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The Curse of Hallas Reach
Publisher: Assassin Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/01/2014 09:56:24
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/01/tabletop-review-the-cur-
se-of-hallas-reach-ogl/

The Curse of Hallas Reach is an OGL adventure, meaning it can be used with Dungeons & Dragons 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder. It’s a fairly straight forward adventure consisting of two dungeon crawls and a decent amount if investigation/NPC interaction between each hack and slash affair. The adventure is designed for characters between Levels 3 and 5 although there is no recommended party size.

Now, from the cover, you might be expecting a Ravenloft style fantasy horror adventure. While supernatural beasties are at the root of this adventure, it’s more in line with the very traditional D&D adventures, so don’t be expecting there to be an emphasis on horror or terror. Unless the GM decides to crank up those factors. Instead The Curse of Hallas Reach is very reminiscent of the adventures we played in the 80s and early 90s where you are given a quest and then dungeon crawl to find the root of the problem. The adventure plays it very safe and sticks to a formulaic and linear progression. This isn’t a bad thing. A linear adventure is only bad if players feel they are being railroaded to a specific destination and have no real control over the plot or even their characters. The Curse of Hallas Reach offers some minor Call of Cthulhu-esque investigation options but a lot of the plot progression will come from talking to and learning about recent events from the NPCs within the town. This means that The Curse of Hallas Reach has something for every type of gamer and it does a nice job of balancing the aspects. Sure the dungeon crawls will be the most memorable and take up the most time, but it is nice to see the gamers who like to solve mysteries or engage in intrigue have not been forgotten.

As you might imagine, The Curse of Hallas Reach finds the PCs in the small town of Hallas Reach. Perhaps they are there on a longer journey to stock up on supplies or perhaps they just needed a place to sleep for the night. How and why the PCs are there is up to your respective Dungeon Master. Once there though, several packs of ghouls erupt from under the earthen floor of the town and the PCs have to help the town guard fight them off. The town’s guard is depleted in the attack and the PCs are asked to trace the ghouls; footsteps to see where they came from. An initial foray of the caverns below Hallas Reach combined with post dungeon crawl conversations with townfolks will lead the characters to a much larger dungeon crawl event and the true culprit behind this ghoul attack. The time between both dungeon crawls is padded with three different random encounter charts (wilderness, night and mire), each with very different events and creatures to encounter. The Nighttime list is my favorite as it offers some spooky bits to flavor up what would otherwise be a pretty humdrum adventure.

The second dungeon crawl is quite large, with twenty six locations and three levels to scour. Here you’ll find the adventure’s big bad, along with foul beasties to slay and treasure to take. Again, what’s here is fairly pat and standard. That’s not to say The Curse of Hallas Reach is generic, because it offers some story depth and interesting antagonists. The adventure does play things safe by providing the same type of adventure (flow-wise) that you’ve probably played dozens of times before. That’s okay. Not every adventure needs to be some incredible mind blowing affair that changes how you game. The Curse of Hallas Reach sticks to tropes but it also does them very well. There’s a good amount of flavor and descriptive text to help make the adventure seem spookier or eerier than your normal dungeon crawl, but don’t be looking for some sort of deep story or even real plans from the Big Bad on what is he doing other than “Go team evil!” Still, it’s a fairly fun adventure, especially for new or casual gamers and I have to admit the tactics and battle strategies for the final boss were really well done. He’ll definitely pose a challenge.

The Curse of Hallas Reach doesn’t have much in the way of art or fancy schamncy layouts. It is what it is – a solid fun third party adventure that doesn’t waste time with frills. This is certainly reflected in the price point of the piece. I’m kind of glad that the adventure included a mini monster manual with all the creatures you can encounter, along with descriptions of several traps and diseases the PCs can encounter. I’d rather have the substance than art, you know?

All in all, The Curse of Hallas Reach is a formulaic piece that some gamers might get déjà vu from, but it’s also a fun adventure and worth playing or at least reading – especially since it’s only $2.99. For the cost of a comic book, you and your friends can spend a few gaming sessions doing battle with ghouls and investigating ominous locales. That’s a pretty good deal in my book.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Curse of Hallas Reach
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The Manor, Issue #7
Publisher: GM Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2014 08:02:44
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/29/tabletop-review-the-man-
or-issue-7/

The Manor is a OSR style fanzine that I haven’t had a chance to pick up until now. Like most gaming magazines, it contains a range of articles, adventures and new things to dismember. Like a lot of magazines, the quality of the articles varies, although which ones are worth reading depends on the point of view of whoever is paging through it. After all, what interests one person may bore another.

I will say that I enjoyed this issue of The Manor and I will probably be coming back for more. There were six articles and my biggest complaints are in fact minor ones about layout. The copyright information on page two cuts off abruptly after “All Artwork, Maps and Articles are the,” which I first took to be a bad sign, but thankfully the content was pretty good. The other weird layout issue was with the “Tenkar & the Badger” radio ad on the last page. The entire magazine is laid out in portrait, but the ad for this is in landscape, meaning you have to turn your head to an odd angle to read it…or just turn your e-reader if you’re not at a computer.

There are six articles in The Manor, Issue #7, along with a one page introduction from Tim Shorts. The first article is “Boltswitch’s Mobile Potion Emporium.” It’s three pages of fiction where a Gnome named Mikklum Boltswitch is hawking potions from the back of a cart, snake oil salesman style. Seven potions are discussed, with the name in Italics, followed by a description of what the potion does. This was a fun little piece and a neat way to showcase new items. Usually new items are done in a very dry straightforward manner, and I liked the method in which this was done.

“Skinwalker (Coyote)” is the next piece and it’s about a new playable race/class. This was the only article I didn’t care for, but that’s because it felt unfinished. You’re given an XP chart, abilities gain by level and the usual weapon/alignment restrictions, but the saving throws and THAC0 bits are also missing. There is also no indication if the piece is a PC class, NPC class or the like. What’s here has a decent start but it really needed to be fleshed out more. Right now it just feels like there are huge gaps in the piece.

“Mirror, Mirror” is article #3 and it gives us eight magical mirrors to throw into your game. Unlike “Boltswitch’s Mobile Potion Emporium,” “Mirror Mirror” is done in the usual descriptive narrative instead of a fiction based one. Each of the mirrors in this piece are a lot of fun and I really loved the artwork in this article. The Mirror of Mugging and the Mirror of Morbidity are my two favorites. Each mirror only gets a paragraph of description, but that’s on par with what you would find in the DMG, so I’m fine with it as the whole piece is a lot of fun.

“Trouble Down the Well” is the first of two adventures in this issue. You get a one page map and a one page description of the adventure. A well in a small town has dried up and it has started to smoke. The local blacksmith went down to see what has occurred and never came back. Now it is up to the PCs to save the day. It’s a pretty simple and short affair with only a single monster to deal with. You should have no problem playing this in only a single session. It’s a fun little adventure for what it is and that’s all that matters.

The second adventure in the piece is “Horrid Caves” and it is a full length adventure that only has nine locations so it too should be able to completed in a single session. However, the adventure also contains a ton of new monsters and spells. It’s a pretty routine hack and slash dungeon crawl, but the new monsters and spells that show up are quite weird and remind me of something I’d see in Dungeon Crawl Classics. I really enjoyed this piece and since it is for first or second level characters, it’s a great way to let people try out their new characters or to pad out another short adventure.

The sixth and final article is a haiku about a mind flayer. It’s amusing and the full page of art really makes the piece.

In all, this seventh issue of The Manor was a lot of fun, and if I have time, I might pick up some of the earlier issues to see if they are as good. The issue is short, with a page count of under thirty, but it’s also only $2.50, so it’s not as if the zine will break your bank. The two adventures and the two magic items articles are well worth reading through if you are a fan of retro clones like OSRIC, Swords and Wizardry Castles & Crusades and the like. I wish I had more room in this review to showcase the artwork too. If you have the time and spare change, definitely pick this up.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #7
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Geoff Gillan's The Machine King
Publisher: Cthulhu Reborn
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/28/2014 07:03:31
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/28/tabletop-review-the-mac-
hine-king-call-of-cthulhu/

The Machine King is an adventure that was originally designed back in the late 90s for Dreamlands book that never made it out of the planning stages. Why, I have no idea. I can only go off the Author’s note that starts of this long adventure. Since then, the adventure has been though lost to a flood, found, rebuilt from the ground up and now released as a freebie via DriveThruRPG.com. The fact that The Machine King is free is reason enough to download it. I mean, even if you never play it or outright don’t like it, it’s a free addition to your Call of Cthulhu collection. It’s not a bait and switch where the free adventure is used to actually hard sell some upcoming books or requires half a dozen or more sourcebooks to be playable. Nope, all you need is a CoC core rulebook, although the edition this was designed for is not stated in the text. Anything pre-seventh and you’ll be fine though.

The Machine King is a combination Cthulhu by Gaslight and Dreamlands adventure where characters will time in both setting. Of course, the Dreamlands in this adventure is not the standard one that you usually find in Call of Cthulhu, but its own pocket dimension with different rules, creatures and atmosphere. In many ways, The Machine King doesn’t feel like a Call of Cthulhu adventure at all. There are no standard Lovecraftian foes or creatures to encounter, and the mood of the piece is notably different from what you usually encounter with CoC adventures. There is certainly a steampunk vibe for much of the Dreamlands section of the adventure and the Cthulhu by Gaslight climax will be greeted by delight or disdain – depending on how much you like fighting a giant killer robot in the middle of London. This is definitely going to be one of those hate them or love endings, based on one’s play style and how staunchly you keep to Lovecraftia in your games.

In many ways The Machine King looks at the horrors of the Industrial Revolution through the eyes of a nightmare, showcasing the exploitation of the masses, and how early industry focused on production over the safety and working conditions of the employees. Now this does not mean that The Machine King is espousing a Luddite stance. Indeed, the Luddites do make an appearance in the adventure, but they are treated and portrayed crazy extremists. So don’t be looking for a political philosophical message hidden between the lines here. It’s just that the Industrial Revolution and the early machines of that era are good fodder for a horror story, that’s all.

The adventure itself starts with the Investigators having nightmares about a horrible clockwork like cog filled world and a machine that is about to crush them when they are saved by a young urchin. They wake up and things seem fine. Just a bad nightmare, right? Well that’s until they see the paper a few instances of machines gone amok. Between this, one Investigator having eerie visions of their savior from the previous night beseeching them for help and a new exhibition as the London Science Museum entitled “The Machine Kings,” the characters will be drawn once more into the dark dystopian dream world of the Machine King.

Once in the dimension of dreams, Investigators may find themselves there for the long haul. This part of the adventure is designed to play out over several sessions, making it essentially a mini campaign. Be prepared for that if you decide to run this, especially if players are used to shorter one-to-two session pieces. The adventure lays out an entire world where players may become cogs in the machine, transformed into Overseers or Workers (thus splitting the party) or even engaging in a full scale revolt by the citizens of the this dreamworld. This long scale mid-part of the adventure is only briefly discussed in the text, meaning the Keeper will really have to flesh out these encounters and story scenes to make this part work. After that you have a weirdly done steam engine chase scene where Investigators and the Machine King using dreaming powers to combat each other.

I have to admit, I was very interested in the first half of the adventure. It was your normal weird little CoC adventure full of strange happenings and investigations. However, once you hit the dream world of the Machine King, the adventure just lost a lot of steam, so to speak. The dream world of the Machine King is really fleshed out, but is a weird juxtaposition to go from a very detailed step by step adventure for the first part into what is more a campaign setting than an actual adventure for the second half. Key locations, enemies and events are noted, but there is very little in the way of structure or getting characters from point A to point B. Younger or less experienced Keepers aren’t going to enjoy the dramatic change in writing style or adventure progression and even more veteran CoC Keepers will notice how piecemeal the piece feels. I don’t know. Once you get into the Machine King world, the adventure feels like more of a dungeon crawl/hack and slash affair where you’re either killing machine monsters or being maimed by them. The climax of the adventure with the steam train fell utterly flat for me and the return to the real world and what happens their actually elicited a loud groan from me. The piece just lost me entirely in this latter half and I can’t say I’d ever want to play or run The Machine King as neither the setting nor the events were something I enjoyed.

