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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Quick-Start Rules
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/17/2015 08:03:31
Designed to give a flavour of what Shadowrun is all about, this opens with 'Everything has a price' - the mantra by which the mercenary world of the shadowrunner operates. It then presents the romantic view of shadowrunners as the brave few who won't dance to the megacorporations' tune and aid their pursuit of profit above all else.

It then dives straight in to an outline of how the game works, written with the complete beginner in mind. Pre-generated characters are provided, but there's a clear run-down of all the main components of one: metatype, attributes, qualities and skills, although it doesn't explain how to actually create a character - after all, this is designed to give you a flavour of the game. The task resolution process (or 'test') is explained quickly but clearly with examples, along with a short concise summary of the combat process.

Next, the 'awakened world' of magic is covered with explanations of how to cast spells and how to defend against them with counterspells. For those who prefer the technological, this is followed by details of the wireless augmented reality world in which the characters live, in constant realt-time communication with the Matrix (the beast into which the Internet has evolved). And that's everybody, not just the deckers whose specialist skills enable them to explore and warp the Matrix in ways never intended.

Armed with this rather breathless yet comprehensive overview of game mechanics, you are then provided with a short scenario, 'Fast Food Fight', in which you can try them out using the pre-generated characters provided. For reasons adequately explained this revolves around a brawl in a fast food restaurant, a place which makes the burger joints we're used to sound like fine dining. A plan of the place is provided as well as clear descriptions of every location (and the hazards therein). NPCs are also provided, and there is even a copy of the establishment's menu... along with some rules to determine if anyone eating from it gets food poisoning!

Although simple, the adventure does provide plenty of action. There are suggestions throughout for running it and even for digging a bit deeper and taking it to a full-blown adventure, as well as some hints for more astute players to develop some interesting tactics during the brawl. There's even a sheet of handy tables to use as a Gamemaster Screen.

A nice introduction to playing the game, suitable even for newcomers to role-playing never mind Shadowrun, but an experienced Gamemaster would be advantageous, if you have one. If you are interested in shifting editions of Shadowrun, you'll have to decide where the differences lie between this and the edition(s) you are used to playing, as there is no indication here. But overall it gives a good feel of basic shadowrunning and ought to leave players ready to get to grips with the full game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition Quick-Start Rules
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The Mysterium
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2015 13:46:22
The Mysterium is the order of mages that seeks to preserve wisdom and magical lore, sometimes by keeping it secret from those who might use it for ill or who would be themselves damaged from knowing it... and if your character decides to join this is essential reading, certainly if you have embraced the underlying concept of the game as being about individual growth and development in a world where magic is real. It opens with a compelling piece of fiction about a man who is somehow accessing secrets of magic without actually being Awakened, which sweeps the reader along in fascination.

The Introduction explains who the Mysterium are and the sort of things that they do, how they recruit and what happens to those who join up - in a word, ongoing enlightenment (Sorry, that ended up two words) - and then lays out what is in the rest of the book.

Chapter 1: A History of Wisdom traces the history of magic itself from its early beginnings, back through the ages to the days of Atlantis and forwards until the now. Of course, this is the history of magic as told by the Mysterium. Others may have different views... and even Mysterium members do not agree about everything! There is still much hidden knowledge, and finding it is a challenge that a group of Mysterium mages might well embrace. The chapter discusses how they have sought to find and preserve knowledge throughout known history, and sometimes even shared it.

Then, Chapter 2: Those Who Know talks about knowledge itself and how the way in which Mysterium mages handle it defines them as much as do their practices. There is even more magical theory here, however, showing how they operate on a day to day basis and the ideas underlying their actions. A core belief is that magic is itself alive, but of course there are many ways in which they handle it on that basis - be it ecologically (rationalising that if magic is alive, so is all of the universe), through mathematics, or by developing advanced mental powers. Knowledge, it is said, is divided into three strands: a High Path that studies magic and mages themselves along with the Supernal Realms, a Central Path that looks at the supernatural world and its denizens, and a Common Path that explores the regular arts and sciences available to everyone, mage or not. Research goes hand in hand with exploration and experimentation, Mysterium mages often infiltrating archaeological expeditions or consorting with tomb raiders in their quest to discover what has been lost over the ages. There are certain standards by which they live, however, which include never deliberately misleading another mage, the duties between master and apprentice, and a requirement for fair trading when knowledge is to be exchanged. There are plenty of ideas on how to incorporate these concepts into your game, even suggestions for complete chronicles.

