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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-
-catthulhu-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-shadowr-
un-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-ch-
ronicles-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.com/2015/07/17/tabletop-review-deluxe--
tunnels-trolls-core-rulebook/

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.com/2013/06/18/tabletop-review-deluxe--
tunnels-trolls-preview-pack/

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://diehardgamefan.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/2015/07/06/tabletop-review-bad-moo-
n-rising-iron-kingdoms/

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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Through the Breach RPG - Penny Dreadful One Shot - Recruitment Drive
Publisher: Wyrd Miniatures
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 06:40:56
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/07/06/tabletop-review-penny-d-
readful-one-shot-recruitment-drive-through-the-breachmalifau-
x/

Although my primary skirmish choice is the Batman Miniature Game, I’ve picked up a few Malifaux pieces here and there just for the sculpts. I have three War Wabbits, a Pygapult and Nicodem, Avatar of Decay. However, with the announcement of the two player starter kit that will release in August, I’ve decided to preorder that, as well as start on a Gremlins warband (mainly for painting, but if I like the game, I’ll have something to play it with). The starter set is roughly two months away though, so I decided to familiarize myself with the game via Through the Breach, the RPG compliment to Malifaux. Both take place in the same world and use a lot of the same characters, it’s just one is a skirmish game and the other is an RPG. Ashe will be reviewing The Fated Almanac and The Fatemaster’s Almanac at some point this summer, but I decided to review my first adventure experience for Through the Breach – Recruitment Drive.

Recruitment Drive is a PDF only adventure that can be used as a one-shot (it’s in the name of the product after all) or the start of an ongoing campaign. The adventure comes with a set of pre-generated characters so you can try out the game under the guidance of an experienced GM, even if you haven’t fully read the rulebooks or taken a look at character creation. The pre-gens also make the Penny Dreadful One Shot adventures a fine choice for tournament/convention play. In many ways, they are the Through the Breach equivalent of Shadowrun Missions. Five bucks for a full colour, nigh thirty page PDF adventure is reasonably priced, and the art contained inside showcases just how unique Wyrd Miniatures’ creations are. Most of the art is reused from the miniature boxes and previously published books, but it is what it is.

I should point out that Recruitment Drive is not going to marvel you or make you proclaim this the greatest adventure ever. It’s not. It’s a fun way to test the water to see if Through the Breach is a tabletop RPG you want to invest in, but nothing more. Only half the pages are devoted to the adventure proper (pages 4-17) with the rest going to NPCs and the pre-generated characters. So Recruitment Drive is a fairly short adventure. It shouldn’t take more than two hours to play – three if you are teaching the game to some newcomers. Because of this, some of you might balk at the $5 price tag, but I’d say it is worth it.

Recruitment Drive consists of four Scenes, all revolving around relative newcomers to Malifaux. All the PCs are at the Southgate train station for their own reasons. None of the characters know each other or have any sort of connection, but give it time. Each character is waiting for the train arrive for their own personal reasons, be it an object, person or assorted something else. As the train starts to arrive, it is attacked by iron zombies. Think Hit Mark II’s from Mage: The Ascension or some other steampunk pneumatic cyborg undead. That’s an iron zombie. Anyway, the zombies attack the train and the PCs have to try and protect themselves, as well as others in the train and at the station. After the scuffle dies down, a second group of zombies have absconded with people and objects from the train. Coincidentally, they are all reasons the PCs were waiting on. Because each PC needs the help of the person now kidnapped from the train, it’s up to them to band together and save their MacGuffins from the undead menace that absconded with them in the first place. This means a trip through the sewers and an eventual showdown with the remaining zombies.

It’s worth noting that Scene IV of Recruitment Drive varies greatly based on how you do in Scene III. There are four different versions of the scene that can occur. The scene you get is based on the amount of in-game time it takes you to navigate the sewers of Malifaux. If you did a good job, combat can be avoided completely. If you did a bad job and got lost along the way, expect to see a pretty intense combat scene – one where the PCs may find themselves in a TPK (Total Party Kill) and even wind up as undead servitors themselves. I really liked how dynamic the last scene was. I just wish it wasn’t purely luck based. I’d have rather seen Scene IV decided through role-playing than roll-playing, but it’s rare you see a pre-published adventure like this provide multiple potential climaxes. Sure, it could have been done better, but I’m still quite happy with what is here.

Overall, my first real taste of Malifaux was a fun one, and I can’t wait to pick up the other Penny Dreadful adventures for Through the Breach. Experiencing Recruitment Drive convinced me I made the right choice in preordering the upcoming two player deck and a few more Gremlins to flesh out my War Wabbits and Pigapults. For those of you discovering Malifaux and/or Through the Breach for the first time through this review, you might want to pick up the University of Transmortis pack from Wyrd Miniatures, as it contains four Iron Zombies. It would be perfect to use with this adventure. You don’t HAVE to have miniatures for Through the Breach though. Remember, it’s the tabletop RPG game, and Malifaux is the miniature skirmish game. Still, they’d be fun to use as a visual explanation of what the characters are doing battle with.

Recruitment Drive is well worth picking up if you’re looking for an intro Through the Breach adventure. Make sure someone has the core rulebooks though, or much of the adventure will read like gobblygook to you.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Through the Breach RPG - Penny Dreadful One Shot - Recruitment Drive
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W20 The Poison Tree
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 16:43:44
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/06/17/book-review-the-poison--
tree-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/


More than two years after its release, Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is still the gift that keeps on giving – at least if you were a Kickstarter backer for it. Case in point, The Poison Tree – the newest W:TA Novel. Sure, with a page count of only 180 pages (which includes covers and legal bits), The Poison Tree is somewhere between a full length book and a novella, but it’s always nice to see a new release for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, am I right?

I going to be brutally honest right now though. The Poison Tree is a pretty paint by numbers piece. You should be able to see the end of the novel coming from the first few pages. If not, I have to assume this is your first ever book, not just your first W:TA read. It’s full of clichés, it can be quite hackneyed, not a single major protagonist dies (odd for a Werewolf book) and the climax is an abrupt Dues Ex Machina that feels a bit hollow/rushed/unsatisfactory. So you would think that means The Poison Tree is pretty terrible. In fact, the EXACT OPPOSITE is true. In spite of all these flaws, tropes and things authors are told never to do, The Poison Tree manages to be a very fun read due to the ability of the author and the personalities of the characters. If anything, The Poison Tree proves that sometimes you can take what are perceived to be negatives and turn them into positives. Sure, The Poison Tree‘s plot won’t win any awards since it’s something we’ve all no doubt read or watched dozens of times before, you can’t help but find the tale enjoyable. Think of it as the W:TA version of a Cozy Mystery, where you’re charmed by the book and its characters in spite of it having characteristics people tend to poo-poo.

