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The One Ring - Bree
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2017 08:13:35

The settlement of Bree always conjures up a cosy, welcoming feel... yet there's a feeling of being on the edge of adventure. This supplement matches that feeling well, with plenty of detail on Bree itself and in particular The Prancing Pony Inn, as well as three adventures and a wealth of ideas for things to do in Bree, be you adventuring or in the Fellowship Phase.

The Introduction puts this all in context, pointing out that Bree is to the west of Rivendell, a good stopping-off point for travellers, and with a history of meetings and encounters. Those who fancy playing a hobbit or a man of Bree will find all the details they need to create their character, while Loremasters (for whom this supplement is really intended) will find plenty to bring a new area to life in their game. Suggestions are provided for how to use the adventures: the default is that they should be used with a new party setting out from the area and, run in the order presented, take three or more years to complete in conjuction with Fellowship Phases, but at least the first two adventures may be run as stand-alones or the party may consist of more seasoned characters who have arrived in Bree. Plenty of options there to weave this material into your campaign.

We start off, however, with A History of the Bree-land. Opinions are divided it seems, some say Bree's ancient, settled by descendants of the first men to ever tread these lands, others say different. The Bree-folk themselves aren't too bothered, scholarly pursuits are uncommon amongst them although a hobbit historian has put together an extensive history for those who care to search out a copy and read it. He traces evidence of the existence of Bree back to the reign of the last king of Arnor, in the year 843 of the Third Age. Hobbits arrived somewhat later, around 1300 or so.

Next up is the geography of the area. Bree is a bastion of civilisation, a little island in the middle of the empty wilderness of the North - and the majority of the inhabitants are content to stay there. The East Road and the North Road cross nearby bringing plenty of travellers through (and allowing any locals with itchy feet a way out). There are some irregular patrols by the Rangers of the North, and characters spending a Fellowship Phase in Bree can help out if they're of a mind, and if the Rangers like them. There are plenty of other ideas for activities based in and around Bree too. Plenty of places and people are described, facilitating exploration of the area (particularly for non-local characters). The Prancing Pony gets a whole section to itself, complete with floor plans. This is followed by material covering the empty lands around Bree, and a section about adventuring in Bree.

Then, Men of Bree covers the people who live there, including background about them and all the information you need to create your own characters - hobbits as well as men.

The three adventures follow. Old Bones and Skin sends the party on the trail of a monster first encountered in tales told in The Prancing Pony, but grim and real enough... and so naturally enough begins in the inn itself. Of course, there's much more to it, enough to challenge the bravest adventurer and with real risk attached. Then Strange Men, Strange Roads is set set on the Road west of the Forsaken Inn, involving travelling to both the Chetwood and to Bree, and it all starts in the Forsaken Inn when the party is due to meet a Ranger who doesn't show up. Plenty of action and a spot of courtroom drama await. Finally, Holed Up in Staddle involves travelling the roads and entering Bree itself in the pursuit of some evil men.

This is a coherent and evocative supplement, ideally suited to the gentle yet epic feel of The One Ring, and comes recommended highly as another worthy expansion to the known world. There's lots to do in Bree...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - Bree
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Pugmire Core Rulebook
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2017 05:19:57

If dogs played RPGs, is this the one that they would turn to? Pugmire is based around the premise that dogs have evolved: they walk upright, wear clothes, speak, and use tools, their front paws having developed to be able to grip them. Take these anthropomorphic dogs and drop them into a fantasy setting from which human beings vanished ages ago... and you have Pugmire. Set in the far future, with most of what mankind built crumbled to ruins, evolved dogs strive to recreate the world of the past, some revering the long-lost humans as deities, others regarding them of beings of great wisdom from whose relics much is to be learned.

After explaining all this, the Introduction goes on to explore the game's theme or central idea, which boils down to 'Companionship as Salvation'. Following the Code of Man with religious fervour, the first tenet is 'Be a Good Dog' - but what makes a good dog? Opinions vary, and - just as with our own pets - a good dog can rapidly become a bad one with a single silly mistake. Ultimately, the decision is up to one's peers - if the other dogs think you are good, then you are! Dogs in this game work together and strive to be good dogs. Then there's the mood, which is one of mystery. Whatever dogs get up to, there is always the question in the back of their minds: What happened to the humans? The fragments of knowledge that have remained lead the dogs to what will seem to us players quite humerous interpretations of what was going on when humans were around and dogs our faithful pets: but to our dog characters these are profound if sometimes confusing truths, or at least, theories. Above all, though, dogs like to explore... and this game provides plenty of opportunities for that!

There's a short list of inspirations - mostly anthropomorphic fiction, plus Dungeons & Dragons - and the usual explanation of what a role-playing game is. It's a very clear explanation, you could use it to explain what RPGs are about to a young child. It ends by explaining that the book comes in two parts: A Dog's Guide to Adventure (for players) and the Guide's Tome of Mystery, which contains information only the GM needs to know. The usual difficulty with 'all in one' rulebooks that players end up buying a lot of book they won't actually need, the GM having to trust players to stay out of GM areas, and of course the assumption that players never take a go at GMing...