Next, Chapter 3: The Ladder of Mysteries focusses on the organisation of the Mysterium and charts how one progresses through it via a series of initiations. This section is full of ritual (and funny handshakes if you want them) that can be used to mark a character's growth within the order from initial recruitment and the ceremonial surround entry into the Mysterium through to higher levels few may attain. Signs, symbols, mystical phrases abound: anyone who has studied mystery cults or belonged to one will recognise the pattern.

Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies explains how the Mysterium is not one monolithic block sharing uniform customs but instead is made up of many different groups working together (at least most of the time) towards a common cause. These factions may on the face of it be defined by their role within the order - librarian, curator, archaeologist, ritualist and so on - but if you dig deeper there is much more to it than that. History, motivations and approaches to life and to magic are discussed for each group. There are plenty of ideas here for developing a character's distinctive personality and style.

Then Chapter 5: Spells and Artifacts explores some of the magical knowledge, spells and tactics that the Mysterium shares only with those within the order. There's a lot here, from typical ritual gestures of spellcasting to (naturally) some new spells.

Finally, there's an Appendix: Allies and Antagonists which provides a selection of well-developed Mysterium NPCs which may be encounter - as friend, foe or just someone passing through - during the course of a game.

It all makes for a fascinating read but begs the question: just who ought to read it? A player with a non-Mysterium character would likely know none of this, and even a Mysterium character will grow into his knowledge as the game progresses. Yet it's not really for Storytellers alone, and even players may well play several different characters over the course of time. What it does do is give a magnificent insight into how this particular order operates and thinks, being excellent information for those who want to get into the very head of a Mysterium mage.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mysterium
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Legacies: The Ancient
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2015 08:02:34
Opening with some decidedly adult fiction in which mages and ordinary mortals mix at a convention with unsatisfactory results for just about everyone, this book is a second collection of legacies adding to the rich tapestry of mage society and perhaps offering a path which your mage character might like to tread.

The Introduction: Long Ago and Far Away explains the significance of legacies in a mage's journey through life, how they can contribute to his development as an individual and Awakened mage. The focus of this book is the ancient traditions, those that trace their lineage back through the mists of time or which seek to rediscover ancient truths lost to modern mages. Thirteen legacies are presented here including a couple from the Left Hand Path, teaching their adherents dubious practices which make them more suited for NPCs than player-characters and so best left for Storyteller use.

The bulk of the book is given over to detailed discussions of the thirteen legacies, providing ample material for anyone wishing to play a mage embracing one of the legacies or a Storyteller who wants to embroil that legacy in the storyline. Although necessary game mechanics are included, the main gist of each one is the underlying mindset and concepts involved, helping the reader to understand how a mage will grow and develop as he pursues that legacy. Each one includes the attainments a mage gains as he advances within it and a sample character should you wish to make use of it as an NPC representative of the legacy (or as inspiration for building your own character or NPCs). There are also story hooks based around each legacy which can be woven into the plot or even used as inspiration for an entire chronicle focussed on it.

Reading through the different legacies gives an idea of the vast and magestic sweep of history that lies behind magic within this game. Like its companion book Legacies: The Sublime this one delves deep into the underlying philosophy and addresses the core of the game: the development of the individual as a wielder of magic in modern times. Many of these legacies involve mastery over something - the elements, dreams, even death itself - and speak to the need of many to control things around them, something that lies at the very heart of magical power. Others address the equally powerful urge to create, be it in stone or metal or music, or to understand the underlying pattern.

This makes for a fascinating read, once you have got past the opening fiction which will be a bit too explicit for some readers. The legacies are varied and provide valuable insights into what it means to be a modern-day mage, and for those who choose to follow them provide a vehicle to develop characters into potent practitioners of their art.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legacies: The Ancient
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Basic Paths: Murder a la Carte (Pathfinder)
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2015 08:11:36
This adventure is designed with the novice GM in mind, and involves a series of unfortunate events in a mansion near the rural settlement of Gafolweed. It's intended for 3rd-level characters, ideally from the area. This mansion is the home of an adventurer called Marcellus Drake... an adventurer who has ensured his fame lasts by penning a series of autobiographical stories about his adventures.

