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Demon Cults 1: The Emerald Order
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/05/2015 07:41:47

There's a lot packed into this book, which provides a comprehensive introduction to a cult called the Emerald Order. Devotees believe that vast eternal arcane truths are inscribed on an artefact called the Emerald Tablet, secrets of Thoth-Hermes himself! It is a mystery cult, with members of the inner circle learning these truths and some tapping into the power of the actual stone itself.


Whilst many followers of Thoth-Hermes - both in and out of this cult - know about the Emerald Tablet, the Emerald Order guard its secrets jealously. Believing themselves custodians of higher, indeed ultimate, wisdom, the cult seeks to influence and guide society... and they are none too particular about how they go about it: assassination and terrorism is preferred over persuasion and convincing argument. To this end, cultists insinuate their way into every walk of life.


There's a brief note about the structure of the cult and we get to meet the leader, one Dromdal-Re - complete with a full stat-block, should the party ever meet him. And meet him they might, as there is a large collection of plot ideas (neatly arranged by APL to aid selection) that will get the party embroiled with the Emerald Order if they bite at the bait you dangle before them. They include quite a few investigations as one of the Cult's practices is to exert their influence over pivotal individuals and so cause them to act out of character. Concerned friends, citizens, subordinates or others may want to find out what's going on. Most of the adventure ideas sound on the surface like usual adventurer fare, and it's possible to use several with the aim of building up an overall picture of what the Emerald Order is up to. Of course, if the party is investigating the Emerald Order, the Order might be investigating them...


For those who join and progress in the Order there's a new prestige class, the Disciple of the Emerald Esoterica, which reflects growing knowledge of the secrets written on the Emerald Tablet through the understanding of a series of 'Keys'. It's noted that good-aligned Disciples are extremely rare, most joining the Order for personal gain and generally being on the evil side already. However, there's nothing to say that a player-character should not tread this path, depending on the nature of your campaign.


The book rounds out with a couple of new magic items - a new ioun stone and the Emerald Tablet itself - and a new monster, a bright green crystalline golem.


It's a nice sneaky little cult to infiltrate into your campaign, the sort that hands out flyers on street corners promising access to wonderous secrets if only you'll join them, take expensive courses and... well, we've all been badgered by the real-world equivalents peddling their sure-fire route to enlightenment. The plot hooks are well-designed, any being capable of development into a full-blown adventure or woven into a campaign arc involving the Order. There's a note for those who use the Midgard campaign setting about using them there, but this is versatile enough to be dropped into any campaign world to good effect.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 1: The Emerald Order
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The Forever Diamonds (Encryptopedia Campaign)
Publisher: Sam Chupp Media
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2015 07:19:29

The introduction explains the nature of this book clearly: a collection of ideas, plots and ancillary material to empower the creation of a fantasy espionage campaign using whatever ruleset you prefer and based in your own campaign world. You'll need a copy of Encryptopedia from the same author, which contains some system ideas that provide underlying structure to such a campaign which are referenced here.


To start with, the entire campaign revolves around three factions. Two are explained in Encryptopedia and referenced here, the third is a new one and explained in more detail. This third bunch, the Shadowhood, practises a discipline that is part martial art, part philosophy and part magic... and in essence become almost ninja-like, gaining a range of abilities through their studies. They also have as a mission the collection of mystical stones called 'Forever Diamonds' or 'aeon stones'. The other two are governmental agents and organised crime, by the way.


Next is a look at the campaign itself, described as a 'sandbox with open play', i.e. the party has free rein to do as it wills within the campaign world... but so does everyone else, and especially the three factions which each get on with their own plots and actions irrespective of what the characters are doing and whether or not the party is paying them any attention. This creates a nice 'real-world' feel in which the party remains the centre of attention, the stars of the show if you will, but life goes on around them regardless. Some characters are provided: they could be used as pre-generated PCs but the real intent is to provide a basis for filling out the factions that the party doesn't choose to join (all of them, if the party chooses an independent path). Within the constraints of a generic systemless concept, there is quite a lot of detail for each: it should be fairly easy to add appropriate mechanics for whatever system you are using. In essence, they are three teams that operate in a similar manner to a party of PCs, whether they become enemies, allies or a bit of both depends on how you decide to run the campaign.


The next section presents The Voyage of the Lucky Manticore, an adventure outline which provides a starting point for the campaign. There are three set-ups, based on which faction the PCs have decided to be a part of - if they haven't decided yet or want to be independent, you'll have to find your own way to embroil them in the action as it's presented as a mission from faction leadership in each case. Based on a pleasure boat - think floating casino or perhaps something like a Mississippi paddle-boat - there's ample mischief to be had... including a card game called Pakka. An abstraction is provided for groups who don't want to actually get the cards out, else just use standard poker rules.


There is very much a feeling of allowing the party to do what they want aboard, with a timeline of events to use as a backdrop to whatever they choose to get up to. This includes highlighted notes on the actions of key NPCs. It is suggested that you read the player notes for all three factions so as to devise additional events around what the others want to accomplish... or of course if your players haven't chosen a faction yet, these events might embroil them in the action regardless and lead to them becoming involved.


The next section introduces the Campaign Engine. This includes both mission generation and an escalation matrix. Sometimes the party will work out what they want to do on their own, at other times their faction will give them missions to undertake... and all the time, the other factions will be circling around, watching, doing their own thing and interfering with what the party is trying to accomplish. There are different types of mission: acquisition, research, incursion/interdiction (the party interferes with another faction's operations), and mandatory override missions when something crops up that must be attended to RIGHT NOW irrespective of what else is going on. You'll need to refer to Encryptopedia at places, it's got loads more on the sorts of things that can be brought in to your plots. The escalation matrix enables you to manipulate and track the interactions between the factions as the plot proceeds. These relationships can vary from an alliance to outright open warfare on the streets!


Finally there is a section on campaign milestones, giving ideas on how to structure the plot over and above a series of missions by providing for a beginning, middle and end. Some extensive background is also provided, as well as an appendix giving details of the aeon gems or 'Forever Diamonds' whose acquisition forms the central feature of the campaign.


Whether you want to build an entire campaign around espionage or want to introduce elements of the conflicts it generates to an existing campaign, there are plenty of ideas to get you going. Perhaps relatively low-level characters arrive in the area where all this is going on, and are of sufficient potential for one (or more!) of the factions to approach them and make an offer for their services. Now I have been known to introduce elements of 'conventional' espionage (that between nation states) into my fantasy games, but this puts a whole new exciting spin on things. The concepts will fit in with any game mechanics, and if you want to use a published setting, most have appropriate places in which to locate your adventures. This isn't a campaign ready-to-run, it's a wealth of ideas and resources to aid you in building your own epic.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Forever Diamonds (Encryptopedia Campaign)
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Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
Publisher: Sam Chupp Media
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/01/2015 07:54:22

This is an intriguing outline for a scenario in a fantasy world, based around of all things the fashion industry, and designed to empower espionage-based adventures using the Encryptopedia sourcebook from the same author (if you don't have that, some of the terminology may be a bit baffling). Both Encryptopedia and this work are systemless, but it ought not to be too difficult to adapt it to your chosen ruleset.


