms publications. However the section doesn’t spend much, if any, time talking about the past – everything is in the present. So again, for those of you looking to bridge between third and fourth edition’s Neverwinter, there won’t be much here for you. For everyone else, CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT. You want legends about why Neverwinter stays warm even in a region where it should be freezing? You get TWO (not just the fire elementals heating the water one). Do you want to learn about all sorts of important locations and buildings within the city of Neverwinter? It’s here? Interested in the stats around the Lost Crown of Neverwinter, which the D&D Encounters are currently revolving around? They’re in here! Want your characters to learn secret special moves from Drizzt Do’Urden himself? You can! There is more detail about the area of Neverwinter in this book than previous 4th Edition campaign settings have given to entire WORLDS. For someone like myself who likes to read sourcebooks as much as play in them, this is wonderful.


There are a few minor annoyances I have with this chapter, like the Kraken and the obvious Clash of the Titans remake joke inserted into here a year or so too late. I also didn’t like how both chapters three and four spent emphasized the presence of Chartilifax the dragon…but then never give its stats. However, compared o in-depth information on things like The Dread Ring, the ecology of the Illithids in Gauntlgrym and more, the good really outweights the bad here.


The last thing to talk about is the art. It’s pretty hit or miss. I’ll admit I am one of those that preferred the art from the 2nd Edition AD&D error to what we currently get, but as I seem to be in the majority on that one, I wish Wizards would push the current D&D artists toward the level of quality we had “when I was a kid.” You whippersnappers today don’t know how good we had it! Seriously though, some of the art in the book is really good. I adore the cover of the campaign setting and there’s a piece where a Mind Flayer is eating a humanoid that is just disturbing. Most of the art in Neverwinter is amongst the best I’ve seen come out of 4th Edition, but all that comes to a grinding halt when you hit the end of the book. Specifically I’m talking about Evernight. Wow is the art here almost comically bad. Honestly I think that’s what they were going for, or at least I hope so. I look at things like the art for the Corpse Market and think either, “This is Evil Ernie awful!” or, “They honestly paid someone for this?” Again, the negatives I had with this campaign setting are very minor, and to be honest, Neverwinter is easily the best fourth edition book I’ve gotten my hands on so far, but when the art is bad, wow, it’s really bad. I’ve purposely tried to include what I found the best pieces to accompany this review.


Overall, while the Neverwinter Campaign Setting has a few minor issues, the overall book is a wonderful one from beginning to end. It’s honestly the best product I’ve seen Wizards of the Coast put out for 4th Edition so far and I honestly think if this version of Dungeons & Dragons had started out with products this strong, the backlash against leaving the d20 system wouldn’t have been so severe. If you’re playing 4th Edition at all, this is well worth picking up. If you’ve been putting off 4th Edition for a myriad of reasons, this is the campaign setting to start with. If the rest of the Nerverwinter theme products coming out are just as good as this one, than Wizards has a sure fire success on its hands. If you’ve picked it up, by all means, let’s talk about it.


Join us back here at Diehard GameFAN each day this week as we take a more in-depth look at some of the specific sections in Neverwinter. Tuesday we tackle the Character Themes, Wednesday is the Bladesinger, Thursday are actual stats of monsters and NPCs and Friday we’ll finish things off with the Warpriests. To learn more about Neverwinter and all the products surrounding it, visit ExploreNeverwinter.com. To learn more about Dungeons & Dragons, visit the official home page. Finally to buy a video game based on Neverwinter using 3rd Edition rules, you can buy Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition from GOG.com for only $9.99.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Neverwinter Campaign Setting (4e)
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Shadows of Esteren - Black Moon Handbook
Publisher: Agate RPG
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/13/2015 07:06:44

originally posted at: http://diehardga-
mefan.com/2015/08/03/tabletop-review-the-black-moon-handbook-
-shadows-of-esteren/


The Black Moon Handbook originally began its existence as Ghost Stories a free bonus for various Shadows of Esteren Kickstarters like Travels and The Monastery of Tuath, but eventually the project became so big that the Esteren team divided Ghost Stories into two separate works –a fiction collection entitled Hauntings (which we will review down the road) and The Black Moon Handbook, a supplement that acts as both a book for GMs to run spooky occurrences in their SoE games, and as an in-game item that PCs can find and use in their travels. You don’t see something like that very often. As such, this makes The Black Moon Handbook a bit of an experiment which succeeds and fails in very different ways.


The best part about The Black Moon Handbook is the art. Like with any Shadows of Esteren release, the art is by far the best you will see out of any gaming product in our industry. For three years running, Shadows of Esteren has picked up our “Best Art” award in our year end awards and between The Black Moon Handbook and Occultism, it’s definitely the front runner to get the award again this year. Seriously, the book’s art is that fantastic and even if you don’t plan to play Shadows of Esteren, it is worth picking up the books just for the art and stories.


The bad news is that The Black Moon Handbook is the worst written book for Shadows of Esteren so far. Hmm. Let me rephrase that. The Black Moon Handbook is the worst TRANSLATED book for Shadows of Esteren so far. If you’re new to the game or merely a casual fan of it, you might not know that Shadows of Esteren is a French game and each book is written in French and then eventually translated into the English language. All of the previous releases were fantastic. You couldn’t tell that the games were localized. With The Black Moon Handbook though, it’s really obvious. Grammar, sentence structure, phrasing and the like are all very off in the English translation. Some parts of the book are sound and actually read like they were written by someone fluent in English. Other parts read like they used Google Translate to localize the text into English. It’s very disjarring. As someone who reads, writes and speaks both English and French, I could see what the passages were trying to say, but also how whole paragraphs could have been stated/translated better. This made the book hard to read at times, and more importantly, hard to enjoy. Hell, some of the text is STILL IN FRENCH and they didn’t bother to translate things at all. In one of the adventures, an “Item of Power” has its stats and mechanics still in French. There is no English translation for it. That’s extremely sloppy and goes back to highlight how exceedingly poor the translation of The Black Moon Handbook is. So many of you that pick this supplement up will have to have Google Translate on standby if you play this adventure. Due to the lack of quality in the translation you may want to wait and pick this release up once (IF) the digital versions are corrected…or not at all for a print copy.


So now that we’ve got that big warning about the translation out of the way, let’s talk about what you will find in The Black Moon Handbook. The book is primarily written as if it was written by an in-game author, Steren Slàine, who is an occultist in the Shadows of Esteren world. As well, you will be sidebars which act and notations or critical (snide) commentary from a skeptic named Enly Mac Bedwyr. This means the topics in the book often contain two opposing viewpoints – one who believes in ghosts and one who believes only in cold, hard science. It is primarily up to the reader to decide, which author is right – if either. Well, at least until the last two pages when the book makes it abundantly clear which is right by having one of the two die horribly in a short piece of fiction that showcases their belief structure is horribly wrong.


The first chapter gives an overview of hauntings in Tri-Kazel. How they can occur, traditions, folklore, legends and spiritual beliefs. That sort of thing. Haunted houses and spectral manifestations are the bulk of the piece though as the “author” gives theories and conjecture as to how a haunting can occur and the way one can rid a location of the ghost tied to it. The book also designated a difference between a haunting and cursed place, the latter of which is a haunting that was no exorcised or where terrible things keep happening in a once mildly haunted area. You’ll find mechanics for spiritual combat, exorcisms and possession if you wish your Shadows of EsterenBlack Moon Handbook herself.


Chapter three is “Ghost Hunting” and it contains five story seeds. I can’t say that they are adventures since the pieces aren’t fully fleshed out. It’s merely the framework and guidelines for turning these pieces into adventures. A GM will have to do a lot of the work themselves, but each of these seeds are fairly straightforward and simple enough to pull off. The book does say that each seed requires little prep work which is true, as each piece should take no longer than one or two sessions to get through. Besides those scenarios, there is advice on homebrewing your own haunted adventures in Tri-Kazel, a few maps and information on education in Gwidre, which is helpful as your first potential adventure takes place in one.