The Poison Tree revolves around the war chief of Savannah, Georgia. Her name is Ingrid and she is a Shadow Fang (My favorite clan, followed by Uktena and Silent Striders). Ingrid is a rather angry young woman. Her cousin Marcus wants her title and pack. Her father Karl, runs the city and although he has always been an isolationist, he seems to grow more paranoid and insane with each passing day. Her city is under constant siege by the forces of the Wyrm and due to her father’s policies, it’s hard to recruit Garou from outside the city to help battle fomori and other Wyrmspawn. So yes, Ingrid is a little angry at the world and unfortunately, there isn’t much she can do about it.

Recently though, she’s been having terrible dreams about the fall of Savannah and apparently, she is not alone. Her father appears to be plagued by something similar and her cousin, a Metis named Eric is having the same dreams as Ingrid. So disturbed is she by the combo of bad weather and dreams that Ingrid decides to bring in some new blood to the city. At the next moot she enlists some outside help. Now her father is okay with Garou getting the equivalent of a yearlong pass into Savannah as long as they spend the bulk of their time fighting the Wyrm, so the Get of Fenris pack and a mixed pack of three other Garou mean nothing to her father. These are within the laws of his realm. It’s when Ingrid break her father’s rule of letting ronin werewolves into the city that his sanity begins to break completely. Moreover, allowing these three ronin into the city begins to unmask a conspiracy that involves the entire city of Savannah that has waited twenty-five years to unveil its machinations. This conspiracy may not wipe out just the Garou of Savannah…but the entire city itself. Who can Ingrid trust, if anyone, to save Savannah and her own soul from the Wyrm?

The Poison Tree is a quick read since it is about half the length of most full-sized novels, but even though the page count is short, there is a lot of action and characterization packed in. Each character is pretty stereotypical, not just in regards to how their clan, but personality tropes as well. Marcus, Ingrid cousin is a slimy weasel who does nothing else but plot, scheme and annoy Ingrid. Ingrid herself is little more than the two-dimensional bad ass female with a heart of gold trope. Yet even while each character clings to clichés, they managed to leap off the page as more than they actually are, which is a testament to the author’s writing ability more than anything else. You quickly find characters you’ll love and whom you’ll hate (my favorite was Catherine the Uktena and Starscream…I mean Marcus was the easiest to loathe). This was fun light literature from beginning to end and even though The Poison Tree embraces a lot of my personal pet peeves (especially for WoD fiction), I couldn’t help but really enjoy this book for what it was. Fans of Werewolf: The Apocalypse should definitely track this down once it is released to the general public. Onyx Path generally prices their fiction quite affordably, especially digital-only pieces like this and this is just one example of how W20 has managed to outside V:TM 20AE in nearly every way (as a longtime V:TM zealot, it pains me to admit that).

So yes, The Poison Tree is fun fiction. It doesn’t try to be a work of seminal literature. It’s simply a somewhat generic, but very-well written tale about the Garou vs the Wyrm and how often times werewolves are their own worst enemies. Pick it up on DriveThruRPG.com once it’s released. If you’re a W:TA fan, I think you’ll enjoy it a lot.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 The Poison Tree
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V20 Dread Names, Red List
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 16:43:06
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/07/02/tabletop-review-dread-n-
ames-red-list-vampire-the-masquerade-20th-anniversary-editio-
n/

Dread Names, Red List is a remake/update of both The Kindred’s Most Wanted and bits of other books like The Storyteller’s Handbook to the Sabbat. Dread Names, Red List came about as a stretch goal to the Kickstarter campaign for Children of the Revolution which was a mediocre release (to be fair, all the early WW/OPP Kickstarters were underwhelming in terms of final product). It’s also kind of shocking it took three years for the stretch goal to make print, but at least it’s here, right? The good news is that Dread Names, Red List is MUCH better than the product that spawned it and the supplement is guaranteed to fill any Storyteller’s head with ideas. Plots and adventures to through at their players’ coterie.

The Red List is a vampire equivalent of the FBI’s Most Wanted List, except it’s maintained by the largest undead organization in world. As well, the Red List isn’t made up of just vampires. It’s controlled by the Camarilla sure, but Lupines, Mages, Technocrats, Fae and demons could make the list if they were a big enough threat to the organization and/or the Masquerade. The list as it stands within Dread Names, Red List is mostly vampires, but there is one mortal in the set. Of course, just because it’s 92.3% vampires doesn’t mean the list isn’t diverse. You have the offspring of Set, one of the heads of the Sabbat, a Typhoid Mary for Kindred, a religious zealot, an anarch and more. With these thirteen characters you have a wide range of potential antagonists that could fill up an entire Chronicle with their machinations. The characters are a lot of fun and it’s worth noting that several of the art pieces are based on some very recognizable people. For example the portait of Raymond Narcisse is very obiously David Heath, the professional wrestler known as both the Vampire Warrior and Gangrel. My wife, whose only exposure to V:TM is through one episode of Kindred; The Embraced and The Brood from WWF/WWE programming took one look at that picture and recognized him immediately. Part of the fun will be recognizing familiar faces in the art. Oddly enough Gangrel is a Torreador in Dread Names, Red List.

Moving on, much of Dread Names, Red List is not actually about the thirteen beings named to the Red List. The book’s true focus is on the Alastors. An Alastor is essentially a parallel to an Archon. Both are positioned given to Kindred by Justicars, but while Archons are more the police of the Kindred, Alastors are more the equivalent of its military/CIA assassins. Once given the position of Alastor, you hold it until Final Death. The problem is that your job is now to eternally hunt down and destroy those who are on the Red List. So your life becomes one of intrigue and combat. This is perfect for people who like V:TM but want something a little more dungeon crawling or hack and slashy instead of talking heads and their politics. Still, being an Alastor doesn’t mean all fisticuffs and heaping amounts of Fortitude soak rolls. You still have to investigate, sleuth and other cerebral type activities. This is V:TM after all. I’m just saying an Alastor oriented campaigns offers you a lot more combat potential than any other Classic World of Darkness game save Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

The book has five set sections along with an introduction and an appendix. The intro is the usual “This is the purpose of the book” yammering. “History and Tradition” talks about why the Camarilla has the traditions along with the origins and evolutions of the Red List. Here you learn about the Justicars and their role in the Red List as well as what happens when someone is removed from the Red List (ie, killed). The second section is unnamed but it gives you all thirteen of the current Red List “participants” along with their history, stats and a full page portRait of them. Again, several should look quite familiar to you.

“Role of the Alastor” is the next section and it’s the longest in the book. Here you learn why someone is chosen to be an Alastor and it is quite interesting to see all the aspects the Justicars look at. Age, clan, generation, politics and so on. You also learn about the complex relationship between Justicars, Alastors, Archons and Josians (Infernalist/demon-worshipper hunters). There is also a list of preferred Disciplines and their respective powers in case you want to min/max (which is odd for a V:TM game, but this also shows you how combat heavy an Alastor is meant to be).

