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New Paths 5: Expanded Monk and Ninja (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2016 10:23:42

Properly practised, the martial arts are a way of life, not just a way to knock seven bells out of the opposition! It's good to see a supplement that reflects this... for who after all can ignore the allure of the almost-legendary unarmed warrior that is the monk, or the sneaky, skilled assassin that is the ninja?


This book sets out to provide alternative and enhanced ways in which to play such characters. It starts off with some monk archetypes: the Beast-Soul Monk (who takes the concept of animal-styles to an extreme), the Clockwork Monk (which is what you get when a gearforged - a character race unique to the Midgard setting from Kobold Press - decides to take up martial arts), the Monk of the Compliant Style Rod (who specialises in use of the bo staff), the Monk of the Glorious Endeavour (who seeks enlightenment through the mastery of but a single weapon, he won't even touch anything else), the Monk of the Peerless Mountain (who specialises in kick attacks, think savate), the Paper Drake Monk (whose philosphy is rooted in origami...), and the Six Talismans Monk (dedicated to protecting others through the use of magic items as well as martial skills). Whatever sort of monk you want to be, you'll find something of interest here.


Then attention turns to the ninja, with some new master tricks to expand on the class abilities, and of course new archetypes: the Elemental Ninja (who utilises knowledge of the elements alongside acrobatics and martial skills) and the Mist Stalker (who is exceptionally stealthy, using shadows and mists - natural or otherwise - to advantage).


Next there is a selection of new feats which could suit anyone wanting to use the martial arts, built around several new martial arts styles. Each style gives you progressive access to a list of feats to enable you to develop your skill in a particular direction. If that's not enough there are also some new exotic weapons with which to get to grips... fancy attacking with a horse tail whisk, an iron flute or a farmer's hoe?


In summary, then, this supplement provides a lot more options for monks and ninjas, a chance to develop a distinctive style and achieve renown as a legend in your own lifetime.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths 5: Expanded Monk and Ninja (Pathfinder RPG)
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New Paths 4: Expanded Battle Scion (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 12:06:16

This variant base class describes what might be thought of as an 'arcane paladin' - someone who has combat and spell-casting skills but who wields arcane rather than divine power. One particular neat ability they have is to loose a 'force blast' - a bolt of pure arcane power - at their foes. Acting a bit like a magic missile, the strength of the blast increases as the Battle Scion rises in level, although the number of times a day he can fire one remains constant.


Full details are provided to enable you to create and play a Battle Scion character. There is also a couple of archetypes - the Force Blaster (who specialises in using his force blast to effect) and the Bonded Scion (who bases his abilities on his link with a bonded weapon) - and some new feats and new magic items with which to equip your Battle Scion. Of particular interest are three items said to have belonged to a legendary Battle Scion, one Gax (who is the hero of the bit of flavour fiction at the beginning of this work) - his armour, shield and sword are there awaiting a new hero.


Finally there's a Prepared Spell Tracking Sheet to help you keep your spells in order, another neat idea. (I used to use index cards, one per spell, which I'd lay out on my table when I chose spells, but that was a long time ago...)


This is a rather nice base class which provides a good role for someone who wants to mix powerful fighting skills with appropriate battle magic, but who doesn't want to be lawful good or committed to the service of a specific deity. Well worth a look...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths 4: Expanded Battle Scion (Pathfinder RPG)
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Harndex: A HarnWorld Reference and Glossary
Publisher: Columbia Games Inc.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2016 07:45:03

Now in its third edition, for the first time Hârndex is available as a stand-alone work. It still fulfills the same purpose, being an alphabetical general reference sourcebook for anyone using the Hârn setting for their game.


Entries fall into several broad categories: geographical, economic, guild, religion, culture and politics. Many are taken from the first (1983) and second (1990) editions of the book (which was relased as one component of the core setting material along with HârnWorld), but it also contains material from the 'Hârnic Dictionary' that was part of the 1994 work HârnPlayer, and more. This is explained in the introduction, along with a note on pronuciation, which it claims is phonetic apart from the letter Y which is treated as a vowel. Being a Welsh-speaker, I expect Y to be a vowel so I guess I have been getting the names correct anyway!


Then it's straight off into the As, with Aaldem Keep coming first. For places, the information includes what kingdom or other region it's in, how many people live there, who is in charge and to whom they owe allegiance, as well as some notes giving flavour to the place. Other entries have similar details as appropriate to their subject, all aimed at presenting Hârn as a living world with which your characters and your plots can interact.


