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Nations of Théah: Montaigne (Book 3)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/28/2016 08:59:01

Montaigne considers herself to be the centre of the world, so whether you want to run an adventure set there or play a character who hails from there this book will provide ample resources for understanding the land and its people. Flamboyant and arrogant swordsmen, court intrigue and intense emnity with their neighbours to the south, Castille, mark out Montaigne as a country like no other on Théah.

The Introduction explains a little of the nature of Montaigne. Think Alexander Dumas' The Musketeers - swagger and panache, as interested in just how stylishly you take a villain down as you are in defeating him at all. Generousity and wit... but only if you can afford it, with a massive impoverished underclass who exist (in Montaigne eyes at least) to support the idle rich. OK, not completely idle, but they wave swords around as a matter of form rather than because it is their job to fight. This is the home of literature and art on Théah, the final bastion of culture. This is how they see themselves at the centre of the world.

First comes Montaigne, a chapter that explores the history and current state, opening with a piece of fiction concerning the current Emperor, which is continued throughout the book, an installment per chapter. We learn that the Emperor hates the Vaticine Church and shelters sorcerers from the church's wrath, and as an absolute monarch, what he thinks becomes state policy. It's a land where family is important, especially if you are noble, and some sample noble bloodlines are provided for those characters seeking a Noble Advantage to further their career. They can also serve as patrons and allies (or indeed, enemies). You can also read about notable places including the fifteen provinces. Culture (on which Montaigne folk pride themselves), science, the church and much more are also covered including a fascinating section on daily life that will aid in bringing the place to life in your game.

Next, Hero looks at some of the nation's most important individuals, with plenty of detail should the party encounter them. It begins with the royal family (where eles?) and runs through other notables, movers and shakers - nobles, military leaders and others, including some the nobles might use but would never invite to dinner. Patrons, perhaps, or employers... but not good people to get on the wrong side of, that is certain!

Then comes Drama. This is the rules section with new mechanics and additional rules for making Montaigne Heroes. This includes the Destiny Spread, a novel way to determine a character's stengths and weaknesses via a Tarot reading. There are also new rules for Porté magic, the 'signature' magical style of Montaigne. There's a couple of backgrounds to consider and several new Swordsman Schools - one based on street brawling, one primarily interested in firearms and one which teaches students to take advantage of whatever weapons come to hand! Montaigne-specific advantages, organisations and even items of equipment are also found here, and the chapter also includes with a system for Courtly Intrigue. This can be fascinating or completely boring depending on the interests of your players, but it's definitely a feature of life at the Montaigne court. There's an extensive section on the famous and fabulous Puzzle Swords, and a section on mass battles.

The final chapter, Style, comes in two parts. The first, of general interest, discusses how to play a Montaigne character to the hilt, useful to those who want to play one and GMs eager to have some memorable NPCs. The second part is aimed at GMs and contains assorted secrets and snippets of information, as well as full stat blocks for the people met in the Heroes chapter. There are new monsters, too, and a chart to help you through the mechanics of Courtly Intrigue.

Overall, this paints a compelling picture of Montaigne, a country where it's good to be noble and pretty rough if you are anything else. Wonderful background for characters, and an equally good resource for GMs whose adventures will take the party there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Montaigne (Book 3)
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Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/25/2016 08:01:38

This mighty tome is beautifully presented and provides just about all you need to start adventuring in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Of particular note is the way in which the authors are not afraid to tweak exisiting game rules and even invent entire new mechanics to drive a setting that's true to its original concept yet playable by anyone who can play Dungeons & Dragons 5e. As the Foreword states, the guiding light has been to present a game that you can make your own... and if you want to add in stuff from other sources, that's fine too.

The first section is all about setting the scene. We're based in Wilderland in 2946 of the Third Age. Smaug is dead and people are reclaiming the lands he once terrorised. So here are details of the lands involved and their denizens. Then it's straight on to how to make it all work, with an Overview containing details of the changes the authors have made to the core ruleset in two areas: character creation and general game rules. Middle Earth isn't quite like any other fantasy setting (even if it inspired a lot of them!) and these rules are desisned to enable you to run a game and create shared stories that are true to the setting. It starts off with a profound difference, you choose your culture rather than your race. 'Culture' is a more precise definition - you are not just a human but a Man of Bree or a Man of the Lake, and so on for all the other races. There's a whole chapter on them later on. There are also new classes and backgrounds, and a whole new type of trait called a virtue - and each of these also gets a chapter to itself to explain all that you need to know.