It begins by setting the scene: a brief outline of a default city (it's easy to substitute one in your own campaign world, of course) and details of a major event in the social calendar, the Dyers' Ball. The Ball is preceeded by the presentation by the dyers of the new season's colours, which are released to select designers and then go on sale to the general public - with the Ball being the first opportunity for the great and the good to show off in their colourful new clothes. Furthermore, the Ball is an opportunity for young unmarried nobles to make their debut into society and begin looking for a good match. Traders, organised crime, government representatives from surrounding nations, religious leaders, and the arcane community also attend the Ball, networking and setting up deals... so as you can see there is ample opportunity for spies as well.


Four separate stories are there to be told, people with particular motivations and a reason to be there, but the primary story is that of the Ball itself. To start with, getting a ticket is an art in itself. Or maybe the characters will try to get hired on as staff, or attend as part of someone's entourage. Dinner is served, a very formal event where even a noble's etiquette is put to the test, and is followed by the Promenade, a formal procession of the young people, and dancing. The next day is a whirl of visits between those who feel that romance might be on the cards... and of course there are many social events in the season that follows.


Plenty of detail is given so that the Ball can be used as a backdrop for the stories provided or indeed some of your own. The four stories are then gone into in considerable depth - pick one or even have them all going on, irrespective of whether the characters are involved. Or, if you have a long-running campaign based in a city, run a different one each time the 'season' comes around... have the party wondering what's going to happen at the Dyers' Ball this year!


For each story, there is an extensive background giving names and the situation, and then there are several stages through which the plot will move - getting into the Ball, perhaps, meeting the right people, doing whatever needs to be done - all depending on that particular story. Notes on results, foils, and potential further adventures are also provided... some could develop into a campaign on their own! Finally, there are notes on important groups in town who may have some part to play in events.


Whilst this is all 'story' with minimal mechanics (as, of course, you'll be running your game system of choice), it flows extremely well - it's likely your biggest problem will be deciding which plot to run! If your group likes city-based intrigue adventures, this is well worth looking into, then spending the time to embed it into your campaign world and add relevant mechanics from your chosen ruleset. It's different from your regular fantasy scenario, yet has the potential to make memorable adventures for your group.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
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Encryptopedia
Publisher: Sam Chupp Media
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2015 08:06:51

The Introduction starts off with philosophical musings about why any society, as soon as it begins to develop resources and become wealthy, is going to have a need for spies... and yet it's something often neglected in fantasy role-playing. Perhaps that is because we tend to think of spies in contemporary terms, despite anyone who knows a little history being well aware of the long tradition of espionage... heck, there are even spies in the Old Testament!


It then addesses the basic requirement of anyone wanting to introduce espionage elements into a game. This is a web of factions that might have reason to spy on each other. Nations, guilds, noble houses... it doesn't matter what the factions might be, if they want to conduct secret operations against each other, then you'll get spies. Even with magic in your game, it's quite possible (look at Mongoose Publishing's Wraith Recon which introduces a mix of spy and special forces into first Dungeons & Dragons 4e and then RuneQuest as an example). The Introduction ends by presenting some reasons why you might want to add espionage to your game, or even build one around spying, all valid, but you wouldn't be looking at this book unless you already saw the potential. What follows is a series of ideas, suggestions and inspirations, generalised and systemless but enough to enable you to work with the game mechanics of your choice.


Next, Chapter 1: Espionage in the Campaign looks at setting the groundwork for a spy-based game, building the frameworks within your campaign world like spy organisations serving various factions. Or at least that's how it opens but the main gist, however, is a discussion of the various roles that the player-characters - or indeed any spies - might occupy. They aren't 'character classes' - even in a system that has character classes, most will require individuals to be multi-classed - but they give interesting ideas as to how appropriate characters might be developed. A neat trick is that suggestions for appropriate fantasy job descriptions are added to more contemporary terms, so a courier becomes a herald and a code expert a crypter, for example. Each one has a description of the role along with notes on the likely gear and skillsets they'd need and the perks and drawbacks of operating in that role. An example character, replete with descriptive material, is also given.


Chapter 2: An Armoury of Whispers looks at all the gear that a fantasy spy might want or need. The concentration here is on magical gadgets - but even when you operate in a magically-enabled world, don't neglect the mechnical gadgets! There are some really neat ideas here, though, starting off with the Actor's Emblem, a device that 'stores' the appearance of several outfits thus enabling the user to magically 'change' his clothes in an instant. It is recommended that you fill all available slots, as if you select an empty one by mistake you end up stark naked! There are several other items to do with appearance as well as weapons and a set of weapon qualities that could come in handy, from the bonded weapon that will only work for its owner to a sullen one that passes unnoticed or a quiet one that makes no sound even if you drop it. Then there are things to help in information gathering like a quill which takes dictation, and of course the eponymous Encryptopedia, a tome that assists in the writing of ciphers and codes, operating a bit like a magical one-time pad, updating automatically as the master book is amended. Information gained is little use until it is sent to one's spymaster, so there are also communication tools. And of course there are various gadgets to aid those who need to undertake intrusions... and those which affect the mind: terrorising, seducing and so on. Plenty to play with here!


Finally, Chapter 3: Tales Never Told gets down to some of the structure, the framework within which espionage is practiced. Naturally, you have to devise the overt public systems first, and then look to the shadow world underneath. It then addresses different levels of development of 'tradecraft' - a term which covers the way in which spies go about their business, the things that they do and the ways in which they do them. Then there's a look at the creation, organisation and operation of spy rings. Who do they work for? How were they formed? How do they recruit, and how do they operate? These are the questions you'll need to answer as you create the organisations that will exist within your campaign world. It's an interesting exercise even if you don't intend for espionage to loom large in your world - after all, we know about the CIA and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Mossad and the KGB even though they rarely impact directly on our lives nor do we often know what they are up to. So you can use this to add depth and flavour to your world even if the plots you wish to run will rarely cross paths with them. It can be fun when they do, though!


The chapter continues with several example organisations and then comes a section on cryptography, linking it to the various levels of tradecraft discussed earlier. Lastly there are notes on how magic impacts on the world of espionage, and how to avoid a crafty spell-caster derailing your carefully-wrought spy plot.


Especially if you do not know much about the world of espionage or are at a loss as to how to translate what you do know about contemporary spies into a fantasy game, this work is jam-packed with thought-provoking ideas. It's all just outline, you'll need to do a fair amount of preparatory work before you will be ready to run a fantasy spy adventure, but this gives a wealth of tools and suggestions to get you started.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Encryptopedia
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Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/22/2015 08:31:25

Beautifully illustrated and presented, this is a massive adventure that takes the party into the realm of shadows and embroils them in the chaos and intrigue that accompany the transistion between the Summer Court of the Queen of Night and Magic and the altogether darker machinations of the Winter Court of the Moonlit King. You cannot trust the Fey, never more so than here...


It all begins as the Moonlit King discovers that House Stross no longer holds sway in Zobeck (he's a bit behind the times, poor dear) and so all the arrangements and treaties that he had with House Stross are now null and void. Unsurprisingly, he's rather cross about it all!