The text is scattered with diagrams, maps, badges and other illustractive material as well, and there is plenty of cross-referencing. Where appropriate, map references (quite general, but it's not too hard to locate places) are also given. For those who like mediaeval manuscripts, there's an added delight in the illuminated letter that heads each section A, B, C... and so on.


Like any such directory, this is a book to dip into, to refer to, rather than one to sit down and read end-to-end. Nevertheless it makes for fascinating reading, and is a good way to have an overview of the entirity of Hârn all in one place for ready reference. Whilst it is billed as a gamemaster resource, a well-educated Hârn native would probably know most or not all of what is here, so you may choose to give your players access.


It's an excellent resource, well worth keeping to hand as you explore and adventure in Hârn!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Harndex: A HarnWorld Reference and Glossary
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HarnWorld Master Module, 3rd Edition
Publisher: Columbia Games Inc.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/22/2016 08:37:16

This is the latest incarnation of possibly the most detailed and comprehensive fantasy setting ever: Hârn. It's a place I've been prowling - or at least my characters have but it's so realistic it's easy to forget that you haven't visited there yourself! - for many a year, even though in one memorable game my bard was kicked out of the city of Thay and told never to return! The Introduction explains the history of this setting from its first appearance in 1983 to the present, and lays out how it is organised. This book is itself an introduction, an overview. In some ways the real meat, the detail that makes the setting so glorious, is to be found in Hârndex and in the component articles of the Encyclopaedia Hârnica - these articles are available as looseleaf punched pages (or PDFs) enabling you to collect just the ones you need. (You'll probably end up wanting all of them, Hârn is addictive!)


It starts with an overview of Hârn itself, a large island, a wild and dangerous land, where pockets of civilization are surrounded by large tracts of wilderness. Those pockets of civilisation are mostly feudal kingdoms, but apart from the squabbling that is inevitable when you have lots of lordlings each with an armed retinue, there are religious quarrels, barbarian hordes, unexplored expanses and much more to keep your characters occupied. Oh, and there are elves, dwarves, orcs and even stranger races to be found there as well. Maps abound - both in the book itself and the large one that accompanies it - and serve to make the place become 'real'. It's hard to remember that it isn't lurking somewhere nearby, just waiting for you to visit.


Overview done, there's a section on Culture, wich consists of sub-sections summarising each of the kingdoms and other groupings to be found on Hârn. Each provides a brief history, notes on government, economy and more, along with the coat of arms (heraldry is big on Hârn - and yes, there's a supplement on it if you want to learn more) and a list of the separate articles that particularly contribute to knowledge of that area. These are followed by sub-sections covering tribes and other races.


Next is a section on Government (although this has been touched on briefly already). Here is a good explanation of what a feudal system actually is, and how such a society is structured. It's to be remembered that in a true feudal system, the lord has just as many obligations as the vassal who owes him service - the rights and obligations operate in both directions. Good lords realise this and take their duty of care and obligations seriously... but some do not, and it can be quite hard to rid yourself of such a tyrant! There are details of what rights and responsibilities are in the monarch's purview, and what constitutes the royal court: offices and responsibilities. Then the discussion passes on to shires and eventually down to manors, the smallest division of land, showing how everything (and everybody) interlink.


Not everyone is settled on the land, however, so the next section looks at Cities. There are eight on Hârn, although most are pretty small. Only about 10% of the population lives in a city, and the largest has about twelve thousand citizens. Again the governance and structure is discussed, with the various offices and customs, how law and order is maintained and so on.


The next section deals with Guilds, with a colourful page showing all the guild badges, and notes on how the guilds operate. If you have a good grasp of mediaeval European history, all of this is familiar territory - and if you don't it makes a good primer, clearly explained. Guilds control virtually all trades (it was a difference of opinion with a guild that got my character kicked out of Thay!) and they wield significant power within urban locales. This section is followed by one on Economics, which includes the coins to be found on Hârn and extensive price lists for just about everything you might want to purchase... and then looks at typical incomes: can you afford what you want to buy? And then there are taxes. And tolls. And guild dues if applicable. There's no escaping those.


The discussion moves on to Trade and then to Religion. Here it gets interesting. The GM needs to decide if the gods are real or not. As far as folk living on Hârn it makes no different, they think they are real anyway. Only the GM knows if anyone's listening to their prayers or if they are deluded. Whatever you decide, there's plenty of detail on the various deities worshipped in Hârn. This section provides organisations and cults to join, as well as doctrines to discuss, and the (real or perceived) differences between the gods which are played out on the mortal realm.