“Characters and Traits” is for players who want to make an Alastor or who will be taking part in an all Alastor campaign/Chronicle. It gives you some things to think about when designing your new character, with a lot of emphasis on the importance of the background traits you choose. There are also some new combo Disciplines and Thaumaturgy rituals to take. This section does have a Merits & Flaws area but there is only one of each provided, both having to do with “trophies” – a type of boon and other associated rewards a character gets when they knock someone off the Red List.

The final section is “Storyteller Toolkit” and the title is pretty self-explanatory if you know your WoD jargon. This section gives some great advice on designing a Red List/Alastor oriented campaign and how to keep it both flowing and fun. There are also some story hooks in case you can’t think of any and also some people to put onto the Red List in case your players manage to destroy one of the current members.

The final part of the book is an appendix called “The Path of Evil Revelations.” As mentioned in the beginning of the review, this was originally part of The Storyteller’s Handbook to the Sabbat and allowed characters (although preferably NPCs/antagonists only) access to an infernal versions of both Thaumaturgy and an alternative to Humanity/the usual paths. It’s not a straight lift from Second Edition V:TM, but rather a recreation of the same themes and ideas to better fit the game twenty years later. It’s a lot shorter than the original version, but the Path of Evil Revelations is better left as some more open ended than concretely defined. I know WW/OPP has difficulty leaving concepts nebulous but hopefully they will leave the Path of Evil Revelations as is.

So that’s the book. Dread Names, Red List is a short little supplement, but it’s well written and one of the best releases for V20. The price for both the PDF and the print of demand versions are decent, making this a fine addition to your Vampire: The Masquerade collection. I can certainly recommend this over several other V20 releases, including the one that made this possible Children of the Revolution. That has to be some degree of irony, right?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Dread Names, Red List
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Shadowrun: Borrowed Time
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/27/2015 06:29:59
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/25/book-review-shadowrun-b-
orrowed-time/

Unlike a lot of tabletop games, Shadowrun has had a ton of fantastic fiction released for it. Whether you’re talking the original Robert N. Charrette trilogy, Tom Dowd’s Burning Bright, or many of the other books that came out of the FASA/TOR deal back in the early days of the game, you were usually guaranteed a good read. That hasn’t always been the case the past few years. The short pieces of fiction are almost always great. Pieces like Neat, Another Rainy Night, Sail Away, Sweet Sister, and The Vladivostok Gauntlet have all been top notch. The latest batch of novels however… let’s say they haven’t been as good as those released in the past. Hell on Water and Fire & Frost were not things I could recommend to anyone, for example. I’ve been afraid to pick up Crimson because I didn’t want to be hit with a third bad Shadowrun novel in a row. I skipped Dark Resonance for this reason as well (But Ashe reviewed it and enjoyed it for what it was, so I’ll probably go back and get that). I was content to stick with older Shadowrun novels for a while, but R.L. King asked me to review Borrowed Time and I agreed to do so. Which brings us to the very article you are reading. Did Borrowed Time continue the streak of bad Shadowrun novels or has the fiction side of the Sixth World started to show signs of its former self?

First off, the protagonist of Borrowed Time is one of my two favorite Jackpointers – Winterhawk. I don’t know why, but I always picture him looking like Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun facially, even though one has a beard and one doesn’t and I know what Winterhawk looks like from SR4e and Shadowrun Returns. Maybe it’s the fact they are somewhat similar personality-wise. It’s not that I think all mages look alike, I swear! I love the idea of an upper class scholary Shadowrunner that is in it more for the knowledge than for a payday, fragging feebs or sticking it to the man. It’s a unique dynamic when so many Shadowrun characters blur together. Oh, another grizzled Orc Street Samurai? Ho hum. Winterhawk has always stood out in personality, style and tone and so I really enjoy when he shows up (or actually leads) a Jackpoint discussion. Because of this, a full novel featuring him made me extremely optimistic for Borrowed Time. Oh, who is my other favorite? It’s Plan 9, but I can’t imagine how a novel involving him… er, her… er, it… er… them(?) would work without potentially ruining the character’s mystique and comedy value.

For those of you new to Shadowrun, I’m happy to say that Borrowed Time is exceptionally newcomer friendly. The novel doesn’t bring up plot points, situations or characters you can only understand by having been a fan of the Sixth World for many years and read through multiple supplements and sourcebooks to truly understand what is going on. One of Shadowrun‘s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses is the constant Metaplot weaved through all the gaming books. For long time fans, it’s wonderful to see this rich tapestry and history unfolding before you. For newcomers it can be intimidating, confusing and extremely annoying, as most books refer to previously released titles or make references to them in a way that the authors assume you’ve read and owned everything put out for Shadowrun in the past few years. This is not the case with Borrowed Time. It’s a very straightforward novel that doesn’t really go in-depth about the Sixth World and how the earth of the 2070s differs from the real life version without dragons, elves and cyberware that we live on today in 2015. So you don’t have to worry about who Dunkelzahn is, the names of all the Megacorps or what a Physical Adept it. Everything is pretty self-explanatory in Borrowed Time, which makes it a great starting point for people who have been interested in Shadowrun but haven’t taken the leap yet. About the only question I could see newcomers having is, “What is a Rigger?” since four different ones show up in the novel, but even someone totally new to Shadowrun will walk away with a basic idea of thinking it is slang for a vehicle driver… which is right in an elementary way. So if you’ve been wary of the sheer amount of back history Shadowrun usually relies on you knowing, worry not, as Borrowed Time will gives you all the basics you need to understand the Sixth World, in addition to being a fun read to boot.

So now, let’s talk plot. As mentioned previously, Borrowed Time is about Winterhawk, who has more or less retired from Shadowrunning. So what brings him back for a mission? Ancient tomes containing mystical secrets? A plot by insect shamans to take over the world? Shutting down an evil corporation? No, nothing no grandiose. This time Winterhawk is doing a run because he has no choice. My favorite mage/scholar has been given a complicated poison that is guaranteed to kill him. The only way to get the antidote is to do the run a particular Mr. Johnson has asked him to complete. Why go to this trouble to make Winterhawk fulfill the mission instead of simply ask? Well, those reasons will unfold as you read the novel. Unfortunately for our protagonist, he has no choice but to comply. To this end, Winterhawk has to assemble a team and engage in a mission that involves extracting an employee from the Shiawase Corporation and having them guide the team to an artifact that Johnson desperately wants to get their mitts on. Of course, no run ever goes as planned, and so Winterhawk sees his team going from Seattle to California to opposite ends of Australia (the only two cities I’ve been to Down Under, in fact!). What’s worse is that the team sees not one, but two betrayals as the novel goes on, a lot of infighting amongst this motley crew, and perhaps the worst possible outcome when the extraction half of the missions occurs. All in all, even for Shadowrun, this particular mission seems to be cursed. Speaking of a cursed mission, the MacGuffin at the heart of it all? Oh man, it’s bad hoodoo. Bad enough that two members of the assembled team don’t make it out alive. I won’t spoil who they are, but I will use this to illustrate the point that this mission isn’t like some high fantasy licensed RPG fiction where everyone comes out unscathed. This is Shadowrun chummers, and although the mortality rate isn’t as high as say, Call of Cthulhu, runs go bad and runners get killed. This book highlights how complex even the simplest of missions (on paper) become.