The adventure itself is constructed as five segments that would take a party from 7th to 11th level in the course of some 30 encounters (although they need not have them all to complete the adventure successfully). The key to it all is a neat mechanic for determining Status - because the Fey are nothing if not snobbish and elitist, and if you are of insufficient Status they do not care how reasoned your argument is, how strong your sword arm is or even how big your bribe might be! A party that successfully rises in Status will get their audience and be able to put their case to the Moonlit King.


All starts abruptly as the party is called away from whatever they might be doing in Zobeck to aid a senior cleric who is being attacked - in his very temple, no less. A tough fight is followed by a quest to find out why the poor priest was being attacked and this will lead the characters into the adventure proper. A series of strange events beleaguer the people of Kobeck, and so it all begins.


To succeed, the party needs to be smart and diplomatic as well as adept with spell and sword... and that's before they venture onto the Shadow Road and attempt to navigate their way through the Courts of the shadow fey! Then they will really need their wits about them! Strange things happen in the shadow realms. The encounters reflect this well, with some truly memorable and outright wierd events to throw at the party. This is where the Status mechanic comes into play: everything they do (or omit to do) affects the party's standing: to the level that some encounters only become available as they rise in Status to a sufficient level.


The Court is massive and the party will be able to roam around, and perhaps interact with those denizens who deign to actually notice them. Eventually (we hope!) they will gain sufficient Status to be treated as guests rather than intruders, and the place comes alive about them. There is a great feast, the menu of which is part of the adventure in itself... and then it's time for the Duelling Season. The fey, it seems, love their duels. Mechanically, a Quick Duelling system is provided - and of course it also links back to Status.


The climax of the adventure comes when the party gains an audience with the Moonlit King. And the outcome? There are several possibilities, including supplanting him and taking over the shadow realm! The most likely conclusion sees the party returning to Zobeck, with many tales that mere mortals may find hard to believe!


Much is twisted, distorted, wierd... and as GM there is a lot to keep track of, so prepare well. Everything's well-presented (apart from a tendency for the text and the fancy borders to encroach on one another at times, so the odd word is hard to read), and most of the information is just where you need it. The PDF version is well-bookmarked, if running from a book you may want to put in some markers of your own.


Bringing out the sheer otherness of the fey, this adventure is like none other and should provide a memorable element of your campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
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Midgard Legends
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/21/2015 08:16:44

At first glance, this is an odd book. It's a collection of various snippets about Midgard... yet it makes more sense as you leaf through, for here are some of the legends, the stories Midgardians tell around the fire... the stories that one day your characters might feature in as they in turn create their own legends. For legends inspire heroes - whilst if you are the GM, maybe they'll spawn ideas for adventures of your own which you can use to help the party write its own tales that are worth the telling.


First of all we are introduced to Abderus, the first mage-lord of House Stross. If you have already got deep into the fabric of Midgard, you'll know what House Stross is (they're the former ruling family of what is now the Free City of Zobeck if you are wondering), but there's some more history here than hitherto published and a few spells that Abderus is said to have developed. This sets the pattern, a weaving-together of stories about people, places and events and relevant game mechanics which you can make use of in your own games. Items, spells, monsters, feats... all sorts of stuff, even some full character write-ups of those who still might be around. It's quite hard to keep track of it all!


Many entries have a 'using this legend' section with ideas for making use of that particular legend in your own plotlines. These may only be a sentence or two, but there are a lot of them and most could spawn an entire adventure (or more) depending on how you choose to use them. To use these to best effect, you'll need to seed the legends - how else will the characters know to act upon them else?


There are all manner of hidden delights. Perhaps a paranoid wizard might cast Incantation of the Uttered Cognomen Overheard, a delightful little spell that not only notifies you if someone's mentioned your name, you also get to see his location and surroundings. Or perhaps you fancy chasing Glatisant, the Questing Beast? This bizarre chimera seems to exist solely for the purpose of being pursued by young adventurers! Or maybe you would like your journey shortened by Hune the Doorlord? He can open a mystical door between anywhere and someplace else - if you can pay his price.


There are legends here indeed. Use them wisely and more shall be written... but an index of all the goodies tucked away in these pages would have helped! That aside, it brings Midgard to life, for only a place that is rich and deep has such legends to be told.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Midgard Legends
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Journeys to the West (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/15/2015 08:01:28

This is a collection of information and adventures that really brings home the 'otherness' of the Midgard campaign setting... and the brief introduction highlights this, speaking of the epic adventures to be had when exploring remote and exotic islands at the far ends of the ocean. In Midgard, oceans do have ends, or at least edges, because the world is actually flat!


In this supplement, the geography of the Western Ocean is laid out ready for exploration, with sections on the Greater and Lesser Islands. Adventure seeds and notes to aid you in making it exciting to explore and scattered throughout and there are several complete adventures at the end, as well as new monsters and items to be used as you see fit.


The first section looks at the Greater Islands, beginning with Barsella, a free city billed as 'the city at the end of the world'. It's a major trading port and a haven for explorers - and it's governed by a council of seafaring families who understand that burning need to take ship and see what's over the horizon. Of course, there are wildly-differing reports of what is to be found over the horizon and many of the ships which venture out into the blue fail to return. Those that do, however, are filled with massive wealth and their crews have many a fantastic tale to tell, so there is never any shortage of vessels seeking to brave the trip or crews to sail them. There is a map of the city and details of notable locations and the people to be found there. One interesting feature is Saints' Lot, where many people who have survived shipwreck are to be found: they are termed 'Saints' by the townsfolk. Or perhaps you'd rather explore the caves underneath the city? A few regional traits and some adventure seeds finish off the city description.


Next comes the Isle of Morphoi. Despite tall cliffs and no ports, it is home to some very interesting inhabitants... a rich and strange lot they are, and is that a goddess I see lurking amongst them? Be wary, there are strange magics about as well... again, there are notes on locations and notable residents, as well as ideas for adventures here.


The next section covers myriad Lesser Islands, each with maps and notes and other useful information about them. They all have a tropical feel - think Pacific islands or perhaps somewhere like the Maldives - with beaches and coral atolls abounding. Some islands are volcanic and others display temporal instability! There is even one 'island' that is a great sea-beast which swims the ocean, making mapping its location rather difficult... and upon occasion it dives. Whenever there are strange occurrences or effects, the relevant game mechanics are supplied. And then there is the edge of the world itself, complete with Terminus Island and what lies beyond and below...


The Monsters section presents a selection of strange beasties that are to be found on the islands or in the waters around them. Perhaps you'd like to catch a prismwing, a beautiful yet dangerous bird, lightweight but with a wide wingspan and a long needle-like beak. Tall tales have been told about ferocious totem poles that lumber across clearings chasing the unwary... or are they true? Or have you heard the one about the giant made of bronze filled with a fiery ichor that serves as its lifeblood? The items that follow are equally strange and linked in to the setting.