That said, The Machine King is not all bad. There’s some great ideas here and I loved the first half. It just seems that when you hit the dreamlands that the adventure spirals out of control including too much background information and a description of key events. It’s like they just kept adding more content to where the adventure become supersaturated with things. There are new skills and abilities added to your character sheet (which come in at such a low level you can’t really use them to any effect because of how you “level up” in Call of Cthulhu), along with splitting up the players into multiple groups which can be long and dull for one group when the Keeper in engaging with the other. It stopped being an adventure and more a campaign setting. I loved the charts for Machine Accidents and Mechanical Nightmares. There is also an amazing amount of detail just of the Machine King’s realm. Nine pages of the adventure (15%) are allocated to just the background information of the world (although it’s slammed right into the middle of a scene, completely disrupting the flow of the text and book entirely. This should have been either an appendix or right at the start of the Machine King section rather than appearing abruptly in a way that didn’t feel or look right) and even more are devoted to specific locations, so depth and clarity are not a problem. It’s just not a setting I particularly cared for and the characters, antagonist or otherwise, held no interest for me. There’s some great artwork here and you can tell the Cthulhu Reborn team worked really hard on this. It just wasn’t for me. I think if they had scaled this back a bit instead of trying to cram so much into a single adventure, this would have flowed better and been a more fun experience.

Now, just because *I* didn’t care for The Machine King doesn’t mean it’s not for you. There’s a lot of content here and the themes and atmosphere of the adventure might be far more up your alley than it was mine. The Machine King is FREE after all, so there is no harm in downloading it and seeing for yourself if you like it. Who knows, maybe you’ll get more out of The Machine King than I did! I’ll give it a thumb’s in the middle because of the sheer size and scope of this piece, even if the content and content alike weren’t for me.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Geoff Gillan's The Machine King
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Newshounds #1
Publisher: NUELOW Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2014 06:34:57
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/21/tabletop-review-newshou-
nds-1-d6xd6-core/

Usually NUELOW Games puts out pieces for their ROLF brand, but Newshounds #1 is different. It’s actually for a system that’s not even out yet! I’m talking about d6xd6 CORE, which nearly 500 games crowdfunded earlier this month. Now you’re probably wondering how you can possibly play this when the core rules won’t be out for several months yet. Well, until the game is out you can pick up a draft copy of the rules at the game’s official website. Besides, it’s not unheard of for adventures to core out before the core rulebook. CHaosium has been doing it for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and Catalyst Games Labs has been doing it for the Valiant Universe RPG. Now, I was a backer for d6xf6 CORE but only at the PDF level. Backers who pitched in more than I received a free backer copy of Newshounds #1 in addition to Judy of the Jungle. So in fact there are two adventures for this newer than new system if you are interested. That said, the only one I received a review copy for was Newshounds so that’s why we’re looking at that.

Newshounds #1 is more than an adventure. It actually contains five old school pulp comics from 1945. All of these comics are now in the public domain and thus are technically free to anyone who wants to reprint them in a similar fashion to what NUELOW Games has done here. Each of the five comics are in black and white (save for the cover), which works just fine for me as they are pulp fiction, and I always feel they look better in greyscale than in four colour. Three of the comics are from the “Ace of the Newsreels” line (which only had eight comics, so you’re getting nearly half of the run here!), along with one entitled “Gail Porter, Girl Photographer” and another called “Copy Boy”. Quality of the comics varies from story to story and ultimately, it will depend on the reader to ascertain the quality for themselves. I can see why the “Ace of the Newsreels” series didn’t last very long in its heyday and parts of the stories have not aged well such as the dizzy danger-prone dame sidekick who always needs to be rescued by the male protagonist. It is what it is. While I’m okay with it because it is a product of its time, I know some people CAN’T so they might roll their eyes at this running plot hook or worse. The “Gail Porter, Girl Photographer” is bookended with anti-suicide cheese, but the core story is a fun one. “Copy Boy feels like a “Jimmy Olsen” rip-off complete with Judy as Lois Lane, Mr. Jackson as Perry White and Mr. Trent as Clark Kent (No Superman alter ego though!). Again, all the stories in here are worth flipping through. Five pulp comics for $1.99 isn’t a bad deal by any means, but there’s more content than just this, which only serves to sweeten the deal.

In addition to the comics and a one page crossword puzzle, Newshounds #1 gives us a three page adventure for the d6x6d CORE system. The adventure is called, “The Death of a Mystic” and it uses the protagonists from “Ace of the Newsreels” along with the Neulow mascot superheroine, The Black Cat. The story revolves around saving socialite Linda Turner from the machinations of a fraudulent swami. Of course, exposing the swami as a fake is just the start of the adventure as he vows revenge on the PCs for taking a way his meal ticket and will try to murder each of them in turn. The adventure itself is very much an “on-rails” piece with little room for flexibility or deviance, and you really have to know and care about the “Ace of the Newsreels” characters for this piece to work. What’s more, there is no real explanation of d6xd6 CORE at all in this piece. The adventure assumes you have extremely familiar with the rules system, so the mechanics side will read as little more than gobblygook to most of you. The good news is that because the adventure is so scripted out, it can easily be converted to a different system. The GM/Host will have to rework the character sheets if they want to covert “The Death of a Mystic” but every scene and much of the NPC dialogue is all there for you. In the end the adventure is an okay one. For people already familiar with d6xd6 CORE, it’s a fun way to see the mechanics in action and you’ll also get six pregenerated characters, a new Core Occupation and a new Core Skill. For everyone else, you might want to wait until you have the core rulebook in your possession unless you think five pulp comics for $1.99 is a fine deal. For myself, I’m glad I picked this up as I wanted to see how d6 x d6 CORE would look done by a third party publisher and for only $1.99, fans/Kickstarter backers of this upcoming system should certainly consider picking Newshounds #1 up.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Newshounds #1
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Technology Compendium: Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2014 07:00:00
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/19/tabletop-review-technol-
ogy-compendium-sir-arthours-guide-to-the-numenera/

Although Monte Cook Games has been very busy with the release of their newest game, The Strange, they haven’t neglected their original release, the multi award-winning Numenera. Their latest release, Technology Compendium: Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera, focuses specifically on the bits of technology left over from the previous eight worlds which now litter the Ninth. These include cyphers, which are one shot use objects which players will have to monkey with to see what they do. Numenera also includes artifacts, which are devices with more than one use. Of course, because these artifacts were created by races long since dead (or something else?), the current inhabitants of the Ninth World will still have to poke, prod and guess as to what they do. Even if they get the artifact to work, it might not be used in the way its creators intended. A toaster might be used as a torture device rather than a bread warmer, for example. Then there are oddities. These are exactly what you might think – things that have no discernible use to the players or their characters, but are there because some previous race had a use for them. These might include things like a telescope device, but when you look through it, everything you see is coloured purple and all living creatures look like tree sloths. Who knows? Maybe it’s just the way the PCs’ brains interpret the visuals of the device. Maybe it’s a failsafe to prevent anyone but the original owner from using the device properly. It could be anything, but no one will ever know, in or out of the game! Oddities are there just to enhance the weird nature of Numenera and to give players something to think about.

Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera is essentially two books in one. The first two dozen or so pages are for the GM, and are designed to be a guide on how to create, use and implement Numenera in your campaign. Here you’ll get an introduction as to who Sir Arthour is, along with a pretty in-depth look at the different power sources for various Numenera and the multitude of ways they can be used. Numenera are technology, but it’s also technology completely and utterly alien to the current residents of the planet, so even if there are multiple, or even plentiful, versions of a particular Numenera type, that doesn’t mean they are being used in the same way, or even correctly (per the original vision of the piece). Is essence, the game of Numenera is one of people who are technology scroungers, and this first section does a great job of reminding you of this fact.

This first section is written out of character, because it’s speaking directly to the Gamesmaster. It is meant to be a guide and/or learning tool to help one’s game become more detailed. You are given examples of different ways aspects of reality, like light, time, sound, magnetism, gravity, and heat can be used in pieces of Numenera. You are also given examples of chemical, biotech, the datasphere (think the evolution of the internet) and even self-aware machines that would also count as Numenera. Most of the examples in this section involve offensive capabilities or are traps for the PCs to fall into, which makes sense. After all, this section is designed to help the GM, as most will use Numenera in one of these two ways. I personally tend to focus more on the oddities side, but I realize I’m also probably in the minority in wanting to give players a blow gun that shoots out thoughts as rock rather than healing items or heat rays.

I also appreciated that this first section gave frank advice like, “Don’t use time travel,” or anything else that would give concrete evidence of any of the previous worlds. Numenera is best when evoking a sense of mystery, alien horror and wonder. To reveal too much is to miss the point of the game. I also enjoyed seeing a new descriptor buried in this section which will allow you to play some sort of artificial intelligence. You get a lot of stat boosts, but real hindrances to healing and dealing with fleshy life forms. It looks really interesting. In fact, everything about this section is fantastic and well worth reading, no matter how experienced with Numenera or RPGs in general you feel you are.

Now, Monte Cook Games COULD have released the first section as its own stand-alone piece, as they did with titles like In Strange Aeons, Love and Sex in the Ninth World or Injecting the Weird, but instead they bundled it with the second part of the book which, at over 100 pages, is the real meat of this piece. If you picked up previous digital PDFs from Monte Cook games, like Cypher Collection I or Artifacts and Oddities Collection I, than you know what to expect here. You’ll find chapters on Cyphers, Artifacts and Oddities, all done in similar manners to those previous releases. Don’t think you’re getting the same content however. For example, in Cypher Collection I, there were “only” fifty new cyphers to use. Here in the cyphers chapter in Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera, you are roughly 500 new cyphers (I lost count as my mind started to wander around 400 and I still had several pages to go.). There are tons of new things here, along with random charts to roll on and a full page look at how to use malfunctions as GM intrusions.

Of course, you would think five hundred cyphers would be enough of a selling point, but we still have the artifacts and oddities! With both sections you, again, have a refresher on what the specific type of Numenera is meant to be, the random rolling lists and a whole bevy of new items to throw at your players. You have approximately 225 new artifacts and 300 oddities. That is an insane amount of content. Each new item gets a little blurb about it. Cyphers and artifacts get a full paragraph, while oddities get about a sentence each. All of the book is exceptionally well done, and if you’re in the need for more items to place in your Numenera campaign, then Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera is a must own. There is so much stuff here you’ll never need another book or PDF on the subjects. Of course, that doesn’t mean more won’t be made, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to use All of these in their time GM’ing a Numenera campaign.

So yes, Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera is an absolute steal for its $14.95 price tag. Those previous released collections offered only a fraction of the Numenera found here, and you’re getting a bigger bang for your buck with the Technology Compendium. About the only people I can see not getting their money’s worth out of this sourcebook are those that absolutely have to homebrew their worlds from the ground up. Hey, if you want to make your own Numenera, more power to you. I do it myself. However, you can’t deny that this book will not only save you a lot of time, but reading it will help you to really craft better objects to place in your campaign. You get a solid look at where the designers are coming from, and with so many examples in this thing, your idea might already be made and waiting for you nestled amongst the pages of this tome. This is certainly another fine addition to the Numenera line, and one fans of the game will really enjoy.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Technology Compendium: Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera
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The Strange Player's Guide
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2014 07:58:16
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/11/tabletop-review-the-str-
ange-players-guide-cypher-system/

Back in late 2012, Monte Cook Games ran a Kickstarter for a game you might have heard of called Numenera. It was awesome, received praise from critics (like myself) and went on to win scads of awards like “Best New Game of 2013″ from Diehard GameFAN. Since Numenera‘s release, I have reviewed sixteen different products for the brand (both first and third party), and all have been fantastic. So of course Monte Cook Games had to follow up Numenera with something, but what?

Well that would turn out to be The Strange. This too was another successful crowdfunding project, although not as successful as Numenera. Now backers and those that pre-ordered are getting their items for this new RPG hoping it will captivate and excite them in much the same way the Ninth World did. In my opinion, The Strange is not as great as Numenera, but it’s still a pretty terrific game I’m glad I pre-ordered. I decided to do a review of the Player’s Guide first for three reasons. The first is that with a price tag of only ten bucks for the digital version, it’s a lot cheaper than the core rulebook and thus easier to recommend as something to try sight unseen. After all, you’ll only be out ten dollars. The second reason is that the Player’s Guide is a truncated version of the core rulebook, focusing only on character creation and the core mechanics. You’ll get some basic overview about the setting and key terms and/or players in The Strange, but this book is all you need to PLAY The Strange. So if you are interested in playing The Strange but not running it, this is all you need. The third and final reason is that the Player’s Guide is only one-fourth the size of the core rulebook, meaning it’s an easier review to write in terms of topics and word count. Don’t worry – I’ll be reviewing the core rulebook later this month, but I really wanted to get this up for all of you curious about the game and my thoughts on it.