Characterization is definitely the high point of the novel. Winterhawk of course shines, thanks to being written by his creator, but the supporting cast is really well written too. Within the novel you’ll meet Scuzzy, the socially awkward Decker (only schleps call them hackers) with a heart of gold. There’s Ocelot, an old friend of Winterhawk who is pretty much a white hat and who suffers from some notable issues with claustrophobia. There’s Dreja, the socially conscious Ork Street Samurai who has past issues with Winterhawk and comes on the mission for her own reasons. You have Tiny, another Ork Street Samurai who is nowhere as socially conscious as Dreja but makes up for it with his love of guns. Finally there is Kivuli, a silent but deadly elf. These six make up the core of the team, but other characters will come and go throughout the novel. There are four different Riggers (don’t worry, it’s not a Spinal Tap situation), the extraction target and Thuma, an aboriginal apprentice of magic flitter through the novel. There isn’t a lot of depth to the antagonists of the story save for the one that gets the whole chain of events starts, since they don’t show up very often. This is simply because the book is far more about interpersonal team dynamics and the evolution of the characters than it is protagonists vs. antagonists. Sure, there are some battles interspersed throughout the novel, but this is not an action packed book. The story is a very slow burn. The full team isn’t assembled until a quarter of the way in. You don’t get the big picture as to what all has transpired in-between the lines until sixty percent of the way in. You don’t get to the start of the actual climax until the last ten percent of the book. Again, these are NOT bad things. Think of it more as an adventure that is more role-playing than roll-playing or the difference between a hack and slash dungeon crawl and a narrative driven piece where the action is in the words rather than the combat. I personally prefer my novels to be more character driven and action-driven, so I really enjoyed Borrowed Time for what it was.

Now, no novel is perfect, and as much as I enjoyed this one, I did have a minor issue with the climax of the book. Now this isn’t a spoiler, but obviously Winterhawk’s side won (even though there were fatalities along the way), but even after reading the climax several times, I couldn’t really figure out HOW they won. I couldn’t tell if it was because of causalities suffered on the bad guy’s side, if the host body for SOMETHING wasn’t strong enough and things would have just fizzled out no matter what, if the team’s face (for this situation) managed a critical success negotiation-wise, or if the people he was trying to negotiate with had no intention of helping the main bad guy anyway and he was just deluded into thinking it was. It was never clear which of the following caused the downfall of the antagonists-side, if any, or even a combo of the events, and if I was unsure which is the correct answer to why we didn’t have a massive shakeup in the Shadowrun meta-plot, I’m not sure newcomers will either. This is a minor quibble though, as I have said before, and aside from my confusion on this particular plot point, Borrowed Time is a top notch novel from beginning to end.

So, after a streak of some bad SR novels, Borrowed Time proved that long form Sixth World fiction can be as good as the short stories and novellas Catalyst Game Labs has been putting out for a while. Borrowed Time is a fine read, even if you’re brand new to Shadowrun and might be a better way to get your feet wet than the core 5e rulebook itself. It’s good enough it has me considering whether or not I should pick up Dark Resonance and Crimson, which is a good sign, but I might just wait for Shaken since I have two core rulebooks and a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that needs to be reviewed. For now though, I’m quite happy with Borrowed Time and I think you will be too, even if you’re relatively unfamiliar with Shadowrun.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Borrowed Time
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Forever Folio (May 2015)
Publisher: Forever People
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/13/2015 06:37:44
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/13/tabletop-review-forever-
-folio-issue-1/

Forever Folio is the new house engine magazine from UK RPG publisher Forever People. Now I’ve never played Wyrd nor EVP, which are the two games they produce, but you DO get a free version of the Wyrd Game Systems and Settings with this Magazine, so that’s a nice bonus. I love gaming magazine and since this is a “Pay What You Want” release, it means that anyone (or everyone) can get it for free if they are hard up for cash or skeptical about the contents and quality. Of course, if you like what you see, you can always go back and give Forever People a few bucks or, better yet, purchase some of their games.

Because this magazine is a house engine, you should expect Forever Folio to focus on Forever People’s games, not some other companies. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be articles about non FP products though. In this very issue, there is a piece on a film called “The Dwarves of Demrel that is trying to raise 40K via crowdfunding on Kickstarter. I was backer #64 and honestly, it was this piece that drew me to trying out the magazine (besides my love of RPG mags) and also got me to download an adventure for EVP, which I’ll review later this month as well. There’s only a week left to help crowdfund “The Dwarves of Demrel” and it’s three-fourths of the way home so, consider backing it.

Anyway, let’s talk magazine contents. First up, there is a transcribed interview with Wyrd author David Sharrock. This original was posted online at RPG.net, but Forever Folio has cleaned it up, given the piece a nice layout and some pretty artwork and made it easier on the eyes all-around. There are still some errors though, like “rill” instead of “roll,” but the piece gives newcomers a good idea about what they can expect from Wyrd in terms of both setting and mechanics.

After that comes “The Unsung Weave,” which is the start a free short serialized campaign for Wyrd. Of course to run “The Unsung Weave,” you will three different books, so while the adventure is free, the experience is not. This adventure does feel like it can be ported over to other systems with a little work and it’s designed for new players/character so it’s a great way to get a feel for whether Wyrd is for you or not. Further issues of Forever Folio will continue the campaign so if you like what you see, keep getting the magazine.

The third article is the piece about “The Dwarves of Demrel.” Then you get a look at Forever People’s newest RPG, EVP. This interests me far more than Wyrd, and although this article is only a page long, it does a fine job of selling people on the concept of EVP. As I said, I do have an adventure for EVP that I’ll be reviewing and for now I’ll just say it comes with a LOT of .wav files.

The rest of the magazine consists of two articles on Mazes, Maps & Monsters which is designed to be a fantasy RPG for young children. The first article is a breakdown of the rules, along with an accompanying character sheet. The second is an adventure for the game entitled, “The Ruins of Peril,” complete with pictures of the ruins made in Legos. Adorable. Dung, the Philosophical Giant is the best NPC I’ve encountered all year.

