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Asatania (AS-2): Smoke on the Horizon (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2017 08:15:53

This is the second 'core' adventure in the Crashing Chaos campaign, and can either follow directly after Face Down in a Muddy Road or be run following the side-adventure The New Mine Masters if your party decides to investigate a map they might have discovered. The Preface explains where it fits in the scheme of things, and how - as low-level characters - the party will be concentrating on survival amidst the turmoil, but even now should be beginning to realise that there's a bit more than a few raids going on. Throught this adventure (and following ones) they will meet many NPCs, and the sort of impression they make will colour how they are viewed later on in the campaign.

The gist of the adventure is that the party will discover just how much damage the Kan Demon raiders have done as they continue their journey to Bray's Bay. It's assumed that they still will go there, due to a combination of the reasons they had for going there in the first place and the encouragement of various NPCs. The action takes place on the road from a hamlet called Siver's Mill that is not far from Bray's Bay and includes a visit to a manor house that belongs to the governor of the area and another farmhouse that is under attack. Plenty to keep the party occupied.

This is a fairly short adventure and probably will occupy but a single session, unless the party gets into a lot of brawls. It's a bit of an anti-climax after the last core adventure, appearing just to be to get the party from one place to another... but even though the party may not realise it, some of the encounters are of considerable significance and will prove worthwhile in hindsight. There are a few notes to aid you in dealing with wayward parties who refuse to travel on the road and a couple of handouts, along with monster notes and NPC statistics.

This is definitely a 'mid-campaign' adventure and would be no use on its own. It ends on a hilltop looking down on Bray's Bay... all ready for the next adventure. One wonders just why this and the next one (Muscle, Sinew and Wood) were not combined - even the next side adventure is supposed to occur later, if you choose to use it. Yes, it moves the plot along. Yes, it introduces at least one important person who'll feature later... but there's a question as to why it has to be presented as a separate adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-2): Smoke on the Horizon (5E)
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Asatania (AS-1): Face Down in a Muddy Road (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2017 08:10:31

The Preface lays out the slightly awe-inspiring point that this adventure sets the scene for the entirety of Asatania campaigning. In it the characters are introduced to the world and to the major threats that it faces... and they'll soon find themselves making tough choices, the sort that have no 'right' or 'wrong' decision, just ones that will have an effect, often a profound one, not only for the characters themselves but for the world which they inhabit.

There's also some fascinating background about the inspiration for the whole campaign concept: an insular nation that feels protected by the seas around it, to the length of prohibiting exploration beyond its shores, and how it copes when others come a-visiting in a disruptive manner. Fascinating stuff, to see how that single idea has spawned an entire world setting and series of adventures. Moreover, the author recognises 'success' by player response, citing deep in-character discussions about courses of action as a marker of a campaign that has really caught the group's imagination. (It's good when that happens, I still recall fondly a Cyberpunk game in which the characters debated, for over 15 minutes, the pros and cons of the use of torture as a valid business tactic... perhaps you don't want to meet some of my players!)

With a few notes on helpful resources (like the Asantania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide, recommended but not required), on keeping the challenges appropriate to your group if it varies from the five first-level characters intended, and even on using a ruleset other than Dungeons & Dragons 5e, we reach the Introduction. This covers some of the interesting features of this world like the apparent lack of magic. Yes, you can play a spell-caster, but such a character will feel themselves to be unique because anyone else who uses magic keeps very quiet about it... and you will have probably found out the hard way that it's best to be discreet about what you can do! This moves on to a plot overview covering events in this adventure and a discussion on helping your players come up with appropriate backstories for their characters, as the action starts with them travelling by public cart (or Traveller Wagon, as they are known) to the settlement of Bray's Bay. By the end of this adventure, they ought to be second level and will be faced with their first choice... one option available means that you'll need to run one of the side adventures for them (The New Mine Masters).

As stated, the adventure begins with the characters on the road. There's some concise 'read aloud' text to bring them up to speed without you having to hold forth for hours - there's a Player's Guide available (free if you choose the PDF option) for those who want to delve deeper. This is also an opportunity for the characters to get to know each other - sitting in a cart for hours on end gets pretty boring, as well as hard on the rear end! NPCs are extremely detailed and really come to life - there are a few sharing the journey with the characters - so there is ample scope for role-play. And then, the fun starts...