The other rules changes relate to how the game itself works. Middle Earth stories are jam-packed with journeys, and the sort of quest that involves going somewhere (and braving danger along the way) as well as doing something when you get there are a mainstay of Middle Earth adventuring. Unlike the character creation rules, these supplement rather than replace the core D&D ones. This setting does not use conventional alignments, instead it relies on a corruption system to model characters' moral journey through life. In Middle Earth, strangers are often regarding warily, so there are also rules for obtaining an audience with the great and good of the land, should the party wish to do so. Finally, there is the introduction of the Fellowship Phase, an exciting innovation from The One Ring game on which this setting is based. Each of these topics too has its own chapter to provide all the necessary detail to enable you to incorporate it into your game.

That's about it, all beautifully-presented and with Loremaster (i.e. DM) and Player versions of the map and a selection of appropriate equipment to help your character look and feel like he belongs in Middle Earth. Overall, it's an elegant adaptation of both The One Ring and of course the original setting from Tolkien's stories to the latest incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons and well worth a look if you think that there's more to adventure than killing monsters and taking their stuff... although those who do want to fill their days with fighting (and even acquire some loot) will not be disappointed.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide
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7th Sea Adventures: The Arrow of Heaven
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/23/2016 08:30:03

Continuing and concluding a series of adventures that has 'epic swashbuckling' written all over them, The Arrow of Heaven lives up to the preceeding two adventures with more high excitment and high stakes. If for some reason you haven't played the preceeding adventures, not to worry - notes are provided to help you sweep your party straight into the action (although if this is the sort of adventure that they like, go and grab the first two adventures for them and run the whole series).

Like the preceeding two adventures, you are provided with a series of encounters that give freedom to navigate your way to the climax via whatever route works best for you and your players. Careful preparation and planning repays itself as you will be able to respond to whatever the party chooses to do yet keep them on track to accomplish their mission.

The adventure will take the party from where they left off the previous scenario and take them via war-torn Castille and assorted university campuses to the darker corners of Vodacce... and all under the time pressure of a 30-day window before the stars are right for what their adversaries are plotting. There's also plenty of opportunity to get involved with the Explorers' Society too - giving ample potential for further adventures if you want to use this to kick-start a campaign. There is a lot of atmospheric description and opportunities for action within the encounters making this a fine finale to the adventure series... and you (and the party) even get to find out what the Erebus Cross actually is!

There are hints for changing things to personalise the adventures, and to accommodate characters with lots of experience. A comprehensive list of NPCs with plenty of background detail as well as their stat blocks is provided, ample resources to help you bring them to life. Finally there's a section on the Explorers' Society, including some 'for the eyes of the GM only' stuff that even the Society doesn't know! Perhaps you can weave it into adventures so that your party make these fascinating discoveries... There are also some artefacts to play with and rules for designing your own artefacts. Other new rules include skills and templates, especially for budding explorers.

Overall, a fun adventure that has me itching to go and round up some players... what better recommendation can I give?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: The Arrow of Heaven
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7th Sea Adventures: Scoundrel's Folly
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2016 07:50:36

This is the second adventure in The Erebus Cross series, but can be played stand-alone or without need for the first one if preferred. Like the first, it takes the party around Théah, this time visiting Eisen and taking a voyage on the high seas as they complete their quest to thwart a villainous plot. The Introduction conveys the overall idea - by the time you have played all three parts of The Erebus Cross the party will have pretty much toured Théah, met some interesting people (including some of the movers and shakers of the world), saved the world from a heap of trouble and got their hands on a valuable artefact. What's not to like?

It goes on to explain the adventure structure, which is a series of events only a few of which are critical to the plot and which offer multiple paths to the desired goal. Careful study is advised, then let the party loose to do what they want and throw appropriate encounters at them as opportunity arises. It's also designed to accommodate varying levels of experience - whilst this is intended for a starting group, more experienced characters can also find enough to prove a challenge.

The adventure starts in Ussura, where the last one left off. Then events move to Eisen and on to Avalon and then to a distant island which sports thick jungles and exotic beasts, used as a hunting ground by Montaigne nobles... who, unbeknownst to them, are under threat by this adventure's villain. If you haven't played The Lady's Favour, the first adventure, not to worry. A different way to get the party involved is provided, and the action starts in Eisen directly. The encounters provided are full of atmospheric descriptions and potentially cinematic excitement. A map of the island is provided, but not one showing where it actually is... so the voyage there and back must be a bit abstract, hopefully the sea monster encounters will keep the players distracted.