Finally, there are five full-blown adventures which focus on the themes of exploration and discovery. They could be used as the framework around which to build a campaign set in the Western Ocean, beginning with a 1st-level adventure set in Barsella then taking the party to visit many of the islands described here in successive adventures, ending with a 9th-level one that could end with the characters as major players in the region or founders of a colony of their own. Hints are provided for what could go on between the set adventures with options for exploration, trade or even a spot of piracy. The adventures are exciting, with plenty going on and opportunities to exercise the brain as well as the sword-arm (one is a muder mystery and anoter a search for a ghost ship, yet another involves a daring rescue). Many a song could be written or tale told about those who navigate them successfully.


Overall, if you like nautical adventures and exploration, this is an ideal resource mixing setting and adventure. My one complaint is that there is no overall map of the Western Ocean, although individual islands and locations are well-provided with maps and plans. Beautifully-presented and jam-packed with ideas for adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Journeys to the West (Pathfinder RPG)
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Further North: A PDF Companion to Northlands (PFRPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2015 07:35:32

Designed as a supplement to the Northlands sourcebook, this short PDF has a lot packed into its pages.


The section headings can be a bit confusing until you realise that they refer to the chapters in Northlands. First up, to go with material in Chapter 1 of that tome are some delightful short thumbnail sketches of 'guests at the feast' - ten characters who will add colour to any gathering. Designed for role-playing, if you decide that you want stat blocks for any of them you will have to attend to that for yourself, although in most cases you are at least told what class they are. Next, should you run a Thing there are several adventure ideas: people who have come to place a particular issue before the Thing or who otherwise might attract attention.


Next comes a section on magic, which references Chapter 4 of Northlands. There's the concept of 'reskinning' magic, tweaking existing spells to fit in with the style and atmosphere of the North, with several examples to show you what is meant. There's a new artefact and several wondrous items which all fit the legends of the North too... or just the environment. How about a pair of snowshoes that leaves no tracks?


Finally, there is further material aimed at Chapter 6: Bestiary of the Northlands book. Again it looks at reskinning monsters, with a lengthy list of ideas, and presents some new beasties as well. Strange deadly creatures called frostveils and the sea wolf, a vicious and aquatic creature with the body of a shark, the neck of a snake, the face like a wolf and mouth of dragon's fangs... or so it is said. Barbarians may take their rage powers from the Way of the Sea Wolf if they wish.


Some nice material to add to your game if you are using Northlands and some may be of use if you have your own 'lands of the frozen north' setting, but it is closely bound up with the Northlands of Midgard.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Further North: A PDF Companion to Northlands (PFRPG)
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Midgard Campaign Setting
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2015 11:36:12

The foreword explains the origins of Midgard as Wolfgang Baur's own home game setting that he's been building since he was 14, and how it is amazing even to him to see the piles of scribbled notes and sketched maps that he ran games from turned into a full-colour proper book! Like many gamers I've long enjoyed creating my own worlds to adventure in, but few of us have the talent, perseverence and opportunity to share them with anyone other than their gaming group. This one is replete with a depth that comes of some 25 years of dreaming, writing and playing, jam-packed with lots going on never mind what adventurers might be doing yet plenty of opportunities for them to get involved or carve their own path. Just what you want in a campaign setting!


Chapter 1: Welcome to Midgard gives a high-level overview of the world. It's a place with a rich history of heroes that has fallen on dark times, a place waiting for new heroes to arise. For anyone who might think that this sounds like many other campaign worlds, seven differences between Midgard and 'standard' fantasy settings are laid out. For a start it is flat. In a quasi-mediaeval world, you might expect plenty of people to think that their world is flat, but this one really is flat. With edges. There are ley lines, utilised by the elves. Dragons are linked to the elements, and enjoy ruling whatever they can get their claws on, as well as the traditional dragon pursuit of amassing a good hoard. There are novel races, each with their own history and place in the world, as well as the standard fantasy human, elf, dwarf and so on. Personal prestige is important. The deities meddle with what goes on in mortal life. And it's not a static place. Boundaries between kingdoms change. Dynasties rise and fall. The party may have a chance to influence - even instigate - such change, but happen it will whatever they do.


The epic sweep of Midgard's creation (or at least, what is known and surmised about it) is then explained. Naturally all deities claim to have made it, but it's likely that they are lying. The creation myth told by the Northlanders is probably closer to the truth, but who knows? Races came and went, kingdoms rose and fell, a succession through giants and then elves until now when, although the other races are still around, humans take a more prominent role. Naturally the succession has rarely be peaceful with rebellions and wars... and if battlefield strife was not bad enough, the wizards cut loose too and waged war with arcane powers, leading to great swathes of devastation. And then the dragons and the vampires emerged to stake their claims... Ending with events of the last hundred years, the chapter finishes with a discussion of time, planets and dates. Flat or not, Midgard has a sun that rises in the east and sets in the west, not that anyone knows just what happens to it when it is not in view. There are moons and planets around as well. Naturally there are quite a few festivals and holidays to celebrate.


Next is Chapter 2: Heroes of Midgard. This provides details about the major races and assorted minor ones to be found in Midgard. It includes fascinating snippets and a wide range of variation within races, depending on where they hail from - things that create a diverse society and plenty of options for those seeking to create characters truly embedded in the lands from which they come. Humans, dragonkin, dwarves, elves, the gearforged, kobolds, and minotaurs make up the major races, and whilst some are well known, those that are not are described in sufficient detail to empower players who wish to experiment with a novel race for their character. There are seven minor races as well, ones who - as well as being less familiar as player-character races - are only found in specific parts of the world. There's a note on languages, and then it's on to a collection of Midgard-specific feats and traits. No matter where your character comes from, there is a range of traits that he can choose between, all providing distinctive regional and racial flavour.


The book goes on to describe the seven major regions of Midgard, geographically and culturally distinctive, with each getting its own chapter. In the middle of the world is Crossroads, then there are the Rothenian Plain, the Dragon Empire, the Seven Cities, the Wasted West, the Domains of the Princes, and the Northlands. Each has a wealth of description and some detailed maps to help you get a feel for the lay of the land. Crossroads can be a bit of a melting-pot of cultures, and at its heart is the Free City of Zobeck, which already has a sourcebook and an adventure collection of its own. Here there are brief notes and its coat of arms (the blazon is not quite right, the shield is not quartered but divided per pale - the full blazon is per pale gules and or, a gearwheel counterchanged if you really want to know!), plenty for a brief visit although if your game is going to spend much time there, get a copy of the Zobeck Gazetteer. Of particular note are references to magic unique to Zobeck, the Clockwork School and the School of Illumination Magic. The discussion moves on to trade, with loads of detail about trading companies, trade routes and so on, then to mercenary companies and many other locations that are to be found in the Crossroads area. The sheer wealth of detailed information packed in here is quite amazing... it spawns adventure ideas, never mind being useful if you already have reason to tread these lands. Numerous kingdoms, organisations, individuals and locations are all here...