Throughout, there are useful snippets of information that you can weave into the story as appropriate. The NPCs are also categorised as being there for flavour or ones intended to be recurring participants in the campaign, and they are all extremely well-rounded with quirks and personalities - even the 'throw-away' ones. In the Campaign Guide it was suggested that you could either award XP in the conventional manner, or level up the party at appropriate points, and both methods are supported, with neat tables showing what XP is available as appropriate for those going down that route. Likewise you are well supported with suitable skill checks being noted when appropriate, along with the results of success, which makes it easy to both use the right ones and remember to call for them at the correct moment! There's an overview map and detailed maps for each encounter along with descriptions of what and who you'll find in each location (and what they are likely to do when the party turns up). Appendices cover the Kan Demons in considerable detail and provide NPC stat blocks, as well as copies of the encounter maps (and the overall map) to give to your players.

This is a splendid introduction to what promises to be an exciting campaign. As DM, you should feel well-supported to cope with whatever your players do as the amount of information provided will equip you to be able to react appropriately. The in media res start coupled with the way background material is provided should get you off to a flying start... in short, this is an excellent example of a 'campaign starter' adventure!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-1): Face Down in a Muddy Road (5E)
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Princes, Thieves & Goblins
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2017 06:57:45

The Player's Background paints a picture of a small but prosperous kingdom that was happy up until the previous year, when a succession of goblin raids caused havoc... but worse was to come. The King summons the party to a meeting at his country retreat, and requests their help - his baby son has been kidnapped! Evidence points to the goblins and the King will throw his resources behind the party...

All this has been dealt with, through a mix of narrative and role-play (although you can role-play the lot if you prefer) before we even get to the DM's Information. This explains some quite epic confusion on the part of the goblins and lays out what is going on and why quite clearly. Assuming the party agree to accept the task, they soon are on their way. The journey to the goblins' lair is glossed over, you may prefer to make it more interesting.

The lair itself is clearly mapped and detailed, with room descriptions along with notes on who might be around, all necessary game mechanical information and their likely intentions. From here on in, it's a fairly straightforward delve, with traps and monsters to deal with. Although it's supposed to be the goblins' lair, it's a bit difficult to envision them actually living there given the set-up. At the end of the dungeon, there is an opportunity to negotiate a solution should the party choose to take this option. The adventure rounds off with a new type of goblin and a magical item which plays quite a major role - more as an object than because of its powers, interestingly.

In a way, this adventure promises more than it delivers. The set-up is intriguing, but the dungeon itself quite pedestrian. The way in which a negotiated outcome is possible is excellent, but resolving it is left very much to the DM's discretion... and there is nothing concerning any consequences or follow-up adventures. With some work, this could prove a good adventure, as is it's a bit unsatisfying.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Princes, Thieves & Goblins
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The Ice Caves of Azinth
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/13/2017 11:31:49

Just what any group of up-and-coming adventurers trying to make a name for themselves would like: a summons to a consultation about a 'matter of some urgency', from a local monarch, no less. Amid rumours of impending war between Azinth (the summoning monarch's kingdom) and an aggressive bunch to the south, the party travels to this small but prosperous kingdom which is backed by a massive mountain range to the north. That's where the problem is: for the past five years solid it has been snowing on those mountains and all the passes are frozen solid, cutting Azinth off from its allies to the north. Now a stranger has arranged a meeting in a deserted inn, claiming to know how to deal with the situation, and the king wishes the party to attend to the matter...

So runs the Player Introduction, and the DM Background opens with a note that the DM should change names as necessary to put events in an appropriate corner of the campaign world. There's a lot more detail about what's going on in and around Azinth (or whatever you rename the place), and explains the real nature of the problem the party is tasked to solve.

And then we're off, with a chilly journey up into the mountains - don't worry, it's only going to get colder - and plenty of action to keep the party on their toes. At least fighting ought to keep them warm! Eventually they meet their contact who explains what they need to do and leads them onward to where they need to be. Eventually they reach the 'ice caves' which are mapped out and described, and shall we say, darn chilly! And, of course, filled with those who wish intruders ill... and even as they obtain their objective, a massive brawl breaks out.

It's an excellent if chilly adventure with an exciting climax, in a setting that could prove fruitful for further adventures. Successful parties will be rewarded well, there's even a medal from a grateful king (plus cash for those of more mercenary inclinations) and other rewards to be had. There's a new monster and a new magic item as well, indeed the party even has a chance of keeping the magic item. A good adventure to add to your collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ice Caves of Azinth
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Asatania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2017 08:50:08

Subtitled 'A Game Masters Guide to Asatania', this work sets out to provide all that you need to know to run the Crashing Chaos campaign: setting background, loads of NPCs and outlines of all eight adventures that go to make up the campaign.

It opens with an inspiring appeal to the potential GM, that their primary role is to make the setting come alive for the players, forging connections between player and character, and character and world. This work will aid tremendously, providing a clear sense of the world in which the adventures take place and of the sometimes subtle relationships between the NPCs the party will encounter. It's not just about a series of adventures, or even an ongoing story, it's about inhabiting a shared alternate reality that, for the duration of play, ought to feel real to those playing the game. This has always been what I've tried to create at my table, and it is quite delightful to find it spelled out so clearly.