All, in all, this is a fun first house engine magazine from Forever People. It did what it needed to and got me curious about the various products the company offers and as I said, I did download The Salem House Haunting for EVP, so that right there shows the magazine did its job. Forever Folio does feel like a bit of a soft sell from beginning to end, and it’s certainly geared towards people who are completely new to Wyrd and EVP, but it’s the first issue of a magazine – it SHOULD be an introductory piece. Anyway, Forever Folio was a fun read and I’d definitely recommend picking it up to see if any of the three games covered in this magazine are worth your time and money.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forever Folio (May 2015)
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Shadowrun: Lockdown
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2015 07:46:00
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/05/12/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-lockdown/

Shadowrun Lockdown is the tabletop tie-in to the new Shadowrun video game, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. For those of you finding Shadowrun Chronicles to be too much of a mess to play through, or prefer the tabletop game to video games, this is the probably your best way to experience the storyline. Oddly enough, there are three ways to pick up Lockdown. The first is by purchasing it as a $9.99 add-on to Shadowrun Chronicles through your Steam account. This was, until this weekend, the only way to get Lockdown. $9.99 sounds like a fantastic deal for a Shadowrun PDF, especially since CGL, along with Games Workshop and Onyx Path Publishing, tend to have the highest prices for their digital release. It’s not unusual for a 32-40 page supplement for Shadowrun to cost five bucks, so ten bucks for a full sourcebook – that might be the best deal the game has ever seen. Unfortunately, to get that $9.99 price tag, you do have to buy a $39.99 video game that is almost unplayable at times due to server issues (It’s getting fixed. Honest!). This is why I tend to refuse to buy online only video games, because they eventually shut down or don’t work well from the get-go. In essence, you’re just renting an online RPG, and god forbid it comes with a monthly fee to boot. Anyway, the only other way to get Lockdown is if you splurge for the SEVENTY DOLLAR “RPG SUPER DELUXE PACK” version of Shadowrun Chronicles and holy crap, it’s not worth that price tag. My advice is that, as good as Lockdown is, wait for a Steam sale and by the basic version of Shadowrun Chronicles and get the sourcebook that way. The cost for it will probably be reduced on that sale as well. Your last option is to purchase the book directly through DriveThruRPG.com… for $25. That’s a huge increase from the Steam price, but you also don’t have to buy a forty dollar video game to boot. So $25 for just the book, or $50 for the book and a video game. Again, waiting for a Steam sale is probably your best bet, as you’ll end up getting both for the same price as the DriveThru only options. You probably won’t have to wait long for a sale with the reviews Shadowrun Chronicles has gotten. However, Lockdown is arguably the best release for 5e so far, so it just depends on if you’re willing to play the waiting game or not.

I’ll be honest, I tend to LOVE Shadowrun, but Fifth Edition hasn’t done it for me. Oh, it hasn’t been the mechanics, although I know some people would love to play Edition Wars over that. It hasn’t been the writing. I honestly feel that Shadowrun has the best overall team of writers in the business right now. For me, it’s been the metaplot… which is telling, as it’s usually the best part of Shadowrun. Like a lot of people, I find the current CFD (a nanotech based “disease” where AI takes over carbon based lifeforms) to be terribly done. It has some potential, but quickly became the worst storyline in Shadowrun history. Yes, worse than the Aztlan-Amazonia war… which was something I didn’t think could be possible. Stolen Souls was horrible, and from looking at reviews from people besides myself and fan commentary across the net, my opinion on CFD seems to be the majority (It’s totally okay if you actually like the CFD metaplot though. It’s all opinion. I will not fault someone for liking something I hate or vice versa.) I’ve found it to be so bad I’ve stopped buying/reviewing Shadowrun releases for about a year. I get too many other review requests on a weekly basis, and I’d rather do something that slag on a game I otherwise love (and the poor authors stuck with some bad storylines).

However, Shadowrun is stuck churning out this part of the metaplot because they’ve backed themselves into a corner with it. It was Shadowrun‘s Roman Reigns. They put all their money on this one storyline and when the audience gave it a collective thumbs down, they weren’t really prepared for what that reaction. Unlike the WWE which hotshotted the title to Seth Rollins, CGL decided to run with the ball anyway and see if they could take their feces sandwich and make it the tastiest pile of poop they could. A good writer can’t salvage every bad editorial decision (Behold comics books as a great example), but they can make the bitter pill easier to swallow. Thankfully, CGL has the best collection of fiction writers in the industry right now (except for Fire & Frost and Hell on Water. Those are the exceptions) and that’s exactly what has happened here with Lockdown. This book takes the worst aspect of Shadowrun right now in CFD and even adds the things people have said would make the concept even stupider like going from a third rate cyber Invasion of the Body Snatchers to a third rate cyber Night of the Living Dead (We already have Shedim. We didn’t need nano-zombies). Yet somehow, the entire Lockdown sourcebook not only works, but it works really well. Perhaps it is because Lockdown is extremely isolated and closed off rather than being a world-wide epidemic. Perhaps because it is video-gamey and it’s easier to accept tons of two-dimensional cannon fodder in this. Perhaps it’s just the quality of the writing. Most likely, it is a combination of all things, but for the first time Shadowrun‘s CFD is tolerable. Who knows, this might finally be the catalyst to jettison it from the Metaplot (thank Cthulhu) and actually have me willing to review Shadowrun full time again.

So now, let’s talk Lockdown proper. Like any Shadowrun release. If you’ve played the video game Boston Lockdown, then you have some idea of what you’ll find in this sourcebook. For those who haven’t played the game, Lockdown essentially does to Boston, MA what Bug City did to Chicago, IL. This is a huge game changer for Shadowrun as essentially, the Boston metro area is quarantined with no way in or out. Yes, even runners and Megacorps are finding entry and/or escape extremely hard, but it needs to be. CFD is running amok, there are three powerful dragons in the mix and although there are supply drops, Boston is essentially what you see in a post-apocalyptic game. Granted, if people wanted a post-apocalyptic RPG, they’d be playing something else, but it does work here. More importantly, it still feels like Shadowrun even though you are in an isolated location. You’d be surprised how many runs you can get out of a situation like this.

Scattered throughout the book are occasional pieces of fiction. They’re entertaining and set the tone for the section that follows each one. The common character in all of the fiction pieces is a runner named A.J. who shows up as the narrator for actual section of the book later. However, A.J.’s narration section is apparently posthumous so reading fiction featuring him after this point is a little odd. You’ll also notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. This can be a bit odd, especially for those who haven’t picked up the tabletop version of Shadowrun before and just got this with their game purchase. Being a long-time fan of Shadowrun, I knew the score, who everyone was and what was going on, but the layout of the book could have been a LOT more newcomer friendly. Being newcomer-friendly has always a weak spot with CGL’s version of Shadowrun, and so this is no exception. The book does assume you are EXTREMELY familiar with Shadowrun. and especially Fifth Edition which takes place during the 2070s. Again, this is not a problem for longtime tabletop gamers. However, newcomers or those that are only used to the previous video games for the PC, SNES, Sega Genesis and Sega-CD, will probably be quite lost, especially since those games take place during the 2050s and use first and/or second edition Shadowrun rules. It’s okay though. Most of CGL’s version of Shadowrun sourcebooks and supplements take the form of Jackpoint narratives – which is essentially a chat room where runners get together and swap stories, secrets and snark. As such most of the book reads like short inter-connected fiction stories rather than a manual of mechanics and rules. So at least newcomers will get a level of entertainment rather than a bunch of jargon and rules. Those are almost always towards the back of a book, making for easy use in an actual gaming session. So if you’re new to Shadowrun and you like the world and writing style of Lockdown but you feel you are missing something, you are. Considering getting the core rulebook for Shadowrun, Fifth Edition to get a really strong overlay of the Sixth World and the mechanics that run the game. God knows Shadowrun Chronicles doesn’t really play like the tabletop game – which is neither bad nor good. I just don’t want you to think it’s a straight rules-port.