The adventure ends with detailed notes on major NPCs and sufficient notes and stat blocks for everyone else that will be encountered. There is also a continuation of the material about the Explorers' Society that began in the back of the first adventure. This introduces some of the Society's major personalities, whom the characters will probably have heard of if not met, and lists their main 'Chapter Houses' which could become useful locations in your further adventures. There is also a section explaining how Society members identify themselves to one another with various code phrases... always scope for misunderstandings here!

7th Sea is a game system designed to let you swash your buckles, and this adventure is a fine example with plenty of opportunities for epic exploits, cinematic chases and more. It's one to have fun with!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: Scoundrel's Folly
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7th Sea: Game Master's Screen
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2016 10:10:23

The GM Screen is the regular sort of thing, a stirring naval battle on the player side and a wealth of useful charts on the GM's side - pretty much anything you might want to refer to during play. If you have the PDF version, print them out and stick them on card to make your own screen, if you have bought this in 'dead tree', it comes printed on cardstock anyway. There's not that much to say about a screen, really. It's a good place to organise your notes behind and if you are given to secret die rolls you can hide them from the players behind it.

However, you also get an adventure with it, The Erebus Cross Part 1: The Lady's Favour. (The other two parts of the adventure are sold separately, if you enjoy this you'll likely want to get hold of them and find out all the rest of the dark secrets. It makes for a good introductory adventure in that it takes the party all over Théah in their quest to save one Montegue du Montaigne, who is in need of rescuing! It's quite an open adventure, not a set series of events, but there's enough structure to enable you to keep everything on track. There are loads of events and encounters, but only a few are absolutely necessary to the adventure (although nearly all are linking to it in some way, there isn't much in the way of random encounters) and even they are pretty flexible about just when they happen. Ecounters are graded as to how hard they are, if your party is inexperienced you might want to avoid the most difficult ones (or put in the time to tone them down), but the idea is that there is something for everyone here, however experienced they might be. Read through the entire adventure thoroughly and decide what you want to use and when... and then find that the party might have other ideas (that's players for you!), but this structure means that it's reasonably easy to accommodate whatever they decide to do.

The basic plot is simple. Montegue du Montaigne is a General who has led an army from Montaigne to attack Ussura, at the Emperor of Montaigne's request. But his wife has her suspicions about what is going on... the background explains what is going on for you, and she will provide her own version to the party when entrusting them with a message to take to him on the battlefield. Plenty of detail is provided for you to set the scene and run whichever events you select (or all of them if you want...), as well as copious notes on the main NPCs involved. There's plenty of scope for cinematic adventure from the very start, with chases and swordfights aplenty as well as opportunities to make new friends on your travels.

Finally, there's also a section about the Explorer's Society, an organisation that features large in Théan life, and indeed in this adventure if you select appropriate events. This tells of the origins of the Society, its public face and the hidden agendas that not all the members know, never mind any outsiders! It looks at what they do and how they are organised - and provides excellent resources for those parties who enjoy exploring the world in which they live. They are pretty good for intrigue, too!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea: Game Master's Screen
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The One Ring - Erebor - The Lonely Mountain
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/15/2016 07:44:32

Opening up a whole new area for exploration, this book looks at the Lonely Mountain and the kingdoms of Erebor and Dale. Back in the time of Smaug, this region was abandoned and known as the Desolation of Smaug, but since the dragon's demise there has been a resurgeance and it's well worth a visit.

We start with The Kingdom Under the Mountain, a section which describes Erebor, its denizens and the wonders that might be found there. Stronghold of the House of Durin, it is more than just a city, or a mining complex, or a fortress... there are mighty wonders here, palaces and mineral riches untold. If the dwarves will let you in to take a look, that is! There is history and background galore from the earliest times right through to the present day. There are maps (supplemented by a map pack in the PDF download) for those who wish to explore the vast complex, and who can gain admittance in the first place. The process for getting in is explained, along with some of the notable locations to visit and individuals to meet if you do get in, and ideas for things to do whilst there.