So to start – The Strange uses the Cypher System just like Numenera. This means the games are somewhat interchangeable and if you already know how to play Numenera, you already know how to play The Strange. Sure there are some differences but most of them are in terms of storytelling rather than mechanics. You’re still rolling a d20 for nearly everything. You still have the same ten point difficulty chart where each step up or down is a difference of three in terms of what you are trying to roll (so a Step 1 challenge means you want to roll a 3 or higher, a Step 2 means a 6 or higher and so on up to Step 10 which is a 30). This is great because I love the Cypher System, it’s so easy to explain and teach. I’ve seen Numenera used as a first game for kids and completely new gamers alike and it works so well. So this ensures The Strange will feel intuitive and familiar. It’s almost akin to a new campaign setting rather than a new game. Indeed who is to say the Ninth World is not a recursion for The Strange or that the setting of this game isn’t one of the eight previous worlds alluded to in Numenera? It’s your game, and you can make the two as connected or utterly separate as you choose!

Now, the Player’s Guide for The Strange devotes VERY LITTLE time and space to the world setting and core concepts of the game, so I’ll be saving much of that for the review of the core rulebook. The Strange does take place on Earth during a modern era. The Strange is not just the name of the game but also the nickname to a network or portal system created by…some advanced alien species a long time ago. None of it is certain. What is certain however is that The Strange has become its own thing, where the rules and laws of our universe do not exist. It is pure chaos. It is a void and yet everything at once. Inside the strange are two things. The first are Plantevores which are sentient life forms that move around the chaos like a fish in water. Perhaps a shark is a more appropriate analogy for these Planetvores want to devour entire planets or perhaps even reality itself. That’s where the PCs come in. They are part of an organization dedicated to preventing Planetvores from breaching our reality, mapping the Strange and the recursions within it.

What is a recursion? Well they are stable pocket universe that reside within the Strange. These alternate realities may have physics and scientific principles similar to our own, or they may operate completely differently. Perhaps one is a world of high fantasy with dragons and wizards. Perhaps one is a dystopian scientific future ala Shadowrun. Perhaps one is a steampunk version of the Victorian era. Anything and everything is possible in theory. There are two really fleshed out recursions in The Strange – one is a D&D style fantasy world called Ardeyn and another is a dark sci-fi world known as Ruk. Both of these aren’t fully touched on in the Player’s Guide, but it does mean GMs who purchase the core rulebook have two in-depth pre-designed recursions that they can really work with if they don’t want to homebrew something. Remember, the Player’s Guide is almost 100% focused on creating characters.

So let’s talk character creation now. Again, it’s very similar to Numenera but there are a few differences. In Numenera your three character classes were Glaive (warrior), Nano (mage/psionist) and Jack (rogue). In The Strange you have Vector (warrior), Paradox (mage/scientist/psionist) and Spinner (bard). The archetype I gave in parenthesis aren’t 100% accurate but it’s more to help those of you new to the Cypher System to understand what each Type basically is. Now the Types in The Strange are not an exact copy of their Numenera counterpart. Their starting stats and powers are different, but progression through the Tiers (the equivalent of levels) is the same in that you raise stats, skills and powers first and then eventually move on to the next tier.

You have three statistics or Pools as they are known in the Cypher Systems: Might, Speed and Intellect which are self-explanatory. You also have an Edge for each of these stats which can help decrease the number of Pool points you have to spend on a power, skill or challenge. Finally you have Effort which allows you to spend Pool points to decrease the target number of a challenge you are currently facing. The game is really quite simple in this regard and so character stats are really light and easy to remember mechanically.

Character creation in The Strange comes down to the following phrase: “I am a Advective Noun who Verbs.” Basically you fill in the Mad Lib style blanks and that determines your character. The “Noun” part is your character type (Vector/Paradox/Spinner) and determines much of your starting Pools and Edge, as well as your powers. The “Adjective” part is your “Descriptor and this will give you some slight changes to your stats and skills. For example, out of the fourteen Descriptors provided in the game, I could choose Stealthy and gain +2 to my Speed Pool, and several related skills. I would also get a disadvantage of movement related challenges being harder because my character would be precise rather than fast. There were only twelve Descriptors in the core rule book for Numenera, so it’s nice to have two extra here in The Strange. Only a few of the Descriptors transfer over from one game to the other, and even then it is mostly in name only, which helps to make the two games stand apart.

The “Verb” part of the character sentence is the Foci. The Foci basically fleshes out you core power set that makes the character unique and/or special. Unfortunately this is the weakest part of character creation for The Strange, but not Numenera There are two reasons for this. The first is that The Strange has far less Foci than Numenera. Numenera started with twenty-nine Foci while The Strange only has twenty-six. That doesn’t sound so bad at first. However there’s a catch to Foci in The Strange and that’s that they will change from recursion to recursion as your body is transformed (more or less0 to fit in with the new reality. So a professional wrestler might be an Orc Barbarian in Ardeyn or a Terminator on Ruk. What this means is that your Foci changes from place to place so you might want to have several character sheets. Now, out of those twenty-six foci? Only eight are available for Earth, ten are available for Ardeyn and seven are for Ruk. There last is one you can only get after you’ve been off Earth at least once. The problem here is that since the game starts on Earth, you have a lot less options for your starting character. I’m totally fine with the idea of the Foci changes from reality to reality. I really like it in fact. I just wish there were more options. There needed to be at least a dozen for each of the three “worlds” in order to help characters feel more alive or unique to their creators. It just feels too sparse for my liking.

Of course, if all the Foci were applicable across the board, it would be a different story. Some actually can be which is called “Dragging” or “Draggable Foci.” Only eight of those are (mostly the Earth based ones) and the decision behind what ones are and are not draggable eludes me completely. For example “Solves Mysteries” can. That makes sense, but “Carries a Quiver” or “Lives in Wilderness” are not? Because the principal behind arrows should be the same in all three worlds, especially Ardeyn and Earth -doubly so as it doesn’t involve magical arrows strange bow skills like that. It’s just straight up archery and fletching. Yet it is not draggable. Why? Who knows! It’s apparently arbitrary. Of course it is your game so you can make any of these skills draggable, but the lack of Foci options and the weirdness of what is and is not draggable are a weak spot in The Strange that is not present in Numenera, and this is why I say I like Numenera better. It just doesn’t have this minor, albeit easily corrected, flaw. It is still a great game with a lot of potential most gamers will find fun and exciting, so don’t less this one quibble of mine throw you off The Strange.

That’s pretty much the Player’s Guide Sixty of the pages are purely character creation and the rest is devoted to light explanations of mechanics, equipment guides, pre-generated characters and a look at how characters move from one recursion to another. For a mere ten dollars, the Player’s Guide is a great way to see if The Strange is for you. You get all that you need to know in order to play the game and make your own PC for the setting. All the core mechanics and explanations are here. This book is especially great if all you want is to PLAY The Strange rather than run it or design adventures for the game. For aspiring GMs or those who want a lot more in-depth look at the setting and history of the game’s multiverse, you will NEED to get the core rulebook, which is fine. Both books are wonderful in their own way – it just depends on what you need or want in regards to playing/running The Strange.

Again, the Player’s Guide only touches on character creation and a basic overview of the setting so that’s all I’ve talked about here. I’ll have a full review of the Core Rulebook up later this month as I continue to devour it. I can say without a doubt though that The Strange is a worthy follow up to Numenera and is up there with Atomic Robo RPG and Valiant Universe RPG as my favorite new games of 2014. Definitely check it out when it becomes available to the general public later this month!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Strange Player's Guide
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Spooks! Welcome to the Great Beyond
Publisher: Nightingale Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2014 06:28:08
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/12/tabletop-review-spooks--
welcome-to-the-great-beyond/

Like many new RPGs these days, Spooks: Welcome to the Great Beyond is a product of crowdfunding. I remember watching the campaign on Kickstarter but decided not to back it. I back so many projects, you see, and something had to give. Thankfully, Spooks not only reached its goal of $3,000, but also surpassed it by 50% thanks to 82 backers who believed in the project. Now, while that might seem small compared to some massive Kickstarters like those by Frog God Games or Reaper Miniatures, crowdfunding was designed for small new companies to get a leg up, and that’s exactly what happened here. Now, when I saw Nightingale Press had sent me a review copy, I was more than happy to check out the final result. I was expecting a short RPG, something like 100-150 pages at most. What I got was a massive tome rivaling most high budget core rulebooks in size. Color me impressed. Of course, page count is not quality, so was Spooks able to deliver in that regard as well? Read on…

In Spooks, you play as a character who has recently died and is now in the afterlife. It turns out being dead is just a new state of being, and your character will make friends, have adventures and do battle with things, just like in any fantasy RPG. The game is set in the Victorian era, rather than modern times, which is nice to see, as I am a big fan of Cthulhu by Gaslight and Victoriana. You have a choice of eight character types, which act as your class, and each one is based on how you died. Bhoots are victims of murder or improper burial. Dolls are those that died young. Ghosts are those that have unfinished business in the realm of the living. Ghouls are those who lived with an overwhelming obsession. Skeletons are those who made it to old age. Vampires are those that died from a curse, blood born illness or harmed a family member (Which means every sibling ever would be a vampire). Wraiths are those that led violent lives, and Zombies are those that died from disease or famine. Now, from looking at this, it’s obvious that the majority of NPCs would be vampires or zombies, due to the vagueness of the terms, along with both being “catch-alls.” You’ll see this in sample NPCs, like H.P. Lovecraft who is a zombie (died of malnutrition and intestinal cancer). I was a little disappointed we didn’t see mummies as a playable class, but it makes sense. The game focuses on the recent dead, and as you get towards the back, mummies are extremely powerful (but rare) beings that work best as NPCs. Still, even without my favorite undead being available as a PC class, the eight options should make most gamers happy.

Mechanically, Spooks seems pretty straight forward. You roll 2d6 plus an extra d6 for each point you have in a skill. Add your total roll to the attribute being used, and you have your grand total. If it’s a challenge against an opponent or character, highest result wins. If it is a fixed challenge, like swimming a marathon… the GM just arbitrarily picks a numbered target. There are hints as to what numbers mean challenge wise (similar to Numenera), but the concept is not fully fleshed out until Chapter 10, around page 215 to be exact. Unfortunately, up to this point, Challenges have been talked about in a nebulous fashion with no real aim at going into detail, so players and potential GMs alike might be a bizy hazy, if not outright confused, on the concept. Even worse, the game starts talking about LARP modification to challenges in Chapter 9, complete with charts, none of which really make sense until you hit Chapter 10 and get a full description of challenges.

Which brings us to the really big issue plaguing Spooks as a whole – flow. The core concept is awesome, but the game is haphazardly all over the place in terms of mechanics, description and transitions from one aspect of the game to the next. Spooks feels more like it was done in stream of consciousness style rather than handed over to an editor to make things flow smoothly and logically. The game does things like talk about how a character levels up before properly defining and/or listing character aspects, like skills and spell cards. Generally games with a universal leveling up policy do it the other way. Another weird aspect is the chapter on Challenges is in the “Storyteller’s section” even though it is a core gameplay mechanic. I definitely wouldn’t have included it there, especially since this chapter is perhaps the most integral to actually understand the mechanics of Spooks. There are other flow issues, like discussing Nyarlathotep as an antithesis of Hatshepsut. This is fine, except that there are regular references to Hatshepsut’s background and Spooks specific history, but it’s not actually covered until the latter third of the book. For such a prominent NPC, and one that is on the more benevolent side of things, I’d have covered her at the same time as Nyarlathotep, her “evil opposite,” and not sixty-some pages later. A good core rulebook flows well and is easy to reference by putting associated topics close to each other. This doesn’t happen at all with Spooks, and as good as the core idea behind the game is, the layout of the book makes it an annoying chore to both read and use. I’d say use the index with extreme frequency, but the index is missing a lot of things… like Nyarlathotep for example, which we have just spent a full paragraph discussing. Wah Wah.