“Rounding Up Stray Souls” is the first adventure and it takes place in a boarding school. One of the students has gone missing and the characters are hired to find out what happened to her. At the same time another student is starting to see her ghost and slowly but surely things begin to happen? Is the school actually haunted or is it a case of teenage imagination leading to mass hysteria amongst the students? In truth, either can be correct. The story is designed so that the GM can pick either a supernatural or mundane cause behind the events at the school – whichever fits his or her purposes better. In fact, all of the adventures on this collection, save one, give you the choice of supernatural or mundane events behind the adventures. I personally prefer the non-supernatural choices simply because they are more interesting. A bonus that comes with doing the mundane choices is that when you finally DO spring an actual ghost on the players, they’ll be so used to “Scooby-Doo” endings that they won’t be expecting a real haunting, thus making it all the more memorable. If there is one thing I have learned from decades of playing and running Call of Cthulhu is that horror games run the risk of their monsters become the equivalent of Kobolds or Orcs in D&D if you use them too much.


The second and third adventures are tied together and, in fact, really should be one piece rather than two. I’m not sure why the authors made this into two as the first one doesn’t have a real ending and the second really doesn’t work as a stand-alone. The attempts by the writers are…not good. Let’s leave it at that. ANYWAY, “The Key to the Past” sees the characters having to enter a haunted castle. Why? They have been hired to retrieve paperwork that will allow their employer to own the property and then tear it down to make way for a new road. Hey, new infrastructure and a terrible evil place gets razed. Win-win, right? Well, not for the characters who can’t leave once they enter due to the machinations of all the ghosts that dwell within. What follows is a survival horror type affair where the players have to figure out how to escape the castle. The next part, “Bloody Trail” is why the characters are released. It’s to track down the last surviving member of the clan who owned the castle in “The Key to the Past,” who is not only a NPC from Chapter Two, but also a paranoid psychotic assassin who is why all the ghosts are in the castle to begin with. Fun times as you track down this character.


“The Return of the Missing One” is the fourth adventure in this collection. Here a husband long thought dead has returned after fifteen years. He looks very different physically though. Is the answer a con man trying to play off a wealthy widow’s grief or is it that the soul of her husband has taken up residence in a new body. Again, the choice is up to the person running the adventure. This was my favorite in the collection as it’s a lot of fun and can go many different ways.


Our fifth and final adventure is “Spectral Dance.” Here the PCs have to figure out what caused a mass killing at a ballroom gala. Thirty people died at this soiree with people rumbling that a local legend, an apparition known as the WIng of Death is responsible. Was it? This adventure has a lot of detective work and in many ways feels like Call of Cthulhu adventure. It’s a lot of fun whether you go for a supernatural reason or not. The PCs will have to really work to solve this one!


Chapter Four ends the book with a “Bestiary.” Here you will find the stats and ecology of four different supernatural creatures. This is pretty cut and dry. All of the creatures are fabulous and the art that goes with them….well, it’s Shadows of Esteren. There is no better art in tabletop gaming right now.


So that’s the book. The English translation can be BRUTAL at times, but the actual meat contained in the Black Moon Handbook is a lot of fun. It’s a fine supplement that just needs to be re-translated in parts. You get a nice amount of fluff, some new monsters, four or five adventures and a lot of information about the supernatural (or what passes for it) in Tri-Kazel. It’s not the best release for Shadows of Esteren so far, but if the localization can get fixed, it’s well worth picking up if you are a fan of the game.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Black Moon Handbook
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Call of Catthulhu Book III: WORLDS OF CATTHULHU
Publisher: Catthulhu.com
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/25/2015 06:30:44

Originally posted at: http:-
//diehardgamefan.com/2015/08/25/tabletop-review-call-of-catt-
hulhu-deluxe-book-iii-worlds-of-catthulhu/


One of the most popular games in my household is Call of Catthulhu. Even my wife and her friends, who do not roleplay, love the game and find it creepy and adorable at the same time. I reviewed the basic version of the game nearly two years ago and the first two books of the deluxe version (The Nekonomicon and Unaussprechlichen Katzen) in Q2 2014.


Worlds of Catthulhu is very different from previous Call of Catthulhu releases. This book is not needed to play the game by any means. Instead, it is a collection of nine different worlds or settings to play in. Think of it in the same way Dungeons & Dragons has Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Planescape, Spelljammer, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Mystara, Birthright, Maztetica and other very different settings in which you can use the core rules. Eight of the settings in Worlds of Catthulhu are very brief, only containing six to ten pages of background and fluff each, meaning you as the Cat Herder (DM) will have to do a lot of prep work to fill in in the blanks. The ninth of these worlds (actually the first in the book) is a very different story, clocking in at seventy-two pages (more than half the book!) so you might get a bit of information overload compared to the brevity of the other options. Of course, the most detailed setting is by Joel Sparks, creator of Call of Catthulhu, while the other eight were Kickstarter stretch goals, so this explains the difference in length. Let’s take a look at all nine campaign settings now and show you how they differ from each other.


First up is “The Cats of Fuiry.” This setting is essentially the classic Fae courts of British folklore, but with cats instead of hobgoblins, faeries, and the like. As is common with Call of Catthulhu, there are a lot of cat name derived puns, such as the Seelie Queen Titania being Catania here and Queen Mab becoming Queen Moab. This setting has far less to do with combat or detective works than any of the others featured in this book (or the core releases). Instead, the setting focuses more on Court intrigue, social/status climbing and political machinations. As such, if you’re more of a dungeon crawl fan, “The Cats of Fuiry” will probably be too “talking heads” for your liking. If, however, you like games such as Vampire: The Masquerade or Birthright, then this will be right up your alley. Now, that’s not to say “The Cats of Fuiry” can’t have physical combat or mysteries to solve – just that the FOCUS is on improving your position at court. A good Cat Herder will be able to tailor this setting to their players’ preferences, all while staying true to the core idea for the setting.


“The Cats of Fuiry” also contains five roles that define your cat’s role at Court. These do not replace the “character classes” from the core rules, but are merely a new facet specifically for this setting. You have Aerialist, Changeling, Knight, Sorcerer and Courtier. All are pretty self-explanatory and get two or three pages devoted to them, except for Sorcerer, who gets about ten due to rules for different kinds of spells. “The Cats of Fuiry” also contains mechanics for social climbing, ideas for potential stories, lists of influential NPCs the PCs can befriend or antagonize and a full glossary to help you remember jargon and vernacular.


There are also two Catventures for “The Cats of Fuiry.” The first is “The Dragonfly Ball.” This is a fancy dress ball where every cat must dress up in a dragonfly costume. A good portion of the adventure is trying to wrangle up a costume for your PC so that they can attend. Then, once at the ball, the characters may discover an Unseelie plot to assassinate a high ranking (Grand) cat of the Seelie Court. The second adventure is “A Night Under Arms,” and it is here where combat fans will get to have some fun. It’s a short look at how combat is done for this setting, and it is geared primarily for Knight characters. It’s cute but limiting. Still, it’s a good way to showcase how different combat is here than in other settings.


The second setting in Worlds of Catthulhu is ” Iron Edda: Claws of Metal & Bone.” It’s essentially a cat version of Iron Edda. This setting uses Norse Mythology in terms of time frame, geography and gods as the cats deal with the oncoming of Catnarok. There are is an interesting story/adventure seed generator in this section, but other than that, what is here lacks any real substance or detail. It feels like more of an attempt on the author’s part to sell his own game rather than contribute anything of merit to Call of Catthulhu, which I personally find distasteful. This is easily the worst/weakest offering of the bunch.


Setting #3 is “Swords of Catthulhu.” This is a cute high fantasy setting revolving around Castle Felsmark. Although the section is only six pages long, it’s pretty in-depth, featuring many locations for PC’s to visit and for Cat Herders to set catventures around. Speaking of catventures, the section ends with a one page adventure where the PCs have been brought in as castle mousers but may eventually uncover a plot by Hatspurr of Catcosa to influence the kingdom in malevolent ways. It’s a nice piece rounding out an excellent section.