The characters are brought into the story by an ingenious twist: the late adventurer's lawyer contacts them stating that they are his heirs, but to claim their inheritance they must solve the mystery of the adventurer's own murder!

With most adventures, this is where I'd make some comment about not everything being quite so straightforward, but in this one it is not a case of all is not what it seems - nothing is what it seems! The mansion is, needless to say, absolutely bursting with traps and other dangers, and the dungeon beneath is inspired by the stories of the adventurer's exploits.

The adventure begins in Gafolweed, where the legends around Marcellus Drake have become a cottage industry. Copies of the stories and related merchandise can be obtained here, and it is here that the party will be approached by the 'lawyer' informing them of their good fortune. Everything is well laid out with helpful hints and tips for the GM on how to run each encounter, even in the fairly loose and freeform early stages. Stat blocks for each encounter are clear and placed just where you need them. Good notes are given on playing each NPC as that individual is first presented, whilst descriptions - of people, places and things - paint vivid pictures. In addition there are neat "GM's Tips" that give additional advice on how to deal with various issues from concealing that an NPC is lying to keeping track of a horde of them.

The course of the adventure is quite free-form, with the characters able to wander around at will, interacting with the household staff and exploring the various parts of the mansion. Yet everything is laid out clearly so that the GM will be able to let the party have free rein while being able to respond appropriately. Ways of passing information on to the characters are suggested, including gleaning clues from knowledge of Drake's exploits (even if they have to speed-read the books - assuming they bought any - mid-dungeon!).

Several battlemaps (0one are good at them!), paper standees for the monsters and handouts are provided. The handouts are slightly marred by obtrusive product branding, but it is just about possible to cut around it if you prefer 'realistic' looking handouts.

This is a novel and well-resourced take on that old classic, the puzzle dungeon. It's coherent and logical, and should make for an entertaining game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Basic Paths: Murder a la Carte (Pathfinder)
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Origin of the Species: Transmechs Revised
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2015 08:10:22
The Origin of the Species series of supplements is all about providing options for including non-human races - be they characters or NPCs - in your Spycraft game... but this one takes it to an extreme, providing all that you need to play a 'transmech' or in other words a transformer, a self-aware autonomous robot that is capable of switching form between two appearances, based on those common to the world in which they live. Product of some alien engineering - or even 'extreme science' on Earth - you might think they'd be better suited as invading opponents to your band of spies... but it could be quite entertaining to play one instead.

A transmech is a fully-conscious robotic lifeform, not someone piloting a strange mechanical exoskelton ('mecha'), and its important to remember that especially if you are playing one rather than fighting them. They tend to be large and quite obvious, at least in one of their forms. Naturally, they do not work quite the same as people: they do not eat or breathe and do not heal damage in the same way as a human being does. One form is the classic 'robot' style upright bipedal thing, the 'alt-mode' shape it can shift into (quickly, it's merely a full round action) can be just about anything provided it is at least approximately half the mass of the bipedal form (where the rest goes, nobody knows!). Things like vehicles, objects or even animals are allowed. Objects can include weapons, of course. A vehicle can be 'driven' by someone else, just like any other vehicle, and objects can be used as ordinary objects of that type, which could give rise to some interesting situations.

There are a lot of specialties and feats to enable you to customise a transmech to meet your needs, and copious advice on actually building and playing one. There's also a master class to aspire towards, the Legendary Transmech.

Next comes a good collection of campaign ideas - if there are going to be transmechs in your campaign, you will need to work out what they are doing there! As well as these one-paragraph ideas there is a full-blown campaign seed complete with a new organisation whose purpose is to protect at least some of humanity from encroaching transmechs. To get you started there is a horde of developed transmech NPCs, which provide good examples of what you can do with the basic rules herein.

Finally, there are three ready-to-play scenes involving transmechs. They begin with the party as human operatives in a world that has no knowledge of transmechs... but that doesn't last for long! The second one pits the characters as transmechs arriving on a new world and the final one involves said transmech team finding an ancient artefact and having to deal with it as well as the inhabitants of the world they are on.