Another big annoyance for me, flow wise, is that Spooks sticks sidebars in where they simply don’t fit. I don’t mean size-wise, but that these sidebars often have nothing to do with the actual topic or even the chapter they are in. An example is that Chapters Nine and Ten are littered with these 1/3rd page sidebars about NPCs and their history. These have no place in chapters on “Storytelling” and “Challenges,” and would have been better placed back in tail end of the book where the actual STATS for these NPCs reside. Why would you break up the NPCs into bios and stats along with placing them more than a hundred pages apart? It’s nonsensical. Don’t even get me started on the writing quality on some of these, like DJ Wub. It’s god awful in every way imaginable and completely different from the quality in the rest of the book. The only thing I can think of is that these odd inserts were Kickstarter backer rewards that people submitted without any editing or rewriting on the part of the Spooks developers. Ouch. Also, for a game set in the Victorian era, there are a LOT of NPCs who died long after that time.

That doesn’t mean that Spooks is terrible. Far from it. There are lots of great things about the game. The mechanics are mostly simple, and although it’s not a game for beginners, experienced RPG fans will easily slide into the game without any real trouble or need to look up obscure rules or the like. The artwork is very good and I really love the little touches of the game, like the maps of the Great Beyond and the Grim Gazette, which is a list of Obituaries for famous real world people and what they would be in this game. There are some really well done things in Spooks – I just wish the game was more intuitive/user friendly. Hey, some games are successes in spite of that. Look at RIFTS!

Most of Spooks is going to be stuff you either love or hate. For example, the game uses a deck of cards in addition to dice, taking a page out of the Deadlands handbook. These cards are used only for the spellcasting aspect of the game, but I know a lot of people that won’t play Deadlands or any game that mixes cards with dice (for multiple reasons). Now, I personally love Deadlands Noir, but I can understand why some people shy away from games that mix multiple ways of determining fate. Another aspect people might have extreme reactions to is that, in Spooks you start at LEVEL 32. No, that’s not a typo. It sounds weird, and there is some decidedly… unique character creation reasons behind it, but suffice to say, it is supposed to represent that the characters lived a full life, or that those previous 31 levels were earned in the mortal realm. I get what the writers are trying to do here, and it does make the game stand out in this respect, but it’s also a bit awkward and something I can see people really disliking. I’m sure some people will say, “Why not just take Level 32 and make it Level 1?” I can’t argue with that line of thinking AT ALL, but the weirdness that is Spooks character creation helps make it memorable – for good or ill.

The world of Spooks is an odd mix of Lovecraftia, quasi-Egyptian mythology, steampunk and numerous other things. In a lot of ways, Spooks feels like the old adage of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some people will definitely read Spooks and find the game to be very disjointed and just putting in too many difference concepts and homages, muddying the waters with an inconsistent and contradictory vision. It also doesn’t help that Spooks takes extreme liberties or is outright erroneous with some of these aspects, which will no doubt annoy purists or the more anal retentive types. Someone could easily pick apart the Brans Castle (which should be Castle Bran) or the mistakes in the Nyarlathotep or Egyptology sections. You know what though? It’s a game. I just interpreted these changes to the mythos and/or motifs and the game’s version. This is the Spooks canon, and who is to say that the mortal interpretation of these things were entirely accurate? This is neither Call of Cthulhu nor Mummy: The Curse and it doesn’t have to be. If you’re fine with games like Call of Catthulhu or even Pokethulhu, you’ll be fine with this. If a non-historical or canonical interpretation of these things bothers you, then don’t even bother reading Spooks – save yourself an aneurysm.

I really like that Spooks can be as serious or comedic as the group wants. There are lots of options for this, and I do like that the game included a LARP and/or diceless rules alternatives, even if they are shoehorned into a strange spot in the book. I definitely think that Spooks is a very unique and memorable game, but in both good and bad ways. Ultimately, I have a feeling Spooks is going to be a game that people either really like or really hate. For me personally, this is a game I am glad I had the chance to read, but I don’t think it’s one I would regularly play. The book is too disjointed and flows too poorly for my liking, even though I enjoyed the core concept behind it. With the PDF alone carrying a price tag of $19.99 (it’s a huge book remember), it makes Spooks a hard game to recommend to the curious. This really is a love it or hate it game. I think a lot of the game is intriguing, but a lot of the actual format and lack of proper editing in the book irked me. If you have the disposable income to throw at this, you might find Spooks more enjoyable than I did. Nightingale is a small publisher after all, and every dollar counts. In the end, I think my gut instinct to not back the Kickstarter for this turned out to be the correct decision. I’m glad I got to experience Spooks on some level, but it really wasn’t for me. It’s not bad, but it’s not my cup of tea, so let’s call it a thumbs in the middle and also call it a day.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Spooks! Welcome to the Great Beyond
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Forever Summer
Publisher: Chronicle City
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2014 06:43:57
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/25/tabletop-review-forever-
-summer/

So, back story. I saw Forever Summer come up in late June and the concept sounded interested, but I just didn’t have time to review it. As the weeks went on I noticed no one was reviewing and I started to feel sorry for it as the concept was a cute one, so as soon as I had a break in the deluge of my usual review material, I managed to fit this in. I’m still kind of shocked this isn’t getting much attention as it’s designed for kids (a much needed demographic in our industry), is very cheap (under five bucks) and the core concept is pretty fun. What is that concept? Well, in the immortal words of Joel Hodgson/Robinson, “Let’s have an adventure like The Goonies!”

Welcome to Oceanvale, a small coastal town in the Pacific Northwest. On the surface it’s like your typical sleepy rural town. Underneath the surface though…weirdness pervades! Perhaps there is pirate treasure to find, an alien posing as the principal, a haunted house on the outskirts of town and more! All that is need is a good Responsible Grown-Up (Name for the DM/GM/Storyteller/Keeper/etc in this game) and a troupe of players willing to have adventures in the same vein as many 80s style family friendly films. Besides The Goonies, Forever Summer is also inspired by things like E.T., Eerie, Indiana, Goosebumbs, Fright Night and even South Park. The gist is something weird supersaturates Oceanvale and while the adults are oblivious, a group of spunky kids with attitude and curiosity are the only ones that can save the day. Again, this is a very cute concept although I think it is going to appeal for to adults who were children in the 80s rather than kids of today. It’s very much a piece of nostalgia rather than focuses on the type of stories today’s young children are actually watching and enjoying.

The art is…interesting. The cover is perhaps the worst art in the game and I think it’s the colouring job that makes it visually unappealing as the same artists does all the very nice internal black and white art in Forever Summer. Of course, the cover is meant to help sell the piece, especially for a digital only game, so please don’t judge a book by its cover – literally in this case. Most of the interior art are pictures of the sample characters and it’s very well done. It’s not what you would see in a big budget RPG, that’s for sure, but for a small indie press, I felt the art really captures the atmosphere of the game. There is a lot of art in this piece considering the whole book is only fifty-eight pages in length and most of it brought a smile to my face.

The game is pretty rules-lite, which makes sense for a game designed for ages seven and up. Unfortunately it’s a little too sparse on rules with huge chunks of things simply not appearing in the book, making the game a bit unplayable in its current form. Character creation is a notable example. There are eight steps to making a character, but there are no guidelines or help toward making them. Step #4 is “Add +1 to Nerd, Jock, or Popular” which are essentially the classes in the game. That is all the book gives you. This would imply that you start off with a single point in one of these and nothing in others. However, the pre-generated characters all have between six and seven points distributed between the three. There is simply no explanation at all for the discrepancy. The character creation rules are little the eight bullet points. This gets worse with Step #7 where it says “Note down your special power.” The book gives no guidelines or helping hands in this regard. It’s left completely up to the imagination. This is fine to a degree, but the game really needs some structure or hand-holding, especially if you have single aged kids playing. Little kids are going to pick things like nuclear explosions or summoning Batman. I think younger gamers or those used to more structure to their game will get very frustrated with the copious amount left unsaid in Forever Summer.

Mechanically, Forever Summer is fine. All you need are some six sided dice. You only roll when there is a possibility of failure or in a challenge with another character. In this case the player and the GM roll a six sided die and added any bonus such as their Nerd/Jock/Popular rating plus any points they have for being Good/Very Good at a skill. Highest total wins. That is literally all the mechanics in the game. Again, some RPG “purists” might poo-poo the lack of rules other than this, but for young gamers or first time RPG’ers, this is a smart way to do things. Sure, when I was in single digits, I was playing percentile games with all sorts of charts like TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, but I’m pretty sure I was the exception and not the rule. By keeping the rules light and simple, along with only using six sided dice, Forever Summer becomes a story-telling piece with some light rolling to add tension. That’s going to be what young kids need.

That said, there are still some rules missing. There’s nothing about what happens is another kid helps you out. There is an example of holding a door closed as a challenge between one kid and a monster, but what if three or four kids are holding the door shut. What if a Brain is helping a Jock study, do they get a bonus on that test which, if passed, will let the Jock get out in the nick of time to save his friends? Again, there are a lot of things that will come up in Forever Summer that are ignored or that the authors didn’t think of, which will frustrate younger gamers or new GMs. A little more substance could have gone a long way here.

The majority of Forever Summer is spent on describing Oceanvale along with its important locations and residents. This is great that the game really fleshes out the town, but when have of your book is spent go in-depth about your core location instead of spending time on finishing the rules or character creation…that’s not a good decision in my book. The game is meant to be a rules-lite experience where imagination takes precedence, but then most of the book is telling you where you are and who dwells within instead of letting the players make it up themselves. It’s odd that the game is so constricting in this regard when it’s been so hands-off in everything else. I think the Oceanvale content should have either been a supplement and/or that the rules and character creation content should have received more attention for Forever Summer to truly work. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Because of this odd choice of priorities by the design team, Forever Summer goes from being a great concept to a game that really needs a lot of work if it is to ever find an audience.

Although the price tag is only five bucks and Forever Summer does have its moments, I can’t really recommend the game in the condition that it is in. Perhaps with a few more pages to explain the rules in a manner the target audience could better understand, or some more in-depth help for the Responsible Grown-Up, and you’d have a fine indie game with a small but loyal underground following. In this state though, Forever Summer needs a little more work before it is ready for its big screen debut.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forever Summer
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Publisher Reply:
Points taken and we\'ll revise the existing edition to try and clear up some of this. That said... I like the cover. Clearly a matter of taste! :) Nerd/Jock/Popular are the statistics, not classes. The characters aren\'t pregenerated, they\'re templates. You pick a template and customise it to get a character. The discrepancies are balance/representation. Special power is determined by template, not made up. Some think that leaving some rules and situations unstated is a good thing. The OSR - much derived from early D&D and red box, believes that leaving things to people\'s interpretation is a good formula for learning and getting into gaming. Perhaps after Machinations of the Space Princess I took that too far. I hope you\'ll re-review when we do the new version!
Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2014 07:47:33
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/24/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-the-roleplaying-game/

Well, it’s finally here. After four Quick Start Rules sets and a Free RPG Day 2014 release, the final version of Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game is finally available to all…in PDF form anyway. You’ll have to wait a few more months for the physical copy. I have to tell you I am more than a LITTLE tempted by that Red Leather X-O Manowar version.

If this is the first time you are hearing about the Valiant Universe RPG, then welcome! Yes, much like how Green Ronin has the DC Universe license and Evil Hat has the Atomic Robo license, Catalyst Game Labs has added Valiant’s cast of characters to its RPG collection. No you won’t be seeing a crossover with Battletech or Shadowrun any time soon, but you finally have the chance to play as all your favorite Valiant Universe characters like Shadowman, Ninjak, Sting (Not Steve Borden), Livewire and more. Even better, the system is extremely rules-lite which makes it very easy to learn. The Cue System, or the engine that powers Valiant Universe RPG is a huge paradigm shift for a CGL game. Usually their products are extremely mechanics heavy, with all sorts of little rules for everything. Not the Cue System. This really feels designed for newer or casual gamers, which makes sense as this will be the first tabletop RPG for a lot of Valiant fans. If anything the system is kind of a mix of Cortex, Savage Worlds and the old Marvel RPG from TSR that first made me fall in love with gaming all those years ago. Honestly, the system will probably be a bit of culture shock to CGL’s longtime fans since it’s so streamlined, but for a super hero oriented game, the Cue System is a great choice as it focuses more on imagination and co-operative storytelling than letting the dice do all the work.