A couple of canine characters - Princess Yosha Pug and Pan Dachshund - pop up throughout the Dog's Guide to Adventure with informative comments from a dog perspective as this section works through chapters explaining the world, how to create a character, how to play the game, and how magic works. The first chapter, The Journal of Yosha Pug, describes the world from his standpoint (with some quite scathing comments from Pan...), all in a 'handwritten' font that's fortunately quite clear to read. It starts off with details of the foundation of the kingdom of Pugmire, then talks about some of the interesting places to visit... and a warning, from Pan, never to trust a cat! Then of course there's the world beyond Pugmire, most of which is not as civilised and safe, where bad dogs (and worse) may be encountered. It's all beautifully-presented with a gentle air that makes this a good game to play with your youngsters, yet not so bowdlerised as to make it difficult to progress to more adult RPGs as your youngsters grow and mature (or of course carry on playing Pugmire if it has taken your fancy).

Next up, Chapter 2: A Good Dog takes you through character creation. Six ready-to-play characters are provided if you are impatient to get going, or as guides to what you should do, and there's a full explanation of the process for those who would rather have their own character. You start with Callings (character class). Artisans study and use magic; Guardians fight; Hunters explore, track and fight; Ratters can be rogues and criminals but are good at finding things and information; and Shepards are the priests of the Church of Man, teaching everyone how to be a Good Dog. And then there are Strays, the outsiders.

Then you have to choose your Breed. There are six of these, based on different types of dog: Companions, Fettles, Herders, Pointers, Runners, and Workers, plus the Mutts. Within each Breed there are various families - now these are what most of us would call 'breeds' like Chihuahua or Dachshund. Each Breed confers various bonuses and abilities to go along with what comes with your Calling. Add a Background, then you are ready to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of Abilities, Skills, and so forth. If you are familiar with any Class/Level game - such as Dungeons & Dragons - you will find yourself on familiar territory albeit the terminology is a little different. Abilities (the usual strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) are assigned by allocation of a series of numbers as you see fit, no die-rolling or even point-buy involved. Then you have Tricks to choose from, the things your character can do. Everything is explained clearly and simply, and are based on Calling and Breed.

Character sorted, it's on to Chapter 3: Playing the Game. It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however. Each character also has a Fortune Bowl containing points gained for good play and the like, and may expend these points to help with a roll when they really, really want to succeed. Possibly one of the best illustrations in the whole book depicts a dog trying to scrabble a token out of a bowl! There are other uses for Fortunte as well. The final chapter in the player section is all about Magic and how to use it in the game, along with comprehensive spell lists. If you understand Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting, you will be at home here.

The Guide's Tome of Mystery then continues with stuff that players don't need to know, in fact it may spoil enjoyment if they do root around too much here. There's more detailed background on the world of Pugmire, advice for the Guide (i.e. the GM) on how to run their game, a collection of Masterworks (powerful relics believed to have been left behind by humans), and one of enemies, including notes on creating your own. There's a lot to delve into here, some of which - like what dogs look like now - you'll have to explain to your players. There's a city to explore and various organisations to join, interact with or avoid.

On a more practical note, the next chapter provides some excellent advice for running the game, from explaining the many-hatted roles of a Guide as player, referee, storyteller and often host to looking at how to plan coherent campaigns. It also covers the more mechanical side of ensuring that the rules flow smoothly and support, rather than interfere with, the shared story the group is telling. There's a range of magic items of various kinds to use, and (naturally) a host of adversaries to pit against the party.

Finally there's an introductory adventure, The Great Cat Conspiracy, to get your group going. Even though it's for first-level characters, its scope is vast - the very throne of Pugmire may be at stake! It's laid out quite clearly with plenty of advice that should make it straightforward for even a novice GM to run. Of particular note is the way in which options are discussed: clear recognition that players often don't do what the scenario expects them to, so there are alternatives and suggestions for handling whatever they do decide to do. Very neat!

What makes this game stand out is the overall 'nice' feeling. It's wholesome. It's something you could show to a person who thinks all RPGs are the work of the devil with an actual chance of convincing them that at least some are not going to lead all the players into devil-worship. And it makes an excellent entry game for youngsters. Are you a good dog? Come and find out with this anthropomorphic RPG goodness!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pugmire Core Rulebook
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Creator Reply:
"It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however" Megan, this is nothing new. This has been a rule in 5th edition dungeons and dragons since its release in 2014. Just an FYI. So, this is basically a 5th edition d20 game it looks like?
Conan: Free RPG Day 2017: The Pit of Kutallu - PDF
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2017 07:19:38

Opening with a brief outline of the sort of world Conan inhabits, the first chapter - Welcome to the World of Conan - goes on to explain that this uses a 'cut-down' version of the 2d20 ruleset of Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and that the scenario has been written deliberately to introduce parts of the system as they arise - although there is a rules summary that the GM, at least, really ought to get to grips with before play begins. Pre-generated characters are provided, so the summary focuses on what the entries on the character sheets mean and how they describe the character, and how they are used in play. It makes for a good and well-organised summary, worth keeping to hand even once you're past the demo stage and playing the game on a regular basis (and, of course, particularly useful if new players join the group later on).