It's an interesting concept which could prove the basis of a dramatic campaign if it's the sort of thing that appeals. An intriguing thought would be if a party of human agents find a single transmech who becomes part of their team, but you would need some strong role-players to pull that off successfully.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Origin of the Species: Transmechs Revised
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Origin of the Species: Classic Fantasy
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2015 06:58:04
This supplement is about adding classic fantasy races to Spycraft. Now you may think that dwarves and elves and the like have no place in a contemporary espionage game... but what if, for some reason, they did? You may choose to run an alternate world in which they do exists - have you ever wondered what Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms would be like in modern times? - or perhaps the sudden emergence of such beings is going to be central to your plotline. 'Ordinary' human characters serving as agents of their government might then be tasked with finding the answers to such questions as Where do they come from? Are they a threat? and so on. The potentials are enormous if you are willing to give this a go!

This, of course, presupposes that the fantasy race(s) you choose to incorporate are NPCs. It's also possible for players to have characters of non-human stock, depending on what sort of game you are intending to run, and all the resources needed for the generation of such characters is included here. If non-humans are not integral to your campaign world, an interesting twist would be for players to portray the first few dwarves (or whatever) encountered by regular humans in a world similar to the real one, turning the sort of investigations mentioned in the first paragraph upside down.

The races covered here are dwarf, elf, orc and pech (basically a halfling/hobbit-style race). For each, the modifications from a base standard of 'human' are enumerated, and all the necessary game mechanics are provided to create and run characters of these races. Due to the completely open-ended nature of how they are present in your modern world, however, there is none of the background material common to most fantasy games. This is something you will have to invent for yourself, or turn to fantasy resources to provide.

Each race has an associated master class to aspire to, the Legendary. Before they get that far there are assorted specialties, abilities and feats that can be chosen to reflect the fact that they are not merely humans with pointy ears, short stature or whatever, but a completely different race altogether.

Finally, there are not only sample NPCs but a neat idea called 'character seeds': outline concepts for characters which you can then flesh out to finalise the design of the character that you will play. It's a good way to help steer you through the bewildering array of options available.

I must confess I opened this book thinking that it might not be a particularly good idea, now I'm having ideas for campaigns flooding in! This is one of the delights of reviewing: the opportunity to study concepts that do not initially appeal often reveals hidden gems you might have passed on at a first glance. It won't be a classic James Bond spy game, but used with thought the material herein could create a very enjoyable and memorable game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Origin of the Species: Classic Fantasy
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Spellbound: The Seer
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2015 08:06:15
Spellbound: The Seer is part of a series that allows the incorporation of magic into a Spycraft 2.0 game. Each volume presents a 'school' of magic and a corresponding base class for those magicians who wish to practise it. In this one, we meet the Seer, described as a student of mystery, master of secrets, and wielder of devastating words of power... if you are running a Spycraft game that allows for the supernatural and magical powers, this could be an interesting and potent addition to the classes available to your players... and probably great fun as an NPC too!

The supplement begins with some general remarks about having magic in your game, beginning with the need to set it as a campaign quality and then choosing which schools of magic exist in your setting. The discussion moves on to some thought-provoking ideas as to how magic might work - what's the source, how do you access and use it, what does it look like and what are the consequences of loosing magic on your world? Once you come up with your own answers to these questions, you have gone a long way to doing the groundwork to embed magic into your game.

There are some differences to 'standard' D20 magic, such as you find in Dungeons and Dragons. You make a skill check to cast each spell, for example, and can cast any spell you know without preparation provided you have sufficient power. Oh, and you can be wearing whatever you want, and various other changes. It makes for a simple and straightforward set of mechanics to underpin spellcasting.

Right, here we are looking at the 'Seer School' of magic, which has three strands or disciplines, being artifice, divination and word. Artifice is about exerting control over machinery, divination is about detecting things and observing even at a distance and word is using the very language of magic to sometimes devastating effect. Thus introduced, all that you need to generate a Seer character is provided. Depending on how you choose to interpret it (and several suggestions are given) a Seer ought to be a source of wise counsel to his colleagues, a practical ideas man for the party. He's an interesting character, with high skill points, a well-rounded class skill list, strong progressions, and a spell list that can create offensive, defensive, knowledge and crafting effects.