Next up is “Gatos De Los Muertos.” This takes place in 1892 in Arizona, which didn’t achieve statehood until 1912, but was owned by the US since the late 1840s, so that makes the setting one of a border town. I’m not sure why the book constantly refers to this section as “1880s Mexico,” though. That would be like calling a 1920s adventure in Alaska “Early 20th Century Russia.” Anyway, this section is actually more of an adventure than a setting, because only one page is devoted to the actual background. Locations, humans, other cats and the like each get a sentence at most devoted to them, while the other four pages are pure catventure. Here, undead cats (and dogs) are returning from the grave with vile intentions. The PCs must seek out the reason why and put the dead to rest once more. Again, it’s a cute little piece, good for a one shot, but little more due to the lack of setting depth.


“Galaxy Warriors Vs, the Robot Cats” is setting numero five. This is blatantly a Star Wars meets old school Battlestar Galactica homage, but it’s a cute one. Again, this is far more adventure than an actual fleshed out setting for people to use, but who doesn’t know Star Wars (or Sci-Fi tropes in general), right? This is a pretty easy piece to flesh out. The adventure starts off on Cattooine, featuring an attempt to warn the Hero’s aunt of killer robots, meeting up with a wise man and his lightstick, and so on. My favorite part was the Empurror (Purrpatine?). There’s a lot of great puns and family friendly fun abounds in this one.


“Big Cats” is next, and this allows you to play as jungle/savannah cats. Tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, panthers, cheetahs, cougars and more can all be found here. There are no stat changes or extra health levels. You’re just big cats; no scaling. There are a few adventures seeds and one full Catventure when the PCs are a pride of lions trying to save their cubs from mysterious kidnappers while also dealing with the local chimp population. Another fun piece.


“The Great Catsby” is next and with only four pages devoted to it, this is the shortest setting in the book. It’s Prohibition-Era America and the cats are living it up in the Roaring Twenties, just like their human counterparts. Parties, booze and drugs run rampant, but where did all this corruption come from? Could it be that something sinister is behind the scenes making humans dance to their tune? The cats know something strange is going on and it is up to them to save the day! It’s an interesting, albeit bare bones entry, but since it’s close to the usual time period one plays Call of Cthulhu, it’s probably the easiest of the settings to fully flesh out.


Our penultimate setting is Catthulhu: Gaslamp & Gearbox. Think of it like Call of Cthulhu‘s Cthulhu By Gaslight setting for Victorian-Era gaming. This is not the happy Victorian time period you see glamorized in books and movies; no, this is the Industrial Revolution, where grime, soot, homelessness and greed are dominant. You have different “character classes” from the core game for this setting (eight in all) and most will be homeless or ferals rather than purebreds or the like. There are a couple sample locations (although there is a noticeable editing error in that the locations are numbered 1, 2, 4, 3.) and a cute adventure where cats have to stop the machinations of some rats.


We now come to the final setting in Worlds of Catthulhu, “The Catthulhu Code.” It’s not really a setting as much as it is a long list of Catbals – secret societies of cats dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. The primary mystery is trying to find a way back to The Garden, or Eden as we would call it, while also preventing the followers of Catthlhu and/or the Serpent from succeeding in a myriad of evil schemes.


Overall, Worlds of Catthulhu is a cute book. It’s not one you actually NEED to play Call of Catthulhu. You can just get by with the core two books or even the basic game. Worlds of Catthulhu is fun to read though, and one of the nine settings it contains may be just what you are looking to use in your own game. If you primarily homebrew your games, you shouldn’t feel obligated to purchase Worlds of Catthulhu. If, however, you prefer published adventures and campaign settings, this is pretty much up your alley. Either way, Worlds of Catthulhu is a fine addition to the Catthulhu line, and I know I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for the game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call of Catthulhu Book III: WORLDS OF CATTHULHU
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Shadowrun: Wolf & Buffalo
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2015 06:35:44

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/08/24-
/tabletop-review-shadowrun-wolf-buffalo/


Every runner has an origin story; we just rarely ever hear them. Established characters in the Sixth World canon are generally introduced to us after having been veterans of the shadows for many years. It’s rare a character is seen being exposed to the underbelly of the Oligarchy (or Coporatocracy if you want to be blunt) that controls the planet in the 2070s. Even when you and your chummers make their own PCs for Shadowrun, you rarely act out the origins of a character as you might the embrace of your Vampire: The Masquerade PC. Instead, you just whip up the character and the backstory is either told through sessions via flashbacks, story hooks or general PC conversation. That’s what makes Wolf & Buffalo an interesting piece, as you see a character getting exposed to the harsh reality of life in the shadows with no warning whatsoever and how they react to the insanity of it all. It’s a point of view we rarely get, and so even though much of the perspective is, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? SO MANY BULLETS! BODY COUNT HIGH! NOT A GOOD DAY!” it’s nice to see something other than a jaded snark filled reaction to corporate fueled gloom and doom.


Lena is your average young teenage girl in the Sioux Nation. She’s got a dysfunctional family, a government that treats her as a second-class citizen since she’s half Anglo (Remember this is the Sioux Nation. In Shadowrun prejudice runs all ways, be it white, black, troll or ghoul.) and a life she was hoping to improve by joining the SDF (I kept reading it as RDF and I was like, “Veritech rip-offs are in CGL’s OTHER game line.”). Unfortunately the government found a cheap out to excuse her for service, even if they didn’t specifically state her rejection was due to not being pure Native American.


Of course, if Wolf and Buffalo was just about late teen angst and the struggles of growing up half-Lakota, half-white, this would be more a tale for Sherman Alexie or Americo Paredes rather than a writer for Shadowrun. Instead we have to have some sort of Catalyst (no pun intended) that brings Lena into life within the shadows. In this case, it’s a smuggling ring gong wrong, the destruction of her family, attempted rape with a side of murder thrown in and a late awakening to her shamanistic potential. That’s quite a lot to be hit with in a single day – and all before she’s legally old enough to vote, to boot.


The rest of the story basically has Lena blundering around, trying to stay alive as people try to kill her and friends try to help her (and die as a result. Seriously, she’s Clementine from The Walking Dead bad in this regard, but far more likeable). Lena finds herself in over her head with talisman smuggling, “demon” summoning and not one but two totems making their presence (and requests) known to her. The end result is a fast paced story with a higher body count than most full-length Shadowrun novels and a story that shows you just how strange life can be in the Sixth World, not to mention how quickly things can change. One minute you might be the mayor of Seattle, and the next, a highly sophisticated A.I. has taken over your body and you’re dropping your pants in public, defecating on a street performer.


Wolf & Buffalo is a really good story and I enjoyed the chaotic nature of the tale. Sure, the protagonist was in over her head, whined constantly and really only survived because everyone else took a bullet (or ritual knife) for her, but it makes sense. I mean, when you were 17/18, could you process being a channel for ancient spirits to funnel magical energies through while being tasked to recover a sacred artifact to your people and dodge heavy fire? No, you’ll probably piss yourself. So Lena is an extremely believable character. Hell, she’s even likeable in spite of being the type of character who’s usually relegated to the supporting role of a story and who you get really annoyed with – especially when they show up in a summer blockbuster. Thankfully good writing saves the day.


That’s not to say the entire story is without fault. I do feel the climax/ending is very weak. Not only is it very similar to the same ending used in the author’s full length novel Borrowed Time (which is really good and you should purchase it), but it involves not one, but TWO Deus Ex Machinas to get the main character out alive. One alone is acceptable, but weak. TWO, however, did have me roll my eyes and wish for something better. So a great start, but a really weak finish. The end does detract from the overall quality of the story, but it’s still a good read and worth getting if you’re a Shadowrun fan.