And so it continues through chapter after chapter until all seven regions are described. As you read, the roots of Midgard begin to show: Middle European folk tales and legends, often the darker nightmare-inspiring end of things. But there is much more. A cluster of halflings around the great World Tree of Domovogrod, nomads roaming vast plains with a 'city on wheels' that travels around, as nomadic as the people it serves. There are spreading forests and towering mountains, strange customs and stranger titles... never mind the beings bearing them. Every region has distinctive spells, equipment and more. Throughout, there are suggestions for adventure, rooted in the people and places you are reading about at the time. The richness of this setting is matched by how integrated it is: sometimes you read of a campaign world where it seems a human world with other races tacked on because a fantasy world ought to have them: here they belong, as integral a part of the setting as any other creature.


After the regional chapters, there is a chapter detailing the pantheon of Midgard. It takes things much further than the usual list of deities and the domains over which they have influence, though. These gods are properly mysterious, they and their ways cannot be understood and categorised by mere mortals. Sometimes aloof, they can be jealous - it's said that the best way to attract one god's attention is to worship another one! - and are said to interfere in mortal affairs. Through a system of 'masks' deities are able to walk the land and meddle in whatever takes their interest. Mechanically, there are new domains and spells and the concept of the pantheistic priest. This novel cleric worships the five gods designated as the major powers wherever he lives, each week chosing one of them to venerate and receiving access to the appropriate domains. The underlying reasons for why the gods of Midgard are as they appear are explained, but this is a matter properly for the GM: even their clerics and most fervent devotees do not know! There's a lot of material here, enough to keep the keenest student of theology busy. Finally, an Appendix provides resources for those who'd like to use the Midgard setting with the AGE system rather than Pathfinder.


It's the sort of world that you feel that you could take a lifetime exploring it and still feel that you have only scratched at the surface. This is a book to dip into, to browse through, to read again and again. Whether you like to prowl in the woods, roam vast plains, travese deserts or trudge through deep snow, there is adventure and excitement and things to see and do at every turn. Primarily a book for GMs, there's a series of Player's Guides to the different regions available, if you want your players to learn more about where their characters are without giving away too many secrets. In sheer depth and richness, this setting is hard to beat - and one wonders just how so much is packed into 'only' just under 300 pages!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Midgard Campaign Setting
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Traveller Core Rulebook Beta Playtest
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2015 13:41:44

OK, so why do we need a new set of rules? Let's see what is here and how it improves on what has gone before. It is supposed to be broadly backwards-compatible with Mongoose Traveller materials, but will of course have resources - sourcebooks and adventures - crafted specifically for it in due course.


The Introduction begins by explaining what Traveller is: a science-fiction role-playing game of the far future that can be used to play out whatever you fancy - and adds that if you have a favourite SF film or TV series (or presumably book!), Traveller ought to be able to replicate it on your tabletop. It touches on the Third Imperium (the Official Traveller Universe as it's known) and gets a little muddled in the distinction between the players of the game (that's you and me) and the characters that they play. I am not (alas) a Traveller, my character is, the lucky tode! It talks about the sort of adventures and campaigns you can enjoy and runs through some game conventions (standard terminology) before explaining the concept of Tech Levels and, in brief sentences, showing what each one means from TL0 to TL15.


Next, Chapter 1: Character Creation introduces the unique Traveller 'life path' character generation process. It is recommended that a group of players generate their characters together, primarily so as to establish connections between them - it's also to be noted that lots of players enjoy creating characters as a game in its own right even when they don't need one! (However there is a new connections bonus that can lead to an additional skill level for both characters involved.) The process is well explained with plenty of detail (and suggestions, even here, for adventures) and there is a large flowchart that makes the process clear. As a double-spread page that would be fine, it's worth printing out at least those two pages from the PDF to get the full benefit. Each career - and the pre-career options of university or military academy - provides the character with not just skills but life-events that have in-game consequences as well as game-mechanical ones. Overall, the actual process has not changed much, but it is laid out and explained well. Character generation is primarily human-centric, with a brief mention of aliens and scant details of Aslan and Vargr - the intention is that they will be covered in separate sourcebooks. Tucked at the end is a new career, that of the Prisoner. It's not one that you choose for your character, but assorted events that may arise during character generation will land him there without the option!


This is followed by Chapter 2: Skills and Tasks, which gets down to the business of explaining how to use the skills that your character has and the task resolution system. Although still based on the classic 'roll 2 dice against a Referee-set difficulty' the use of modifiers other than those based on the character's own capabilities has been replaced by the use of extra 'boon' or 'bane' dice. These come into play when conditions are beneficial or adverse to the attempt being made. A third die is rolled. If conditions are favourable, the player discards the lowest roll and uses the other two dice to resolve the task as normal. If things are against him, he discards the highest die roll before resolving the task. Neat, and a lot easier than having to determine just how beneficial or otherwise the circumstances might be! The idea is that task difficulties and applicable modifiers ought to be fairly standard for any given task, all you need to decide is if the circumstances under which you are trying to accomplish it warrant a boon or a bane die to be added to your roll.


Chapter 3: Combat then takes a long, hard look at how fighting is run within the game. Combat is still deadly, and relatively speedy. Characters use their skill in the weapon they are using, and wield them in initiative-order sequence in combat rounds. The system has been streamlined and integrated with personal combat, vehicle combat and starship combat all working the same way.


Naturally, getting caught up in a brawl is not the only danger to be faced in the far future, so Chapter 4: Encounters and Dangers provides loads of hazards and the game mechanics necessary to deal with them. Environmental dangers abound... but fortunately there is also a section on healing. Animals (which may or may not be hostile) are also covered here with a broad outline of a system to create animals and encounters with them. Several examples are given - and it can be great fun thinking up exotic critters for the worlds the party visits in its travels. Animals, of course, are not the only beings they will encounter, so there is also a section about NPCs which includes quick generation of them and the sort of encounters that may be had... there's even a rudimentary patron encounter system here for generating really fast adventure seeds on the fly.


Next comes Chapter 5: Equipment. Starting off with notes on money and standards of living it soon launches into The Core Collection, a catalogue of much of what the well-equipped traveller might need - which is presented like a real-world catalogue complete with illustrations (well, some of them, and plenty space earmarked for more) and sales-speak as well as the necessary game mechanics to use them. As well as the weapons, armour and gear you'd expect, the Core Collection also includes augmentations - cybernetic or biological modifications to improve on or even add things to the standard human.


Chapter 6: Vehicles follows; but here the emphasis is on what vehicles can do and how they are operated. It also includes vehicle combat. Quite a few examples are provided for those who want to get going quickly. This is followed by Chapter 7: Starship Operations which looks at the bread and butter of running a starship and starship encounters, including things like running costs and starship security. There's a separate chapter for starship combat, which allows characters to play a part in different roles - and makes starship captains worry about how much power they are using! Both ship-to-ship combat and boarding actions are covered here.


Next, Chapter 9: Common Spacecraft looks at ships which are familiar to the experienced Traveller player, but presents them in a new and visual manner. Statistics appear in a neat panel that gives you all you need to know, whilst deckplans have gone isometric. This gives a nice impression of what it would actually be like to wander around the ship in question and matches up well with the external views. They won't work so well as old-style deckplans for people who like to run combat aboard like a miniatures skirmish though. There's a good range of standard craft here from traders and scouts to liners and yachts.