Next, the whole process of spellcasting using these rules is explained. Basically, it is a 'spell point' system where the caster expends a set number of points based on the spell he wants to cast. The points he has is based on his level and they refresh every scene (unless he is still maintaining a long-running spell, when he doesn't get the points powering that spell back). Normally spellcasting is quite noticeable (you need a Sleight of Hand check if you try to conceal what you are up to, and they still might notice the mumbling - you have to be able to speak to cast). You also need a 'spell kit' - the equivalent of the infamous 'material components' required of a D&D wizard - although its up to you and the GC to determine just what you need to have with you to cast effectively.

Once you have all that in hand, there are some magic-related feats to choose from and a goodly array of spells... as well as sufficient information on how they are put together to let you construct your own if you are that way inclined. The collection of spells just begs to be tried out and could provide a very interesting spin on an otherwise conventional Spycraft game if you decide to let magic in!

It's an intriguing proposition and one that could make for some memorable ones. Try it if you dare.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbound: The Seer
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Real American H.E.R.O.es Revised
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2015 08:38:26
This work presents a bizarre fusion of military covert operations and comic book capers and yet - unless you are a die-hard realist - it works! In fact, even if you are a die-hard realist it takes little more than stripping off the silly names and as much of the exotic equipment as you are uncomfortable with to still get it to work.

Opening with a history of the United States Headquarters for Eminent Risk Oversight and a timeline of some of their major operations, we're soon immersed in the current structure and operational landscape of H.E.R.O. Somewhere along the line they have acquired an enemy organisation (over and above normal bogey-men like Communists and more recently terrorists) and this is the main focus of present-day skirmishing. This enemy is called National Military Exports (N.M.E.) and in true comic book style, H.E.R.O. operatives wear green uniforms and N.M.E. ones have blue uniforms. (Does N.M.E. mean something special, I wonder? The only acronym I know is a UK music magazie, the New Musical Express that's always known by its initials...)

Both H.E.R.O. and N.M.E. are presented as Spycraft 2.0 'factions' with all the associated game mechanics - so you can choose a side with ease. If you fancy N.M.E. or just need to know more about them, there's a potted history of how they came about, led by an insane megalomaniac who calls himself the Arch-Enemy. Calls himself that, mark you, it's not an epithet his opponents coined for him! Building N.M.E. up from a small private security contractor to its current state, they are apparently behind such 'incidents' as Three Mile Island, the first Palestinian Intifada, the Ethiopian famine, the Challenger tragedy, the War on Drugs, the Tiananmen Square massacre, Big Hair Bands, the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and 9/11 - plenty here for a conspiracy theorist to get their teeth into.

Just in case these two factions are not enough, there are three more - the Morrigna Corporation (arms dealers), the Shirobikou clan (ninjas), and the Wreckers (a biker gang) - to spin into the mix. All much smaller, they shift allegiances as it suits them, allies one day, opponents the next... or maybe playing both sides at once.

Next comes all the details you need to build a character who is part of one or another of these factions, but with the apparent assumption that you'll be joining H.E.R.O. As well as lots of build hints, there's new material: new master classes, new feats... and lots of new toys! Much of this material will be of use whether or not you want to run this setting. If you enjoy cinematic action movies and want your characters swooping in on a monowing or a jet pack, this is the place to look. There's a vast array of vehicles and weapons to choose from, complete with brief descriptions and a chart with all the game mechanics you need to use them in play.

This is followed by various tables to help you administrate the faction mechanics Renown and Allegience. There are rank charts for each of the five factions so that you may measure your progress in them.

Then we get down to the real stuff: how to run a 'Real American H.E.R.O.es' campaign. It needs to be cinematic, larger-than-life and a bit black and white - clear distinctions between the Good Guys and the Bad Sorts. Big threats, high stakes and big action scenes in thrilling locations. Themes, objectives, a 'diabolical plot generator' (yes, really!) and even a system for creating handy McGuffins are explored. Finally, there's a whole bunch of NPCs from all five factions to sling into the melee.