The next section is History. The first inhabitants of Hârn were the Earthmasters, but very little is known about them. Since their day, lost to legend, several waves of people have arrived, with humans but the last, arriving some 2,000 years ago. Since then history consists of wars and power struggles, that have shaped the landscape as it is known today. Empires rose and fell, kingdoms were established... the usual sweep of history, but all told in a vivid manner, you can imagine younglings hearing all this from their tutors.


Now, while Hârn as a setting is independent of ruleset (although you might want to try HârnMaster that was written for it) you might want to tweak characters to suit the setting, so there's a selection of tables to determine where and when characters were born (and even into what race...). This rules-ish section continues with information on things like travel times around Hârn and how the weather works.


If you want an incredibly detailed and realistic setting for your adventures, start here! You'll soon be hooked, and wanting to delve more deeply into the experience that is Hârn.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
HarnWorld Master Module, 3rd Edition
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New Paths: Expanded Shaman (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2016 11:38:02

This work introduces the shaman as a alternative base class. Shamans hold that everything has a spirit and they form connections with these spirits, gaining strength and knowledge from them. In game terms, the shaman is a mystic who might be seen as a variant druid given his closeness to the world around him, but who has spontaneous casting abilities rather than having to prepare spells ahead of time. They are skilled healers and have shapeshifting abilities as well.


There are all the resources you need to create and play a shaman character. The spell-casting ability draws on the divine, based on the druid lists, but a shaman can cast any spell he knows based on a daily level-based allotment of spells. However, they begin play not knowing many spells, and learn new ones slowly as they rise in level. Every so often they are able to exchange a spell for another of the same level but they don't go around collecting new ones as some spell-users are able to do.


Each shaman has a spirit guide who takes the form of an animal and acts as a companion animal. A list of animals is provided, some being a bit more practical than others... I mean, how do you travel around with a carp as a companion? Do you keep him in a bowl? Some of the larger animals might be awkward or unwelcome in an urban setting, although it's likely that the shaman himself won't want to stay there for long.


To get you started, there are three archetypes - the elemental shaman (who connects with the elemental forces of nature in preference to animal and plant spirits), the primal shifter (who concentrates on shape-changing abilities), and the witch doctor (who communicates with the spirits of the dead in order to guide and inform the living). Some new spells and feats are also presented, and there are 'character sheets' to accommodate favoured wild shapes (for shape-shifters) and the spirit guide.


It's an interesting new class and quite distinct from the druid, even given the affinity with nature. Plenty of potential for some fascinating characters, particularly when wilderness adventures and a lot of travelling form part of your game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths: Expanded Shaman (Pathfinder RPG)
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New Paths: Expanded Spell-Less Ranger (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2016 10:26:26

This base class variant is based around a premise that seems to strike the author rather hard: why should a ranger, of all people, cast spells? The argument is compelling. If you look at what a ranger can do - track and scout, live off the land, fight well, hunt - there doesn't seem to be much need for magic. Moreover, although ranger-style characters feature in fantasy literature, none of them have chucked spells around.


So here is presented a variant on the standard ranger class who doesn't use spells at all. Instead, he has a devastating stealth attack and an array of 'talents' to choose as he rises in level. There's also a nature's healing ability which grants bonuses to Heal checks when the ranger is in a favoured environment.


As well as all the information required to create and play a Spell-less Ranger, there are some new feats and a couple of archetypes - the Dual-Style Ranger (who hones his combat skills) and the Companion-Bound Ranger (who is exceptionally close to his animal companion). Finally there are some notes on ranger fighting styles, drawing on the Advanced Player's Guide, a character sheet for an animal companion and a couple of tracking sheets for the ranger's abilities.


Overall, it's a nice package. I've played many a ranger over the years and always felt that magic didn't sit well with the few of them that got high enough in level to use it, so this makes a useful addition to the options available.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths: Expanded Spell-Less Ranger (Pathfinder RPG)
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A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide: A Game of Thrones Edition
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/18/2016 07:43:00

This is a revised and 'cleaned up' revamp of the original Campaign Guide, with the information exactly the same as the original. They've changed stat blocks some, and added new art, but that's about it.