There is an overview of the entire Asatania concept, a linked series of story arcs of which Crashing Chaos is but the first. This consists of four story adventures and four side-adventures (which are optional as far as progressing the main plot, but recommended for those after the full experience). Notes on timings and on different ways of awarding experience - the conventional points for killing and looting, or by milestones achieved - are included. Indeally, characters should be no more than 6th level by the completion of Crashing Chaos (or they will be a bit overpowered for the next bit).

We then start delving into the ancient history of the setting, with wars between elves and demons some two thousand years ago... wars which by now have faded to mere myth and legend in most people's minds. Wind forwards to the present and we find ourselves in the Farasene Imperium, the dominant nation on the continent of Tere. Last summer, they suffered a series of raids by strange humanoids from over the sea. Over the winter, when the raids ceased, the Imperium prepared to defend itself by forming an army. That army is mustering in a coastal town called Bray's Bay and the campaign opens with the characters travelling in that general direction for whatever reason they choose to come up with.

Next come the adventure outlines, followed by information to aid you in advising the players on character creation. Magic, for example, is unknown, yet that should deter anyone wanting to play a spell-caster. They may have the full powers of their chosen class, they just have never let on to those around them what they can do. Religion, on the other hand, has a strong influence on society despite the gods having a very hands-off approach, neither answering prayers nor speaking to the faithful. Notes on the races available (most of the core ones apart from dragonkin, tieflings, and half-orcs) are followed by a run-down of the places where each is found, to help in creating a backstory for each character that brings him to the point at which the first adventure begins.

We then settle down to a more detailed survey of the campaign setting, with a note that further campaign guides may be published as the party travels further afield. A delightful conceit is the way in which the constellations in the night sky reflect events in the story that will be told. There's information on all aspects of life from the calendar and major festivals to the sort of jobs people have, coinage, trade, education and even the Imperium's foreign policy. Then there is a vast array of vividly-portrayed NPCs. Each one comes with notes on how to play them, stat blocks and loads of background... and even the Emperor himself is there although it's unlikely that the characters will meet him (yet). There is also an indication of which adventures each NPC may turn up or otherwise be referenced in. Their appearance is described and many are illustrated. It makes for an excellent resource.

Finally, there is information on religion and deities, and on the raiders - known as Kan Demons (because they are believed to come from the mythical continent of Kan far over the sea). Overall, this is an excellent preparation for running this campaign and all GMs should have a copy and study it well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide (5E)
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Asatania Player's Guide to the Crashing Chaos Campaign (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/11/2017 08:06:28

The author's preface explains how a fascination with the conflict that arises when an established 'civilisation' finds more barbarious neighbours nipping around their walls and an interest in the more fluid chaos of multiple factions and goals led him to create the world of Asatania, choosing role-playing rather than straight fiction because of the multiple viewpoints lots of players bring to an unfolding story. He's designed a campaign constructed of several story arcs, and here we sit on the threshold of the first one, which is called Crashing Chaos and consists of eight adventures. This covers a series of events which are already in motion and that will ultimately change the world.

This work is intended to provide players with background information that their characters will know, and it launches off with an account of recent events on Tere, the continent on which the campaign is set. The established civilisation of the Farasene has experienced coastal raids up and down their eastern seaboard by folk they have dubbed Kan Demon, believing that they come from a mythical continent far across the sea called Kan. Raids died down during winter, and the Emperor put the time to good use raising a Home Guard Regiment to defend his shores. Now it's early spring and the regiment is mustering at Bray's Bay... a place towards which the characters are travelling as the first adventure opens.

Now it is time to create your characters. We are informed that magic use is somewhat of a myth on Tere, however you can play a spell-caster without any limitations save that you will have kept the fact that you can do magic a close secret! You also, spell-caster or not, need to come up with a reason for going to Bray's Bay, with some example reasons being given to get you going. Character background options are presented, based on the race that you have chosen (most standard ones are available)

We then move on to learn more about the geography of Tere and what it is like to live there, with information on topics as diverse as coinage, the calendar and public holidays, arts, commerce and daily life. The culture is remarkably stagnant, perhaps due to an empire that has been governing for over two thousand years. Most people work the land or ply a trade, with education limited to what you need to know to do your job... and exploration of the ocean and lands beyond being actively discouraged! Religion is more about community and stability than piety, with the gods fairly distant and not very interested in what their worshippers do, although unless you are well off, the priesthood is the best place to get a decent education!