Finally, as this is a piece of “Enhanced Fiction,” we get some stat blocks at the end of the book. This is another weak area. I love that the main character got statted and can be used as an NPC in your own adventures. The second character, however, dies in the book, so I don’t see the point of giving them half a page of stats. I’d have given this to one of Lena’s friends that survived (or anyone who survived the story really) as that would be more useful overall. The two stat blocks are the only “crunch” you’ll get in this, so hopefully you’re just looking for a fine short story that allows you to spend some free time in the Sixth World. With a price tag of only three bucks, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth with Wolf & Buffalo.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Wolf & Buffalo
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Wyrd Chronicles - Ezine - Issue 19
Publisher: Wyrd Miniatures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2015 06:34:46

Originally posted at: http:/-
/diehardgamefan.com/2015/08/24/tabletop-review-wyrd-chronicl-
es-issue-19-malifaux-through-the-breach/


I’m extremely new to Malifaux. I’ve read through the Through the Breach RPG manuals and have even felt confident enough in the rules to review a Penny Dreadful adventure, but I’ve yet to play Malifaux. I have a few pieces, like the original Pigapult, three War Wabbits and Nicoderm, Avatar of Decay, but those were for painting, not for playing. However, with the upcoming release of the two player starter kit and a used copy of the 1.5 rulebook I found for five bucks at a used book store, I’ve decided to take the plunge. The same day that this issue of Wyrd Chronicles came out, a package from Wyrd arrived containing the Lucky Effigy and two Gremlins boxed sets – Explosive Solutions and The Bushwackers. I figured I might as well build a Gremlins team, since I already have four pieces for that crew. By the time this review goes live, I should also have a Colette boxed set (for the wife) and the Crossroads Seven (just to paint) arriving, so Wyrd has me set up for painting (if not playing) for a while. Hopefully I’ll get these done by the time my Starter Set finally arrives.


Anyway, let’s talk this issue of Wyrd Chronicles. Since GenCon and the decision to give Malfiaux a try, I’ve downloaded and read all previous eighteen issues of Wyrd Chronicles. It’s a fantastic free bi-monthly magazine where my only real complaint is that it is anything BUT newcomer friendly. There’s an assumption in each article that you know the rules inside and out and are a fanatic to the game, rather than interested in multiple miniatures games. I mean, I already play Batman, Robotech and Warhammer, so I always appreciate when something like White Dwarf goes out of its way to explain to readers rules, mechanics and the like. While Wyrd Chronicles left me more than a little cold in this respect, the size of each issue, plus the quality of the articles, more than makes up for my beginner based confusion. This latest issue, while not perfect, contains eight different articles guaranteed to entertain Wyrd Miniatures’ fanbase. The fact the magazine is free just makes things all the better.


The first article in this issue is “Why Won’t You Die?” It looks at strategies for dealing with extremely hard to kill pieces in Malifaux, but also points out that since miniatures games tend to focus on Victory Points instead of killing the other side, many times you don’t actually need to dispense your opponent’s night unkillable piece – you just need to avoid it or tie it up. It’s an excellent article that is a helpful read whether you’re a newcomer or veteran to Malifaux. In truth, the advice dispensed here can be applied to many miniatures games. Just switch out, say, Killjoy for Titan Bane or Ashes and Dust for The Green Knight. This article alone is worth picking the magazine up for, and since it is FREE, you have no excuse not to!


Next up is the first of two pieces of fiction. “High Stakes” is a story about a Gambler and a Doctor (actual a Resurrectionist who is essentially a Necromancer for those of you unaware of Wyrd’s vernacular). The two have had a mutual agreement going on, but on the night before the deal expires, one of the two has a change of heart and decides to up the ante in more ways than one. “High Stakes” may be short, but the story is a lot of fun and can easily be understood, even if you’ve never touched a Wyrd product before. The characters are well written and the situation is one that could happen in any Victorian fantasy setting. This was another highlight of the magazine, and it’s impressive to see such a strong start to a periodical.


The third article is “Off the Rails,” which is a Story Encounter for Malifaux. Each player picks their parts and away you go. The attacker has the job of trying to lay down rails while the defender has to disrupt the railroad in one of four randomized ways. In many ways, it is like any skirmish game objective, but the randomization for the defender/saboteur gives this a little more unpredictability and life than others. After all, even if you pick a great team for one of the possibilities, you may get one of the other three.


“Playing with Fire” is article four, and in many ways it is similar to the “Paint Splatter” articles you see in White Dwarf, but with more depth. The writing is weak, with grammatical errors littering this piece (for the love of God man, use a comma once in a while!). Since the article is a whopping ten pages, I found myself wishing that the text better matched the pictures that were here and that the author was better at conveying their amazing technical prowess to people less experienced with painting/moding miniatures. It would have been nice to get pictures of each layer/step instead of just a picture of the finale of each section. Showing the slow progression on each part would have been far more helpful. That said, I loved the finished project and was impressed by the author’s work. I especially liked how he named each paint and its brand so that people could purchase those colors as well if they want to emulate similar effects. So what’s here is a great idea for an article, but the manner in which it is presented really needs to be retooled.


“The Whispering Affair” is a short adventure for Through the Breach, the tabletop RPG parallel to Malifaux. In this adventure, the PCs (Fated, as they are known in the game) are hired by a doctor to retrieve his missing daughter and her nurse, both of whom have been kidnapped. By who/what he has no idea, and so it is up to the Fated to discover who is behind the abduction. It’s a cute, quick little adventure that Through the Breach players will enjoy. I always prefer a good detective piece to a hack and slash dungeon crawl.


“Misaki Vs. Molly” is a battle report. For those unaware of the terminology, it’s a narrative recounting a miniature game’s battle. In this case, since this is Wyrd’s house engine, it’s two Malifaux teams. It’s a well written piece until the end, where the Victory Points shown at the beginning of the turn stop adding up correctly, and somehow one of the players goes from losing 6-3 to winning 9-8 without any explanation of how in the text. It looks like this could have used better editing to ensure the narrative matched the actual VOP tallies, but it was a fun read and a great look at how the game played out.


The last article in the piece is “Ram in the Thicket,” which is the second fiction piece in the collection. Unfortunately, it’s not very good, and thus the magazine ends on a very weak note (compare that to how strong the magazine started off). It’s a very dull piece about one character taking revenge on another, when really, the character that you think is the protagonist is a manipulated patsy for someone else… who is being manipulated by still another character. It’s an easily skippable tale, and you won’t miss out by ending the magazine early.


Although the articles are done by this point, the magazine is not. There is a two page preview of Nythera, the new world wide event for both Malifaux and Through The Breach, and then three pages of con photos. Yay. Overall, Wyrd Chronicles, Issue #19 was pretty good. The first two articles were fantastic, the two adventures were well done and there was only one article (the second fiction piece) that I outright didn’t care for. Sure, the painting guide and the battle report were flawed, but they were still fun. So overall, the magazine was well worth picking up and reading, especially for the low, low price of zilch. Perhaps the most negative thing that I can say about the issue is that it will be a long two months until Issue #20.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wyrd Chronicles - Ezine - Issue 19
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Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2015 09:03:20

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.c-
om/2015/07/17/tabletop-review-deluxe-tunnels-trolls-core-rul-
ebook/


What a long strange road trip it has been for the newest incarnation of the longest running fantasy RPG (under the same system) out there. Back on January 3rd, 2013 Flying Buffalo decided to do a deluxe version of the fantasy RPG, Tunnels & Trolls. I, along with 1637 other gamers jumped in on that crowdfunding initiative and together we raised $125K for Flying Buffalo, which was big bucks on Kickstarter back then. The belief was that the game would be ready for release in August of 2013. Well, nearly two years later we still don’t have a physical copy of the game but we DO have the PDF which came out in early July! Now it’s not like Flying Buffalo has kept T&T fans hanging. There were multiple reasons for the delay besides the usual underestimation of time it takes to complete something. Every Kickstarter has this problem) but there was also sickness and other issues that kept the final product at bay. To their credit, Flying Buffalo kept releasing a lot of adventures for the system along with a Free RPG Day Quick Start Rules set for DT&T. You can take a look at my review of just SOME of the Kickstarter backer freebies here. Even though the game has been delayed, I’m more than received my money’s worth. Of course now it is time for the main event. How does Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls hold up?