So, as a 'setting guide' to the well established continent of Westeros (and beyond), this book provides a wealth of detail about the setting, a magnificent gazetteer, history lesson and more to devlve into: it makes good reading if you like the books and want to know more about the world in which they are set, never mind run a game there!


The Introduction sets out its stall, opening with the oft-heard words 'Winter is coming'. It's a foreboding, a growing sense that the state of affairs is precarious and teetering on the edge of total war, not just the petty bickerings of the various lordlings of the Seven Kingdoms but something far worse. Like the core rulebook, the assumption is made that the present day is just before the starting point of the books. Robert Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, Westeros is basically at peace, and the exiled remnants of the Targaryen family are somewhere across the sea bemoaning their fate. It's before the War of the Five Kings but after Greyjoy's Rebellion. Specifically, the game focuses on the last year before the start of A Game of Thrones. This provides an interesting tension: will things play out as they do in the books or will what your group does literally change the path of history in Westeros. Maybe the book's events provide the backdrop against which your own adventures will be played out, sometimes sweeping the party up and other times occuring in the background whilst your game focusses on other things.


On to Chapter 1: A History of Westeros. A vast and sweeping history this is, and here we read of the knowledge commonly held by maesters, septons, and other chroniclers of history, the sort of thing a well-educated local with an interest in the past would know. A lot of that history is filled with warfare and bloodshed. We read of the earliest days before the First Men, of an age of heroes, of the building of the Wall and the foundation of the Night's Watch. The first houses are formed, and strands laid down that have an effect through the ages to the present. The effects of the peculiar climate are seen, with the Long Night condemning a whole generation to life in winter's grip, ending in the War for the Dawn. On to the coming of the Andals with their new gods, the Seven, and their new ways, adding six new kingdoms to the Kingdom of the North. Eventually about three centuries before the present, the Targaryens came to Westeros from their island stronghold complete with dragons. Under their rule, the positions of the noble houses were consolidated into the pattern known today. It makes for a fascinating read.


Next is Chapter 2: Westeros Culture. This explores what it is like to live on Westeros, and opens with the startling statement that there are few laws and little justice! It rests instead on the whims of local lordlings to keep the peace in their domains. Most agree that murderers, rapists and thieves need to be dealt with, but there is nothing like a code of law to refer to when deciding what to do with them and the severity of any punishment, indeed the finding of guilt, can depend as much on who the perpetrator was as on what they did. Other topics include hospitality, marriage, inheritance and lordship... not to mention how such a dynastic society copes with bastards! Pastimes such as hunting and feasting are covered, then we move on to the important topic of social status and rank. We also read about commerce, clothing, arms and armour and food and drink. Unsurprisingly for a place with such a long and rich history, songs and stories feature large as entertainment. Religion and knighthood are also covered, along with the work of the maesters. This section ends with a big map, covering two pages, which sets the scene nicely for the remainder of the book which contains an analysis of Westeros, region by region.


Beginning with King's Landing, each chapter follows a common pattern detailing the history and geography of the region in question. Then come notes on important locations and notable organisations and individuals to be found there. Many people come complete with a stat block: your party might encounter them, after all. Each chapter ends with brief notes (and the coats of arms) of the minor noble houses affiliated with whoever's in charge. Perhaps your group will form one of these houses, or use them as a model when creating their own.


Following King's Landing, complete with the ruling house of Baratheon, chapters cover Dragonstone, The North, the Iron Islands, the Riverlands, the Mountains of the Moon and the Vale of Arryn, the Westerlands, the Reach, the Stormlands and finally Dorne. But there's more! Chapter 13: Beyond Westeros looks at the eastern lands - the Free Cities, the Dothraki Sea and more, all again handled in the same manner as parts of Westeros; the finally Chapter 14: Exploring Westeros is mostly addressed to the Narrator (GM) and talks about creating the right look and feel, the atmosphere of Westeros, for the group as they adventure there. Many themes are suggested here, intrigue and scheming of course, but betrayal, cruelty and vengence also loom large. So do sex, tarnished victories and the need for children to grow up real fast. With all these things, care should be taken to find a balance between a gritty and realistic world and a repellant gore-fest. It also addresses the issue I mentioned earlier: with the game's timeline starting just before the events of the books, how do you accommodate the events portrayed therein? Various ideas are presented here, leading on to a discussion on stories and chronicles in general. Plenty of ideas to get you thinking round off the book.