Providing a good overview of the campaign setting and current situation, all you need do is read this and create some characters ready to play. The assumption is that you are part of the 'civilised world' however: the adventures do not offer the opportunity to be a raiding 'barbarian'... at least, not yet. Who knows what will come in the future. For the time being, at least, there is a peaceful somewhat stagnant land in dire need of heroes... will you answer that call?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania Player's Guide to the Crashing Chaos Campaign (5E)
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World of Gor: Gorean Roleplaying World Encyclopaedia
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2017 10:19:55

This massive work is intended as a companion to the Tales of Gor Role-playing Game or, for those who don't role-play, as supporting material for the Gorean Chronicles series of books by John Norman. The Introduction explains the history and background to the books - and how this book's author was introduced to them in his teens and fell in love with them (just as I did when not very much older). The turbulent history of the series, with its themes clashing with prudishness when first launched and later falling foul of political correctness, is discussed sympathetically: it is what it is and if your prejudices lead you to dislike the fact that Gorean society accepts slavery as normal, and has sexual practises that could be deemed 'kinky' (bondage, dominance and submission in the main), there's ample warning to suggest you find a different fantasy world. Because that's what it is, fantasy. Nobody's suggesting it is real or even desirable, just that this is what Gor is like. To be fair, I have read essays that suggest John Norman wrote the books as a protest against rampant political correctness, but I don't know how true that is!

Next comes a summary of the thirty-four (at time of writing) books in the series, drawn from the cover 'blurbs' (so no spoilers for books you haven't read yet!). Then without further ado, the encyclopaedia entries begin...

In strict alphabetical order, the entries cover everything from prominent individuals to flora and fauna, popular beliefs and customs, and matters of everyday life. They are illustrated by relevant quotations from the books as well as splendid pen-and-ink drawings that capture the exotic feel of the world well. Even where slaves are involved, they remain tastefully done... and are particularly fascinating when they depict the exotic animals of Gor.

Perhaps you want to know about the various castes of Gor, mix of professional/trade associations and inherited positions, or maybe you'd like to know what cards make up the Gorean Tarot or how to play kaissa. Musical instruments, weapons, diseases, clothing... all these and more are described. There are even details of kaissa should you fancy trying to play. Finally, an appendix outlines the Gorean calendar. It is very much a reference book, as one might expect from the title, rather than a thematic discussion of all things Gorean; but should you want to know, for example, what a Horned Gim looks like (a small, purplish owl-like bird, as it happens), you can look it up very easily (although the PDF version could be enhanced by the use of bookmarks and hyperlinks).

This is an excellent resource for all those who wish to understand the world of Gor in all its splendor. Whether you play the RPG or just enjoy the books, this is a useful adjunct to your game or reading.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World of Gor: Gorean Roleplaying World Encyclopaedia
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Trail of Cthulhu: Cthulhu Apocalypse
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/08/2017 07:48:32

The Introduction reminds us how in most horror situations, the horror can be ended: leave the haunted house and leave the ghosts behind, the police can catch the serial killer, and so on. The Cthulhu Mythos always promises apocalyptic horror from which there is no escape - and this book gives you the means to present it to your players.

The first part is The Apocalypse Machine, presenting advice and additional rules for running Trail of Cthulhu in a post-apocalyptic setting (as if either the Mythos or an apocalypse weren't enough to cope with on their own). This pitches the Investigators as some of the few human beings to have survived whatever disaster occurred, trying to cope with the situation... and finding that the Mythos has survived as well! Or may even have instigated the apocalypse... Information here ranges from designing your own apocalypse to new Occupations, Skills and Drives appropriate to a post-apocalyptic world (and notes on how existing ones will work in the new setting). It assumes a Pulp style of play, although it may not be quite what you are used to. It also splits the setting into two periods: Aftershock, when the apocalyptic event has just happened, and Wasteland, set some time later when things have settled down a bit, or at least folk have realised that this is their new reality.

One of the most interesting parts of this section is the material to decide what happened to bring about the apocalypse, to destroy the world as you know it. Certain criteria are set. Humanity is well-nigh gone, some 99.99% of human beings have died in the event although the Investigators have survived (or their ancestors did if you have taken your Wasteland plot a generation or two into the future). The effects must be global, there's no scampering off to take refuge in an unaffected part of the world (well, maybe the Antarctic bases have survived...). Oh, and Mythos entities are taking the opportunity to arise, even if it wasn't them behind the apocalypse in the first place. So, the cause of the apocalypse may be human-driven, it may be the Mythos or it could be a vast natural disaster - the next dinosaur-killer asteroid, perhaps. Or a disease, or earthquakes or... get the picture? Life on earth is quite fragile when you start thinking of ways to wipe it out.