Well, quite nicely actually. For longtime T&T gamers, the rules are about 90% the same. The only real big change is that the game is more player friendly in that a lot of negative adds (things that negatively affect your dice roll have been removed) and there have been some changes to the positive adds (things that are beneficial to your dice rolls). Other than that the game is pretty much as it has been for a long time. Only the first 165 pages of this mammoth tome are devoted to the game’s core rules. The rest of the book is dedicated to optional rules (Advanced Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, if you will), information about a campaign world and some adventures. The game is fairly easy to learn, especially if you are a long time gamer. For people brand new to gaming some of the methodology and mechanics might seem a little odd, but the game is heavily invested in its 1970s OSR roots and a few concepts like how magic works and levelling up may take two or three read-throughs as it is very different from your typical RPG< regardless of genre. Perhaps the most important thing you'll note is that Tunnels and Trolls does not take itself very seriously. While the game can certainly be dark and lethal, the game is more comedy-action than GRIMDARK and that is one of the reasons that Tunnels & Trolls is as much fun to read as it is to play.


Chapter One is simply an introduction to Tunnels & Trolls, along with an explination as to how the book is laid out. Chapter Two is only a single page long and is a general overview about how to play a RPG. The next chapter is two dozen pages long and it’s all about character creation. Instead of assuming everyone reading this has PLAYED T&T in the past (which is mostly likely NOT the case), I’ll give a quick break down of stats and classes. Vets, you can skim ahead.


Okay, T&T has eight stats: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence, Wizardry, Luck and Charisma. So some very similar stats to D&D. you also roll 3D6 to get your starting stat, which again, is similar to D&D. However if you roll a triple of any number with your dice (says three 4s) you get to roll again. You can keep rolling until you stop getting doubles. So there is a possibility of having a starting stat of say 36. If you roll three 6s, three 3s and then a total of 9 on your next roll, you start with a stat of 36. That’s pretty powerful, right? That’s how it goes in T&T. After that, you get your combat adds. For every point in a physical stat over 12, you get +1 to your personal adds. Physical stats are STR, CON, DEX and SPD. So let’s say that 36 was in CON. You would get +35 adds in addition to anything over 12 you had in the other three physical stats. If the 35 was in IQ (Intelligence), you would not get the bonus to your combat adds, but you would get any for stats over 12 in the four physical attributes. Combat adds are used with your dice rolls in combat and the more you have, the more powerful your attacks will be. This is a nice change from games where only STR adds to damage and attack rolls. With T&T you can have a high SPD and DEX and be a better fighter than someone who is pure brute strength.


There are three basic character classes: Warriors, Wizards and Rogues. The first two are self-explanatory but Rogues are not necessarily thieves ala most other RPGS. In T&T, rogues are simply people who are jack of all trades. They are adventurers but without any formal martial or magical training. As such they can do both, but not as well as the other two classes. There are also Specialists which are simply people in the other three classes who rolled a triple for a stat in character creation. This comes up more in the optional rules though.


Tunnels & Trolls also has different character races than most games. You can choose from the usual human, elves and dwarves, but T&T also lets you play as a faerie, leprechaun or Hobbs (hobbit). Finally let’s talk character levels. In T&T your level is your highest stat divided by ten and rounded down. Sound confusing. Well let’s do this as an example if your highest stat is 3-9, you are 0 level character. If it is between 10-19 (most starting characters), you are a Level 1 character. If you are the example we looked at earlier where you have a 36 stat, you are a level 3 character. So on and so forth. Stats raise as the game goes on (you buy increases with Adventure Points, T&S XP equivalent) and so it is up to the player as to what level they are. If you try to make a balanced character your level will be less than your friend who only puts his increases into the same stat every time, but you’ll have a better chance of surviving a myriad of things. The choice is up to you!


Now let’s get back to the quick overview of the chapters. Chapter Four is about equipment for your characters. This is a lot of lists and mechanics. Weapons, armor, poisons and more can be found in Chapter Four. Chapter Five is a look at Saving Rolls, which are how you avoid danger. Essentially you are given the target number then you subtract the specific attribute that applies to the saving roll. So if you need to make a Dexterity based saving throw with a target of 30 and you have an 18 in your DEX – you need to roll a 12 or higher on two dice. Like with any 2d6 rolls in Tunnels and Trolls though, if you get doubles, you get to roll again and add the new roll score to your previous one. Lots of simple addition in this game! Chapter Six is a list of talents your characters can pick up as the level up and/or start the game with. There are certain talents only Rogues can get, but otherwise this is pretty straightforward.


Chapter Seven is about monsters and how scaled back they are stats-wise compared to PCs. Chapter 8 is “Combat” and it’s probably where you will spend the bulk of your time with this book until you have the basics down pat. Essentially though both sides roll 2d6 and add up their personal adds and other factors. The side with the highest total hurts the side with the lowest total with the damage generally being the difference between the two rolls. That’s a very brief explanation of T&T combat and you’ll actually want to read the book for a better understanding but that’s the mechanics in a nutshell. There explinations of different types of combat here too. Magical, berserk, martial arts and more. Again, you will want to read the whole chapter as combat is notably different from many other RPGs.


Chapter Nine is “Magic” and it’s here you’ll learn how spellcasting work and receive a massive list of all eighteen levels of spells. I know, it is a unusual number of levels, but T&T is a very unique game. You’ll also want to read the spell names. Nothing shows off the sense of humour inherent in Tunnels and Trolls like the magic spell lists. You have names like “Take That, You Fiend” and “Better Lucky than Good.” There are also some spell names which are sure to provide an immature reaction like “Blow Me To…” This chapter also shows how characters learn spells, how you know if a character can cast a spell or not, how spell points (WIZ) recharges and more. Magic-users are extremely powerful in T&T so like chapter eight, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in this section of the rulebook if you are new to the game. You’ll go into the book not knowing the word Kremm and you’ll walk away with it being second nature to you by the time you’ve had a few T&T games under your belt. Finally, Chapter Nine contains information about magical items, wards, power storage batteries, and how to create your own spells. Like I said, you’ll spend a LOT of time re-reading this chapter.


Chapter Ten is “Putting it All Together” and it’s essentially wisdom for GMs on how to run a good cohesive game that everyone has fun with. Simple but sage stuff. Then you have Chapter Eleven which are a few pages of spell appendices and you’re done. That’s the rules. Well…mostly. Remember the rules are only the first 165 pages of the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls book. Now it’s time for the “Elaborations” which are optional and/or advanced rules you can either use or ignore in your T&T game. The book assumes you will NOT use any of these for a list of reasons provided at the start of Chapter Twelve but you’re more than welcome to if you think any of these will improve your game.


So what is in “Elaborations”? You’ll find the concept of training, which actually determines a character’s starting age. There are more abilities added to each class, such as weapon of choice for warriors, racial magic for wizards and rules for Specialist classes. Chapter Thirteen gives you new races to play as. Many of these are usually monsters or antagonists and there’s a huge list of options. You have vampires, werewolves, gnomes, gremlins, minotaurs, lizard people, ghouls, trolls, dragons and even demons! It’s pretty crazy. The reason for all these different races is Monsters! Monsters! – the sister game to Tunnels & Trolls where you play the bad guys. Chapter Thirteen essentially fold the concept into DT&T along with a description of their races and how to play them. Very cool.


Chapter Fourteen is about languages. It’s four pages long and gives both a list of languages in Tunnels & Trolls as well as how you learn them (mechanics-wise). Chapter Fifteen is “Extended Talents” and is essentially a continuation and more in-depth version of Chapter Six. Chapter Sixteen is “Accessories.” Here is a frank discussion on using miniatures with T&T and how the game was never designed for that. Nonetheless the creators talk how miniatures and various computer programs or apps can be integrated with the game. It’s an interesting read. Finally we come to Chapter Seventeen which is entitled “The Kitchen Sink” since it is a massive hodge podge of odds and ends that simply didn’t fit anywhere else. There are lots of charts, a page on guilds, commentary on dice and more. It’s short, but the topics are quite varied. It feels disjointed but at least the chapter is named appropriately.


At this point we are done with the rules parts of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls but there are still two more sections. Yes, this is a HUGE book. The Trollworld Atlas is the next section of the book and it easily could have been a supplement on its own. Sixty pages go into the Trollworld Atlas. That’s more than a third of the pages devoted to the core rules section. It’s that long and detailed. If you use your own homebrew you can skip this section but for everyone else, this is a fine look at the fluff/creative side of the game. There’s a timeline, maps, world history and continents shaped like animals. It’s a lot of fun to read and there’s even a 16 page color gallery slapped in the middle.