This is a fantastic account of a wonderful setting, a great guide on how to translate the setting of a favoured novel or TV show into game terms, retaining the full flavour of the original yet providing ample support to help you make it your own. If you have the original edition, it's probably not worth the upgrade, but if you don't, make sure you get this edition. Winter is coming, to be sure, but what are YOU going to do about it?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide: A Game of Thrones Edition
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A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Tablet Edition
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2016 08:44:04

Opening with an Introduction that gives an overview of the adventure in which you are about to embark, the freedom and excitement of role-playing, taking control of your own character's destiny in a shared story, rather than watching or reading what others (writers, actors, directors...) have decided he should do; and explains the roles of Narrator (this game's term for the Game Master or GM) and players, then there's a brief overview of the contents of the book and we're off!


First up is an overview of the setting in Chapter 1: A Westeros Primer. If you are interested in this work you have probably read George R.R. Martins' novels or watched the TV show Game of Thrones already, but here's a fascinating account of the land and the people that dwell thereon from the pen of one Maester Jesiah - looking almost like an illuminated manuscript complete with the sigils of major houses. For this game is all about power struggles and intrigues - although there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to get more physical here as well - as the houses vie for power, position and perhaps the Iron Throne itself (which is said to be remarkably uncomfortable as a chair, whatever it might represent). The history is written from a standpoint of about the time the story in the novels begins... which may of course unfold quite differently in your hands.


The chapter continues with further notes. Knights are central to many of the stories told here, but they are by no means the only players in the Game of Thrones. Still, concepts of chivalry and the importance of rank and of bloodline run deep. There's an outline of how the land is governed and law works - mostly at the whim of whichever lordling is in control, by right of birth or of conquest, at that place. Details of technology, of religious beliefs, of the concept of knighthood as practised here, of maesters and more are also to be found in this chapter. Essential reading to give an overview of the setting.


Next, Chapter 2: Game Rules provides a look at the game mechanics underpinning A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. They are based around fists-full of d6s, with bonuses and modifiers as appropriate. Put simply, to attempt a task you decide which ability applies and use that to decide how many dice to roll - these are your Test Dice. If you qualify for a bonus, you get to add more dice to your roll, but then select the highest ones to the number of Test Dice you have. Modifiers are numerical additions or subtractions from the result achieved with the Test Dice. The aim is you test your abilities against a Narrator-set difficulty for the task you are trying to perform. That's the basics, and there are plenty of examples and special cases to show you how it all works. It's more straightforward than it looks at first glance, and soon becomes second nature.


We then dive straight in to characters, beginning with a series of archetypes for those who don't want to go through all the effort of creating one from scratch. These can of course be customised to suit your specific needs and desires. These come as Adults or Young Adults - youthful characters can be quite potent in the Game of Thrones, particularly if they are heirs to one of the houses. However, if you'd rather create your own character from the ground up, move on swiftly to Chapter 3: Character Creation and find out how it's done.


Now it gets interesting. The assumption is that the players get together and create members of a single noble house. Thus individual and group fortunes are tied together, success and failure affect everybody. So you start off by designing, as a group, your house and lands. Only then do you consider the role you wish to play in that house. In creating that character, first you decide his age (banded from youths under 9 to venerable people over the age of 80) and status (from 1-6). These can be chosen or rolled randomly as preferred, although it may be best if everyone uses the same method! Then you start fleshing out the character with things like the area of expertise you're after - Expert, Leader, Rogue, Schemer, or Warrior - backgrounds, goals, etc. Only then do you get to grips with determining abilities and other things that tie into the game mechanics directly. As everyone is affilitated to the same house, you'll need to ensure that all aspects you want are covered. High status comes at a price - rank is bought from the same pool of points as your other abilities! There is plenty of guidance - and lots of examples - to help you through the process.


The next couple of chapters - Chapter 4: Abilities and Specialities and Chapter 5: Destiny and Qualities - go into great depth about all the options available and how to use them to best effect once the game begins. Choose carefully, these are the building blocks upon which your character will stand or fall.