Once you are equipped with these resources, there is a whole campaign's worth of adventures to play. Quite a lot of the material has been published before as The Dead White World and Slaves of the Mother, but even if you already have these, this book is worth a look because there's a lot more new material here! New adventures have been added, firstly two to the Dead White World phase - an uncontaminated lake to investigate, and an unaffected woodland around an ancient barrow - both drawing on the underlying concept of contamination spreading across Britain (and indeed the rest of the world) and the search for refuge that the Investigators undertake in order to survive. Although they've been put after the original adventures in Dead White World they work better if they are interwoven with the others, after The Dead White World and before the climactic Sandgrown.

The remainder have been added at the end of Slaves of the Mother, which takes place three years later. At the end of the last adventure in the original Dead White World the party had to make a decision. They are now living with the result: England is now either overrun with strange white flowers or crawling with Deep Ones. Throughout, notes are provided to cater with both options, with them being referred to generically as 'Creatures'. The scene is set in the Introduction with explanations of the likely state of play depending on what the party is having to contend with, this will help you set the scene as the game begins. Thereafter, when the effects are different depending on what is there, this is clearly indicated.

The first three adventures - Bright Futures, The Nation Set Free and Slaves of the Mother - remain the same, but there are an additional seven complete adventures. These follow after Slaves of the Mother, in which the characters are faced with awful truths and have to decide whether or not to carry on or kill themselves out of sheer despair, as those who survive escape Britain in an aircraft and make it to America (the actual trip is left to you to manage, whether as an adventure in its own right or hand-waved to get them there).

Of course, all is not well in America either. The place is overrun with whichever set of Creatures you decided were the problem, and the few people left alive are attempting to survive just as those left behind in Britain were. The adventures address various ways of surviving and even flourishing in the aftermath of the apocalypse, each presenting considerable risk to the Investigators and even offering them a chance to put things right (or at least substitute something else) or to remain trapped forever where they have been taken... either way, this last adventure ends the campaign.

The additional material makes this the book to go for if you fancy taking your Cthulhu apocalyptic... even if you have the three volumes that make up the major part of it. The scope is here for memorable adventuring, the sort of campaign that is talked about for years afterwards by those involved. It may not be for everyone, thinking about the world as you know it being destroyed can be quite tough, but for those who do this is excellent.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Cthulhu Apocalypse
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Servants of the Blood Moon
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/07/2017 13:08:33

Fancy creating a new legend about heroes protecting an ancient elven forest? Things have gone terribly wrong in the forest of Myereth, where the ancient rowan trees are dying since an evil sorcerer slew a unicorn and the elven defenders of their sylvan realm. This is explained on the back cover of the pamphlet, that doubles as the Player Introduction. Inside, the DM Background explains a bit more about what has been going on in a forest that was legendary for being a safe haven of good and peace, somewhere evil cannot go and the trees weep healing tears... some think the whole place is a myth, but elves know better and some may even have been taken there as children. Now refugees are turning up with dreadful tales of death and destruction, even the immortal unicorn that protected the forest. These refugees need someone to restore their homeland...

Assuming the party respond to the call, they'll hear quite a few rumours on their way there. Some of them are even true. On the fringes of the forest, there is a large refugee camp full of displaced (and distraught) elves, led by a prince. He's glad of their help, claiming that he'd do something himself but feels he needs to stay with the refugees and take care of them. However he can explain a bit more of what has been going on - the forest and unicorn were placed there to imprison a demon which is now loose again and growing in strength. The party must then venture into the forest with little idea of how to deal with the demon.

Braving the forest, the party will come to the elven city of Myr where there are some buildings to explore, chiefly a library and a palace. Both are described and mapped, although there is no plan of the city as a whole. The sacred grove, where the rowan tress are and where the unicorn was slain, lies behind the palace, however. A couple of epic brawls later the party - if victorious - can triumph in their quest with a bit of divine aid.

If you want a quick high-level quest this is quite good, but if I was going to use it in a campaign I'd use this as an outline for a more comprehensive adventure. It all seems a bit prefunctory given the subject matter... but as an outline to build an adventure on, it's very good.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of the Blood Moon
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Garadon Manor
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2017 09:55:25

Billed as a sequel to Out of Body, Out of Mind, this adventure returns to the realm of Tirna'cel with the party having been summoned to the headquarters of the Paladins of Garadon. Although it states that it's not necessary to have played Out of Body, Out of Mind it is advisable to have done so, as reference is made to that adventure - the party is assumed to have undertaken it - and although there's enough material to be able to give your players the necessary background, it works better if they have that knowledge for themselves - as the adventure begins with them being asked to explain what they did!