Now, a couple quick notes. First, the game is not up to date with current Valiant continuity. This is because new issues come out every month and games take a LOOOOOONG time to make. So characters like Rai, Dr. Silk or the antagonists from Armor Hunters are not in here. You also won’t see recent story developments so Flamingo is still alive, Monica Jim isn’t a member of the Renegades, and so on. It’s also worth noting for older gamers like myself that this only covers the current Valiant universe. There is no mention of the original Jim Shooter or Akklaim versions that came before it, so if you were hoping to see stats for Magnus, Dr. Solar or Turok….nope. That’s not going to happen for a whole bunch of reasons. On this particular note it also is important to note that the writers of the Valiant Universe RPG only have read the current Valiant Universe and the stat blocks for characters reflect what they have seen and not necessarily what some long-time fans know these characters are capable of. So yes, Master Darque is extremely underpowered in his character sheet and is lacking the ability to create undead creatures or summon demons. Things like this will probably annoy the more anal-rententive fans of the current universe or people like myself who own a lot of old trades/issue runs from the original Valiant era, but it shouldn’t. It’s a game after all and if you can’t wait for new stat blocks for these characters to be released, you can always tweak them to your own liking. House rules and all that rot. The point I’m trying to make is that Valiant Universe: the Roleplaying Game is written by readers of the new universe FOR readers of the new universe and I think that was the smart way to go. It prevents references to characters who have yet to appear in the current Valiant continuity and probably never will, like Mothergod, The Visitor or Nettie. Maybe someday we’ll get a look at “Classic Valiant” as a supplement (I’ll write it up!), but for now the focus is purely o the current version of Valiant’s offerings and that’s the way I like it.

So, remember how earlier I mentioned how the Valiant Universe RPG is extremely rules lite? Well, out of the 210 pages in this PDF, only twenty pages are devoted to rules. I can’t think of any other major release that has that little in the way of rules! This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good is that this makes the rules easy to learn and memorize, but the bad side of it is that things can be a little too vague for gamers used to a lot of structure and mechanics, like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons. So what else is in the book? Well, there are thirteen pages devoted to character creation. Yes, the character making rules are almost as long as the complete mechanics for the game. Now that’s different. This is mainly because character creation is pretty free form. We’ll take a look at that later. The bulk of the Valiant Universe RPG is about the comic continuity itself. Eighteen pages about the core nine comics, fourteen pages on various organizations and secret societies and a whopping EIGHTY-EIGHT pages devoted to Valiant characters. There are roughly three dozen major characters listed here, along with forty eight minor characters or NPCs to throw into your homebrew games. That’s pretty amazing. I can’t think of too many super hero RPGs that give you that many characters right off the bat. All the major characters right now except Rai, Ax, Dr. Silk and the Armor Hunters are here. Again, you might quibble on the stats. Faith probably should have a d4 or d6 in Might and Action instead of d8s and Archer is missing his ability to duplicate any super power or skill, but what’s here is pretty good, if not entirely accurate. Again tweak things to fit your own vision of the Valiant Universe. It’s your game after all.

So let’s talk rules. To be honest, not much has changed since I first reviewed the quick start version of the rules back in May. Each player takes turn acting as the Lead Narratior, which is the game’s equivalent of the Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Keeper or whatever you like to call the person running the show. This allows everyone a chance to both play AND direct. I like the idea very much. Of course, there are some people that like RPGs that aren’t very good at running games and some who aren’t good at playing characters, so you don’t have to do the regular switching of the Lead Narrator role if you are more comfortable using the standard way of doing things.

Characters have five stats: Might (Physical Build), Intellect, Charisma (Personality and force of will), Action (combat) and Luck. Each stat except for Luck has a die attached to it: d4, d6, d8, d10 or a d12. The bigger the die, the more powerful the character is, the better they are in that field. Powers are run the same way. Luck is unusual as it is a random number between 1 and 12. There is no intentional correlation with the Luck number and a character’s power level. When generating a new character, you are told to just pick a number and slap it in. Luck comes into play whenever you roll a die. If your Luck number comes up on a roll, BAM – instant success even if you would otherwise fail. Now the clever min/max gamer will realize something that others won’t. The LOWER your luck number, the more likely you are to actually roll it. Eternal Warrior has a Luck of 10. That means whenever he rolls a 10 on a die, it’s an automatic success. Let’s look at his stats. Gilad has a d10 Might, a d8 Intellect, a d6 Charisma and a d10 Action. Now since his luck is 10, he can never get a Luck success on his Intellect or Charsima. Those dice don’t go up to 10! Your best bet with Luck is to have it between numbers 1-4 as it shows up on any die, thus maximizing your chance for it to occur. However, that is MIN/MAX’ing, which I tend to frown upon. Plus, there is something to be said in a character who doesn’t need luck or is generally unlucky. So while a Luck from 1-4 is best for rolling, it might not be best for ROLE-PLAYING, am I right?

Making rolls is pretty easy. When a character needs to take an action they roll a D12 + the appropriate die on their character sheet. So if you are trying to be stealthy with Ninjak, you’d roll your standard D12 + his d10 in Adaptive Camouflage and then add the results together. Meanwhile the Lead Narrator would roll a d20. Whoever gets the highest wins the challenge. Now it’s not always that simple. There are occasional modifiers to the rolls and some powers might take precedence over a stat die. There are times where you can even roll both a power AND a stat die with the d12 and then you drop the highest, drop the lowest or keep them both! It all just depends. D12+ appropriate die vs. d20 is the universal equation for the Cue System though and it’s extremely intuitive.

There are rules for weapons, vehicles, combat in vehicles, mind control, breathing, being in space and other things that you’ll want for comic book style battles or situations. One thing that is notably missing are hard and fast rules for death. This is on purpose because 1) unlike other comics book universes with a revolving door policy on death, Valiant has been and always will be a place with only permadeath. Now that isn’t to say there isn’t necromancy or ghosts, otherwise we wouldn’t have characters like Dr. Mirage or Sandria, but when you are dead, you are DEAD here in the Valiant-verse. Because the game wants to keep that intact, death in tabletop Valiant only comes about when the Lead Narrator and players feel it is appropriate. Say a heroic sacrifice or it really fits the story. As such you’ll notice when a character loses all armor and health in the game, they are only Knocked Out, Pokémon style. I think that is a good idea, especially since you can’t raise the dead in some fashion here unless you are Master Darque and even then, it’s a mockery of life, not a second chance at things. I like this idea on many levels. This allows the story to come first and the dice to come second, which is how things should be. It makes death more interesting and meaningful when it happens. It also makes the group more co-operative because everyone has a say, not just a bad or jerky LN. This is just one of the many ways the Cue System and the Valiant Universe RPG really focuses on being a storytelling and role-playing game rather than a roll-playing dice fest. Some might not like it while other will love it. I’m definitely in the latter camp.

Let’s talk character creation. Better yet, let’s make one together! I’m going to make a classic Valiant character that might actually have a chance of showing up at some point in the current universe so everyone wins with this example. It’s a Bionisaur, one of the cybernetic dinos from the original Unity that shows up in the Valiant take on Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I mean, I’m pretty sure Archer & Armstrong and/or Quantum & Woody are going to run into one of these sooner rather than later, right? So we have our concept. Let’s assign stat dice. You get a d6 two d8s and a d10 to make your character. I’ll give the Bionisaur a d10 in Might, a d8 in Action, a d8 in Intellect and a d6 in Charisma. I then have the option of turning my d10 into a d12 at the expense of turning my d6 into a d4. I am fine with this. Charisma is a dump stat for an evil cyborg tyrannosaur from beyond space-time after all. So our final build looks like this: Might: d12 Intellect: d8, Charisma: D4, Action: d8. We have a d12 in Might, so our health is as set on the character sheet – no changes needed. We pick our Luck and I’m going to choose 6 because it is my favorite number and because Bionisaur doesn’t need Luck on his Charisma roll. It gives him a really workable flaw to offset his sheet power.

Next comes powers. We have four levels for powers, with each one giving us more points to spend and a cap of powers. Now Bionisaurs are generally NPC cannon fodder for Valiant heroes, but this one we are making is special and a playable character. I’m going to choose the second tier of powers called “Hero,” which gives me 30 points to spend and a maximum of 3 powers. There are no set powers in the game. You get to use your imagination, but you also have to be pretty clear about what they do. The first power I will take is “Accelerated Healing” which comes from the cybernetic enhancements to the dinosaur. I’ll choose a d10 and the option to “discard lowest” as my option for this power, which means I roll the d12, the Stat Die, the Power Die and discard the lowest of the two non-core d12 rolls. I check the chart and this costs 10 points. So I have 20 left to spend. I next power will be “Tracking” based off of the Bionisaur’s keen sense of smell and its cyber gizmo doo-dads. I’m going to choose a d6 here and also “Keep Both” which will let me roll both the stat and the power die and then add each of them to the core d12 roll. This costs me 9 points so I have 11 left to spend. For Bionisaur’s last power I’m going to take “Protection Against Mental Manipulation.” Because he has a reptilian brain enhanced by computers I’m going to say powers like mind control, illusion, telepathy and the like have trouble with the alien nature of his thought process. This will also help shore up his Charisma based rolls in certain areas. I’m going to do a d6 and “Keep Both” again which costs another nine points. That leaves me with two points left over that I can’t do anything with. Which is fine, as the three powers we do have make him a good defensive villain that can be used as a PC or a midboss antagonist.

After that we get armor with is used (and depeleted) before Health starts to go down. Each character gets a minimum of 10 along with (Might+Action)/2 more points. In this case that’s an extra ten for a total of 20 armor points on Bionisaur. After that you pick your weapons (in this case big sharp teeth, tail smash and stepping on soft squishy mammals,) and you do the personality side of things. That’s it. It took us a page in Microsoft Word to give an example of character creation, which shows you how quick and easy this whole process is.

The book then closes with almost forty pages of adventure seeds, or Story Briefs, as is the vernacular here. These are divided into nine categories – eight for specific books and their characters like X-O Manowar or Eternal Warrior and then one four part story for immortal or time travelling characters like Ivar and Armstrong which will span literally thousands of years across the Valiant continuity. Some stores adhere closely to plots or story arcs from the comics, while some are completely original pieces. The sheer amount of briefs included means you won’t have to create your own homebrew adventures for a very long time. Of course, briefs are well, brief, so the Narrating team will have to flesh things out to make a full story out of them. This is how adventures for Valiant Universe RPG are done though due to the group effort of storytelling and the emphasis towards “on the fly” imaginative thinking. This is neither bad nor good – it simply is. I feel this affords new gamers a lot more flexibility than the on-rails format of most published adventures and it allows the group to think for themselves and become better GMs for it. At the same time, newcomers MAY want a little more structure and handholding with adventures, which isn’t something the current Story Briefs system offers.

Overall, I think Valiant Universe: the Roleplaying Game is fantastic. My favorite comic book universe is finally melded with my favorite hobby and the result is spectacular. The Cue System is a wonderful way to learn how to tabletop roleplay as the rules are simple and it really focuses on story telling over dice rolling. You have a great co-operative atmosphere that prevents the GM vs PC situations that develop with some other RPGs. Valiant Universe RPG is a very fun and easy to use system. The fact the PDF version of the game is only ten bucks makes this must buy for ANY superhero fan, even if you have little to no exposure with the Valiant Universe. Those same newcomers to Valiant might want to hold on the regular or deluxe version of the physical game as that money would be better spent purchasing a few trades (Start with Archer & Armstrong then pick up either Quantum and Woody or X-O Manowar). After all, you want to know you like the characters before you spend 30-50 bucks on a game you might not play. That’s why getting the PDF version first is the smart bet. At worst you’re only out ten dollars and even if you don’t like the game system, you might want the characters intriguing and want to learn more about them. At best, you’ve got a new gaming system to love and some new comic series to pick up! Again, with a ten buck price tag, any RPG or comic book fan should grab this without hesitation as the game is as well done as it is affordable. Valiant Universe RPG won’t be replacing TSR’s Marvel game or Mayfair’s DC Universe as my top two super hero RPGs, but I can safely say this one of the best new games of the year, Between Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game, Atomic Robo and the new version of ICONS, this is one of the best years for super hero RPGs in a very long time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game
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Castles & Crusades F5 A Shattered Night
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2014 08:11:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/22/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-a-shattered-night/

A Shattered Night is the latest adventure in the “F” series for Castles & Crusades. These adventures take place in a fantasy version of Post-Roman Britain. This includes adventures like The Goblins of Mount Shadow, The Crimson Pact and of course, To Kill a King, the winner of last years “Best Adventure (Solo)” award.