Then comes the fascinating Chapter 6: Houses and Lands. We've already touched on the notion that the default is a group of characters associated with the same house. Here we learn how to create, as a group, that house. It's recommended that you do this before you create individual characters, so that you'll already have an idea of the place into which each of them will have to fit - but others may prefer to create characters first and build a house around them, so do not feel constrained, pick whatever seems right for you as a group. You start by deciding where in the Realms you're based (or you can roll for it). The first time I did this, it was a cold day and we unanimously decided to build in the deserts of Dorne on account that it was warm there! There are lots of ideas and notes to help as the process continues, choosing resourcesm, determining the history of your house, and so on. Of course, some groups may choose to play individual characters without this common bond, others may prefer to represent a noble house apiece and vie with each other rather than with NPC nobles for power and status. It's up to you - but this is a good manual for designing houses, and indeed quantifying the existing ones too. And if you want to be the Starks or the Lannisters, go right ahead! There's even advice on choosing a motto (or 'Words' as they're known in Westeros) and a coat of arms for your house. Whilst in the books houses go for sigils and colours, here there's a primer on standard European heraldry to help you create a good-looking and effective coat of arms. The final step is to describe the household - some people will be your characters, but most will be NPCs, but you will know who they are and what they are like.


After Chapter 7: Equipment gets you all the stuff you need, there are separate chapters on the three ways your characters will interact with the world and everyone in it: Intrigue, Combat and Warfare. Each is a mix of ideas and concepts and the game mechanics you need to make them happen. Although it comes over as if you can reduce everything to rolls of the dice, these are the guidelines, the element of chance in an uncertain world - it's what your characters say and do that is important, and a good Narrator will focus on role-play, interactions and planning far more than the fall of dice.


Speaking of the Narrator, Chapter 11: The Narrator provides a wealth of material to aid him in designing and running adventures and campaigns. Ideas are presented in the way major characters in the novels embodied them, be it Lord Eddard Stark facing dilemmas, his wife Catelyn living up to expectations, Petyr Baylish's treachery or Ser Barristan Selmy showing the influence of history on the present... and there's more, of course. There's also detailed advice about making the rules work for your story.


Overall, it's a fine representation of the novels and TV show in game terms, with plenty to think about as you embark on the Game of Thrones! See if your house will become a power behind the Iron Throne or even see a member of it sitting there, or perhaps you will be safer but more obscure... but remember, Winter is coming!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Tablet Edition
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A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/16/2016 08:42:22

This revised version of the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying came about due to the increased popularity of George R.R. Martins' work brought about by the TV adaptation Game of Thrones. The core ruleset is unchanged, although errata have been applied. A short introductory adventure - the one from the Quick Start - and a longer one, Peril at King's Landing (also available as a separate book), are also included to get you off to a flying start. The artwork is even better than before, and overall presentation improved as well. The Introduction explains all this, as well as having the usual 'What is a role-playing game?' information.


Chapter 1: A Westeros Primer is concerned with the setting. It opens with notes from Maester Jesiah (looking almost as if he'd written them himself, illuminated manuscript style), which give an overview of the history, current affairs and geography of Westeros. Fascinating reading, followed by a set of notes on life in Westeros - the legal situation (mostly down to the whim of the local lordling although many take their responsibilities seriously), the current state of technology, religion, ending with knighthood and the role of the maester.


Next, Chapter 2: Game Rules covers the basics of how to play the game. The core game mechanic is based around fists-full of d6s, with bonuses and modifiers as appropriate. Put simply, to attempt a task you decide which ability applies and use that to decide how many dice to roll - these are your Test Dice. If you qualify for a bonus, you get to add more dice to your roll, but then select the highest ones to the number of Test Dice you have. Modifiers are numerical additions or subtractions from the result achieved with the Test Dice. The aim is you test your abilities against a Narrator-set difficulty for the task you are trying to perform. That's the basics, and there are plenty of examples and special cases to show you how it all works. It's more straightforward than it looks at first glance, and soon becomes second nature. This chapter ends with some character archetypes - use these as exemplars or even for your own character, or just as guidelines as you move on to Chapter 3: Character Creation.


The whole business of character creation is intended to be a communal effort, as the default mode of playing the game is for the characters to be all members of (or associated with) a single noble house. So in creating the character, you are also laying a lot of the groundwork towards designing a house (although that is covered in more detail in Chapter 6: Houses and Lands). Whilst Chapter 3 takes you through the process, Chapter 4: Abilities and Specialities and Chapter 5: Destiny and Qualities provide the fine detail of the choices that you need to make, and also explain how you use everything you pick to effect with the game mechanics. Well worth a good read through before you start off making your characters, a thorough understanding will aid you in creating potent characters which complement one another. Once you have done, Chapter 7: Equipment ensures your characters have everything that they need.