The adventure itself, The Pit of Kutallu, is set in the southern coastal jungles of the Black Kingdoms... and starts with the characters having fallen into the clutches of some slavers! If that isn't bad enough, the slavers' ship has been caught in a storm and is about to sink. From then on, it's a desperate struggle to the shore and then through the jungle to recover another slave who'd beguiled the party with offers of a big reward if they'd help her escape. Opposition is varied and challenging - and very much in the spirit of the original Conan stories - with a ruined temple complex inhabited by strange creatures, cultists of the evil persuasion, an otherworldly being worshipped as a deity and the ever-present pounding of jungle drums.

The adventure ends rather abruptly once the cultists are defeated, leaving the GM to determine what happens next and how the party gets out of the jungle and back to civilisation. A plan of the ruined temple would have been a useful addition. Only four pre-generated characters are provided but if your group is larger than that, there are others on the Modiphius website.

With an elegant overview of the game mechanics and an atmospheric if brief and incomplete adventure, this serves as an excellent introduction to the game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Free RPG Day 2017: The Pit of Kutallu - PDF
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Zach Best Family Benefit Bundle [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Thunderegg Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2017 11:30:27

Thank you for organising this: I don't know Zack Best, but if he and his family are in need this is a good way of helping him and I am glad to be able to contribute $10 along with prayers for all those affected by his illness.

As for the actual items, even if you're a hard-nosed gamer out for a bargain and not a soft touch like me, this is still worth a look! There's an engaging mix of old and new materials - including one book I have been trying to get hold of for 10 years! - with a mostly fantasy feel although SF fans will find a couple of Traveller-compatible books from Gypsy Knights Games.

So please consider this good cause and get yourself a good read into the bargain!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Zach Best Family Benefit Bundle [BUNDLE]
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The Lash of Malloc
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2017 12:52:45

Somewhere, in a suitable desert in your campaign world, there's an oasis that isn't actually quite as welcoming that it seems. The Player Information on the back cover talks about the odd missing item, mysterious tracks in the sand, and strange noises, ending with a missing child whose parents are wealthy enough to finance a search mission...

Then the DM's Background lifts the lid on what is going on, and believe me, there's quite a lot going on in that desert inn beside the oasis! Malloc, the owner of The Desert Beetle, provides a good service provide you have plenty of gold but there's a whole lot more going on, most of it quite unpleasant (and not all Malloc's doing either although he does his best to get involved, and get a cut of the profits!).

There's an evocative description of the oasis and plenty of detail about The Desert Beetle itself including notes on the inhabitants and room descriptions. There's a small map of the building - a fairly typical caravanserai - and what lies underneath; but this is not player-friendly, you will need to prepare something if your players like to be shown plans of where their characters are. We also get to meet a new lifeform, the desert goblin. Bit like a Jawa from Star Wars, to be honest: I can see plenty of potential in them.

You will have to get the party there on your own, there are no suggestions for why they might be wandering around a desert. Even if you go with the concept of a doting daddy looking for a missing daughter, you will need to provide details for yourself.

However, it's a neat little adventure even if you will have to do some preparatory work (some other patrons for the inn might come in useful too). Oh, and Malloc's lash? That's the new magic item and, no, it's not a whip!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Lash of Malloc
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The Illusionist's Daughter
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2017 11:01:06

The Players Introduction tells the tale of an illusionist who has an exceptionally beautiful daughter (presumably without the help of his spells!). Although they live in a remote village, her fame has spread far and wide and there's no shortage of eager young men heading off to try and win her hand. Only one of them has gone missing, a young nobleman by the name of Cedric. His family is concerned, and ask the party to find out what happened to him.

The DM Background lifts the lid, outlining a tragedy that has left the illusionist unhinged and his erstwhile bodyguard terrorising the surrounding area. Although the initial introduction for the party talks about them being sent in search of the missing Cedric, several other options are provided if that doesn't fit in well with your campaign. There's even a neat idea for using NPC bards to spread a song about this beautiful maiden which the party may hear for weeks before you actually run this adventure.

Getting to the village is apparently an adventure in itself, but that's an adventure you will have to write as what is provided here starts when the party arrives in the village. There is a rather small village map with accompanying descriptions of notable locations and inhabitants, but the main meat of the adventure is the illusionist's home, a three-storey edifice rather optimistically called a tower. Again there's a plan of that - note both maps are not player-friendly - with room descriptions for when the party begins to prowl around. Wandering around the village will provide ample opportunities for interaction with the inhabitants and the gathering of information.

Once in the tower, there are numerous unsettling incidents to highlight the fact that the wizard is deranged - even if he does manage to make reasonable dinner conversation. The weather turns nasty, and the party is invited to stay the night... a good chance to explore. And that's what they will need to do: there is no real way to discover what is going on except by poking about and finding the evidence for themselves. Likely things will end in tears, and a brawl - although the objective of the fight is not clear.

Overall it is a nice little puzzle adventure to toss your party's way, particularly if they enjoy figuring out what is going on.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Illusionist's Daughter
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The Waking Dead
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2017 10:04:02

This contains all you need to have a go at All Flesh Must Be Eaten apart from a few polyhedral dice and some ready-meals for your zombies... er, I mean players. It starts of by explain what is one of the main selling points of this game line: it has no setting! That sounds a bit odd, but what it means is that if you want to play a game about zombies, you can set it anywhere - past, present, future, fantasy, whatever - using these simple rules and maybe one of the array of setting books that are available. The adventure here is set in contemporary America, and it's suggested that for best effect the GM (or Zombie Master as he is known in this game) does not let on that the group is about to play a game about zombies, just hand out the Archetypes provided!