Next is Treasure of the Dwarves, with a look at some of the wonderful artefacts made by Durin's folk, fabled items crafted with skills now lost to the world. Dwarves have this bad habit of hoarding knowledge instead of passing it on, and many a craftsman has died before managing to find an apprentice he deems worthy enough to teach what he knows. Still, they remain excellent craftsmen and ancient artefacts still turn up. Based on the rules for item creation in the Rivendell supplement, there is information on how to design dwarf items that are distinctive and fascinating, as well as details of many famous examples of their work. A dwarf character with a good craft skill can choose to spend a Year's End Fellowship Phase holed up in his smithy making something fantastic and all the rules you'll need to make that happen are here.

Then comes Dale, a description of the burgeoning city of men and of the surrounding areas. Set beside the River Running almost in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain, Dale's history from earliest times until the present is recounted. The new kingdom doesn't spread far beyond the city walls yet, but every week sees new farms established and it's growing fast. Plenty of opportunity if settling down is in your plans. There's loads of evocative description to help you bring this bustling city to life... and like any city, there's plenty of intrigue to get involved in if that takes the party's fancy. Notable locations and personages, and things to do in Dale round out this section before we proceed on to The Lands About The Mountain for those who'd like to go further afield, with wildlife, locations, inhabitants and plenty of ideas for adventure.

Next there's Concerning Dragons, with probably more than you really want to know about them. History to anatomy, their role as rare and unique creatures that might be sighted once in a whole campaign if even then... here we have the rules necessary to create your own dragons and bring them to memorable life... memorable, that is, to those party members who survive the encounter! Treasures for their hoards, items that can kill them, some sample dragons, and a wonderful selection of rumours about dragons end this section.

History next with The War of Dwarves and Orcs, including notes on how this long-running war can be woven into your campaign. Older dwarves (over 150 years) likely saw combat in this war, but just about everyone will have heard of it. Finally, those who fancy playing a dwarf will find two new heroic cultures to try: the Dwarves of the Iron Hills and the Dwarves of the Grey Mountains.

This work puts a contemporary twist on places long-known from the Tolkien books, providing fascinating places to visit and adventure in, replete with ideas for Loremasters and players alike. Of particular relevant to those who play dwarves, there's a lot of material to be enjoyed and used here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - Erebor - The Lonely Mountain
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Doctor Who - All the Strange, Strange Creatures Volume I
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/14/2016 07:33:12

One of the greatest pleasures of Doctor Who are all the aliens we get to meet - sadly all too many of them are hostile, or at least want to conquer or even destroy the earth. This book consists of two parts: firstly a listing of aliens that have appeared in the show (and some which haven't...) and secondly rules to enable you to construct your own aliens.

So, first up, Aliens and Creatures. There's a full twenty-seven of them. Some are, of course, very familiar - Daleks and Cybermen, for instance. Others may have featured far less frequently or even not at all. In each entry, there's an attempt to see what that particular alien race is like, rather than just presenting stat blocks and outlining new abilities. So there's background information about where they come from and when the Doctor has met them, notes on their motives and agendas to give you some idea about why they might show up and what they might be after, and then it gets down to detail. When they turn up, what will the party see? How will they behave and react? (The aliens, that is.) There are ideas for how to use each alien, what sort of adventures they'd be most suitable for and even a collection of plot hooks and adventure ideas to get you going. Each entry is illustrated by stills from the show.

In the second part of the book, Creating Your Own Aliens lets you do just that, providing elegant systems to enable you to let your imagination run wild, whether designing player-character aliens, traditional alien-as-villain aliens, or, well, anything else you fancy. It's done through loads of questions, by answering them you build up a clear picture of what that alien's like, then you can put appropriate numbers, traits and other game mechanics in place. Rather confusingly, all the pictures haven't been captioned, and some are for aliens not mentioned in the previous section (I spotted a Slitheen at one point...), although you don't then get notes on how to build them for yourself.