A Shattered Night is a pretty open ended affair where the PCs attempt to save a kidnapped princesses from an unsavory Saxon prince. The adventure is designed for two to players whose characters range between levels 4-6. I think a Rogue, Druid, Ranger and Assassin would all be quite helpful in this piece as the adventure is one that is as much stealth as it is combat, and much of the adventure takes place in the woods or outside. The adventure is divided into three parts: getting to the princess, storming the location where the princess is held, and then saving the princess. The first part is mostly left up to the CK. Random encounters and some specific events are provided in the adventure, but the Castle Keeper will really need to flesh things out as well as have a plan in place for how they want this first act to flow. In this first act you might encounter everything from a friendly giant to an ally who just seems to make a mess of all the PCs well-laid plans. You might even encounter a certain Nordic All-Father. There is definitely a lot of good stuff here, but you’ll want a more experienced Keeper to connect the dots between all these pieces.

Act 2 is essentially a very straight-forward dungeon crawl. Of course, the dungeon is actually a well-stocked and heavily guarded castle complete with 100 well trained soldiers and a powerful witch, so this is again where stealth is just as important as NPC slaughter for A Shattered Night. There are a lot of magic items to be found here, but there are also a lot of monsters or enemy soldiers looks to disembowel you, so risk vs reward is a huge part of this section of the adventure. The third act is saving the princess and escaping enemy territory. There is a bit of a plot twist here, but nothing super shocking or “Vince Russo-Esque.” If players can abscond back to the country that hired them, riches, fame and reward await them. If they can’t…well, they will probably die horribly.

The adventure feels a bit short and is not something you want to give to a new or inexperienced C&C Keeper, but it is a very fun one. There are many ways to tackle this adventure. We’ve already covered stealth and straight forward combat, but you’d be surprised how good the gift of gab can come in with this adventure. A highly charismatic PC with some lucky rolls could actually make it so the adventures have to do little if any of the messier side of A Shattered Night. Players will also walk away from this adventure with some potential new allies and/or various enemies who will be seeking revenge on them soon. With several dangling plot threads in this piece, an enterprising Keeper can definitely spin this off in several different ways.

Besides the adventure in its own right, A Shattered Night also gives us a slight preview of the upcoming Codex Germania, which should delight fans of Codex Celtarum and Codex Nordica. There are also six new monsters provided in the back of this adventure ranging from a shape-shifting cat demon that can shoot vampiric butterflies out of its mouth to a two headed hell hound. All of these monsters are fine additions to the Castles & Crusades rogue’s gallery.

In all A Shattered Night is fine adventure. You don’t have to be familiar with any of the previous F series adventures to understand or enjoy this one. It works just fine as a standalone or as part of a continuing campaign utilizing the full series. About the only real complaint I have about the piece is the territorial map on page seven is exceptionally blurry and you can’t really make out the words on it. This is a very minor issue though. Other than that this adventure is a short affair that should keep you and your friends busy for a session or two. It’s not the most memorable Castles & Crusades adventure, but it is an entertaining one, that you will definitely get your money’s worth out of.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades F5 A Shattered Night
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Cathulhu
Publisher: Sixtystone Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2014 06:16:41
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/21/tabletop-review-cathulh-
u-velvet-paws-on-cthulhus-trail-call-of-cthulhu/

Cathulhu originally appeared several years ago in the German Call of Cthulhu publication Cthulhoide Welten, under the name Katzulhu. It would be translated into English as Cathulhu for the Worlds of Cthulhu magazine that has been out of print for some time. Sixtystone Press has gathered those original articles and compiled them, along with some new material, into this new supplement for Call of Cthulhu. This game should NOT be confused with Call of Catthulhu. Both games features cats doing battle with Lovecraftian abominations, but that is really the only thing the two have in common. Call of Catthulhu strives to be more welcome to families and very young gamers, while Cathulhu is the same old dark and somewhat gory Call of Cthulhu, except you are playing felines instead of hairless apes. Call of Cathulhu has its own mechanics and rules, while Cathulhu is a supplement for Call of Cthulhu (using Sixth Edition rules), so you’ll need that core rulebook to use it. Which is better? That’s all personal opinion. Both are inspired by John Wick’s Cat to varying degrees, but they are indeed their own beasts, so to speak. I really enjoy them both, and I think you will too.

So what is in Cathulhu? Well, you get character creation rules, two articles on how to play the game differently from Call of Cthulhu, two articles on Bast, a small bestiary of foes (many of which merely forward you to other Call of Cthulhu products), a pretty long introductory adventure called “The Black Cat,” and a two page character sheet. Everything in the supplement is well written and interesting, but it is pretty pricey for what you get, especially for a third party Call of Cthulhu release. You can generally get something with twice the page count for the cost of Cathulhu. Still, it’s a fun and fascinating supplement that really turns Call of Cthulhu on its ear, so it may be worth picking up, especially if you are a completionist.

The character creation rules are pretty fun. It’s worth noting that, because it uses Call of Cthulhu rules, Size + Strength ensures that all cats have a negative damage bonus. You really can’t get around this, so expect combat to be even more ineffectual than usual. Cathulhu also replaces Sanity Points with Sentience, which makes sense. They work in the same manner. It’s just instead of going insane, you become more feral. Cat Investigators can develop insanities though, so keep that in mind. You’re also given sixteen breeds of cats to choose from. Think of these like the profession for your investigator. The default is Domestic Shorthair, which is very similar to the Caitiff in Vampire: The Masquerade. Each other breed gets a bonus and a drawback, along with a “trick” that is inherent to that breed. For example, our Maine Coon, Shelly, would get +1 to STR and CON, no drawback and the Bruiser Trick. Meanwhile, our Domestic Shorthair, Malice, would get no bonuses or drawbacks and would get to pick her trick from the list of fifty-two options! All cats gets “Leap to the Moon” and “Nine Lives” tricks for free. Then you get to pick one off the list (so Domestic Shorthairs get two), so your character will have a total of four tricks. After that, you assign skill points to the various categories. Instead of the usual Investigator skills like art, punch, physics, electrical repair and Latin, you have very cat oriented ones like cuteness, yowl, scratch, wash and human lore. It’s all very well done and the game can be as serious or comedic as you want.

The section called “What Do Cat Adventures Look Like” is only two pages long, but it’s worth discussing, if only because a lot of people will end up playing their cat as they would a human, which just doesn’t work. Cats have better night vision, can hear and see things we don’t, and their sense of smell is superior to ours in every way. Meanwhile, they can’t drive, operate doorknobs or read tombs in classic Greek that provide the spell which will banish the Mythos beastie of the week. The same can be said about “Additional Cathulhu Rules,” which details how insanity works in cats, flight or flight responses and how your cat can learn new tricks.

The adventure “The Black Cat” takes up roughly a fourth of the supplement, and it is a rather grisly feature about someone or something who has been killing local cats by ripping out their hearts! Like I said at the beginning, Call of Catthulhu this is not! The adventure introduces the Cat Investigators to the Cthulhu Mythos, specifically the Dreamlands, and a creature from that plane of existence which has been brought to our own world against its will. You get a nice taste of the occult, and the adventure teaches not only the basics of Cathulhu but Call of Cthulhu mechanics as well. It’s a great look at how very different an adventure for cats is from an adventure for humans. I will say that people for whom cat violence is a trigger should probably not play this adventure and stick to Call of Catthulhu, as it is a more forgiving and lighter in tone system.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed Cathulhu in its new incarnation, and it is great that the piece is now widely available again. Letting one purchase the PDF on Chaosium or RPGNOw’s websites is a lot easier than tracking down old copies of Worlds of Cthulhu for the average gamer. Although the supplement IS overpriced compared to other Call of Cthulhu supplements and similar releases, the content here is very well thought out, and is a lot of fun of CoC gamers to read, even if they never actually use it with their own gaming group. The artwork/pictures in the piece are especially charming and they might be worth picking up Cathulhu for on their own. I’m excited to see that this Cathulhu supplement won’t be a one-time thing, as the back of the book announces an upcoming release entitled The Cat Army of Ulthar. I personally am really looking forward to that! I would never have thought that there would be room in our industry for two “Cat Vs. Cthulhu Mythos” games on the market, but it certainly seem that way. Cathulhu is a fun and outside the box addition to the Call of Cthulhu gaming system, and who knows, it might just be a gateway for some new or younger gamers into the realm of Lovecraftia!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cathulhu
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The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2014 06:16:05
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/26/tabletop-review-lamenta-
tions-of-the-fame-princess-the-doom-cave-of-the-crystal-head-
ed-children-free-rpg-day-2014/

2013′s Free RPG Day saw Lamentations of the Flame Princess take part with their controversial release, Better Than Any Man. As the back of this year’s release mentions, several stores banned or outright hid the release for their customers. I can confirm this as one of the stores I went to did just that. However, even a Pikachu loving fool like myself walked away extremely impressed with Better Than Any Man. it was a top notch solid affair from beginning to end and it walked away with our “Best Free Release” in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. This year, LotFP is back with a new adventure that is actually one of the zaniest, cruelest and funniest release they have put out yet. Born of spite and black humour, The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is exceedingly cutthroat, extremely lethal to any character that enters it (probably best as a one shot if you are at all attached to your characters) and there is a good chance you will be massacring double digits worth of four year old as if they were goblins or orcs in some of those other fantasy style role playing games. You’ve been warned.

So not only does the adventure have one of the weirdest and most honest titles I’ve seen for a recently released adventure (Go OSR!), but it also has a great story hook. Characters enter a village where over 100 madwomen claim to have given birth to a small blonde boy named Andrew four years ago. All of these Andrews are different people mind you – it’s not the same one kid. Crazier yet, the mothers all know the different Andrews but no one else in the village knows what they are talking about and can not remember these women ever giving birth to children similar in name and look all at roughly the same time. Also, these women were quite sane up until recently, so what the hell happened? That’s why games have PCs – to figure crap like this out all while gaining an excuse to murder and pillage!

This story hook of course brings characters to the doom cave where they will indeed encounter many children with crystals embedded in their craniums. Surprisingly, this is one of the more mundane things in this adventure. You will face crazy button that will do anything from improve your stats to give your character incurable cancer via severe radiation poison. There are possible alien abductions or the extinction of all life on the planet including bacteria. Heck, both may happen in your play through. As such, I reinforce my earlier comment in this review that The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is best played as a one shot unless you are pretty much born and bred on Dungeon Crawl Classics or LotFP and thus have learned not to invest any emotional ties to your characters at all for they exist only to die in horribly unspeakable fashion. At the very least surviving characters will end up with at least some stats switched around and having to live with the stigma of being a child murderer – even creepy semi-automaton test tube baby ones.

Aside from the children, The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children is pretty much your standard dungeon crawl in layout, form and function. It’s the specific encounters and NPCs that truly separate this adventure from the pack. For example, you don’t really have an end boss or bad guy behind the story hook. You have a guy who fucked around (literally) with strange alien doo-dads. He doesn’t really seem like a bad guy, even if he has a super villain laugh and an army of toddlers. Most bad guys destroy and murder wantonly in these fantasy games. Wiki Dot Pod…is just kind of there doing his own thing for the most part. Sure he THINKS he should rule all that he surveys, but he’s pretty content sitting and staring at a big crystal all day.

As well, there aren’t a lot of monsters or antagonists to fight in this adventure. Well, aside from the crystal headed children, but you might not end up fighting with them. They might actually become quasi allies or guides to the dungeon for your team. Unless of course, your players stick sharp things through soft things that scream and bleed first, and converse second. Then they have to deal with an army of tiny kiddies bent on their demise. No, for the most part, players will be killed by their own greed and curiosity. Death or painful maiming is in nearly every room, but it will only be encountered if characters do stupid things like explore or examine the cursory details of their surroundings. As this is a RPG, this is most likely the course of action people will take and thus their characters will die in manners ranging from a dungeon collapse caused by a sailing ship to being wiped from existence by an omniscient alien jellyfish. My personal favorite is when a character becomes The Crystal King and discovers that with great power comes a nigh permanent headstand. Treat The Doom Cave of Crystal Headed Children as you would the Tomb of Horrors in the hands of a GM who does copious amounts of hallucinogenics, because the effect WILL be similar.