Next comes an outline of the rules - a version of the Eden Studios Unisystem - beginning with the concept of Archetypes, the way in which player-characters are described in the game. There are brief notes on what the character sheet means, then a collection of six - a doctor, an FBI agent, a gang banger, a good ol' boy, a marine and a soccer mom - are provided. A motley lot, perhaps, but the idea is that they are thrown together by circumstance and have to work together to survive. They are followed by some more rules stuff: task resolution, luck, getting scared, and of course combat.

Then comes the adventure itself, 'The Waking Dead'. It starts with our motley crew waking up in hospital after a mysterious disaster of which they seem to be the only survivors... and things go downhill from there. It's well constructed to both provide a thorough introduction to the workings of the game and be quite exciting in its own right! Neatly, it starts off pretty linear and becomes more freeform as it goes on, allowing the Zombie Master to take it in any direction - and use it, if desired, as a campaign starter rather than merely an introduction to the game.

The party awakens without equipment or indeed clothes apart from hospital gowns (the sort that leave your rear end hanging out!), so they will have to scavenge as they explore. There's an added twist that they are having strange dreams which may lead them to safety, but there are decisions to be made here, which sets this above many introductory adventures with a real feeling of accomplishing something, of getting somewhere.

If you are new to All Flesh Must Be Eaten this makes an excellent introduction. Likewise, if you want to kick off a contemporary zombie game in great style, this will serve very well - just add in whatever you need to steer the action in the right direction!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Waking Dead
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Deep Magic: Elven High Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/14/2017 07:20:05

This work opens by defining elven high magic as an ancient and rare art capable of approaching the powers of the deities themselves, shaping cities, even worlds to their will. It's said that a practitioner can accomplish literally anything, given long enough. Of course it's very hard to master, taking literally centuries of dedicated work, so it is not just the innate arrogance of elven-king that means only elves ever get to study it, it's sheer practicality: short-lived races cannot manage to learn enough to be worthwhile.

Presented as a new school of magic, there are level-based abilities that include being able to bind ritual magic to a location and make it permanent, copy ritual magic into your spellbook irrespective of source and more. Rituals feature large in this style of spellcasting.

There are some seventeen new spells, most of which can be boosted in potency if a ritual focus is used. Perhaps you have wondered why elven bread is so nourishing. There's a spell that lifts the lid on its secrets. Or if someone has really annoyed you, perhaps you'd like to curse not just him but his descendents as well. There's a neat spell called Celebration, an area effect in which everyone who enters the area joins in the party. There's a lot to play with here.

This provides an interesting insight into elf magic, and perhaps even the elven approach to life. Maybe there is a small enclave of elves, deep in a forest somewhere in your campaign world, that is the last bastion of elven high magic. What might cause your party to visit? Or perhaps some calamity has caused them to venture forth into the world... It's a neat way to encapsulate different attitudes and approaches to magic, to make being an elf about more than the pointy ears.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Elven High Magic for 5th Edition
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Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2017 07:56:37

People have always been afraid of the dark, of shadows. Shadow magic, at least in your game world, may be one of the reasons why. Perhaps it's a sinister NPC, or even a player-character with dark edges to his spells...

Various ways of tapping into this darkness are provided. The first (and fairly obvious one) is a sorcerous bloodline. Maybe you prefer the idea of a warlock whose pact is with a being from the Plane of Shadows, or maybe it's a rogue who has taken his kind's natural affinity with shadows just a little too far. Each is provided with appropriate class abilities to embue them with a touch of shadow.

Next, there's a spell list. Some little gems here, like Dark Dementing - "A dark shadow creeps across the target's mind and leaves a small bit of shadow essence behind, triggering a profound fear of the dark" - how's that for something really nasty to do to your enemies? You can also summon creatures or effects from shadowy realms, hurl shadows around and extinguish lights.

A neat selection of shadow-based abilities to add a little shiver of darkness. Probably better for NPCs unless you are running an evil campaign, though. If your party isn't scared of the dark now, they will be soon enough...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
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Deep Magic: Ring Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2017 07:25:05

Most of us know "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" even if we cannot recite the entire verse... but have you ever stopped to contemplate magic rings within your game? In this work, it's suggested that magic ring manufacture is a dwarf thing. Now dwarves as a whole don't tend to be into magic much, their creative outlet is in making and shaping physical items but in forging rings and embuing them with power they reach a fusion of physical and magic creativity like none other.

Geometrically, the ring is an unusual shape for a dwarf: they tend to prefer angles and straight lines over curves, never mind a smooth circle with no beginning or end. Yet they make fine ones, often inscribed with runes and encrusted with jewels, perfect for the storing and wielding of magical power. Opening with quite a bit of fascinating background linking dwarves with this specific magic item, we then move on to a couple of feats related to ring magic as a whole before meeting the new arcane tradition of the Ring Warden. Rare outside of dwarven strongholds, they are recognisable by their staves bound with multiple rings.

The Ring Warden's magic is based on transmutation, blending dwarven craftsmanship with the magic that they use to empower the rings that they make. There's a sidebar linking Ring Wardens to the Midgard campaign setting, but if you're not using that, it's quite straightforward to find suitable locations and background for them in your own campaign world.