Lockdown begins with “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” which some of you might remember from the truly terrible Boston Adventures PDF, which comes with some versions of Shadowrun Chronicles. I was pretty cruel to that PDF because it did so many things horribly wrong and was littered with typos from beginning to end. Here in Lockdown you get that same section cleaned up, formatter correctly and edited. Yes, there are still a lot of typos and grammatical mistakes in Lockdown. It’s a CGL book and admittedly, they have some of the worst editing in the industry but oh man, is there a night and day difference between Boston Adventures and Lockdown.

Besides the part of “A Runner’s Guide to Boston” that is in both Boston tie-ins, the Lockdown version adds Jackpoint commentary and a lot more content. You get an overview of the Megacorps and how they are dealing with the Boston situation, along with some AA and non-profit organization. There’s also a long section on the local medical scene. This is especially noteworthy due to all the mishaps and carnage going on in Boston at this time. Hopefully you have that platinum Doc Wagon card in Boston chummer. You’ll also get a quick overview of the political mover and shakers in the metro area, a look at what the local dragons like Damon, Celedyr and others are up to, and even the local gang scene, be it small-time thuggery or large scale organization.

I have to say I loved this whole part of the book. It was well written and fun, without a dry or dull moment to be had. More importantly, it was the first time I’ve laughed at out at an official CGL release for Shadowrun. Unless you count the April Fools 2013 release, Rigger 4, which was fantastic. There were two very funny moments to be had in the Jackpoint commentary. Lockdown reminded me of the one thing I miss most about the FASA era of Shadowrun and that was the wonderful sense of humour the game had. CGL’s Shadowrun is closer to Warhammer 40K‘s GRIMDARK in tone and worldview than first and second edition’s scathing satire and dry wit. As much as I enjoy CGL’s take on Shadowrun, things like Lockdown and the Harebrained Schemes 2050 era videogames remind that the Sixth World didn’t use to be pure doom and gloom. Things like Rigger 4 show that the SR4/5e team is capable of some great comedy. It just isn’t something that ever really occurs in an official release anymore. So yes, two laugh out loud moments make the Shadowrun‘s zombie (CFD) apocalypse the funniest release CGL has put out for Shadowrun, and that’s a really odd thing to say when you think about it.

The next section is “Lockdown Timeline” and it’s here where you start to get a semblance of substance regarding what it going on in Boston. In the previous section, things were just hinted at vaguely. Here you get actual names, dates and events. I think Lockdown would have flowed better if this was first, especially for newcomers, who will be lost with the allusions and assumptions. Still, it’s a well written section and vets of Shadowrun will probably appreciate spoilers of events gradually being unfolded. In this way, Lockdown does read like a novel stated in medias res, which is somewhat uncommon for a gaming sourcebook. As the source book goes on, you get more and more concrete data, which allows a GM to share the first part of Lockdown without giving any spoilers while also not having to spend hours setting up the backstory.

From there we getting “Locking the Hub,” which is more Jackpoint commentary but this time it’s on what (lies) the media is telling the general public compared to what runners and the Megacorps know. You get a very detailed look at security around the QZ (Quarantined Zone) with a pretty stark look at how insanely hard it will be to get in or out of Boston once drek goes down. From there you get a rundown of what Miles Lanier(!) knows about the incident and a lot of dirty laundry the Megacorps don’t want the average person (or any person really) to know about. Eight different top top top top top secret projects are named, along with what corporations are to blame for them. Fun stuff. “Who’s Inside” gives you a list of major NPCs that are in the QZ. Dragons, corp heads and even Tommy Talon show up in Boston, although the latter appears to be a bad fake. From there we move to “Street Legends of Boston,” which is ten pages that covers twenty-four+ runners in the QZ for your GM to throw at you, be they ally or antagonist.

The longest section in Lockdown is “Inside the QZ: A Wanderer’s Guide.” This takes up nearly fifty pages and is a district by district look at the Boston metropolis, told from the point of view of two characters. It’s an excellent read and by far, the highlight of the book. I do miss the old city guides for games that were so prolific in the 90s, especially the 2e Vampire: The Masquerade “By Night books. This was probably the best look at a single contained area in Shadowrun since titles like Bug City, Tir Tairngire: The Land of Promise and California Free State. I would love to see more city guides for 5e, especially with the writing staff they currently have. A new pure Tir book, a look at the Carribean, parts of France, Bhutan, and so many other places would make for fantastic sourcebooks. Seattle, Denver, Berlin, Hong Kong, London and the like and been kind of done to death. There’s more to Shadowrun then those five cities and this “Wanderer’s Guide is exactly the type of thing I’d like to see more often for the Sixth World. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it’s a great read, gives you some interesting information about the area, a look at the movers and shakers in the QZ and most importantly, a metric ton of plot threads for a GM to use with their gaming group.

This brings us to the four adventures in this sourcebook. All four work best as a mini campaign with your runners trapped inside Boston during the “epidemic,” but there is no reason why you can’t pick and choose from the collection if you don’t like some of them. The first adventure is “Beantown Bound,” and as you can imagine, it’s about your runners going to Boston. This run is before the Quarantine occurs though. It’s a completely separate mission. It just happens that drek hits the fan while you are in the middle of this mission. “Beantown Bound” makes a great intro adventure to a Boston based campaign and even nets you a nice NPC henchmen/Runner in training or an ally in Knight Errant if you play your cards the right. “Beantown Bound” is laid out nicely, using the Shadowrun MissionsLockdown or played Shadowrun Chronicles, it’ll be a huge swerve to find themselves trapped in the QZ. Even if they have played the video game or read parts of this book, playing a parallel adventure to the events of the game is always fun. Look at Green Ronin’s Dragon Age and how decently that sold.

The next adventure is “Trainyard Troubles.” Here’s you’ll be working for the Megacorp MCT or the mob (depending on how “Beantown Bound” ended), trying to clear out a gang from the trainyards. Unfortunately the gang isn’t a straight forward group of punks with pikes, chains and Ares guns, but what run ever goes as smoothly as planned, am I right? This adventure gives you your first taste of CFD head cases, but it’s also got a single scene that might be a trigger for some gamers. Remember, QZ + CFD = no real laws or rules and so some people get even more depraved that ever. As such the runner can stop or ignore a kidnapper/rapist. The scene is just kind of in there as an aside/sidequest and has no real bearing on the rest of the adventure, so if you’re not comfortable running it, or some of your players might dislike the experience, you can excise it with null sweat. There is also the possibility of running into some CFD sufferers that aren’t so bad for body snatching AIs and a young child in distress…that well, my team murdered pretty quickly because they felt it was obviously a CFD setup. Was it? That’s for them to live with.