One thing that would have been useful would be a cross-reference showing which Doctor each alien has encountered, which would link in nicely with the series of Doctor Sourcebooks Cubicle 7 Entertainments have produced. There does seem to be a bit of bias towards aliens who have shown up since the reboot of the TV show, but there are some from earlier as well as ones like the Daleks who keep reappearing. However, overall there is a lot of good material here, and it will enable you to present a universe full of diverse aliens for your party to outwit in the course of their adventures.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who - All the Strange, Strange Creatures Volume I
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From the Ashes - Adventure 3 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2016 13:33:35

This, the third adventure in the What Lies Beyond Reason Adventure Path, seeks to scare the living daylights out of the party, if not their players as well. The introduction starts in on this theme as the author muses about how the adventure began as a stand-alone haunted house scenario... which never got run! The reasoning behind this leads to a discussion on how to do 'scary' at your gaming table. It can be hard - the communual nature of a gaming group mitigates against the isolation of something genuinely scary, the threat of loss is not as great when you can roll up a new character and carry on, and - well, what's new? Your players will have seen it all before, even if their characters have not... or will they? No cheap thrills here, but solidly thought-out building of threat...

The adventure consists of the exploration of a long-ruined building, once the manor of a respected family. The adventure background provides the low-down of the family history right up to the present day. Aimed at 5th-level characters, there are notes on adjusting it up or down a level depending on where your party actually is levelwise. It is a location-based sandbox, the party are free to wander around as they will within (and under) the ruined manor house and its grounds. Interestingly, although information gleaned here is useful in understanding what is going on as regards the adventure path as a whole, this adventure isn't strictly speaking necessary so don't worry if the party does not pick up on everything that might be found here. However, there is real danger here too, and the ramifications of that are discussed... after all, the purpose of this adventure is to give even the most jaded party a true jolt of fear!

The adventure opens with the party actually going to the house, something that ought to happen fairly quickly, a matter of days, after the previous adventure (Ignorance is Bliss). The opening scene depends on how quickly they go there, a neat reminder that the world goes on around them. With information and rumours to gather before they go, and plenty of detailed description to go with the maps and plans (replicated in player-friendly format in the accompanying map pack), you are provided with everything you need to cope with the party wandering around the place (although thorough study before you actually run the game will repay you with a deeper understanding of the significance of all that is to be found).

This is a thought-provoking adventure providing a wealth of background about one of the major antagonists of the adventure path. Some may find it dull but it will repay perseverence, even for those who are not enamoured of traditional 'horror' adventures, with opportunities for creative thought as well as giving opportunity for creative approaches to combat. It's a very mature adventure - as in grown up, not smutty(!) - that has the potential to become a memorable part of the party's history.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
From the Ashes - Adventure 3 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Ignorance is Bliss - Adventure 2 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2016 07:53:02

In the Introduction, the author muses on 'villany' as a concept and explains the differing natures and motivations of the three main antagonists in the What Lies Beyond Reason Adventure Path, of which this is the second adventure. The Adventure Background then introduces one of them - for the GM, the party will only get to know about this one and what she's really up to later on, although they will have met her unawares... There's also material about recent events and what is going on at the moment, to set the scene for this adventure. Good intentions go badly wrong, and that's when the party is finds someone in a catatonic state... they may choose to investigate or get hired to do so.

This is a 4th-level adventure, and the previous one in the Adventure Path should have ended with the party at 3rd-level. It's assumed you've run the odd side-adventure (the Campaign Guide has suggestions) but if for any reason you have not, there are notes for running this at 3rd-level - or if they've been really busy, further notes covering an adaptation to 5th-level. This adventure is a free-form investigation with plenty of clues scattered around, and multiple routes to solving the case - a neat way of letting the party loose.

Other notes cover alignment - with lots of the antagonists not being actually 'evil' per se, just really misguided, a party relying on alignment-based spells could be at a disadvantage. Ways around this are provided, but do try to keep the 'shades of grey' approach - after all, how many villains really think that they are evil? These ones don't, they all have good motivations for what they are up to, even if the rest of us might think that they have crossed a line. The final note talks about how aware the bad guys are of the party's investigations, providing a mechanism for them to become more and more alert and on edge, potentially influencing the final confrontation - a neat idea for this type of investigative adventure.

Throughout the adventure, there are events and clues a-plenty, with a few red herrings scattered amongst the clues that will lead the party to what is going on. It's well-resourced, with lots of little details to help you make it all come to life, and options for when the party goes in the opposite direction from the one intended or expected (and of course, parties tend to do that!), troubleshooting notes that give you clear ideas of what to do to keep the investigation on track without having to grab the party by the scruff of the neck. Investigation - as in moving around the city following clues and talking to people - is the main activity in this adventure, but those who prefer to get more physical will get opportunities to fight as well, particularly in the final scene... and there is an excellent chase scene as well!