The DM Background explains what has been going on with these Paladins and sets the scene nicely for what is to follow. The party needs to make its way to the Manor, deep in swampland, and find it quite luxurious even if most of the Paladins are out. Several options are provided for coping with a party that hasn't played Out of Body, Out of Mind, at least one of which is quite tempting as a concept on its own! However it's handled, the interview doesn't go too well and a brawl breaks out. Survivors can then explore the Manor and try to find out what is going on there.

The Manor has two floors plus a basement and sub-basement. All are mapped and supplied with brief but clear descriptions - you may wish to elaborate but the bare bones of what you need are there. The sub-basement is underwater, and poses the most dangerous part of the adventure. A new monster and a magic weapon are to be found here, and both are fully-detailed.

This is an excellent example of a sequel adventure, and ought to prove entertaining for characters who have played the first adventure (or who haven't - it's handled well enough for you to be able to cope with that eventuality). It is quite challenging in places, but capable of successful completion, and provides a good air of continuity. Actions do have consequences, even in a series of one-off adventures!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Garadon Manor
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Long Con
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2017 07:52:02

If it is too good to be true, it often isn’t… and when the Investigators are asked to help organise a confidence trick they find that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. It all begins when one Sidney Price asks them to join him in suckering a rich American into participating in a fake auction, promising them vast riches… but if they are not careful they could end up in very hot water (and that’s before the police get involved!).

The Awful Truth reveals what is really going on (and who is conning who), and the Spine charts likely events although as the party has been asked to arrange things, they will be driving the action more than is usual. Strange things begin to happen as soon as they get involved, so the adventure turns into a more conventional investigation once they decide to check them out, or to enquire about the other people involved in this project.

The adventure is set in London, being particularly suitable for Bookhounds, and it does really have to be there – all the background is wound up in London’s history. Apparently – although not everyone believes these rumours – the Devil trades in lost occult lore, holding ‘Burnt Auctions’ of books destroyed during the Great Fire of London, and this is the event the target rich American is to be suckered into attending. As the adventure begins with the party being asked to arrange a con, some outline rules for running one are included.

A dizzying selection of Scenes are provided to drag the party deeper into the plot and see them driven demented by weird manifestations – unusual ones, researching them should keep everyone entertained as well as providing clues to more than just their nature. There are also opportunities to bring the law in if you are so minded (or if the party makes a public nuisance of themselves and attract attention!). Some occult help is also available if the party is willing to take that route. The climax of the adventure sees the action move to the crypts of St Paul’s where the awful truth is revealed as a ritual is enacted… and there’s a real risk of a catastrophic fire. It all makes for a tense and exciting adventure in the Bookhounds of London mode, indeed it’s best suited as an adventure within that campaign setting. No pre-generated characters are provided, use the Bookhounds rules or existing characters from there; but everything else you’ll need is to be found within these pages. If you like the somewhat dubious book-dealers of Bookhounds, this adventure is recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Long Con
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of Ants
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2017 08:24:24

If you think your Investigators - be they slithering their way through Dreamhounds of Paris, inquisitive Bookhounds or unwary individuals - have not parted with enough Sanity yet, give them a copy of this book and leave them to read it. For this is a strange collection of jottings purportedly from one present amidst 1920s-1930s Surrealists in Paris, presented in in-character formet as having been delivered in a cardboard box late one night to one Penrose who tried to impose some order and then published them.

The putatative author is one Henri Salem, who from the sound of it spent a lot of time drunk or under the influence of other substances. He rambles, casting out names some familiar and others not, sometimes touching on matters occult... a mish-mash of ideas and events and thoughts which a cunning (if perhaps deranged) Keeper could mine for atmosphere if not for plot. Certainly the descriptions of dreams and trance-experiences could provide some inspiration...

As the book goes on, there are descriptions of how Salem and his associates found their way through trance states into a strange world of dreams, some quite detailed descriptions of what they found (and did) there... and the weird way in which they can meet up with each other and hold conversations under such bizarre circumstances. Strange monsters, dreaming made real, artefacts produced at will, all paint a picture of a very peculiar place. A character from Lovecraft wanders in, rather oddly he's in the real world not the land of dreams... a book purloined from the dream world... and other things even more strange. Every time something looks familiar or appears to have meaning, it slithers away as you try to grasp at it.

Atmospheric, mood-setter... whether your players will have the patience to read through it or at least will dip in... or you may choose to use it in other ways, providing apposite exerpts, perhaps. Or using it as inspiration, places for Investigators to visit in their dreams or waking lives, events that may occur. There's plenty to conjure with here, it sums up the whole spirit, the being, of what Dreamhounds of Paris attempts to create. If you are running or intend to run that, this book is well worth a look.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of Ants
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Dead Man's Cove
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 10:27:41

One Baldrick Mornstar, a merchant, has got fed up with his ships being raided by pirates so he has hatched a cunning plan: to raid the pirates in their base! Naturally he is in search for some brave adventurers to take on the challenge. Will your party step up?