Adventure numero three is “Digging Deeper.” This is a set of six “events” that are really short adventures bundled together as one connected piece. There are potentially three more “sequels” that can occur based on your actions. Essentially you break into the MIT&T Containment Zone to retrieve something and after the words gets around of your success, many other organizations are interested in hiring you for very similar missions. Because you’re hitting the same target over and over, there is a lot of room for comedy, and repeat NPCs. We had a lot of fun with this one, but admittedly, we ran parts of it for laughs, almost like a sitcom due to “AGAIN? REALLY? We just took ten steps out of the location.”

The final adventure is “Bringing Down the House.” This is not only the last adventure, but it’s the most important one as your team decides who gets all sorts of damming information about the outbreak (and who caused) it. This means your choice determines what the general populace learns and what Megacorp gets hit badly (if any). Your choices to give the info include Knight Errant (your original hirer), Aegis Cognito, Ares, Aztechnology (boo!), EVO (just as big a boo as Aztech this time around), Horizon, Lone Star, Mitsuhama, Monobe International, Neo Net (another big boo!), Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, Shiawase, Wuxing, and Zeta-Impchem. Obviously, the more evil the company or the more they were behind the events that lead to the QZ, the more they are offering your team for the info. There are a few exceptions to this rule but remember, in Shadowrun if the money is too good to be true, it usually is. My players were torn between Monobe and Mitsuhama. Either choice ensured that two vile companies would get hurt severely (one perhaps destroyed altogether!) and provide the public with a lot of actual knowledge instead of media hype. What can I say, my players are white hats, more or less. In the end, my players went with Monobe since they offered twice as much money (and a special awesome bonus) in addition to ensure an ending as close as possible to “bad guys get theirs.” I’m not trying to influence the vote amongst SR fans to ensure one of these two corps win, but really, these do have the most story potential for the writers, and I’d love to see what they do with the result if either Japancorp wins.

The final section of the book is “Game Information.” If you’ve been waiting for mechanics, stats, gameplay and lists of things, you finally get it here on page 198. You get nearly thirty pages of content, which is pretty good for a Shadowrun book. Personally, I prefer the narrative, but if I didn’t enjoy the mechanics, I’d just buy the only novels from the 90s. In this section you’ll find a lot of info on CFD, although much of it is a rehash from Stolen Souls. There are some very interesting new options that a CFD sufferer can use in-game. We do finally get an answer for two quasi-cures, both of which are interesting. The game still strongly insists you don’t get a PC CFD though, which makes sense as it’s obvious CGL is still trying to work themselves out of the corner they boxed themselves into with Stolen Souls. There are also some new drugs, cyberware, devices, weapons and the like to use in your campaign. Everyone will love the “Crazy-Repller!” There are also discussions on a new dragon oriented ley line around Salem, Noice in the matrix and a trove of NPCs for use in your game. There isn’t a lot for a crunch fan compared to the amount of narrative in Lockdown, but what is here is pretty nice.

So there you go: Lockdown is easily the best gaming release for Shadowrun this year. It’s better than the video game it is a tie-in for (although give Cliffhanger a chance to fix the issues. Had the game been a non-online affair, it would actually be quite nice) and it’s relatively cheap for a CGL sourcebook. Now, is it worth getting the video game and the sourcebook for $50 or should you just get the book on its own? That’s up to you. Again, the Steam summer sale will probably see Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown with a nice discount, so you might want to get it then. No matter what though, you really should get Lockdown if you’re a fan of the current tabletop game. I’d love to see more city books like this in the future.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Lockdown
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Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2015 14:11:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/04/29/tabletop-review-castle--
keepers-guide-castles-crusades/

Truly, the Castles & Crusades Kickstarter from last year is the gift that keeps on giving. If you’re a longtime reader of the site, you’ve seen my reviews of the new Player’s Handbook and Monsters & Treasure. I even showed off the first round of physical merchandise for backers, including leather versions of both of the aforementioned books. Now, with the release of the digital Castle Keeper Guide, the second round of content is getting ready to be unleashed on gamers, and I for one can’t wait.

A word before we begin though. The only real difference between the first and second printing is that the new version is in full colour. The old version of the CKG was essentially the same exact book, just in black and white. Sure some things have been cleaned up like grammar and formatting and some rules have been clarified, but if you already own the original printing of the book, be it digital or physical, this second printing it not something you need. Again, this is NOT a new edition of the game, just a much prettier version of the Castle Keeper’s Guide. I mean, it still has the original 2010 dedications intact. So if color doesn’t matter to you, you can stick with the old version of the CKG. If you’re new to Castles & Crusades or want to upgrade to a much snazzier version of the book, then by all means, keep on reading.

The Castle Keeper’s Guide can be divided into three topics: The Character, Worlds of Adventure and The Siege Engine. In many ways, the CKG is a combination of bits left out from the PHB and M&T to form the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Castles & Crusades. If you are familiar with first and/or second edition AD&D, you’ll see a lot of elements from those games rewritten here. Again, because the CKG is kind of a mash up of supplementary info for the PHB and M&T, it’s perhaps the least necessary of the core rulebooks for Castles & Crusades. Indeed, it is exceptionally easy to play the game without ever owning or even reading the Castle Keeper’s Guide – especially if you are experienced with other high fantasy tabletop RPGs.

“The Character” consists of four chapters. “Expanding Characters” gives you “new” ways to roll up a C&C character. By new, I mean all the methods found in your AD&D2e PHB. However there is much more than that. You can have attribute modifiers based on different versions of AD&D like 2e where a stat with a 9 would give you neither a positive or a negative, or 3e where a 9 would give you a -1 to rolls using that stat. This chapter also covers stats that reach 20 or higher, Beauty (Unearthed Arcana‘s Comeliness and new powers for high level characters. The chapter also includes new racial variants like Deep Dwarves or Orcs as PC races. Chapter 2 is “Magic” and it is just a brief overview of magic in the C&C world. It’s mostly filler like examples of starting spellbooks and the importance/costs of material components. The wizardry stuff is a bit dull but the clerical side is actually pretty interesting with topics like creating holy ground and holy symbols. Illusionists, a separate magic class from Wizards ala 1e AD&D get a really nice write-up here as well. As a big fan of the class I thoroughly enjoyed this. Sure it’s filler, but it’s FUN filler. Chapter 3 is “Expanding Equipment” and covers incidentals you might not always think of in a RPG like rations, room, board and encumbrance. I still remember when DMs would force you to adhere to those things but these days, most games don’t even bring up these concepts. This chapter is mostly just lists of knick-knacks for your PC. The final chapter in this section is “Non-Player Characters: and it’s simply a long look at how to make and play NPCs that will populate your C&C world. The chapter gives you a long lists of occupations along with rules and tips for designing henchmen. Most of what is in Part One is stuff you probably already know, especially if you’re an experienced gamer. It’s nice reading for those of you who like gaming books, but nothing in this first part of the Castle Keeper’s Guide makes this must purchase rulebook.