There are a few new creatures and expansive notes on the main NPCs invovled, and good plans and notes of the building in which the climactic events take place. A map folder is included in the download providing large player-friendly maps of important locations. There are some 4th-level pregenerated characters too, in case for some reason you do not have your own party (or if you've been using the ones presented in earlier adventures and want them updated to an appropriate level).

It's a fun adventure to run and one which approaches an investigation-heavy scenario elegantly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ignorance is Bliss - Adventure 2 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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A Simple Job - Adventure 1 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2016 08:10:17

After an Introduction in which the author muses about the relative merits of 'sandbox' (freedom for the party to choose what they do in pursuit of their own goals) and 'railroad' (the party must follow a set path to accomplish adventure-set goals) adventures and explains that both sorts - and things inbetween - will be found in the adventure path of which this is the first adventure, we move on to a lengthy Adventure Path Introduction. Scene set, then the adventure itself which is intended to be a low-key introduction to the city of Anduria, and is a bit of an unapologetic railroad scenario. It's assumed that the party have played the introductory adventure Difficult Circumstances, but notes are provided to ease in those who have not.

The adventure itself is a series of simple (yeah, right) tasks that the party need to accomplish to fulfil a job they've been given by a merchant to retrieve and deliver some items on his behalf. It will take them all over the city and introduce them to some interesting folks. Intended for 2nd-level characters, which the party should be if they have played through Difficult Circumstances, notes are provided as to how to scale up the adventure to 3rd-level if, for example, you've run a side-adventure or two of your own before putting this one in front of the party. There are also notes on technology and on themes - both things discussed at further length in the Campaign Guide - and on the sometimes tricky question of sex - the errands include a visit to, ahem, a brothel. If that doesn't suit you and your players, advice on how to change that errand to something more innocuous is provided. Pregenerated characters and a map pack are provided to support your game.

The adventure involves a lot of travelling around what is a rather large city - eight miles across, quite massive in fantasy/mediaeval terms - and a variety of modes of transport are available. It can be time-consuming, and as written the adventure has a timetable to adhere to (although you could abandon that if you don't care for keeping track!), although plenty of notes are provided to help you keep on top of how long everything is taking. And of course there may be encounters and other delays from stopping for a pint of beer to getting arrested...

All the way through, there's lots of detail to make the scene come alive and notes on troubleshooting whenever the party deviates from the intended track. The various twists and turns in said intended track flow naturally, although forced it appears spontaneous - a neat trick to pull off. Opportunities to fight, negotiate and investigate abound, whatever your party enjoys doing will be catered for and there's never a dull moment... and, delightfully, just about everything the party does will have repercussions for good or for ill later on.

This is quite a delight, what urban adventures ought to be, taking full advantage of the setting to tell your story.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Simple Job - Adventure 1 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2016 07:35:50

It's a bit startling to find my name mentioned in the author's introduction (all I did was review the Player's Guide put out for the What Lies Beyond Reason Adventure Path of which this is the first adventure!), but once over that shock, let's move on to the Adventure Background. At this point in time, it's really only for the GM as the party is going to be thrust headlong into events without the option, but these are things they will be wanting to find out as the game proceeds, which gives another reason apart from it being useful for you to know what is going on!

It all starts in an inn, but this scenario takes that rather hackneyed opening and turns it into the adventure itself... as the whole building collapses under the weight of the storm the party is taking refuge from, depositing them into some underground caves where they find far more than they had bargained for... and once they emerge they face an overland trek to a hostile city. There's quite a cast of NPCs to get your head around, and some fascinating useful notes about how to make sure that the party, not them, remain at centre stage throughout - espeically useful as this adventure is designed for first-level characters and many of them have a few more levels under their belts.

Descriptions are detailed and atmospheric, and the party is invited to join in, with the assumption being that they are a random bunch of folks sheltering from the storm rather than an already-formed adventuring group (although it works fine if they are...). The underground cave system is clearly mapped - with top-down and side elevations to help you get the picture - and there's a map pack included with the download to provide plans for combat. Another neat touch is the trouble-shooting advice. "What if the party does/doesn't do...?" with plenty of suggestions of how to get around them failing to do something quite pivotal to the adventure - without a shred of railroading, either, all manner of subtle nuances and inventive workarounds to make sure that everything required for further adventures in the Adventure Path is in place.