Overall, I absolutely loved this adventure. It’s a very dark and funny piece. In fact, I kind of felt like I was playing HOL rather than LotFP during my time with this piece. I think it’s best kept out of the hands of young children though due to mature (and gorey) themes and gamers that treat our hobby as SERIOUS BUISNESS with no room for mirth. For everyone else, this is a terrific oneshot that really highlights how bizarre and macabre Lamentations of the Flame Princess can be. It’s such a crazy piece that I can see it polarizing some gamers, especially those new to the hobby who might walk away worrying that every adventure involves ejaculation, encountering Jesus Christ and having your feet transmogrified into those of a pachyderm. Would I play this adventure again and run it for friends? Damn right! Would I give it to someone completely new to tabletop RPGs? Oh my, no.

I do feel that The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children was by far the best release for Free RPG Day 2014 which gives LotFP that honor two years running. Even better, if you pick this up, there a link to not only download last year’s Better Than Any Man, but also the core rulebook (sans art) for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. That’s insanely awesome and makes hunting down this adventure all the more worthwhile. I can’t wait to see what LotFP has for us next Free RPG Day as this is one area where they definitely put all the other competitors to shame.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children
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The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 06:42:01
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/16/tabletop-review-the-uns-
peakable-oath-issue-24-call-of-cthulhu-delta-green/

Man, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since issue #23 of The Unspeakable Oath. I love this magazine but I do wish it would come out more regularly. This is only the fifth issue to come out since July 2011, but what gaming magazine DOES come out on a regular basis these days? Pathways and White Dwarf. It’s just the way the industry is these days. Still, ANY time a new issue of The Unspeakable Oath comes out, it is a time for Cthulhu oriented gamers to celebrate as they get a ton of new articles, adventures, story seeds and other fun content for less than ten dollars. Issue #24 gives us fourteen new articles (all for Call of Cthulhu Delta Green to peruse. If you haven’t picked it up yet (AND WHY NOT?), let’s take a look at what awaits you inside…

First up? “The Dread Page of Azathoth,” which always contains some fun wisdom. In this case, it’s about how hard running an adventure or even a full campaign in the Dreamlands can be, especially since it is so different from the usual Mythos bits that are out there. It’s only a page long, but well worth reading.

The next two articles are “Tales of Terror,” which are story seeds with three possible explanations for each. Black Eyed Children is pretty self-explanatory. Children can be pretty creepy to begin with and when a host of them demand entrance into your home for whatever reason, well that just ups the weird factor. Out of the three possibilities presented, the third is by far the best. The first is the usual “blame Nyarlathotep” well everyone seems to run to on occasion. The second is fairly good but also requires the most work from the Keeper to make work. The other “Tales of Terror” is The Hidden Passage and you can pretty much guess what this is about from the title. All three possibilities here are pretty awesome and you can easily make a full-fledged adventure out of each one. In fact, they are so different from each other, you might as well make all three.

After this comes “The Eye of Light and Darkness,” which is always the weakest section in the magazine. These are various reviews of Mythos oriented products. Usually I find this to be the worst part of the magazine because they are reviewing things that have been out for years instead of letting the readers discover new pieces, and because the lowest rating anything ever seems to get is a 7/10, which basically makes these more product placement than actual reviews. Well, they’re getting better. We start off with a review of True Detective which takes up a full page and is extremely timely, especially for TUO. Then it’s followed up with Masks of Nyarlathotep, which has been around since the mid 1990s and the most recent update/errata’d version came out in 1984. So tit for tat. I’d have preferred to see a newer release for Call of Cthulhu here, especially Tales of the Crescent City, Secrets of Tibet or some Achtung! Cthulhu bits. Still, that is made up for by reviews of No Security, which is a series I’ve been raving about for years now. It was also great to see some lesser known non-rpg stuff get reviewed. There are books like Southern Gods and Where’s My Shoggoth? and even a review of the Welcome to Nightvale Podcast/radio drama. Honestly, this is the best “The Eye of Light and Darkness” piece I’ve seen in an issue of TUO in terms of selections. There still isn’t a piece with a score under 7/10 though. Remember, it’s okay to give negative reviews. I do it all the time.

“The Mardler House” is this issue’s big adventure and I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I love the idea of the adventure as it is pretty unique and is designed in such a way that it works best as a slow burn throughout a campaign. You put bits of this adventure into other adventures or the between time Investigators have. Then you unleash the core of the piece allowing players to pick up the pieces and realize they’ve been in this adventure all along and just didn’t know it. The problem is finding a Keeper that can run “The Mardler House” the way the writer intended, or barring that, one that can run this without turning it into a complete disaster. I mean, I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu for over twenty years now (Oh man, I’m old). I don’t think you can just throw Investigators into this adventure like a lot of published pieces. It works best when characters have history or even live/work out of the house. A lot of the creepiness and revelations about the piece will be lost if you just take the adventure in one large chunk. Unfortunately, this means you need a Keeper that can break “The Mardler House” up into smaller pieces, keep things subtle and keep track of what parts they have thrown at players and what parts they haven’t. So you have to be pretty organized to really make this adventure come to life. I love the characters, plot, background and flow of the whole piece, but I think more Keepers that not will become frustrated trying to run this as it requires a lot more work than most pre-packaged adventures. In the hands of a good and experienced Keeper, “The Mardler House” will be a very memorable experience. Without one, it’s better off read than played.

So I should probably tell you what “The Mardler House” is about. Well, it’s a haunted house, but not really. The ghosts aren’t the usual incorporeal boogeyman you think of when we mention ghosts, especially in Call of Cthulhu. These ghosts are more warped echoes of the past. Shadows of the people but not entirely accurate ones. Of course, the longer players stay in the house, the more they will discover why this is and that inside “The Mardler House” truth and reality are very different things than when you are outside it. Again, this is such a great concept. I’d pick up this issue of The Unspeakable Oath just to read the adventure, but I would think twice about running it unless you (and your friends) are confident in your GM-fu skills.

Now we have three “Shotgun Scenarios” for Delta Green. A Shotgun Scenario are short little adventures that can be played in a single session or expanded into a more detailed adventure if the Keeper so wishes. It’s also worth noting that these are for the OLD version of Delta Green and not the new one currently in playtesting. These adventures could easily be converted for those of you with the alpha version of the game.

First up is, “Agent Purple’s Green Box Blues,” which is a fairly complicated affair where agents from A-Cell have to help the last survivor of P-Cell, Agent Purple. Agent Purple need the Investigators help in taking down a gang known as the White Snakes, which appears to be a front for a much larger, more insidious group. Of course, the reality of the adventure is VERY different, and the players will be thrown a very realistic but entirely unexpected curveball. “Holding Cell” is for a single character and it has them descending into an underground room containing five very different items. There they await orders which can lead to one of three different endings (Keeper’s Choice), all of which are pretty dark yet entertaining. Finally we have “Secret Shopper” where a small mom and pop bookseller goes nuts and decides to enact revenge on a large chain bookstore, via Cthlhuoid means of course. All three of these are fantastic and even if you don’t play Delta Green, these can fit into a regular modern era Call of Cthulhu campaign with only a little work. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

“The Cult of A” is the feature article for this issue and it’s bound to be a controversial one. It’s about eating disorders, specifically anorexia, and a Mythos cult that exists around it. While some people will no doubt be offended by the article turning a mental illness like this into CoC fodder, I don’t have a problem with it. After all, every other mental illness from hoarding to agoraphobia makes it into the game, so why not an eating disorder? Besides, it’s not saying that every sufferer from this disease gets turned into a mythos style cultist but rather that the Cult of A preys on these people the same way the Needle Men prey on doctors.

“The Cult of A” is exceptionally detailed and I think it might be the most comprehensive article to ever appear in an issue of The Unspeakable Oath. It takes up a whopping twelve pages and discusses the nature of the cult, how its members tend to only affect themselves as compared to other Mythos cults whose actions affect everyone, and how the cult has made exceptionally work of the Internet, especially forums. You get to see how someone joins the cult and what eventually happens to them, along with various manifestations of A. There are even a few new spells and tomes to add to your game. I can’t express how well done “The Cult of A” is and how much I think you should read it for a very outside the box and original take on a Mythos cult. That said, I do realize that eating disorders are more of a trigger for some people than say, mi-go or nightmares caused by psychic emanations from things beyond our imaginations, but the piece is not done with any disrespect or mockery to those that suffer from anorexia. If you think you’ll be offended or squicked out by this article, don’t read it. I don’t read every article in Bloomberg Buisnessweek or Organic Gardening. The rest of TUO #24 is excellent enough that you can still enjoy it even if anorexia is a sore spot for you.

Our next article is “The Chosen of Eihort,” which introduces a new creepy antagonist for characters to encounter. It’s pretty gross, but befitting Eihort as we know it. After this we have a third “Tale of Terror,” but I’m not sure why this is off on its own instead of with the other two. This one, entitled Smuggling is meant for Delta Green and it is about a cargo box filled with human remains. Why? That’s up to you. Pick one of the three possibilities as always. I personally found #1 to be the best. Sometimes the mundane choice is the best choice.

This issue’s “Directives From A-Cell” for Delta Green is about smaller conspiracies and more mundane investigators. Going off of the popularity of True Detective, the piece talks about how sometimes federal agencies and Delta Green itself don’t need to be involved in an adventure, especially with smaller cases like a single strange death or a weird house. Usually these will be handed by run of the mill local cops and these protagonists will do their best to make the evidence around them fit a more plausible real world scenario rather than something like ghouls or shan being the cause of local disturbances. This is not that they refuse to believe these things exists, but rather that they have no encountered them, so they are extremely unlikely to make huge jumps in logic like that. The article then discusses what a campaign of nothing but local cops would look and feel like and how very different it would be from the standard Delta Green campaign. It’s a well written article but I have to admit, almost every adventure or campaign of Call of Cthulhu I’ve ever played in or ran has started with characters who were unaware of Mythos creatures, so I’m surprised that this is almost an alien/foreign concept to the author.

Our penultimate article in this issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a “Mysterious Manuscript” piece. This is all about a macabre bible whose author has hidden bits of the Necronomicon within it in the form of codes, ciphers and artwork. It’s an interesting idea and I love the background for the book. However I’m not sure how many people will actually find a use for the Simeon Bible and/or bother to craft an adventure around it.

The final article is the usual “Message in a Bottle” one page piece of fiction. I normally don’t care for these, and this issue was no exception. It’s written in the form of emails, text and a RSS feed about two parents and their kid. It’s neither well written nor interesting. A poor way to end the magazine, but this is par for the course with TUO.

Overall, the latest issue of The Unspeakable Oath is a very good one. There’s only one article I really didn’t care for and it’s the same bad fiction that is in every issue. Otherwise the magazine is jam-packed with excellent story seeds, adventures and ideas that will make your Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green campaign all the weirder. The content is top notch and the price tag is low enough to consider this a definite steal and/or bargain. Whether you grab the digital or dead tree edition of The Unspeakable Oath, you won’t be disappointed. Cthulhu fans, pick this up ASAP.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Unspeakable Oath 24 - ARC6007
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Mage 20th Anniversary Edition Quickstart
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 15:16:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/27/tabletop-review-mage-th-
e-ascension-20th-anniversary-edition-quick-start-rules-free--
rpg-day-2014/

It’s always weird and interesting to see Onyx Path Publishing (and before that White Wolf) taking part in Free RPG Day. The day is meant to foster relations between gamers and their local brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, World of Darkness products, both Classic and New are very rarely found in retail stores. Except for a few special cases, their products are sold online via Print on Demand, DriveThruRPG, or via Kickstarters. Now, OPP does try to extend an olive branch to publishers, but I’ve yet to see a gaming store actually take part. If you take a look at the WoD Kickstarters you can see how small a percentage this is (.1% for The Book of the Wyrm, .2% for Anarchs Unbound and Mage 20. So on and so forth). What’s more, even over at the Free RPG Day Facebook page there were some very polarizing emotions about OPP taking part. Some people were excited. While others…not so much. There’s definitely a rift between the B&M community and the creators of World of Darkness products and the Free RPG Day releases just seem to rub salt in those wounds. I didn’t attend a single B&M store that was happy about OPP getting to take part, which is a shame because back in the 90s, I purchased so many classic WoD products from local stores. There’s definitely a rift that needs to be mended, but when the last page of your offering for a retail store is an ad for upcoming M20 releases and you only mention DriveThruRPG as the place to get them…well, as big a fan as I am of OPP, I can definitely see why the retail side of the hobby is irked with them.