Part Two, “World of Adventure” makes up nine chapters and consists of half the book. Much like “The Character,” “World of Adventure” is mostly background and filler to help you flesh out your own personal C&C universe. “The World” talks about homebrew campaign design and items like topography, climate, vegetation and biomes. It’s very detailed and worth reading even if you’re not a C&C player due to the sheer amount of information on homebrewing. “The City” is similar to the previous chapter, except it discusses man’s impact on the world, specifically urban environments. Governments, diplomacy, economy and social order all brought up in this chapter. So are building costs, occupations, construction and income. “Dungeons” are the next chapter and like the previous two, the subject matter is really discussed in detail. Here you really learn what it is like to be undergrown. Light, temperature, vegetation, humidity, air quality and more are all things this chapter looks at. Unfortunately, most GM/DMs/whatever I know rarely take these things into consideration. Just a really great job on dungeon ecology here. Chapter 8 is “Air and Water Adventure,” which is an odd title. It talks about how hard it can be to not only write an adventure that takes place on a boat or in the air, but double so to make said adventure fun or enjoyable. I liked the stark honesty about air/water adventures. The only one I’ve ever really enjoyed was Ship of Terror for Ravenloft. This chapter tries to acknowledge the uniqueness of these types of adventure while giving ideas to make them fun and realistic. As such, you get info on ship movement speeds, how to do damage to ships, navigating and combat onboard vessels. The neatest part was fighting from canoes. Just a weird situation. The air section is similar but with an emphasis on flying creatures or spells that let a PC fly. Next up is “Equipment Wastage” which brings up the reality that some GMs let their players walk around or store tens of thousands (or more) of gold pieces along with a dump truck load of rare gems and magic items. Here we are given ways for the Castle Keeper to let’s say “relieve” players of all that treasure so the game stops being a Monty Haul campaign. It also talks about the wear and tear of equipment and how to roleplay it. Very nice! These are great optional ideas most modern games don’t even think about.

Chapter Ten is “Land as Treasure” and that really is the gist of what you’ll find in these pages. It’s about when and how to offer your PCs land and then how to use it as the springboard for potential stories and/or adventures. It even talks about what type of players probably shouldn’t have land. After all, if all they want to do is hack and slash roll-play rather than roleplay, there’s no point in design a duchy for them, right? Anyway, “Land as Treasure” talks about titles, nobility, and what to do with land once you have again. Again, yet another chapter you don’t need to actually play Castles & Crusades, but it’s still a fantastic in-depth look at topics most games just don’t think of, much less discuss these days. I love it. Chapter Eleven is “Going to War” and it’s here when you’ll learn to run large-scale battles. You get information of why kingdoms or people might go to war, and also how to roleplay such a scenario. Really, though, you’re probably here for the grand scale combat ala Battlesystem. Chapter Twelve is “Monster Ecology” and it’s a great discussion on actually roleplaying monsters rather than just using them as something for the PCs to attack. Why is this monster opposing the players. How does it think? What does it want? Those sorts of things are covered here. Way too many games use monsters as a one dimensional, easily exchangeable boogeyman to hack and slash. “Monster Ecology” reminds us that is the exact opposite point of a RPG. After all, if you wanted those type of enemies, you could play Double Dragon or River City Ransom, right? This is another section I think everyone should read, even if they don’t play C&C or even fantasy RPGs at all. It’s that important. Our final chapter in this section is “Expanding the Genre” and it simply brings up how to mix and match pieces from other genres into your high fantasy C&C game. Technology, horror, noir and even post-apocalyptic games can take place in Castles & Crusades. You’re not limited to Conan/LotR high fantasy with the system/setting. Here you’ll find suggestions on how to make things more interesting for your players.

Finally we get to the third section of the book, “The Siege Engine” which lasts for six chapters. The first, Chapter Fourteen, is “Advancing the Game” is about running a game. In many ways, this begins the actual “Castle Keeper” part of the book instead of just being good advice for gamers all-around. Here you get advice on forming a group, running adventures and most importantly, how to start designing your own plots, stories and hooks if you’ve only ever run store-bought adventures. There’s some fantastic stuff here, including ways to make the game runs smooth and what to do about handing out experience points. Chapter Fifteen takes the same name as the section – “The Siege Engine,” which is weird. For those of you who have been waiting for mechanics to rear their head in this book, well here you go. This is really a look at the inner workings of the system and how it differs from a d20/AD&D retroclone. It’s an interesting read, and it lets you see where the designers were coming from, but it’s probably stuff you already know if you’ve ever played a D&D style game before. Chapter Sixteen is “Treasure,” which is odd because two chapters have already talked about treasure earlier in the book. Here the book discusses how to properly balance treasure, so you don’t have a Monty Haul campaign, but also so characters are working for a few silver pieces at high level. It also talks about the different forms treasure can take. It’s not all gold and jewels, after all. Magic items are also discussed here.

Chapter Seventeen is “Iron and Sulfur: Combat” and this is more of an explanatory chapter. How much combat is too much? How much is too little? How descriptive should your combat narratives be? Things like that. It also discusses combat basics, gives you SIX different options for critical hits (rolling a 20) and how battle are affected by terrain, line of sight and surprise. It’s a fine read, but all stuff that might be better off in the PHB. Chapter Eighteen is “Skill Packages” and again, this is probably something that could be/should be moved to the Player’s Handbook. Much of this is a combination of AD&D 2e’s skill system with 3e’s d20 skill system. They even brought back Secondary Skills! It’s kind of nice. They also ad in Advantages, which gives you slight bonuses to specific skill checks. A Dwarf can take Stalwart Courage which gives them +2 to fear checks, for example. There are general, racial and class advantages, all of which have minor effects, but can really flesh out a character. Fun concept! Finally we get to the last chapter in the book which is “Character Death and Fates.” This is a nice summation of how to deal with PC death, be they a single character or a Total Party Kill. You get the classic “You’re not actually dead until you hit -10 Hit Points” from D&D, but also ways a character can die besdies combat. Disease, limb loss, old age, and even different types of infection are covered here. You’ll also find a section on insanity. Most of all though, the chapter talks about how some people might react negatively to a character dying and ways to deal with that. I appreciated that as some people take their gaming WAY too seriously or get attached to their PC more than they probably should.

That, my friends, is the second printing of the Castle Keeper’s Guide Castles & Crusades. It’s a fantastic book and I highly recommend it, although I can’t deny it might be better to divide the book up between the Player’s Handbook and Monster’s and Treasure to make C&C a game with just two core rulebooks. That probably won’t ever happen, which makes the CKG a fun but by no means necessary addition to your Castles & Crusades collection. Much of what is in here are optional ideas and essays about gaming and there is nothing in the CKG that is required to play Castles & Crusades. It’s still a fantastic book. I cannot say that enough, and I can’t wait for my leatherbound edition to arrive in about a week. We’ll do an unboxing of that when it arrives with the second half of the C&C goodies from the Kickstarter,

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Castle Keepers Guide
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