The next three chapters cover Intrigue, Combat and Warfare: the main occupations of the average noble house on Westeros. Each could be reduced to a series of die rolls, but of course - especially in the case of intrigue - there is plenty more scope than that, each of these activities has scope for ample role-playing with the dice merely adding the element of chance ito an uncertain world. It is the combination of players and Narrator that will bring the game to life with role-play, interactions and planning taking precedence over the fall of the dice.


Speaking of the Narrator, Chapter 11 is devoted to a masterclass in how to run the game with a wealth of material to aid you in designing and running adventures and campaigns. Ideas are presented in the way major characters in the novels embodied them, be it Lord Eddard Stark facing dilemmas, his wife Catelyn living up to expectations, Petyr Baylish's treachery or Ser Barristan Selmy showing the influence of history on the present... and there's more, of course. There's also detailed advice about making the rules work for your story, on managing play during sessions and so on.


The rest of the book contains the two adventures, being a Journey to King's Landing and Peril in King's Landing once you get there. They serve as a good introduction to Westeros and the game of thrones in general, and are good fun as the characters get involved in a tournament and all the intrigue going on around it. These will get your campaign off to a flying start, with plenty of scope for further development.


Set just before the time of the books (and TV show), make your own mark on Westeros. Perhaps it will be one of your characters that will sit on the Iron Throne - although be warned, it's said to be very uncomfortable!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
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New Paths 8: the Trickster (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2016 09:54:04

In this, the eighth of the New Paths series, we meet the Trickster, a crafty scoundrel who always seems to come out on top using a mix of stealth and other dubious skills, arcane study and innate casting ability. Outwitting and outthinking their enemies is their specialty, but a sneaky well-targeted spell or a dagger in the back will do as opportunity offers itself.


There's a magnificent full-page illustration, then the text launches into all the game mechanical information required for this new base class. The Trickster's spell casting abilities are particularly interesting: although he has to choose and learn his spells in advance, he can cast any spell he's learned as many times as he likes until he's used up his daily capacity to cast spells of that level. Sneak attacks, the ability to cast spells with a range of touch sneakily, and more are in his repertoire, and he can choose to be an acrobat and can even pilfer other people's spells... and cast them!


The character sounds great fun to play, with an innate curiousity and mischievous nature which would be particularly suited to urban adventuring and games in which interaction as well as combat feature large. There's no exemplar character, though, if you want to play one you'll have to settle down and create the character from scratch.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths 8: the Trickster (Pathfinder RPG)
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Night's Watch
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2016 08:50:24

Whilst all the noble houses are engrossed in the Game of Thrones - and those beholden to them get caught up in it, like it or not, especially when scheming turns to open skirmishing - there is one group that remains aloof, dedicated to a higher purpose. That purpose is the defence of Westeros from those that dwell in the far north, and that group is the Night's Watch. Clad in their distinctive black, they live an almost monastic existence - only men are accepted, and they are not permitted to marry - leaving home and family to serve until death on the Wall. This book contains all you need to know to create characters who are members of the Watch, run a Night's Watch campaign or otherwise have them feature in whatever is going on in your game.


The Introduction gives an overview of the Night's Watch and its role in Westeros society, and talks about how a Night's Watch campaign might appeal - especially to those who fancy exploration and combat (including combat against supernatural powers) over intrigue and scheming. There is a timeline showing the history of the Night's Watch and the Wall they are sworn to defend - it's been standing for over 8,000 years.


Then Chapter 1: The Night's Watch looks at every aspect of the organisation. It starts by looking at why anyone might take the black (as enlisting in the Night's Watch is commonly termed) - some by choice and some perforce... it is often offered to convicted criminals as an alternative to execution. One of the few truly egalitarian organisations in Westeros, it's somewhere that you prosper by your own merits alone without reference to your birth or status. Some younger sons who feel they'll never get a chance at heading up their house take this route, but so do some smallfolk who reckon they have the capability to be knights but lack the social standing. It can also provide better prospects for a bastard son than remaining at home ever could in the fiercely dynastic society of Westeros.


Once arrived all potential recruits undergo a common training. No matter where they come from or what their background might be, they learn to use a longsword and a heavy shield. Only those who were annointed knights before taking the black are excused - and they are expected to teach their martial skills to others. Only once a recruit has passed this basic training does he swear his oath - by the deities of their choice, there is a sept and a godswood available - and become a sworn brother of the Night's Watch. Then they are assigned to one of the various branches of service. Rangers go out into the wilderness north of the Wall, exploring and patrolling. Stewards practise crafts, hunt, farm and undertake administrative duties. Builders look after the fabric of the Wall itself, and of the castles built along its length.