The last eighty (!) pages of the book are devoted to Tunnels & Trolls adventures. I was really happy to see the sheer amount of adventures in the book as these days only Chaosium includes actually adventures in the Core rulebook. This is a great slice of old school. There is a traditional GM led adventures where one person takes the role of GM and guides other players (that use characters) through adventures. There is also a Solitaire adventure similar to “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. It is with the Solitaire adventures that Tunnels & Trolls really has made a lasting name for itself over the decades and it’s fantastic to see some of each in the core rulebook. The adventure doesn’t include any beginner adventures though, so don’t look for a simple adventure designed to help teach you mechanic. In fact the very first adventure in the compendium is “Abyss” and it is designed for after your character dies. The next “Into Zorr” is a GM led adventure for four to eight characters between Levels1-5. “Into Zorr” is used in conjunction with the TrollWorld Atlas and give you a taste of the official world for T&T. It’s extremely long and will take several play sessions to get through. It’s a mini-campaign in its own right.


So 2,500 words later, we’ve had a nice long look at Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. It’s pretty fantastic if you’re a longtime fan of the game. Younger gamers or people new to T&T with this latest incarnation might be a bit stymied at first with how different the game plays (and reads) compared to most other high fantasy RPGs, but the game has stood the test of time for a reason. It might not be your favorite RPG ever, but it’s one you’ll definitely have fun with and even laugh out loud because of at least once. I really enjoyed what was here and think Flying Buffalo’s team did an excellent job. If you didn’t take part in the Kickstarter and you’re a longtime Tunnels & Trolls fan, you’re going to want to snatch up DT&T as soon as it is available to the general public. Newcomers can afford to be a bit more hesitant. Like with any core rulebook I suggested getting the PDF or playing a few adventures with people that know the system before making a large financial commitment to any system. The good news is that T&T is VERY affordable compared to most other gaming systems (especially on the PDF front) and so if this review has piqued your interest you won’t break the bank trying out Tunnels & Trolls.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls
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Free RPG Day - 2013/Deluxe T&T Minirules
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2015 09:02:17

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.co-
m/2013/06/18/tabletop-review-deluxe-tunnels-trolls-preview-p-
ack/


Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls releases later this year, but Flying Buffalo doesn’t want fans of the system to wait until then. They’ve already released an updated version of Buffalo Castle on DriveThruRPG, and for Free RPG Day 2013, they released this Preview Pack to not only whet the appetite of those waiting for the release of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, but to also draw in both new gamers and those that remembered T&T but haven’t played it in forever. I picked this up on Free RPG Day, and was excited to see what is in store for the 1,637 Kickstarter backers that helped make this new edition of T&T possible.


Out of the eighteen pages in this document (which includes the insides of the cover), sixteen are pure content. The inside front cover is an introduction to the system, as well as the history of Tunnels & Trolls. The back inside cover is a plug for Buffalo Castle, and tells you have to get a free PDF version of the adventure. So in fact, you’re getting two products for free if you picked this up on Free RPG Day 2013. AWESOME, especially since Buffalo Castle in an incredibly fun solo adventure for a 1st Level Warrior. Between this Preview Pack and that adventure, you can try the game out on your own before moving on to play the included multiplayer adventure in the preview pack.


There are over a dozen pieces of art inside the Preview Pack, not counting both outside covers. The art is excellent and really showcases the high fantasy, and sometimes bizarre, nature of Tunnels & Trolls. The Preview Pack is worth flipping through just for the art, to be honest.


The Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack contains both simplified rules for the game and a full adventure for up to four players. Five pages are devoted to the rules, with a sixth containing three pre-generated characters: A Level 1 Human Warrior, a Level 2 Human Wizard and a Level 3 Citizen Rock Troll. It’s interesting that they chose characters of different levels, as the Troll is so powerful compared to the other two combined, I have a feeling that’s the one everyone will want to play.


The rules for T&T were meant to be a simpler alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not necessarily sure that’s true though. Character creation is simple enough, as it’s 3D6, and if you roll triples of any number, you get to roll again and add your previous score to the roll, continuing until you stop rolling triples. This means you can have a character with an Attribute of 4 minimum and a maximum of… whatever! This is an interesting concept, and doubly so that your CON roll is also your Hit Points in T&T, so a Warrior could have say, four hit points and a Wizard could roll 32! As well, to create a demihuman, you have to engage in fraction multiplication instead of a +X or –y to an attribute. For example, to make an elf, you have to multiply Int (IQ is the actual abbreviation in T&T) and DEX by 3/2 and CON by 2/3. That’s fine for most of us, but I can see little kids or those that are terrible at math disliking this aspect of character creation. The Preview Pack gives rules for Humans, Eleves, Dwarves, Hobs (Hobbits/Halflings), Uruks (Orcs) and Rock Trolls, which is a really neat variety of playable races. It also gives a list of six classes to choose for this preview adventure, and in reading the descriptions, you’ll see that the system is very rules light, where you can just make a skill and add a number to it for a descriptor. So you could have a Rogue (which is actually a Wizard/Warrior hybrid and not a thief) with a skill of say, finger painting and another with Oratory. It’s a very interesting open system that people tend to love or hate.


The rules system then gives you a list of weapons and items and a short summary on how to run combat, be it melee, missile or spell based. Basically, each side rolls its dice, called a “Hit Point Total,” which I know is sure to confuse many a person when they first see Hit Points used in that way. The side with the bigger roll subtracts the roll from the smaller side, and the end result is the damage done. From there, you’re shown how Saving Throws and Experience Point accumulation and spending works. There’s even a list of spells for levels 1-5. In essence, this is a pretty detailed set of quick start rules that should give you a good idea on how Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls will play, as well as if it is a system you want to invest in or not. One thing the book doesn’t really do a good job of explaining is how tongue in cheek and silly the game can be sometimes. I love comedy, but I know there are others who like their tabletop games to be SERIOUS BUSINESS so, there’s a head’s up for you.


The adventure in this Preview Pack is entitled, “The Chambers of Z’Tpozz the Madd Dwarf.” It’s all about an evil Dwarven Wizard who has kidnapped a princess and sequestered her inside a live volcano. The PCs will have to enter the volcano, get through the twelve room dungeon, survive trips and monsters and find the princess before their supply of potions that allow them to resist the intense heat of the location wears off. It’s an interesting adventure with a few unexpected twists, like the chance of the heroes accidentally killing a potential ally, an interesting secret about the Z’Tpozz and a twisted fate that can befall the kidnapped princess. It’s not the best Tunnels & Trolls adventure, but for a freebie it will definitely do the job of helping gamers decide if they want to play it or not.


I’m really happy with the Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack. It confirmed that my decision to back the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter all those months ago was a good one, and although the rules and adventure contained in this packet aren’t for everyone, it definitely it worth tracking this down if you didn’t manage to pick it up on Free RPG Day 2013. Who knows, this little free introductory kit just may get you to pick up the core Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls book when it is released later this year.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Free RPG Day - 2013/Deluxe T&T Minirules
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Worlds of Pulp: Vampire Construction Tables
Publisher: Scaldcrow Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2015 06:14:25

Originally posted at: http://diehardga-
mefan.com/2015/07/21/tabletop-review-worlds-of-pulp-vampire--
construction-tables/


I was one of 49 backers for Scaldcrow Games’ newest RPG, Ron Fortier’s Cape Noire, and since that won’t be out for another nine months or so, I thought I’d pick up their latest offering just to see the potential quality of what I’m getting.


Vampire Construction Titles is exactly what the title states – random generation tables for vampire NPCs. To use the tables, all you need are 2d6. However, the charts will be different. Some will be 2d6, while others are d66, which is where you roll two six sided dice and instead of adding the numbers together, you read them as separate numbers, so you would have 4-5, not nine, as your roll result. These are all fairly standard forms of doing random generation charts, so unless you’re completely new to using them (and thus RPGs in general), this should all be extremely instinctive.