There are a selection of spells mostly aimed at enchanting rings and other ring-related effects (some of the links being fairly tenuous, like Reverberate where the only connection is that the material component is a metal ring with which you strike the ground to cause it to shake and your opponents to lose their balance!), and a slew of magic items most of which are, of course, rings. There is a rather wonderful molten fire forge, which anyone who wants to make magic armour, weapons or indeed rings would really want to get their hands on, a full-blown artefact - a sentient ring left by one of the founding Ring Wardens - and a new monster, the ring servant. This is a construct of metal plates around a core of glowing energy.

If you've ever wondered where those magic rings come from, here's your answer. The Ring Warden is probably best as an NPC, it seems a bit limited to play, but the entire concept provides background and depth to the whole idea of magic rings in your game... and maybe more. What if a rival group started making rings? A different race, even? Would the rings be identifiable as to source? Might trade wars break out? It would be quite easy to build a whole campaign around this...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Ring Magic for 5th Edition
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Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2017 14:52:46

Visually, the entire book is laid out as if you were viewing an LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) screen in the ST-NG era... quite beautiful and distinctive to look at but I always find white text on a dark backround a bit tiring on the eyes for any length of time. It's worth persevering though, the content has been put together by people who clearly love the Star Trek universe and want to bring it to life in the shared alternate reality that is your game.

After a beautiful star chart Chapter 1: Introduction welcomes you to the Star Trek universe and explains what the game involves. It explains that the default setting is 2371 (or perhaps we should say Stardates 48000-48999), but that it's quite possible to run games in other eras, be your favourite captain Kirk or Archer: all you need do is adjust technology and surroundings to suit. Advice is to be found in the Gamemaster material and in promised future supplements. There's mention of the dice and other materials that you will need, and an example of play that should get the idea across for anyone new to roleplaying.

Chapter 2: The United Federation of Planets serves as a detailed introduction to the universe, with particular attention paid to its history. The default is that the Dominion has just been discovered in the Gamma Quadrant, the Maquis are getting frisky in the Cardassian Demilitarised Zone and it's thought likely that the Borg will come back for a second attempt at assmiliating, well, everybody, but of course you can call a pause in the timeline whenever you want to adventure. We read of the major power blocs, complete with atmospheric 'intelligence reports' and other snippets such as diary entries, history lessons from Starfleet Academy professors and more which make it all come to life - and everything's written in a style that makes it suitable for in-character use. It's a neat way to tell the history of the universe.

Next, Chapter 3: Your Continuing Mission provides extensive details about Starfleet itself - organisation, the Prime Directive, the Academy, the sort of duties members undertake and what away teams do. Sidebars include a neat rationale about why uniform colours changed from command wearing gold and operations red in the time of Captain Kirk to the other way around in later years... it was actually due to the implied stigma of a 'red shirt' being most likely to die on an away misson or other dangerous circumstance! The explanation of the different sorts of duties and missions is fascinating and should help inform character creation and indeed adventure design.

Chapter 4: Operations follows. This explains the rules and game mechanics which govern play. As well as d20s and d6s, the system involves a special 'Challenge Die' which bears a special symbol (a sort of 'Starfleet arrow' based on the original series badge). There's an explanation of how to use an ordinary d6 instead - or you can buy Challenge Dice from the publisher Modiphius. We learn about the different things that can occur during play and about a system of Traits - short phrases or single words that describe a thing, a place or a person - which serve to convey what is and is not possible. Traits can be advantages or complications. A Task is a roll to determine the success (or otherwise) of an attempt to do something, and the character brings their innate Attributes and learned Disciplines to bear on the task, with their scores being used to determine the target number for the task (it might have made more sense if characters had been covered first rather than in the next chapter, but it's quite straightforward really). The GM then sets the Difficulty of the task, which tells you how many successes you need to roll to do whatever you are trying to do. A success occurs when you roll equal to or less than the target number. Then you get the dice out - at least 2d20 but you can roll more by use of various additional rules. It may sound a bit complex written out but it's slick in play once you have tried it a couple of times. The chapter goes on to explain various details like having appropriate equipment and other factors that can help or hinder you, how to deal with opposed tasks and so on. If you do exceptionally well in the die roll, you gain Momentum, a mechanic that gives you advantages at the time and/or later on, depending on how you choose to use the points. The GM has a complementary system called Threats. Things called Values and Directives may also come into play. Described properly in the next chapter, Values are statements about a person's attitude and drives, Directives apply to the mission - and hence to the entire party engaged in it.

On then to Chapter 5: Reporting for Duty. This covers a whole lot more than character creation, although that's the main gist of it, using as examples characters from the TV show - hopefully most readers will be familiar with them! Each character has six Attributes (Control, Daring, Fitness, Insight, Presence, and Reason), innate abilities that define them, and then get training in six Disciplines. While a character will specialise in one or more (and so have more points in it), Starfleet expects its officers to know at least something about everything. The Disciplines are Command, Conn, Engineering, Security, Science, and Medicine. Then it gets fun with a Lifepath Creation system that builds the character and his backstory at the same time, showing how, when and where he acquired his knowledge and skills. It does help if you have some idea of where you want to end up before you start, though! There's loads of detail to help you make all the choices required, starting with race and going through environment (the one you grew up in), upbringing, attending Starfleet Academy and subsequent career in Starfleet. All this results in a rounded character who has lived a full life even before play begins. The main focus is on Starfleet officers, but there are notes on created an enlisted character if that's what you prefer. There is also a novel alternate method of creating a character during play, where you part-create a few simple details and add the rest as the game proceeds. Different, but I think I prefer the Lifepath method.