Taken in a spirit of fun, this larger-than-life approach can prove very entertaining. Don't try and take it seriously - if you want to game that way, mine this for the bits you want and put them into a different setting. All good fun...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Real American H.E.R.O.es Revised
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Agent X: Firebrand
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/02/2015 08:03:31
The Firebrand is an interesting expert class, one that would be rather fun to play if you have the gift of the gab because at the core, this character is a rabble-rouser. He knows all the right buttons to press to get people worked up - and if he gets tired of espionage he could always retire to politics!

There are plenty of roles such an individual could fill, and some are suggested here. However, many might be better suited to an NPC unless your campaign is structured carefully to accommodate your Firebrand. From revolutionary to political activist or corporate raider (just a few of the suggested roles) it's quite easy to see how to weave a plot around him, less easy to know just what to do with him if your plot is about something else entirely.

Understandibly, the core attribute is Charisma, with Wisdom and Intelligence following along behind. There are plenty of interesting and useful class abilities to fit the Firebrand up as a figurehead that can sway the hearts and minds of those who hear him.

The game mechanics you'll need to run this character are provided: the usual table plus suggested feats and three new ones - the 'Cameraderie' tree which is used to enhance group combat by letting members of the team support each other better. There are also ideas for building the character, including different sorts of Firebrands depending on their origins - one who started life as a Pointman might have a completely different approach than one who was a Fixer or a Scientist, for example.

It is an interesting concept, used well in adventures that will make use of the Firebrand's particular talents it could prove memorable.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agent X: Firebrand
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Bag Full of Guns: Dragon's Fury
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/30/2015 07:14:07
This is a rundown of contemporary Chinese small arms, which have been developed in isolation due to embargoes imposed on China in response to human rights violations. Just how useful it's going to be depends on whether the action in your game will visit mainland China, or someone from there might turn up elsewhere.

Starting with a plethora of different service pistols, there are also details of submachine guns, various kinds of rifles (bolt action, semi-automatic and assault), squad automatic weapons, machine guns, grenade launchers and mortars. Each comes with a quite detailed description as well as an entry in the master table at the back that gives all the game statistics. If public order is your reason for arming up, there is a collection of non-lethal loads for the riot gun (which is, for some reason, hiding amongst the machine guns).

The usual grumble of no illustrations aside, this is an interesting look at an arsenal that has developed in isolation from Western gun research. As they are real weapons, you can quite easily find pictures online, though.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bag Full of Guns: Dragon's Fury
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Agent X: The Runner
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2015 07:45:48
This short supplement introduces an expert class called the Runner... but no athlete, he. Forget running-and-gunning, this runner is a 'netrunner' scampering along the information superhighway, getting into all the places he should not and copying (or destroying) that which others might wish to keep quiet. For profit or through ideology, it matters little. But he is not the traditional hacker lurking in his Mom's basement, this Runner is adept at physical infiltration as well.

All the usual information necessary to plan, build and play a character are provided. Intelligence is the primary attribute, but closely followed by Charisma and Dexterity. The Charisma is important because his core ability is Social Engineering - the art of getting information out of people rather than their computers (how else do you find out passwords without doing a brute force attack?) that is too often forgotten in fictional portrayals of hacker types. One, especially, of the class attributes is rather neat too - it's called Twitch and gives defence and initiative bonuses based on spending too much time dodging virtual bullets when playing first-person shooter video games!

There are plenty of other neat features, as well as notes on playing such a character, good feat and gear selections and a few new feats that ought to come in useful.

My main Spycraft character is a hacker type who's generally happier in the van maintaining contact with the rest of the party via headsets. This might just tempt him out...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agent X: The Runner
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Agent X: One-Man Army
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2015 08:11:24
This short supplement presents a new expert class, one designed to provide a character with the same unstoppable and violent determination as shown by movie action heroes like Casey Ryback (Under Siege) or John McClane (the Die Hard series)... indeed although not mentioned by name McLean is referenced within the class abilities!

This character is designed as a tough combatant ready to both hand out damage and absorb a good deal, so unsurprisingly Constitution is his most important attribute, with Dexterity or Strength (depending on his preference for gunplay or fisticuffs) coming next. He has plenty of hit points, and will probably need them. Most of the class abilities are built around standing up (often alone) to overwhelming numbers of opponents... and include 'Yippee-Ki-Yay' (the McClane reference) which gives a defensive bonus for the rest of the scene after a critical success is scored with a skill use or attack and the character comes out with his catchphrase.