The DM Background explains what Mornstar has done so far in his vendetta against the pirates, then the adventure itself opens with a job offer, a generous one at that. Then it's down to the party to head out on an arduous overland trek to the location of the pirate lair, for which Mornstar has apparently managed to acquire a map. This trip will take a couple of weeks, and whilst it is suggested that this ought not to be event-free, you are left to supply appropriate encounters if you want any. A copy of the plan to the pirate lair is provided, but this is the DM's map, you will have to put something together based upon it for a player handout.

The pirate lair is quite a nice set-up and is explained well, with plenty of options for the pirates' reactions depending on what the party decides to do. An added twist is that a pirate ship is due to arrive, so the party will have to figure out how they deal with that as well. There's a new maritime monster and a new magio item.

This is a neat little one-session adventure which can be slotted in whenever the party is somewhere that sea-borne trade is carried out. The pirate lair is well-constructed and gives the impression that life is going on there no matter who might come around, a nice touch that makes it come to life. The matter of the arriving ship is handled less well, although again there are several options open depending on what the party decides to do about it. There are no suggestions for follow-up adventures, although it ought not to be too hard to come up with some. It makes for an unusual take on a pirate theme, and makes for an enjoyable caper!



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Dead Man's Cove
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Trail of Cthulhu: Dreamhounds of Paris
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2017 07:42:07

If you are looking to get seriously weird with your Trail of Cthulhu game, this where you ought to be looking. The materials here are designed you to take the already-weird surrealist movement in 1930s France, mix in the Mythos and come up with something that is warped beyond all recognition. It's all about accessing the Dreamlands via occult means, meddling with them, then trying to repair the damage. And if the green fairy doesn't play a part, you will be wanting a glass or two by the time you are done. ('Green fairy', if you don't know, is a nickname of the time for absinthe, widely believed to have addictive and degenerative properties which led to it being banned in France in 1914, not being revived there until 2000! But I digress, back to this book.)

This is a toolbox rather than a campaign or adventures. It starts by presenting a history of the surrealist movement including write-ups of leading figures as NPCs and complete with a timeline. Next comes material on creating surrealist characters and giving them appropriate abilities such as 'dream-shaping' as well as being artists. Explorations of both 1930s Paris and the occult scene follow, and then comes the Dreamlands themselves. It all winds up with advice for the Keeper in running a campaign involving the Dreamlands and a scenario to get you started.

Reading through the material presented here spawns all manner of ideas. There's even the intriguing possibility of playing an actual member of the surrealist movement if you'd like - the entries on them are detailed enough for you to transfer onto a character sheet and pass on to an interested player. Fancy becoming Salvador Dalí? Now you can... or of course, the Keeper can use this resources to bring these luminaries to life in the game for the Investigators to meet. It's recommended, however, that careful secection of the most appropriate historical surrealist for at least most of the players will lead to the most memorable stories.

Paris too is brought to life with maps and snippets of information, many being places that were there in the 1930s and often traces remain today, if not the actual establishments. You'll soon find yourself chasing confidently around Paris even if you do not know the city, if you do you will feel at home. Naturally once you, as Keeper, are comfortable with the setting, you'll be able to make it feel real for your players as well.

The discussion on running your Dreamhounds game is fascinating and informative. In most Trail of Cthulhu games, the Investigators are the guys who come in and clean up the mess made by incautious, accidental or malicious messing with the Mythos: here, as real or imagined members of the surrealist movement, they are the ones who have made the mess in the first place. The plot involves both making the mess by finding, exploring and modifying the Dreamlands, then realising what they have done and attempting to rectify it, a somewhat different and refreshing approach to normal. The trap to hook them in is the chance to explore the ever-shifting precincts of dream, in an attempt to marshal its power to achieve the large-scale social and political change they seek to bring about through their surrealist art. It's easy to see how such individuals would be tempted... and that's part of the reason for getting as many of your players as you can to play actual surrealists. A system for tracking what's going on - and more critically, what the players think is going on - is provided, it may seem a bit mechanical but handled with care to avoid spoiling the atmosphere you are creating in the game proves helpful in ensuring everything hangs together in a coherent - if weird - manner. It's call Arc and Pivot, and tracks what happens in each phase of an adventure and pinpoints when characters move from exploring to actively meddling, then realise the import of what they have done and attempt to put things straight. It's a somewhat 'story game' technique, but can be used to effect in your game if the players are comfortable with letting the underpinning mechanics intrude into the collective consciousness, perhaps in after-session discussions rather than during play.