Last year we got Reap The Whirlwind which highlighted the all new (and improved) version of Vampire: The Requiem. It was a great piece that was newcomer friendly (although everyone was technically a newcomer to that version of the game) but the adventure sucked and the eventual release of Blood and Smoke didn’t happen until six months later, leaving newcomers that picked it up with no way to get further V:TR releases from retailers and what was available online was outdated as they were for a previous edition. Good intentions, but bad follow through. This year’s release is a little bit weirder. Not only do we have the same problems with the “adventure” and a long delay between the Free RPG release and the eventual publication of Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition, but there was a potential new wrinkle. Mage is by far the most esoteric game out there, it’s one of the harder games to explain to newcomers, and it definitely would not be my first choice to give to someone as their first ever tabletop experience. I think OPP would have been better off with a release for Werewolf: The Apocalypse. It’s been out for a while, there are several supplements, sourcebooks and adventures published for the 20AE version and it’s certainly more accessible to newcomers. How on earth would they going to make M:TA a game to quickly jump into and play like the other Free RPG Day releases for this year? I was VERY morbidly curious.

It’s also very easy to write an intro adventure for Werewolf, unlike say Mage where the very Quick Start Rules comes out and says, “Mage doesn’t lend itself well to ‘modules.’ Linear adventures that lead from Scene One to Scene Two to Scene Three and eventually to a one-size-fits-all climax are alien to this game.” Well, not only is that a decidedly false statement (anything can be turned into a dungeon crawl. ANYTHING.), but it’s also one that comes off very arrogant and off-putting. It also means that this is going to push away newcomers instead of bring them in. I mean, if you’re a GM and you agree to run something for Free RPG Day only to find the game you chose doesn’t actually have an adventure but a cursory look at the rules while saying, “Oh, we don’t believe in traditional adventures, per say,” well, you’re going to get a very flustered individual who now has to come up with something off the fly that will most likely not be very good, leaving everyone involved with an unfavorable opinion of the product. God forbid everyone involved using this QSR is new to the WoD or gaming in general as you will get a complete and total mess occurring. It really feels that OPP put out these QSRs more as a teaser to older gamers who have been playing Mage for the past two decades rather than with any intent to bring newcomers in. Because there is honestly nothing here that is going to pop for someone inexperienced with the setting, while delighting long time mainstays of the product with nostalgic memories…and who certainly don’t need a QSR set to play the game. So I’m not sure exactly who the guys at OPP were writing this QSR for.

So the half-hearted attempt at an adventure is unfortunate in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean the entire product is poorly done. Far from it. The mechanics and explanations for them surpassed my expectations. I went into this piece thinking, “How on earth are you going to explain the spheres and how to use them mechanically in a few pages?” Well, OPP got around that by creating a much larger QSR than usual. Most companies’ QSR offerings are about twenty pages. Mage 20AE has 47 pages of content – much of which is devoted to the rules. Sure this means this isn’t a QSR you can just sit down and play on the fly, but man is this thing robust and really well written. Maybe part of it is me being skewed by having played Mage since the day it came out and already knowing the rules inside and out, but I felt the QSR did a masterful job of breaking down the rules in a fraction of the pages that my old dog eared physical copy used. Of course the sheer volume of rules will no doubt overwhelm newer, younger, or more casual gamers, which again makes me wonder who the intended demographic for this Quick Start Rules set is. Still, I WOULD give this to a newcomer if they were joining a Mage game with people who are already familiar with the mechanics and setting. That way they have a crib sheet of sorts and the blanks can be filled in by the more experienced gamers.

You get a nice little writeup of all the important points. All the universal WoD elements are detailed along with information specific to Mage like Spheres, Arete, Quintessence, Paradox, and of course how Magick (Yes, with a k at the end) works. This is a pretty comprehensive guide to the core truncated rules of Mage: The Ascension and while it is well done, it also does show that this is more complicated than the hack and slash dungeon crawl type of game. Again, this means you’re going to need to read this QSR a few times over in order to really get a feel for the game. Otherwise, you’re going to be checking the rules every few minutes to see what your character can or cannot do. Anyway, as much as I hated that the QSR did with the adventure side of things, I absolutely loved what it does to explain and show off the unique mechanics of Mage.

It’s also worth noting that the book only gives a fleeting description for each of the Nine Traditions and the five conventions of the Technocracy. You get two pages to cover all of the sects in these big two groups along with brief write-ups of the Nephandi and Marauders. Long time gamers might see this and go, “But there is so much more information to be had? Why is this so short?” Well the answer is that: a) there wasn’t enough room b) by being brief but informative, you pique curiosity and c) it keeps from overwhelming newcomers. You will also see some changes here. The Askantic Brotherhood is now the Akashayana and the Sons of Ether are now the Society of Ether. This may seem like an inconsequential change to some of you, but it’s very much keeping in line with OPP’s attempt to be all-inclusive and gender neutral. This is a company that bends over backwards to be inviting to women and LGBT gamers and even in small changes like this, you can definitely see Onyx Path and its writers practice what they preach. Good show! Of course, no one is going to freak out and call you a misogynist if you refer to these traditions by their old names out of habit.

Speaking of all inclusive, you should take a look at the five pre-generated characters in this game. You have only a single male character, along with three female (one black, two white) and a FTM transgender character. I really like that they did this. Sure, it definitely feels like the men outnumber the women in the tabletop gaming scene, especially if you’re an older gamer, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. There are a lot of great female writers out there putting out products for the WoD, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun. There are also a lot of female gamers out there. I was very impressed to see that a third to a half of the gamers at the store where I picked up this QSR at were women. I can also tell you from experience that my time with WoD games, that the women players often outnumber the men. Especially with V:TM. So sure, your group of gamers might be four dudes and none of you really want to play a female or transgender character. That’s okay. Just remember you can always change the gender of a pre-gen. Women will be happy to see they have more than a single female pre-gen to choose from (as is usually the case) and transgender gamers will just be happy to see someone thought of them! Again, as uninviting as this QSR is to the adventure side of things, World of Darkness games really do try to be as welcoming as possible to all races, creeds, sexual preferences and so on. That’s really a lovely thing to see.

So while there isn’t an actual adventure to use with the QSR (which is a shame), you do get a few things to help an experienced Storyteller craft their own. While again, that does mean this QSR isn’t something you can just play with on a moment’s notice, it does mean that a veteran of Mage CAN use it to teach newer or younger gamers about the system in a very nice manner. You have seven and a half pages of sample NPCs, enemies and allies and ten story hooks, each a paragraph long. This is nice, but a hand holding adventure would have been a much better choice if this was actually meant to be for people new to Mage rather than longtime fans like myself who backed the 20AE Kickstarter project.

So as we come to the end of this review, I have very mixed feelings about this QSR. As a fan of Mage: The Ascension, I really liked what I saw and it has made me all the more excited for the eventual release of the weighty tome (or in my case, PDF) that will be the final product. I thought the piece did a good job of explaining the esoteric nature of Mage in a short amount of space, even if it will take much longer for a gamer to understand and play this than the other QSRs released this year. I really wish there had been an adventure geared to showing newcomers how to play and/or run Mage, but the pre-generated characters are wonderfully done, lavished with detail and diversity alike. I still feel this is best viewed as a teaser for longtime Mage fans that something that will really help people brand new to the game be able to grasp the concepts and themes of the game. However, with the help of an experienced WoD gamer, this can be used to teach the core mechanics and how to play the game. Hopefully enough so that they want to buy the 5-600 page AE version when it comes out at the tail end of this year or (more likely), the beginning of 2015.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mage 20th Anniversary Edition Quickstart
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Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
Publisher: Agate RPG
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2014 19:25:19
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/20/tabletop-review-shadows-
-of-esteren-the-monastery-of-tuath/

The Monastery of Tuath is the fourth release for the critically-acclaimed Shadows of Esteren series. Each of the four Kickstarters has been more successful than the last, with The Monastery of Tuath bringing in 1,053 backers and raising $137,000. Not bad for a fifty page supplement and adventure combination, eh? Well, it deserves it. You might remember that back in 2012 I wrote glowing reviews of Book 1: Universe and Book 0: Prologue. The series would go on to win three awards in the 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards like Best Art, Best New Game and Best Core Rulebook. 2013 only saw a single release for Shadows of Esteren – Book 2 Travels. While I personally wasn’t impressed with the content of this book, especially not compared to the high quality of the first two releases, the art was still some of the best we’ve seen in years, and the release easily picked up our Best Art award in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. Now here we are with the first SoE release of 2014, and I’m happy to say that The Monastery of Tuath is a return to greatness for the series and well worth picking up even if you never plan to use the adventure or location it contains.

The Monastery of Tuath is comprised of two sections: a supplement describing the location, the history and the background of the Monastery, and then an adventure that runs twenty some pages. The adventure is heavily influenced by In the Name of the Rose, which has also spawned a film starring Sean Connery and a poorly done video game rip off, Murder in the Abbey. Of course, the adventure isn’t a straight homage. It has its own unique Shadows of Esteren twist, involving magic, monsters and curses. At its core, though, the adventure is very much a whodunit style murder mystery with false finishes and a Rogues’ Gallery that will keep players busy for quite some time.

The first half of the book will see the most use, as it gives a lot of information not just on Tuath’s monastery, but monastic life in general for the Shadows of Esteren setting. The prologue is a two page piece of fiction depicting how this particular monastery came to be, along with the origins of its particular saint. You will also see how the number six pervades everything in the religion of the One. Six prayers, six notions, six vows and so on. It’s an interesting mix of Masonic and Christian homages. The six vows especially provide some great role-playing opportunities for any character who is a servant of the One. If you’re looking to play one of Soustraine’s adepts, you’ll definitely want to pick up The Monastery of Tuath for all the content and potential story seeds you and your GM will find in it.

I absolutely loved the section entitled “Monasteries of the One,” as it gives you an amazing amount of detail on monastic life within the game. In fact, it’s so well done, other low fantasy games could easily pick this up and use the content provided with only a little bit of modification. There’s so much info about daily life, chores, potential health and income issues that come with such a secluded life, and of course – church politics.

The first half of the book concludes with information about the specific monastery the book is named after – providing a small map, a detailed look at each room (21 in all) within the monastery, and a set of thirteen NPCs that currently reside within. I was really impressed by all aspects of the piece. The art and content were top notch and the topic is one that most games really don’t give you an in-depth look at. Generally, monks in tabletop RPGs tend to be more of the eastern variant, and getting over two dozen pages on the classical western version made for a very fun and interesting read.

Then there is the adventure. Although Book 0: Prologue gave us a set of really nice adventures, the one within The Monastery of Tuath is the best so far. If this is any indication of how the upcoming Ghost Stories adventure collection will be, I think Shadows of Esteren will be up for a few more awards this year as well.

The adventure is entitled “Vengeful Words,” and the piece says it should take you five hours or more to complete. The adventure contains three acts, each of which is comprised of multiple scenes, so the adventure could run a lot longer depending on how intricate investigations get or if your players are more used to hack and slash style gaming rather than adventures where success lies with wits over die rolls. “Vengeful Words” focuses on a murder mystery that takes place within the grounds of the monastery. At first it appears to be straight forward, but it is anything but. Sure, you have corrupt religious officials and a nebulous big bad who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the adventure itself (there are allusions to him though), but it’s got all the makings of a great horror story as well as a whodunit. You have a cursed book and vengeance from beyond the grave, and it’s definitely an adventure that will keep players entertained from beginning to end.

Besides the playing of the adventure, I also have to comment on how well laid out the piece is as well. While the Shadowrun Missions format of adventures is by far the gold standard in the industry right now for ease of use and flow, the SoE adventure layout is a close second indeed. There are little icons to help clue a GM in to certain things that will/should happen when they appear in the text. These include the Gore, Supernatural, Suspense and Psychology tags, along with cues for music or text in red that highlight the most important aspects of the adventure. “Vengeful Words” is just really well done in all respects, and even if you have no plans to play the adventure, it’s still a lot of fun to read through as well as to see how SoE adventures are laid out, allowing even inexperienced GMs to run them smoothly.

All in all, The Monastery of Tuath is a terrific piece and one well worth picking up. Although it is only fifty pages long, your money might be better spent picking this up as a PDF rather than in physical form, as this is a short supplement rather than a full sourcebook or core rulebook. Regardless what version you pick up though, The Monastery of Tuath is terrific and a fantastic addition to an already awesome RPG line. If you’ve missed out on the previous Shadows of Esteren releases, this might be the time to jump in and see what you’ve been missing.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
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