The trip to the city is provided with several enounters which are worth including, you can add your own or 'handwave' the rest of the journey as best suits your style. Both the cavern exploration and the journey are designed to set characters a bit on edge, give them the feeling that something is very, very wrong; and everything that transpires should heighten that feeling. It gets no better on arrival, with a fledging riot outside the gates and unhelpful guards more interested in protecting the city than maintaining the peace. A tense negotiation follows...

There's a lot packed into this adventure, with spelunking, survival, combat, opportunities for interaction and more. Characters who survive to the end are likely to reach second level and know that they have embarked on no ordinary campaign... Definitely one to watch, one to enjoy (from either side of the GM screen)... and circumstances are only going to get more difficult!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Campaign Guide - What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2016 07:56:17

Designed as a GM resource (players, stay well away!), it's not actually necessary to run the Adventure Path but provides additional material that will enhance your game and offer wider options. It also gives the author a platform to share some of his ideas about underlying thoughts and concepts, a bit of a peek behind the curtain that may prove of interest - but does not, of course, dictate how it should be played.

The work is made up of six sections, beginning with Campaign Background. Compared to the backstory sections in the first three installments of the Adventure Path itself, this is a bit of a swift summary, capturing the high points and showing you how everything hangs together... and it all begins when a mismatched group of fledgling adventurers takes shelter from a storm in a ramshackle country inn. A synopsis of each adventure in the Adventure Path follows, highlighting important incidents and NPCs that you should bear in mind as the series progresses.

Next is a section on Running the Campaign, which looks at both in-game and out-of-game facets of the process. There's a lot here, beginning with the twin themes of thriller/horror and epic fantasy - and the need to maintain some level of good taste at your table. Some aspects may prove difficult for young or sensitive players and they are discussed here: points to bear in mind, but of course you know your players and what they can handle. The ramifications of the rarity of divine magic in the setting is discussed along with the general dim view that is taken of religion altogether. Signs and portents, rewards and punishment, redeption and atonement are all covered along with major NPCs, using 'reputation' and more.

This is followed by notes on the City Setting and a detailed City Gazetteer. Your party will spend a fair bit of time here, so it is worth getting to know it well so that you can present it to them effectively. There are maps and notes on locations and people the length and breadth of the city, along with details of law enforcement, crime and punishment and, well, everything you'll need to make the place come alive as a backdrop for the adventures.

Then there are suggestions for Alternate or Adjusted Campaigns. Perhaps there's something in the Adventure Path as written that you would like to change. Notes cover some of the headline aspects that you might want to vary, with ideas about how to go about it and how much such a change would alter the nature of the adventures (and indications of how much work you'd need to do to effect the change you have in mind). This is a refreshing change to most settings, where about the only thing touched upon is whether you want to run the adventures in your own campaign world rather than the one provided. (That option is included in case you want to use another city, however!)

Finally, there are four side-trek adventures you can weave in to the overall plot and a Bestiary with full details of all novel creatures that show up during the course of the entire Adventure Path. The side-treks enhance the plot, although their omission won't spoil anything (and they are quite fun!), and it's nice to have all these ghastly critters gathered into one place! The download also includes a map pack with a glorious city map and a few other useful maps of places in which brawls might take place - always useful!

Overall, this provides a thoughtful companion to the Adventure Path and is well worth study both before and during the time you are running it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Guide - What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2016 12:53:33

Perhaps it's a mistake to read an adventure about blood sacrifices over lunch, but this twisted tale involves a priestess who is busy gathering blood for her own nefarious purposes. A brief background and adventure summary lays out what is actually going on, and some adventure hooks are provided to help you entice the party into dealing with this menace... although at least one of them is closely entwined with the political scene in the Midgard Campaign Setting, the intended location for this adventure. If that is not where your game is set, you may want to come up with a reason of your own for why the local villages feel obliged to pay tribute in the form of blood in the first place... it is apparently a regular ritual by devotees of the Red Goddess, but normally a willing (and non-lethal) offering rather than one that is demanded. Suitably adapted, it could make a good side trek if you are running Curse of Strahd.

The adventure opens with the village elders of Karvolia requesting the party's help. They regularly provide a blood sacrifice to the Red Goddess, but a new priestess has moved into the area and the last group of people who went to donate blood have not returned... and now a second tribute has been requested far earlier than normal. The people selected to make it have already left. The party will have limited time to gather information before they set off to the priestess's location, the Blood Vaults, to find out what's going on and ensure that the villagers return home safely.