There's all manner of advice about weaving the personal histories of the real figures into the narrative, handling the ever-present problem of characters having knowledge and skills that their players don't, the use of humour when dealing with surrealism, and much, much more. What do you do if the character's won't even enter the Dreamlands but hang around Paris? Or stay in the Dreamlands and won't come out? Find out here how to handle it seamlessly, never letting on that they are even causing an issue as far as the plot is concerned. How do you use investigative abilites in the Dream? Plenty of notes on that too. Study this section well and you will be able to handle everything with aplomb!

With a full-blown scenario to get things off to a flying start, this book equips you to dive headlong into surrealism in 1930s Paris and the Dreamlands (some might say the one is as weird as the other, perhaps that's how they manage to cross over...) and turn it into what may possibly become the most remarkable game you have ever run.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Dreamhounds of Paris
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Trail of Cthulhu: Mythos Expeditions
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/21/2017 08:08:04

This massive tome is all about exploration, about mounting expeditions to the furthest-flung corners of the world - and being Trail of Cthulhu finding stuff that it might be better to leave undisturbed. There are a full ten complete adventures to keep your Investigators out of mischief, as well as loads of information about running expeditions in your game, whether you use these adventures or come up with your own.

The adventures provided can be woven into a regular campaign as you see fit, perhaps planning ahead and foreshadowing the need to go exploring - or dropping it on the party suddenly as prefered. Or perhaps your group are professional explorers, and travel in search of interesting places to go... they will find them here with expeditions to outer Mongolia, Rhodesia (the place now called Zimbabwe), underwater in Bermuda, Paraguay (in the middle of a war with Bolivia of course), the Yutacán, the Punjab in India, Greenland, New Guinea (head-hunter territory, of course), Ireland and a remote South Sea island. Neatly, the page with which Mythos monsters are involved with each adventure is kept away from the adventure summaries, so you can show them to your players if they are wondering where to go... assuming, that is, you are giving their characters any choice in the matter.

The next section is GUMSHOE Expeditions, which presents a subsystem for running expeditions using GUMSHOE (the underpinning ruleset for Trail of Cthulhu). It looks at ways of using an expedition to enhance the excitement of your game without getting bogged down in how many cans of corned beef and toilet rolls you need to take along with you. You don't need to play out every minute of the journey, yet you do want to give the party the feeling that they've been travelling far and for a long time, so there are methods for modelling that using the concept of the Tour - the overall time you expect the trip to take once the party leaves the last vestiges of civilisation. Then you divide that into travel increments, handling each one separately. Each increment will include some 'stock footage' narration of what they are travelling through, an assessment of how much of their resources are used up, and at least one scene where you can play out notable events along the way. There's a fair bit of material about expedition costs and arrangements, but for game play it's all abstracted down to a Survival Pool which represents the expedition's total resources: food and other consumables, staff (apart from the Investigators), vehicles or animals and the rest. This gets depleted as the expedition progresses. Unless you really love resource management, this is a neat way of modelling it while focussing on the real meat of the adventure, the dealing with whatever Mythos monster or plot the party is up against.

It's not a completely-mechanical abstraction, though. There are various challenges to deal with, which can be played out or boiled down to appropriate die rolls depending on taste, while different terrains exact different costs against the expedition's Survival Pool. Whatever the reason for the attrition, once the Survival Pool drops to a low level the group begins to run out of supplies... then they'll have to replenish their stocks or begin to starve. The Nythos is not all that you have to fear!

Then comes a section on Expeditions and the Artmitage Inquiry. This covers the supposition that at least one Investigator works at Arkham University (or at least, at a university), and gives some ideas about how to run a campaign based around, or at least including, academic expeditions. With notes on the academic environment (mostly accurate... she says, writing this review during a lunch break at a university!), suitable NPCs and ideas for the sort of trips academics are likely to make, this is an excellent resource for the academically-inclined, and could provide the basis for a whole campaign if that takes your fancy.

And then it's on to the adventures themselves. Presented in standard fashion, beginning with a Hook, the Spine and the Horrible Truth - or how to get the Investigators involved, an outline of the course of the adventure and information about what is really going on - each comes with a wealth of information to aid you in presenting the setting and running the adventure effectively, including the numbers to punch into your Survival Pool calculations. Maps, encounters, NPCs and more are all here... each could fill an entire review on its own, so suffice to say that if the concept of an expedition in true Indiana Jones style appeals, then rush out to get this book!

The material on running expeditions and on the university setting are excellent, and the adventures show just what can be made from these resources. This is an outstanding addition to the Trail of Cthulhu line. (Can I really only give it FIVE stars?)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: Mythos Expeditions
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