Each table in this collection is more than a simple die roll followed by a one or two word description. Each result gives a decent sized explanation of what you just rolled. For example, the first table (Species Detail) gives you a paragraph explaining what the vampire type you generated is all about. Sure, some of these, like Ghouls and Revenants, aren’t actually vampires, but you DO get a lot of information that will help fire up your imagination in regards to how you will use this new creature. With this particular chart I would have been happier if the Species were actually different vampires of legend, like Lamia, Aswang, Stirgoi or Lillin, but I’m still impressed by the sheer amount of detail in this piece.


Other charts in this collection include appearance, country of origin, destruction, weaknesses, exposition character, vampiric origin, modus operandi and more. Rolling all of the charts will give you a very fleshed out vampire to use in your horror RPGs. This would probably work best with Chill or Call of Cthulhu, where a vampire’s stats and abilities aren’t set in stone. With some effort, you could make these tables work with a game like Ravenloft or Vampire: The Masquerade, but you’ll have to leave some of these charts out.


Now many of you, like myself, prefer to create NPCs from scratch and thus don’t have a use for random generation charts like this. However, for younger, less experienced or less imaginative GM’s, something like this collection of tables is a fantastic way to help you learn how to homebrew characters and even adventures. There’s even a “character sheet” at the end of the collection to keep all your roll results organized and in one spot. So this is a very well thought idea that is well worth the price tag if you primarily play horror RPGs.


About my only complaint with the piece is that the cover layout looks really amateurish (there are like five different fonts on it alone for example), but the inside of the PDF is nicely done. So don’t judge a book by its cover – literally in this case.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds of Pulp: Vampire Construction Tables
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Shadowrun: Shaken (No Job Too Small)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2015 18:50:00

Originally reviewed at:


I try to never mention an author by name when I review something, just in case a piece is negative or critical, lest the creator think it’s a personal or mean-spirited attack on them – especially if I end up pooh-poohing several of their pieces in a row. I do need to mention, though, that I really like Russell Zimmerman’s work. Enough that he’s won awards from us here at Diehard GameFAN for his work on pieces like Elven Blood and the Shadowrun Returns Anthology (along with all the other contributors in that collection). I’ve even contributed money to his crowdfunding efforts for his own FATE based game, Strays. Of course, I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve probably taken a steaming slagpile on some of his stuff as well, but it’s all part of being a critic. I simply bring this up because what you’re about to read is a very positive review, and it’s worth including a preamble that I enjoy Zimmerman’s writing and my support of his Kickstarter, just in case someone thinks there is a bit of bias in this piece. There’s not, but I’m upfront whenever I review someone I’ve donated money to because hey, journalistic integrity. Now, let’s review this novel.


Shaken is not only the latest Shadowrun novel to come out from Catalyst Game Labs, but it’s also the latest piece featuring burned out mage slash ex-Lone Star officer turned paranormal investigator Jimmy Kincaid. As you read through this book, there are numerous references to Zimmerman’s other works, including the aforementioned Elven Blood, but also a lot of other Shadowrun pieces, ranging from Storm Front to The Land of Promise. Most of all though, the book is a direct follow-up to the novella Neat. While you don’t need to read Neat, or any of the other referenced pieces in this novel, it does help to have read them to fully appreciate the book and the characters it contains. I will admit that the book probably loses something if you don’t get all these references, but it’s not like SOME Shadowrun manuals/sourcebooks that not only reference a dozen other expensive tabletop gaming releases, but actively assume you have read and memorized them. So again, you can still enjoy Shaken: No Job Too Small if you haven’t read any other Shadowrun releases. It will still be a good read too, but you aren’t getting the full experience. So you might want to go buy Neat first. It’s short, it’s good and it’s only $2.99. Although CGL would be smart to bundle in a digital copy of Neat with purchases of Shaken for only ninety-nine cents. They’d make a little extra money and move some more copies. Anyway, for those of you who are big Shadowrun fans, expect a lot of famous to somewhat familiar faces to pop up in this novel, in addition to a few less familiar faces.


The first three chapters of Shaken feel VERY different from the rest of the novel. In fact, they read like three stand-alone short stories rather than part of a novel. As such, part of me was expecting this to be a collection of short stories, until I hit Chapter Four and the real story began rolling. So expect a little turbulence at the beginning of the book as the flow changes, not quite abruptly, but enough that you’ll wonder what just happened. The first three chapters aren’t bad. It’s just a different flow and style of storytelling from the rest of the book. It’s more a setup for who Kincaid is, how he thinks, and the way he operates. While these three chapters do feel like they could be short stories in their own right, they do connect back to the larger picture. You’ll just have to be much farther along in the book for those events to circle back around and fold into the overall narrative.


So who is Jimmy Kincaid? In many ways, I view him as a John Constantine analogue for Shadowrun. They look and dress similar, although Kincaid has pointed ears due to being an elf. They both smoke. They’re both quite good as spell-slinging, although Kincaid’s best days are over at the time Shaken occurs. They’re both filled with self-loathing and self-pity, and do paranormal detective work. However, both have a heart of gold and are immensely loyal to their friends, even though they sometimes refuse to admit they actually have any. If you’ve ever read the issue of Hellblazer where Constantine’s friends throw him a birthday party (and he throws up on Phantom Stranger), it reminded me a LOT of a scene in Shaken where the generally morose Kincaid realizes he has a lot of people who like and respect him. Kincaid is NOT a carbon copy of Constantine, though. After all, Kincaid is an ex-cop, has had his magic mostly ripped out of his soul, is much better in a physical fight and is only half the jackass Constantine is. One is British and the other is Pac NW Elven (but not Tir). However, the two are similar enough than if you like Constantine’s movie, TV show or comics, you’ll probably really like Kincaid and he’ll be a great gateway into the Sixth World for you. It also means that I’d read and recommend Zimmerman doing a run on Hellblazer once James Tynion IV finishes his current run on the comic.


The plot of Shaken: No Job Too Small is a bit meandering. It’s not one straight shot from beginning to end like a lot of gaming novels. Instead, Shaken is more like a river. It has a definite beginning and an end point, and when you’re done, the curves, forks and fjords make a lot of sense, but as you read through it, you might be wonder why there is an abrupt change in the story. As mentioned earlier, this is most obvious with those first three chapters, but the book has several about faces where the core focus shifts from one thing to something very different. This is not a bad thing, far from it. This is more a warning that you’re in for a roller coaster of a ride, and as you’re reading, you’ll wonder if a plot point in a much earlier chapter is ever going to be touched on again and then… bam it’ll be back twenty or thirty chapters LATER. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Shaken reads far less like the usual linear two-dimensional licensed fiction that comes from gaming companies (oh god the wretchedness that is Arkham Horror fiction) and far more like a William Gibson novel for those of you who like your cyberpunk-noir blends (and you probably do if you are reading this review!). So the book is more nuanced, and more in-depth than the vast majority of your gaming fiction. So, again, if you like say, Neruomancer and Hellblazer, you’ll like Shaken. If you like something more straightforward and to the point, Shaken‘s going off its own rails, at times, might throw you for a loop.


Shaken has Kincaid not only battling his own personal demons but those of Puyallup, Washington. Now I don’t mean literal demons. Like aliens, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Shadowrun, but demons take many forms. In the case of Kincaid, his demons are addictions. Cheap hooch, cigarettes and protein shakes. Most of all is his addiction to Ariana, Kincaid’s ally spirit sidekick. Ariana has most of Kincaid’s magical heft since it was ripped from him by a vampire several years ago. So he’s very reliant on her for more than anything except counterspells and some light hocus pocus. At a point in the novel, Ariana goes away (not by choice) and Kincaid is forced to do things on his own for perhaps the first time since college. Although I absolutely hate it when people read things that aren’t there into a book, it was hard not to see this as a metaphor for Kincaid breaking his most powerful addiction of all – reliance on others to do the heavy lifting for him. At the tail end of the novel another ally of Kincaid more or less says this to him in tough love fashion (Skip’s not one for pleasantries), and after Ariana leaves, Kincaid does learn to trust in his remaining magical abilities and even makes a deal with the devil to get more powerful – if he accomplishes a rather daunting goal put forward by a spirit mentor known as Adversary (again, not that Adversary, devils and demons aren’t literal in the Sixth World). In the end, the biggest loss Kincaid can suffer actually makes him stronger, and he learns to be reliant on himself, rather than a crutch – even a sweet, loveable scamp of a crutch. So there is a quasi G.I. Joe “Now I know” moral inserted into the tale – whether it was intentionally planned or just a side effect of the story as it came to life is a question I can’t answer.