As well as all the game mechanics you need to generate and play a One Man Army character, there are notes on suitable talents and specialties to select and on playing him to best effect. There are also several new feats based around working with a partner as well as suggestions for existing ones that you might like to consider choosing.

Ideal for those who enjoy full-on cinematic action this is an interesting class to consider developing into as a campaign proceeds.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agent X: One-Man Army
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Bag Full of Guns: This is my Gun
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2015 08:20:35
Weapons technology is always moving on, so in some ways this is an update to Bag Full of Guns: This is my Rifle (published 2006 - this work came out two years later in 2008), and it should prove of interest to any character who has a vacant space in his gun cabinet.

It starts by offering a few new weapon qualities - like camouflaged (it's painted to blend in with a chosen terrain), modular (you can swap out parts of the system without recourse to an armourer's shop) and minimum range (think of a rocket-propelled grendade - they travel a preset distance before they arm, much safer for the firer) and a few others. And so on to the weapons themselves, beginning with a sub-machine gun and a huge sniper rifle designed for use against light vehicles and strengthened positions. An assortment of other sniper rifles follows, then on to assault rifles, a bolt-action rifle, semi-automatic shotguns and heavy machine guns. Plenty of firepower to hand when you need it.

Next comes some new ammunition types and weapon upgrades, followed by a couple of new body armours and a few useful gadgets. Now the Boomerang Acoustic Shooter Detection System, which helps you pinpoint that rascal who's taking potshots at you, was apparently developed in 2004 - although I recall something similar (if a bit more low-tech) being used in Northern Ireland in 1978! Nothing new under the sun, it seems. Finally there's a high tech personal battle management system called Land Warrior (in the US version, several other nations have devised similar systems) that puts a lot of information at the soldier's fingertips whilst still leaving him free to fight.

Each item gets a paragraph or two about what it offers (and how well) as well as an entry in the tables at the back with all the game mechanics you need to incorporate it into play. No pictures, alas, but as most are 'real world' developments you can find them online if you want to know what they look like and even read the manufacturer's advertising blurb for them!

You can never have too much firepower, and there are some interesting weapons here, as well as other equipment that is useful in combat.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bag Full of Guns: This is my Gun
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The Big Score
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2015 08:05:45
The way in which equipment and resources in general are handled by Spycraft has always been a little odd. In real-world espionage, an agent going on an operation is treated in one of two ways, he either is rather grudgingly handed minimal kit and is expected to get on with it or (if his agency is desperate to get the job done) he will have equipment and resources galore offered to him and anything else he needs he'll merely have to ask for... Yet the core rules offer systems of 'gear picks' that require a fair bit of resource-juggling when preparing for a mission. The one bit the rules got 'right' (in real-world terms) is that agents are expected to return everything they've been issued, or account for its loss.

Here is an assortment of ideas designed to enable agents to build up, over time, their own personal (and personalised) equipment - something real-world spies like to do - and even to profit from their adventures materially. After all, not every agent is playing the Great Game out of pure patriotism or even a love of excitement. Here three mini-systems are presented which can be used in conjunction, or you can pick which ones suit your game style and discard the rest. The three systems are the Stockpile system, the Cash'n'Carry system and the Loot system. Depending on which you use, campaign characterists may change as well as the way in which equipment and other parts of the rules function.

The Stockpile system lets characters keep any item with which they are issued on a permanent basis, rather than having to hand it in every time they return from an operation. If you use the formal Intel Phase, that remains (but can be dropped if you prefer), and characters are still limited as to what they possess. Anything designated as a Restricted item cannot normally become a personal possession and will still be loaned out, if you're lucky, when the nature of the operation indicates that it might be of use. The agent's regular equipment is determined at character creation, by rolling Possessions and Gear Picks together and converting the Gear Picks to actual items. Any option taken that provides an item or an extra Gear Pick is included in the total at this point. At the end of a mission, the stockpile refreshes, i.e. anything lost is replaced. It's still a very mechanical system but it does allow for some continuity.