Separated out - not everyone likes to use them - is Chapter 10: Psionics. (They are, however, mentioned within the lifepath parts of character generation: with several opportunities to be contacted and tested. If you don't want to use them, you'll have to roll again if you get one of those results.) The default model is that psionics are rare and viewed with offical caution if not outright hostility - in the Third Imperium, for example, they are banned. If you do choose to use them, psionic strength and skills are covered here as well as the psion career path.


Next comes Chapter 11: Trade. This provides a system for conducting interstellar trade that manages to be quite detailed and yet abstracts the process to a few die rolls, a neat method that allows a party to focus as much or as little attention on it as they please whilst still providing the possibility of a rationale for their travels and an income to fund it.


Finally, where are you going to travel to? This is covered by Chapter 12: World and Universe Creation which lays out the way in which worlds, systems and sectors are described and how to design them, and Chapter 13 which details the Sindal Sub-Sector in the Trojan Reaches - the new setting which is to be developed for this latest iteration of the Traveller game.


Overall, this book presents something that is still recognisably Traveller but with the benefit of 30-odd years of game design building on the original concepts. It shows great promise particularly in terms of integration and streamlining of game mechanics, and presentation values look as if they will be good too - although of course in this playtest version quite a lot of the art is missing. There are also a few typos which will hopefully be caught before the final version... but it promises well for the future of the game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Traveller Core Rulebook Beta Playtest
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Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/08/2015 08:44:38

This massive (almost 500 pages!) rewrite of Mutant Chronicles is visually appealing even before you start to read... when you do, Chapter 1: Welcome to Mutant Chronicles does double duty, starting with the mechanics of what is needed for play - you need d20s, d6s and counters - and why you need them, and then launching into more conceptual areas by explaining that it's a dieselpunk techno-fantasy game... and then while you are still scratching your head over that, explaining what is meant by those terms. In a near-future when humankind has spread throughout the solar system, something called Dark Symmetry has cast a blight over technology, meaning that many shiny new toys have been put away in favour of older tech that remains reliable. The whole game is built around the struggle between humanity and Dark Symmetry in three distinct time periods: the Dark Symmetry period (when it is trying to gain a foothold and a lot of the struggle passed by the 'man in the street'), the Dark Legions period (overt battle, the setting of the previous two editions and the miniatures skirmish game Warzone), and the Dark Eden period (when matters come to a head).


We then read about the factions, which include massive corporations and other organisations. These are described later on in the book, and further supplements addessing them are in the pipeline (whilst I do not usually mention future publications until they happen, these were included in the Kickstarter for this project and so it's very likely that they will materialise!). Those who do not wish to take regular employment within these organisations become freelancers, trading job security for freedom of action. There's a brief mention of the opposition (alien servants of Darkness and the heretics who support them, sometimes unwittingly), then it is on to a survey of known space. Earth is in tatters, poisoned and virtually uninhabitable, but there are burgeoning communities on Luna (Earth's moon) and the inner part of the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Mars and the asteroid belt). Further out is more sparsely colonised and was gobbled up readily by Dark Symmetry as soon as it arose.


Next comes Chapter 2: Mutant Chronicles Factions, which goes into more detail about the megacorporations that have taken the place of the nation-states of old and other groups as well. Each organisation has its own chapter later in the book, for now we get a thumbnail sketch, an overview. Familiar names to those who played earlier editions of this game, the corporations are Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima, Imperial, and Cybertronic. Each has its own distinctive tone and character, just as the nations which preceeded them did - indeed you can see traces of, for example, Germanic and Scandinavian influences in Bauhaus and Japan in Mishima. Cybertronic proves an exception, the most recently-formed it draws on a wide range of cultures and embraces technology in a way unlike the others. There are other non-corporate factions too, described in similar manner: Whitestar (who cling to the remnants of Earth and view everyone else as deserters), the Cartel (who provide a meeting place for the corporations), the Brotherhood (a religious order, source of what social aid is around but vehemently opposed to Dark Symmetry) and Luna PD (much more than a mere police force!).


Up to now, this information is suitable for GM and player alike, but the next chapter, Chapter 3: Timeline of Mutant Chronicles, introduces a little red flag that points GMs at information (tucked away at the end of the chapter) that is for their eyes only. Leaving aside the fact that more than one member of a group might both GM and play the game, it's an issue that besets single-volume core rulebooks: you have to rely on player discretion to stay out of the things they shouldn't read! Of course, it often makes the game more fun if players do exercise restraint. Anyway, starting at the end of the 21st century, this chapter details the events that brought humanity to its current state with the Dark Symmetry era beginning in the late 25th century, following a 'golden age' of exploration and expansion. It's a heady sweep of future history which has its roots in a destruction of natural resources by corporate greed and overpopulation that sounds all too possible.


Next we move on to game mechanics with Chapter 4: Core Mechanics. Here the core of the game system is explained with details of skill tests, Momentum, Chronicle Points and the Dark Symmetry Pool. On the whole, it's best to roll low. A skill test is rolled on 2d20 with factors based on attributes, skills, bonus success, and difficulty added in; and basically determines whether or not a character succeeds in whatever it is that he is trying to do. The text digs into this in detail and provides plenty of examples to show you what is going on. Momentum is a neat mechanic which determines how well you succeeded, and allows for the choice of appropriate outcomes: did you do it faster, do a better job... Chronicle Points are awarded by the GM as he sees fit, to reward good role-play, clever planning, the overcoming of obstacles and so on; and may be used by the player to influence die rolls, perform extra actions in combat or even to take a moment to catch his breath and wipe light wounds off of his character sheet. The GM has the equivalent in Dark Symmetry Points, which can be gained when characters make a botch of things (as in, fail a die roll) or even when a player, seeing that a task is difficult, 'purchases' an extra d20 to roll to resolve it at the cost of giving the GM a Dark Symmetry Point. This kind of 'book-keeping' may seem a bit onerous, or liable to detract from the flow of the game, but handled with care it provides robust mechanics to manage developments.


Chapter 5: Character Lifepath starts you off on the character creation process. It is moderately time-consuming, but the depth of character that results is worth it. The standard method combines choice and chance by providing at each step the option to make a choice or roll the dice (you decide which, of course, before any dice are rolled); but if the party has already decided exactly what they want to play there is a completely point-based option. It's recommended that all characters in a party take this option if it is to be used at all to maintain balance between them. The whole process involves eight key decisions, and by the end you should have a good idea of who your character is, and how he came to be like that... his background life history is developed as part of the process, including significant events in his life. Next, Chapter 6: Experience and Gameplay Rewards shows how characters gain experience points and use them to develop and grow, then Chapter 7: Skills and Talents gives further details of all the options (as well as showing how to actually use skills in play) although they are assigned during the Lifepath process.