Then Chapter 6: The Final Frontier talks about the universe itself, covering planets, alien encounters, stellar phenomena and scientific discoveries and developments. This is an overview, talking about characteristics and dangers, rather than detailing specific planets or aliens that can be encountered. It includes a delightful article entitled 'Zen and the Art of Warp Core Maintenance' which discusses how the science of Star Trek is either real or has been at least considered to be theoretically possible, and also shows how in-character research can be conducted.

This fascinating chapter is followed by Chapter 7: Conflict. This deals with a lot more than brawling (although combat is in there), covering any occasion in which two parties have different ideas about, well, anything and how the matter may be resolved. It provides a nuanced way to navigate through social conflict using a mix of role-play and die rolls. Naturally, there is extensive coverage of how to deal with situations in which combat breaks out, concentrating on melee (individual against individual). This is followed by Chapter 8: Technology and Equipment, which talks about what is available and how to use it. Should you wish to venture outside the mid-24the century default, this is the area in which the greatest changes will occur. It also covers details like how much people can carry as well as how to develop new items of equipment as and when they are required.

Star Trek is all about travelling the stars, exploration accompanies nearly all missions even if they have another goal, and so Chapter 9: A Home in the Stars looks at where the party might find themselves - primarily starships of course, but starbases and colonies are also examined. There's plenty of detail on starship operation and day-to-day life to help create a believable background. A note on planet-based games helps show how you can make life on a colony just as much an adventure as one based on a starship or starbase. This chapter also includes rules for starship combat and presents an array of Starfleet ships as well as some alien vessels. Combat between ships, as well as the more obvious concepts of manoeuvering and shooting at each other, also includes the management of power aboard ship, an added dimension... and of course there are the perils of warp core breaches and even abandoning ship.

We then move on to material of most use to the GM, beginning with Chapter 10: Gamemastering. Herein is a wealth of advice about running the game, staying on top of the rules and ensuring that the players' characters develop and grow over time. Some is general advice, useful whatever you're planning to run, but much of course is aimed specifically at Star Trek Adventures. There are ideas for adventure, guidance in managing character creation and notes on how to make the rules work to best effect. There's an interesting discussion on how Star Trek Adventures has a slightly different approach from many games, in this universe cooperation rather than conquest is the aim and while fights do break out, Starfleet prefers to obtain its objectives by more peaceful means. Belonging to a large - and hierarchical - organisation is also covered: the characters cannot become pawns following orders... but then, no-one would accuse Kirk or Picard of being a pawn! There's lots on the mix of creativity and mechanics that go into creating scenes, encounters, sub-plots and everything else that's going on, on pacing, and on creating missions, NPCs and the locations in which the action will take place (including a system for designing planets). A thoroughly useful chapter!

Then Chapter 11: Aliens and Adversaries takes you through the various opposing entities - the Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire, Borg Collective, Ferengi Alliance, Cadassian Union and the Dominion - as well as alien artefacts and all manner of beasties. There are example NPCs for each group (and for the United Federation of Planets), and there are nots on how to handle a player desperate to play a Klingon or a Ferengi... as well as details of what happens to those unlucky enough to be assimilated by the Borg!

Finally, Chapter 12: The Rescue at Xerxes IV provides a ready-made adventure to get you started. It's actually the first adventure from the massive 'living playtest' that was part of the game development process, and would make a good campaign starter or a one-off to introduce players to the game. It all starts with the characters in a runabout travelling to their new assignments...

Overall, this is a magnificent beginning to what has the potential to be a fine re-telling of the Star Trek story in game form. Your mission is, of course, to boldly go where no-one has gone before, and these rules will aid you in not only getting there but coming back to tell the tale!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
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Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2017 09:17:26

There are many diverse theories, we are told, as to where 'magic' actually comes from. No doubt scholars will argue furiously for their preferred source, but the truth is, it has multiple sources, those listed here (ley lines, other dimensions, bloodlines...) and probably quite a few more. One fairly undisputed source of magic, however, is the dragon. An ancient and wise race, innately magical and capable of studying to develop their knowledge, dragons themselves are excellent at magic, and also pass it on, through bloodlines, to those descended from dragons as well. Because of their lineage, dragons were amongst the first to master magic, so they have been practising and refining their skills longer than most.

This leads on to a discussion of the particular forms of magic practised by so-called Dragon Magi. They walk a line of balance between wizards who pull power out of the air to mould as they wish and sorcerers who draw on internal chaotic power to drive their magics, a mix of order and chaoes. This new arcane tradition, mechanically speaking, uses spell slots not just for actual spells but for powering magical abilities, an interesting approach which has great potential for developing your own personal style in magic-use.