The Cash'n'Carry system caters to those who prefer cold hard cash to abstract gear systems. Gear picks are translated into monetary terms, and characters then have to purchase what they want with that money. Again, this system can be used to allow characters to keep a core or regular equipment (hence you use either Stockpile or Cash'n'Carry, not both). Characters now have to pay for their Lifestyle choice on a regular basis (rent, grocery bills and the like) but they receive a regular income as well as 'starting cash' with which to do so. They can even save - or splash out - as they please. Again, Restricted items may not be acquired during initial purchases, characters will need to get hold of any they want during the course of play - and if not stealing them will have to pay for them. When it comes to a mission, characters receive a sum of money (wages, expenses, term them what you will) that can be used to purchase items required for that mission and to pay regular bills. Characters may also be required to pay for training. It is still a mechanical system, but some players may prefer the added realism of thinking in terms of money. It also makes it easier to add in new items of equipment provided you can find a real-world price for them. Even if, like me, you live somewhere you cannot go out and purchase firearms legally, there's always the Internet to research overseas gun stores for tasty new 'toys' and their prices!

Finally, the Loot system accounts for all those Restricted items that a character may want to acquire and hang on to but which both the core rules and the rest of the material presented here do not permit. Again, however, it is a rather mechanical system with artificial restrictions, whither you are using Stockpile or Cash'n'Carry to determine what characters normally have.

It all depends on how you want to run your game. If you like cinematic spies, consider how James Bond always stops in to see Q before a mission (and sometimes has a mid-mission 'care package' delivered if the need arises)... and cash never seems to be a problem, except possibly at the gaming tables. If your style is more realistic, how much cash and gear people have needs to be monitored more closely although incomes may be generous. Using a mechanical system is one way to keep checks and balances on what characters may have, but can detract from enjoyment as well. There are interesting ideas here, consider them carefully and use what works for your group.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Big Score
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Fragile Minds
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2015 08:12:01
This supplement is for those who'd like to bring real horror to their Spycraft 2.0 game. The main thrust of the book is horror of the supernatural nature, perhaps you want to mix in a bit of the Cthulhu mythos or other such monsters from beyond, but much could be utilised if you are seeking gritty realism, the sort of fear and horror that quite turns the mind and which can be imagined as part of a real-world espionage story.

To start with there are a selection of campaign qualities with which to set the tone that you want. These determine which aspects of the rules presented here you will use. If you want characters who are scared of the consequences of the sort of things they will have to do, consider using the basic classes from Back to Basics - they are less capable, and can be used to generate the feeling of 'I could die at any moment'... just the kind of thought no spy wants to have when embarking on an operation! Or you may wish to mix in occult knowledge and spellcasting for a quite different kind of horror.

To model the toll that such fear takes on characters, an expanded set of rules for stress damage are presented, making minds as vulnerable (if not more so) than bodies. This causes characters to sustain mental damage - in terms of phobias, mental disorders and even catatonia - as a result of the horrors to which they are exposed. Care needs to be taken here, most players find it far easier to cope with their characters sustaining physical injury (it's only hit points on the character sheet after all, they do not feel the pain) than anything that messes with their minds. To be run successfully, players and GC need to be in accord: even more so once a character sustains lasting mental damage which has to be role-played, it is not something purely represented in game mechanics.

Especially effective when created as a collaborative effort between GC and player, an Unhinged Subplot can be developed and run over the next few sessions culminating (you hope!) in a resolution that will help the character regain his sanity in a manner that also contributes to the ongoing storyline.

A whole slew of things which can cause a character to get stressed out are listed. Many assumes a rather less heroic approach than the classic spy/thriller one, casting the characters as mere ordinary folk rather than the larger than life heroes that normally inhabit a game, especially one like Spycraft. Then the discussion moves on to Forbidden Knowledge - arcane secrets it is probably best not to delve into... only you know how curious characters are, and they may need this knowledge to defeat the threat that they are up against.

Throughout, there are examples and suggestions of ways in which to incorporated different kinds of horror into your game. There is also a collection of monsters and cosmic horrors, if that is the direction you wish to take.

This style of game will not be for everyone, and other groups may prefer to switch to a different game system that's built around such horror from the ground up... yet if you like the spy genre and Spycraft in particular the way that these rules work embeds the horror into the core game mechanics rather than bolting it on as an afterthought.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fragile Minds
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