Throughout, the emphasis is on how the various aspects of your character can be used in play. It sounds more mechanical than it actually is: once you understand what everything means you will be able to use it to effect. This is a game in which a thorough understanding of the rules will aid effective role-play, unlike some games where it is sufficient for the GM to know the rules it is essential for the players to get to grips with them as well. Each aspect, such as Momentum and Character Points, performing actions and of course combat, gets a chapter (well, more than one chapter when it comes to combat!) explaining precisely how you can put everything to use. There are lots of examples to go along with explanations to make it all come to life. Note that madness and being consumed by darkness are as real threats as bullets in this game, and there are of course rules for that as well.


Both creatures of darkness and those of the light have the opportunity to learn specific powers - call them spells if you will - and there are a vast array for you to pick through. Eventually, however, we come to chapters covering equipment: vehicles, spacecraft, weapons and other equipment and gear. Each comes with a wealth of detail on construction, repair, operation and combat use. What a character has access to will often depend on his faction affilitation. An odd quirk of the armour system is a fondness for large shoulder pads: be prepared to look as if you are about to play American Football rather than engage in a brawl!


After an exhaustive discussion of gear, we move on to Chapter 25: Adversaries. This takes the GM through the process of creating all the NPCs required, with a truncated version of the lifepath process used for player-characters being suggested. Plenty examples and samples, and of course there are beings other than humans for the characters to contend with. Next comes Chapter 26: The Dark Soul and Apostles, with a wealth of detail on everything from the first contact with darkness (on Pluto, 2480AD if you must know) to how it has spread through the solar system and what is going on in the time in which the game is set. Although it's not mentioned overtly, this is probably GM territory. This is followed by a chapter on the Dark Legions (in effect a bestiary), including their weapons and equipment.


Next is an extensive chapter on Luna, the moon, which is now the primary home of humanity. There's masses here, locations to visit, lifestyle information and more - and a sequestered section of notes for the GM alone, suggesting that the rest can be made available to characters who have reason to know their way around! Then there is a chapter on freelancers, employees and jobs which looks at the various ways in which characters can make a living, followed by separate chapters on the corporations and other organisations which might be hiring. The wealth of detail is quite amazing, painting a vivid picture of life all ready for your party to come and inhabit it.


Then comes Chapter 38: Eras of Play which explores the different time periods available and what is going on in each before launching into Chapter 39: Gamemastering Mutant Chronicles, filled with good advice on how to run the game to effect, using the rules and the background material to drive your plots. The following chapter on Scenes and Environments continues in this vein and covers a whole lot more than the title might suggest. Finally, Sessions and Campaigns provides loads of ideas to get the GM going. An assortment of charts and worksheets, the index and a list of Kickstarter backers rounds the book off.


This is an elegant and masterful re-tooling of the original Mutant Chronicles, retaining the original flavour yet giving it a contemporary spin. If this kind of dark future appeals, this game should keep your group engrossed for many a gaming session.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition Roleplaying Game
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Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2015 07:41:56

Designed as a supplement to Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, the planar sourcebook for the Midgard campaign setting, the Introduction notes that most of the material herein just didn't fit into it or, in one case, was thought maybe a bit too dark for the main book. So if you fancy sending your party to explore the wonders and wierdnesses of the planes and want even more to put before them, jump right in.


It opens with that problematic item (apparently one individual disliked it so much that they dropped out of the project altogether!), which is a new 'other location', a plane of sheer horror which it is likely the party will end up in by accident as you cannot really imagine anyone wanting to go there. Called Mora, it is evil-aligned and takes the form of a rocky island in a dark sea. It is filled with female spirits, porportedly neglectful mothers, and riven with fear. Brooding lonliness and sheer panic await those who venture here, a madness that traps wanderers and is hard to escape. Here too, stolen children are auctioned off by bogeymen. It's a vivid reminder that there's a lot of nasty stuff out there... whether you want it in your game is up to you, but it should only be used with care and full knowledge of your players. Someone with childhood trauma in their past might find this too challenging for something that is, after all, supposed to be fun.


There's a brief piece of fiction associated with the Rusty Gears locale described in Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, then it's on to a collection of planar traps, hazards and afflictions that you can place as appropriate when your party is wandering the planes. Perhaps you want to confuse with some non-Euclidean angles, strange shapes your eye slithers off as your brain fails to understand what's going on; or maybe pass around some dead stone, rock from which the very essence of being a stone has leached away. Its very touch is said to make a dwarf cry. There are strange diseases and poisons here, and if you don't find the planes wierd enough, mind-bending drugs.


Then there are magical and wondrous items - some cursed, of course. One catches my eye (because I'm going to be marking some exam papers after my lunch break): a bottled memory. I wonder if any of the students have remembered what they needed to know? They can be useful, entertaining or informative... and then there's faerie food. Many will know it's not a good idea to eat it, but here are the relevant game mechanics to deal with those who do.


Finally there's a Bestiary (which includes a template for creating an Imaginary Friend) and some NPCs.


If you already have Dark Worlds and Golden Hells this could prove a useful adjunct but if you don't it makes far less sense. I don't think I want to actually visit Mora, but it could spawn a few good legends and tales to scare any would-be planar travellers: something that lurks in the shadows rather than occupies centre-stage. The items and traps and other perils are particularly good, they are the real reason to add this book to your library.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds (Pathfinder RPG)
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Dark Roads & Golden Hells (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2015 09:01:44

So you have grown weary of trampling around your campaign world (be it a published one or one of your own invention) and would like to take the party somewhere really different? Then perhaps a jaunt into another plane of existence might be in order...


Chapter 1: Lore of the Planes gets straight down to business, starting with philosophical musings about what the planes actually are (as much as you can imagine then a whole lot more, apparently!). To make it a bit more comprehensible, think of them as tangible representations of concepts and ideas. The main ones are based on the alignments - things like Good and Evil, Law and Chaos - but you might find ones for Art or Music, Beauty or Trade... only they come and go as people find different ideas of importance. You also find the souls of those who have finished their mortal existence here, perhaps making their way to the Underworld or onwards to some final destination with a few devout ones being gathered in by the deity they venerated. And then there are the denizens of the planes themselves. Independent living beings who find their homes in these strange places. Perhaps this is where the Gods are to be found, complete with the minions and companions that their faith holds that they should have. Living vessels for the power of an idea. I don't profess to understand, there again if I did maybe I'd be a deity too!


Next, Chapter 2: Cosmology tries to explain what is contained in a sample cosmology, the Midgard one. Use it as is (even if you don't run your games in Midgard), adapt it or use it as a template and guide as you devise your own. The whole book is designed as a 'plug and play' manual, take the bits you want, add in your own ideas and come up with a set of planes like no other - it's probably as close to being a god as any of us will get! Like any religion, it starts "In the beginning..." How did the universe in which your campaign is run come into existence in the first place? And who found out and started to create legends about it (which may or may not be accurate, of course)? Maybe different groups have different explanations for how everything came to be - these lead to contention, be it academic debate or all-out war. Examples from Migard are given. Was order given to chaos, or the other way around? It's never static, that's for sure, and there is always contention between various aspects of the planes themselves, never mind mortal squabbling below. The Material Plane, the place where your campaign world exists, is at the middle. Denizens of myriad planes squabble over it because they all draw their power from the very souls of those who live there... and often meddle through dreams and visions or outright intervention in what is going on there, too.