Dragon magi can call upon various aspects of the dragon - head, heart, tail, and so on - which have a visible manifestation and in-game effects. Calling them costs a spell slot, but once you get to grips with the potency of the abilities granted, it is worth it. Several feats are also presented, many of which are available to anyone not just dragon magi. Perhaps you might care to be a Dragonrider, a feat that grants the ability to climb onto an opponent much larger than yourself and 'ride' it in combat - despite the beautiful illustration of a sword-wielding elf seated comfortably on a barded dragon (who looks quite happy about his mount), the text suggests that this feat is for use against a hostile beastie that has no intention of permitting itself to be ridden!

A range of Dragon Magic spells are also presented, which any spell-user may acquire and cast in the usual manner... provided they can get access to the necessary information. There are many intriguing dweomers here, all linked in some manner with dragons - maybe you want to make a lot of noise with Dragon Roar (it's basically a sonic attack) or seek out precious metals and gems with Enhance Greed. Or maybe you'd like to make like a dragon yourself and use Dragon Breath to give you a one-off breath weapon.

Taking the theme of dragon magic and stretching it in several directions, this provides some interesting ideas to expand the scope of the magic available in your game. Magical theorists will enjoy the way these new powers are embedded into the alternate reality of the game, whilst more muscular magic-users will enjoy trying them out!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
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ARRGH! Thar Be Zombies!
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2017 08:40:48

Diving straight in with Chapter 1: Ahoy Matey, we are first regaled with some atmospheric fiction in which the 'pirate lingo' is mercifully kept where it belongs in direct speech followed by an Introduction that sets out the purpose of this book: to provide an age-of-sail setting for All Flesh Must Be Eaten focussed firmly in the Caribbean. As such, Voodoo features large (it is, after all, one of the better-known ways to create zombies) and overall there's a greater air of magic here than in other published settings. This chapter also contains plenty of general seafaring information, or at least the terminology to allow you to sound like a seasoned seadog as well as a timeline and some pointers to inspirational materials.

Then Chapter 2: Ye Pirates and Privateers deals with the fine detail of what is and isn't piracy including a history of piracy through the ages, as well as covering chatacter creation. There is also an interesting discussion about why people choose to be pirates in the first place. Although the main focus of this book is the Caribbean, there are some notes on Asian piracy as well. Another gem in this chapter is some detailed swordfighting rules aimed at duelling, but excellent for anyone wishing to swash their buckle a bit. It's followed by Chapter 3: Th' Tools o'the Trade which provides everything the well-dressed pirate needs: weapons, equipment, ships (a bit essential...) as well as notes on life at sea and ship-to-ship combat. There's also a mechanism for generating crews for your ships - there are far too many folk on a sailing ship for you to create them all individually. Then Chapter 4: Vodou provides all you need to enable Inspired characters to perform Vodou miracles. Note that the Abomination Codex for C.J. Carella's Witchcraft has a different way of presending Voodoo within the UniSystem game mechanics: you can choose which version you prefer.

We then move on to three main settings and one chapter of less-developed ones. Chapter 5: Voodoo Queen of the Shrouded Isles. This involves a dark tale of revenge that has resulted in a veritable plague of zombies carried worldwide by sailing ships. The party is likely on a ship roaming the waves looking for plunder and zombie-free sanctuary ashore in equal measures. There are a few adventure seeds, but that's what it boils down to... with perhaps the chance of finding out how to eliminate the zombies for good and all.

Chapter 6: The Black Fleet tells of the fate of a fleet of treasure ships that had amongst their loot an artefact they really ought to have left alone. Cursed, they vanished... but occasionally appear to haunt the high seas. With background and adventure ideas aplenty, this is possibly the closest to Pirates of the Caribbean if you want to bring that style into yourg game.

In Chapter 7: Islands in a Dark Sea, Galileo - armed with some of Da Vinci's drawings - fled the Inquisition and discovered space travel, which he called the Dark Sea. Now the party has the chance to explore this exotic setting, that knows the limits only of your imagination. There are loads of ideas to get you started, and this is a magnificent opportunity to mix in all manner of materials from other sources...

Finally, Chapter 8: Pieces of Eight gives brief outlines of some possible Asian settings. Mixing in elements of Enter the Zombie would be appropriate here. There are Vietnamese and Chinese possibilities - or the party could be European seafarers exploring the exotic East. Here you'll find several story ideas, a timeline and some Asian weapons to supplement (or replace) the ones introduced earlier... and of course plenty of zombies. If that's not enough, an Aztec setting is also provided complete with its own backstory and ideas.

Pirates and zombies. What is there not to like in that mixture? For groups who like either, this is well worth exploring.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ARRGH! Thar Be Zombies!
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The Book of Archetypes 2
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2017 08:10:15

Diving straight in with but an almost-hidden note that the archetypes herein were created by fans of the game (and may not be completely compatible with the rules) - it's buried in the credits page - we have a collection of forty-three new archetypes. Most are contemporary folk who could easily get swept up in a zombie apocalypse, but there are a few from the Old West and other settings if that is what you are playing. They're useful if you need a character in a hurry (maybe the zombies got your last one and you don't want to spectate for the rest of the session) or maybe to give you ideas for characters if you are wondering what to play. They also make good detailed NPCs if needed. There are also a few new pieces of equipment and rules additions at the end.