There's a brief description of how to get to the Blood Vaults and a clear plan of the place with detailed room descriptions including monsters, treasure, etc. Two new monsters and the priestess - Sister Alkava - are described in full including game statistics; for other monsters you will have to consult the SRD, Monster Manual or in one instance Kobold Press's Tome of Beasts for any details beyond the bare name of the creature.

In essence, this is a fairly straightforward delve. The monsters - including Sister Alkava - are not inclined to conversation or negotiation, all will have to be engaged in combat. What makes it interesting is Sister Alkava's motivations and how this links in to the underlying politics of the power structures in the area. Removing her will certainly remove a considerable menance not just to the village of Karvolia but to the wider area as a whole, and the possibility of rescuing some of the villagers makes it even more worthwhile.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
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Prepared! One Shot Adventures for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2016 08:19:19

The worthy intention of this book is to provide an array of ready-to-go scenarios for when you are too busy to spend time preparing for the next game. Crammed into a scant 27 pages, there are a dozen scenarios, each containing background information, adventure elements, area descriptions, and some ideas for continuing the story introduced in the scenario. They are classified by level, and are suitable for dropping in to whatever's going on in your campaign.

To save space, monster stat blocks are not provided, it is assumed that you have access to the Monster Manual and to the Tome of Beasts published by Kobold Press. However, what is excellent are the maps and plans provided along with the notes about what the party will find and what is going on in each scenario. Eachone starts with two or more 'adventure elements' which outline something that is occurring in the situation presented, something with which the party can interact. Several areas are then detailed, creative annotation of the plans provides insight in a consise manner, and each entry concludes with some questions that ought to inspire a few ideas for taking the adventure further.

So, has this achieved its purpose? As glorified encounters, each scenario works well and (apart from having to hunt up monster stats) you can run them with no more than a single read-through to discover what is taking place and how to get your party involved in the action. All the scenarios present interesting and intriguing situations and should prove entertaining. One neat thing is that they are not pure combat - whilst those who are looking for a fight will not be disappointed, there are frequent opportunities for interaction and investigation as well. You might even choose to include one or more of them in your ongoing plot, but they are certainly worth keeping to hand for that day when the players turn up and you have not had time to prepare!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Prepared! One Shot Adventures for 5th Edition
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Cat & Mouse for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2016 08:23:01

First level adventures have their own particular charm, with weak characters who will need to use wits as well as sword-arms and spellbooks to survive. This one, set in the City of Per-Bastet in the Southlands portion of the Midgard Campaign Setting, could make a good introductory adventure as it sends the party all over the city without presupposing that they've been there before. You may be able to find a suitable alternate location in your own campaign world: you need a desert city which is very fond of cats (or you will have to amend a lot of details in the adventure).

The adventure itself centres around a minor artefact and no less than three people (initially - others may join in once they get wind of it) who'd like to possess it. One of these key players hires the party to go after one of the others, who has already got hold of it (of course, she maintains that it was stolen from her...). It's up to the party what they do, they have a lot of freedom as to where they go and who they talk to in their quest. Depending on how they go about their business, a party could complete the entire adventure without bloodshed or find themselves in plenty of street-brawls. If they intend to stay in Per-Bastet their reputations will, of course, be established by their conduct. An interesting side-bar suggests how you can reward parties who prefer to use intrigue and cunning rather than force to achieve their ends. Those choosing force will, of course, gain XP based on their victories.

There are plenty of notes to help you set the scene, but if you are using the adventure as written in the city of Per-Bastet you can find even more details in the Southlands setting book also published by Kobold Press. Most of the action takes place in the Perfume District and there's enough of a map to give you an idea of its layout (think narrow twisting streets, crowds, stalls - pretty much a traditional North African/Arab souk!). There is also a good map of one of the antagonist's dwelling - a typical riad (house around a courtyard) - and one of a plaza outside a cat temple, as well as the somewhat bizarre lair of another personage who gets involved halfway through the tale, and a couple more for places the party is likely to visit.

The ending is open-ended: it is up to the party - assuming they get hold of the artefact - to decide what to do with it. Any choice will have its consequences, which will be of greater significance if they decide to stay in town... and should they have completed their business in some style, they will find themselves well on the way to being players themselves in Per-Bastet affairs. It's an excellent low-level adventure with the potential to kick off an epic campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cat & Mouse for 5th Edition
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