And then you - or at least the party - think of going there. Most use magical means (a spell or portal) but some slip through the cracks into some kind of 'sea of possibilities' - maybe it presents itself as a corridor with lots of doors, or it might be something far more exotic. Through those doors (or via whatever metaphor you pick) are all these planes... and each plane has its own characteristics and nature. A selection of the Midgard planes are described here, for inspiration or use as you please. There are loads of ideas here, and many useful sidebars which show you how to use these traits and characteristics to affect game mechanics. In a Good-aligned plane, perhaps 'evil' magic doesn't work, at least, nothing more than a nasty smell or a bit of smoke results from your casting, for example. Or perhaps any spell-casting results in a bright flash of light in addition to the intended effects.


If that wasn't enough, Chapter 3: Other Locations looks at what else is out there besides the planes. The cracks between them, if you will. The places you might end up if you botch that planar travel spell or open the wrong door. Called Between, this unspace has a whole geography and inhabitants of its own and, trust me, you don't want to go there. Neither will your characters, if they know about it. They might be more comfortable in another unspace called The Casino, but beware: it's generally more than mere money that rides on the games played here. You can play - or bet on - just about anything conceivable here, and there's even a 'game development' complex where games from all over the known universes and beyond are tested and honed to a high level. There are other locations as well, if these two do not take your fancy: the Evermaw, the Marketplace, the Plane of Spears, and more. The Marketplace is an intersection of all the markets that ever there were, a place when literally anything is available - for a price. A multitude of adventures await in all these places, and if reading about them doesn't give you enough ideas, plenty of suggestions for how to use them in your game are sprinkled throughout.


Next is Chapter 4: Heroes of the Planes. So far, we have heard about assorted denizens of every plane discussed, but here you get the low-down on new races native to the planes along with new feats, traits, incantations and spells that may be learned here, may be useful here... or may be used against unwary visitors. Then on to the real heart of the matter with Chapter 5: Gamemastering Infinity. After reading thus far, you may be thinking that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Don't worry, there's plenty of helpful advice here. Start small. Add the odd twist to an otherwise-normal adventure. Remember that the planes never stay the same. Then there's an introduction to planar roads, the routes seasoned planes-wanderers use to get from one place to another. Even seasoned travellers find them tricky to navigate and often end up someplace other than they intended. Here also are the strange economics of the planes, the commodities valued here are different from the gold pieces that are useful back home on the mortal plane. This chapter ends with some magical items unique to the planes, and it is followed by the last chapter, Chapter 6: Bestiary. As you can imagine, some mighty strange beasties are to be found here.


This is a book of ideas, of inspiration and of concepts. Even if you stick to the exemplars pulled from the multiverse around Midgard, there is still much to be done before you can actually run much in the way of planar adventures... but this is a starting point to help you think about what you want and how to make it happen. It digs at the fundamental underpinnings of what makes a fantasy campaign world work, and what may lie beyond... but may be a bit philosophical for some tastes. An interesting read, nevertheless.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Roads & Golden Hells (Pathfinder RPG)
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Midgard Bestiary for Pathfinder RPG
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2015 06:57:41

The Midgard Bestiary is a monster compilation with a difference. Born of Open Design's organic development process, it draws upon monsters featured in Kobold Quarterly, the website and already-published materials as well as the traditional folklore that powers much of their output. Keynotes are that monsters ought to be scary and have the potential to be used in unorthodox ways to keep players guessing and on the edge of their seats. There's an overtone of deep-rooted horror that permiates much of the Open Design (now Kobold Press) output, the sort of horror that stems from tales told and retold.


Each of the 89 monsters gets the same treatment: brief 'this is what you see' description, a full stat-block, illustration and full descriptive and ecological notes that supply the GM with all the information he needs to locate and run that monster as an integral part of the campaign world, not just something to fight (although most of them will put up a good fight when it's a brawl you are after!). Who could not delight in the bagiennik, an often peaceful creature with a talent for healing which goes absolutely mad with fury if you interrupt it when it's taking one of its frequent and languorous baths... well, I don't like being disturbed when bathing either!


Even reading some of the entries can send shudders down your spine... like the broodkin, really nasty constructs that are a sort of malignant baby or the beautiful but deadly cavelight moss that delights in devouring passing adventurers. Twisted birds, a host of clockwork creatures, and the carrion-eating death butterfly swarm lie in wait, and the twisted evil of a derro fetal savant is just sick. I think I prefer the ink devil, these prefer chatting, whining, and pleading to any form of combat, being known cowards - and fun to role-play as well.


Twisted, strange, unpredictable, the stuff of the sort of legends you tell around a camp fire late at night... just don't get bitten by a doppelrat! Whether your game is set in Midgard or in your own campaign world, when you want to scare the party as well as provide them with opposition, this is an excellent collection to browse through. To aid in selection, appendices list them by type, CR, terrain and role, while there are also notes on re-skinned monsters (ways to create quick variant critters) and a set of location-based encounter tables if you need a quick random monster. Definitely worth adding to your monster collection - you can never have too many!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Midgard Bestiary for Pathfinder RPG
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Alleys of Zobeck (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2015 11:49:34

This work is a collection of additional enhancements for those using Streets of Zobeck (or indeed the Zobeck Gazetteer) in their campaign. It opens with a short scenario 'Nothing to Declare' which should be run the first time that the party arrives in the Free City of Zobek, an adventure that sets the scene and flavour of the place ready for whatever you have planned for later. It's a neat introduction to a place which runs on favours and reeks of corruption, and provides a lead-in to whichever of the adventures from Streets of Zobeck you intend to run.


This escapade is followed by a selection of rules material, each keyed to one of the Streets of Zobeck adventures but of potential use in their own right whether or not you are going to run the adventure in question. Clerics may appreciate the Lust domain - whichever deity they worship does NOT require celibacy of devotees! There are creatures, templates, the odd encounter... plenty to spice up whatever adventure you are running in Zobeck or, for that matter, any equivalent city. Or perhaps you'd like to introduce Goldscale the kobold and his dire weasel mount...


There are other NPCs too, new feats (including some dirty fighting moves!) and traits, magic and mundane items that might come in handy, and more. There's a rather odd incantation called the Incantation of Memories Lost which quite frankly baffles me. It's not clear what the purpose is, the benefit of casting it. Better are some tables for generation the sort of odds and ends the party may find in the pockets of the next body they find in the gutter. If it's fine dining you are after, the Rampant Roach (a kobold-run resturant) is best avoided, but there's a description and floor-plan for those unwise enough to go in. Ulmar's Rare Books may be worth a visit, and there are adventure ideas both for these places and for some of those mentioned in other Zobeck books. Finally if the party finds the city confusing, they might want to engage the services of another kobold called Blackeye who has a carriage for hire, taxi-style. He makes a good ally - provided you are happy with the army of cousins he recommends and the never-ending chatter about Zobeck and its inhabitants.


Overall, a nice addition to the other two Zobeck books, but of less use if you are not using them.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alleys of Zobeck (Pathfinder RPG)
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