Each archetype - neatly provided on a single page, especially useful for PDF users who can print just the page they want - contains a full-length sketch of the character, their game statistics and a delightful in-character monologue that tells you enough about them to be able to get a good feel for that character. If you intend to play one, just about all you need do is supply a name. Naturally, you can tweak them a bit if they are not precisely what you want.

The archetypes are quite diverse - administrative assistants, bomb squad, a hacker, a lunatic who's escaped from the nearest asylum... and many more. Some of the backstories they tell could suggest adventures or even a whole campaign if you are so minded.

The new equipment is based around items that some of the archetypes have with them, providing the extra information that you need to use them in game. Likewise there are new Chi abilities, qualities/drawbacks and so on to explain some of the entries... but of course they can all be used for characters of your own devising as well.

If you go through characters real fast or see the need for a large supporting cast of NPCs, this book is likely to come in very useful.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Archetypes 2
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Dungeons & Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/29/2017 08:46:29

Opening with fiction detailing a typical fantasy dungeon delve encounter with zombies (and its aftermath), Chapter 1: Delving Down talks about how everybody - not just players of role-playing games - indulges in fantasy from time to time, but of course gamers do so more intensely than most. Here however, 'fantasy' is defined more precisely, it's the swords and sorcery sort, the kind where you go dungeon delving... only in this book there are, of course, plenty of zombies added to the mix.

These opening remarks are followed by Chapter 2: Swords, Sorcery and Shambling which explores character creation for heroic fantasy All Flesh Must Be Eaten games, as well as new rules and game mechanics necessary to make the game work in this genre. This is followed by no less than four settings taking you on a wild trip through 'classic' role-playing fantasy, literary fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien-style, the world of King Arthur, and an Asian-influenced one, as well as a complete dungeon delve ready to run. As you can imagine, apart from Chapter 2, this material is intended for the Zombie Master rather than the players.

In Chapter 2, we meet two new character types: the Adept and the Talented Hero. The Survivor and Inspired character types are also appropriate for this style of play. The Adept is the wizard or mage, leaving Inspired for clerics. As it's fantasy, you can also play a non-human, and there's a system of Profession Qualities to enable you to set up the classic 'character classes' if you want - or just build a character normally with the skills you want him to have. There are some new Skills appropriate to the genre, and the timely reminder that zombies can, like player-characters, be of any race available in your setting, not just humans. Some new combat rules are here too, dealing with the use of the mediaeval-style weapons and fighting styles common to fantasy. There is a basic magic system here as well, but those after more detail are referred to two other Unisystem games - Armageddon and WitchCraft - although there is quite a lot to be found here, including some excellent Necromancy spells that will let the practitioner raise and control zombies...

The chapter rounds out with some thoughts on creating fantasy settings and a few archetypes, then we move on to the provided settings, beginning with Chapter 3: Dead Gods and Demon Lands. This is a grim pulp fantasy setting where heroes go adventuring primarily because that's their way of having a good time. Think Conan the Barbarian here. Plenty of background to aid you in bringing it all to life... and three different kinds of zombies to harass honest adventurers as they go about their business. Several story ideas finish this chapter, along with a few more Archetypes.

Next is Chapter 4: Dawn of a Dead Age. This is an epic fantasy setting, where the deeds of a small band has great effect within the vast sweep of the struggle between good and evil, determining the very fate of the land. This setting is all about an ancient and terrible power reawakened, how it threatens the land and how it is stopped... by the party, of course. A vast sweep of background underpins the rise of a Dread Lord and provides the means to defeat him once more, assuming the party can find said means, that is. His rise is what has caused the zombies, hopefully his defeat will eliminate them. Rather than story ideas, there's a campaign outline that lays out the epic tale you'll tell in this setting.

In Chapter 5: Death of the Round Table, zombies are introduced into the world of King Arthur. There's a discussion of what that world really is, from the historical possibility to the romantic fantasy it became - you pick what kind of setting you want. There's a code of chivalry to which every knight ought to subscribe, and a fair bit of background to help you set the scene. As for the way this setting's zombies are created... shall we say that the chalice from the palace has the pellet with the poison? The Round Table has been perverted under the leadership of Mordred, and the party must embark on a quest to put things right.

Then Chapter 6: The Eastern Dead puts an Asian spin on things. This could be with profit read alongside Enter the Zombie, and it brings the flavour of the far east to a mediaeval style fantasy world - with samurai and ninjas and warrior monks mixing it with each other and any zombie unwise enough to raise its head... even if the poor mindless thing is just hungry! A rich and exotic setting is laid out, with background and story ideas aplenty to enable you to make the most of it.

Finally, Chapter 7: The Tomb of Doom provides a ready-made dungeon to explore. There's a bit of background which explains, amongst other things, why zombies have started to appear and provides for the party to get involved very quickly in the action as the zombies raid the town the party is in (for whatever reason they or you come up with). It's not long before they are traced back to an ancient tomb, then it's time to grab your ten foot pole and delve...

If you like fantasy games but want to bring zombies into them, or you like zombies and fancy a fantasy setting for them, this could be the supplement for you. With well-developed ideas that bring the zombies into the very fabric of the settings and scope for epic adventures, it takes zombies firmly out of the classic movie settings they are normally encountered in and empowers a fantasy twist to your game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeons & Zombies
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