The core plot of Shaken has Kincaid hired to solve the murder of his favorite college professor – a murder that the local police have ruled as suicide, even though he appears to be several pints short of blood. Along the way, Kincaid has to deal with Puyallup locals, the mob, the yakuza, the monster that destroyed him magically years ago, a veritable horde of ghouls, shadowrunners, an angry mage with a vendetta against him, his own hermetic order, and of course, the big bad behind the death of his client. That’s a lot to cover in under 300 pages, but Kincaid does it all with his usual panache and grumbling. As I said earlier, all of the above encounters are connected, but it might not seem so obvious while you are reading it for the first time. Shaken is one of those books where you connect a lot of the dots due to hindsight. It’s a very fast paced read with a lot of death and violence, so the action really never dies down.


The story isn’t all hack and slash though. Not by a long shot. Indeed the characterization of the supporting cast and crew is the highlight of the book. As much as I enjoyed Kincaid, there were actually a half dozen other characters I found I liked better and wanted to read more about. If anything convinced me that Martin De Vries, Street Legend and Van Helsing meets Vampire Hunter D of the 2070s could easily support his own novel, it was his appearances in Shaken. I also loved the character of Gentry, who I think could support his own novel or short story as well. He’s a wacky decker who is equal parts Johnny Mundo, human that grew up in an elvish community (The Tir to be exact) and 90s bike courier. I really liked him and hoped he would end up being Kincaid’s wacky sidekick. He didn’t, but I was happy to see he came back about twenty chapters after he first appeared and play an important role in the climax of Shaken. There was Pinkerton, a black dwarf who shares a similar back story to Kincaid but without the magic and a lot of the gloom and doom angst. I think he’d be a fun character to get the spotlight at some point. Even a very minor character such as the homeless teenage dwarf Gem had potential for more to be written about, as there were story threads about that character left dangling. Seriously, she only appears in one or two chapters, and yet she’s so well written, she had more personality and depth to her than some protagonists in other novels. Great writing leads to great characters. Let us just hope that some of the characters you meet in Shaken get to be the stars of their own Sixth World fiction down the road.


So there you go. I’ve tried to be spoiler free, because there are a lot of twists and turns in the novel (even if the killer of Kincaid’s client was apparent to me right away. I can’t say why, but it just kind of leapt out at me.) and I want you to be able to enjoy this book. It’s a fantastic look at Shadowrun, and even if you’re in the midst of an Editions Wars or you don’t like the mechanics of the game, you can still sit down with this novel and have a good time reading it. Like Borrowed Time, Shaken: No Job Too Small is a reminder of the glory days of Shadowrun novels that we had back in the 90s. With two terrific books that are amongst the best gaming fiction released this year, this is shaping up to be the best time to read about Shadowrun in two decades. Let us hope CGL and their writers can keep the streak alive. Go buy this.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Shaken (No Job Too Small)
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Bad Moon Rising
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 06:43:55

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/201-
5/07/06/tabletop-review-bad-moon-rising-iron-kingdoms/
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Privateer Press’ products are extremely hit or miss for me. I can’t stand Warmachines or Hordes, but that’s mainly due to the mechanics, the fact I find the models unaesthetically pleasing. Which is okay - every game is someone's favorite; it's just PP's skirmish game is not for me. That said, I love the fluff behind the game and I really enjoy the fiction, with pieces like Murder in Corvis (soon to be a boardgame!) and Blood in the Water. I don’t enjoy the core Iron Kingdoms RPG, but I really like the Unleashed version, especially the introductory kit, as it’s a fun little self-contained piece. So for me, it seems like every time I agree to review something from Privateer Press, I have a 50-50 chance or enjoying it or really disliking it. Unfortunately, Bad Moon Rising is in the latter camp. It’s a highly overpriced, derivative adventure that lacks any semblance of originality. I’ve played the exact same story in adventures for Chill, Ravenloft, Call of Cthulhu and probably even Accursed. It is the most generic and overdone horror adventure plot ever, just with Iron Kingdoms jargon and mechanics thrown in. It’s really disappointing to see the lack of effort put into this, and if I had actually paid ten dollars for this instead of getting it as a review copy, I’d be ANGRY rather than just disappointed that this piece was approved for purchase by the general public.


Basically, Bad Moon Rising is your typical “trapped with a werewolf” adventure. Of course, since this is Iron Kingdoms, it is a Warpwolf, which for most of you, the only difference is going to be in the naming convention. The PC will have to spend several days (in-game) trying to figure out who the Warpwolf is and stop them before they kill again. After a certain amount of days, the Warpwold succeeds, and the fort the characters are trapped in will fall. The adventure really is that cut and dry. Yes, if you’ve played a horror RPG, you’ve almost certainly played this adventure before. Hell, you can go to Kickstarter and find numerous versions of this story in the Werewolf-clone card/beer and pretzel game variants that pop up constantly over there. After only a few minutes with Bad Moon Rising, you can tell just how phoned in this adventure is. Hell, even the name of this piece has been used by everyone from CCR to adventures for Judge Dredd and Shadowrun. You would think Privateer Press would have at least changed the name to something more original. Instead, this merely serves to show how little thought and effort was actually put into this adventure. It’s shameful really. It’s the third Ginger Snaps movie almost cut and paste into the Iron Kingdoms mechanics.


No adventure is all bad and, truth be told, the worst part of this adventure is the lack of originality, creativity and effort put into the piece. Taken on its own, Bad Moon Rising is a fairly serviceable piece that you can make work if your players have little to no experience with horror RPGs and/or werewolf movie tropes. The adventure is long (quantity over quality) and there is a lot of depth given to the NPCs and locations. The adventure is also equal parts roll-playing and role-playing, which is nice. Hack and Slash fans get their fifteen minutes, but so do the people who want a more investigative/talking heads adventure. A good GM can try and make the piece come to life, but I’d advise some heavy rewriting, as it’s very dry and dull the way it is written. Insert a Ben Stein joke here. A little more time in production or with rewrites and Bad Moon Rising could have been a decent homage to garou clichés. I also really like the art in this piece. It’s the best part of the adventure. It’s too bad the maps shown throughout the piece aren’t full size so you could print them off and use with your Privateer Press miniatures. They’re very nicely detailed and would make the adventure far more fun than it is. Of course, the adventure is already crazy overpriced ($10 for a PDF adventure?) so Cthulhu knows how much more PP would have tried jacking up the MSRP of this if they had done that. There are lots of ways Bad Moon Rising could have been improved had there been a modicum of effort put into it. You can tell that by the little things that actually do “pop” in this piece, like the art.


So yes, Bad Moon Rising is not all that bad. I can’t recommend it to anyone due to the paint by numbers level of this piece, coupled with the cost Privateer Press is actually charging for it. It’s as if they wanted to make people angry with how little thought went into this adventure (or respect for the Iron Kingdoms audience). It’s a very long, dull drawn out adventure that you’ve seen, read, played or watched a half dozen times before – each of which was more than likely better than Bad Moon Rising. Pieces like this are what keep me from regularly investing in Privateer Press’ products, because they are either really good or really bad. I will say that Bad Moon Rising is not typical of Iron Kingdoms. It’s not as good as Unleashed, which came out this year, but the regular Iron Kingdoms tabletop RPG is not usually “rehash someone else’s story and hope no one notices.” In fact, this is the first time I can remember it being so. Still, the lack of quality, from writing to QA on down to editorial with Bad Moon Rising was so deplorable, it’s enough to make me very afraid of how bad The Undercity is going to turn out. Of course, I was considering pre-ordering that game, only because I loved the story by Richard Lee Byers it is based on, but that’s really not enough to sink money into something that may be as disappointing as Bad Moon Rising.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Bad Moon Rising
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