Next we read ideas for running a Night's Watch campaign, beginning with some plot seeds to enliven the journey north and the training period should you decide to begin with the party having just decided (or been forced) to take the black. This is followed by a considerable amount of detail about the three branches, peppered with sample characters, and a look at society amongst the Watch and the ways in which they perceive status - seniority, length of service and accomplishment. The few actual offices - Lord Commander and the Firsts of each branch - are elected for life. There's quite a bit about desertion as well, more common than you might imagine given that it carries a death sentence. Notes explain how to incorporate this aspect into a more conventional game as a deserter or the Sworn Brothers chasing him interact with the party's house. The rest of the chapter covers creating specifically Night's Watch characters from scratch, as well as some archetypes to start you off, serve as exemplars or to use if you're in a hurry. Use these in conjuction with the regular rules to create characters best suited to take the black. There are also notes about creating castles along the Wall, perhaps to serve as your party's base of operations.


Moving on to Chapter 2: The Wall and the Gift, we read about the Wall in more detail - its history, what it's like and even how to get over it, not to mention defending it and the castles dotted along its length. Chief of these is Castle Black, the Night's Watch headquarters. Plenty of detail here to make it come to life in your game. Most of the others are abandoned, but there are short notes about each which may be expanded if you decide to reactivate them. Then we learn about the Gift, land immediately south of the Wall granted to the Night's Watch to enable them to be self-supporting. This chapter also contains information about day to day life and several mini-adventures based on ranging, as the patrols of the rangers are known, and other aspects of Night's Watch life.


Chapter 3: Beyond the Wall looks at those who live north of the Wall and the terrain in which they live. Read about the Free Folk and their society, the giants who ally with them, and the King-beyond-the-Wall who leads them, as well as other clans found in the frozen wastes. The geography is explained (as much as it is known...), and all the resources needed to create Wildling characters of your own are provided. You can also create entire tribes. Notes on combat beyond the Wall and the environmental hazards are followed by a selection of scenario ideas covering life amongst the Free Folk.


Finally Chapter 4: Lords of the Long Night addresses the Others, supernatural beings thought by some to be mere legend but who - as winter approaches - are beginning to appear again. There are more scenario ideas, but a word of warning: unlike virtually everthing else in this game, this section draws more on the authors' imaginations than the setting provided by George R.R. Martins! Purists may wish to leave this aside, others may find it a logical and worthwhile expansion - up to you to decide.


Overall, this book brings the Night's Watch to life and provides loads of scope for adventure. My only complaint is that venturing this close to the Wall is too darn cold!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Watch
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A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2016 09:04:32

Central both to the books of George R.R. Martin and the TV show, and hence to the game as well, are the noble houses and the never-ending dance of the Game of Thrones. Although there's a lot of support in the core rulebook for the process of creating your own houses to provide an original focus for your game, it can be quite a daunting prospect. This book is in effect a worked example of the house creation process, and can fill many roles. Perhaps you like one of these houses well enough to take it on as your own. Perhaps the Narrator will use all or some of them as the other houses with which yours interacts. There is also an expansion of the Riverlands region, where it is assumed that these houses are to be found - although only one actually holds allegiance to the Tullys who rule over them. Maybe at this time of relative peace they don't mind too much! Finally, there's a plotline to kickstart a new chronicle and enable your new house to make a start at making their mark on Westeros.


The houses and their allegiances are: Barnell (which looks to the Starks), Bartheld (Baratheon), Dulver (Lannister), Kytley (Frey), Marsten (Arryn) and Tullison (Tully). In many ways it is the houses, rather than individuals, who are the players in the Game of Thrones, and these house provide ample scope. They are, however, all quite nice... nicer than many (most?) of those found in the books, although there is a note with each one about how to run them in a darker manner if so wished. For each house there is a history, their arms and words, a stat block and information on their holdings, style and much, much more. There are detailed notes on persons of note in each house (including full character stat blocks) with plenty of background to enable you to bring them to life. Mostly they hang together well - even if Bartheld appears to think it's called Hart House half the time, Hart House being the name of their principle residence but it comes over rather confusing! - and the characters are interesting and well-developed. Plenty of scope here...


The middle section of the book is devoted to the Riverlands, presenting corners of the region suitable for annexation by a house of the group's own devising if they don't want to play any of the ones provided. There's also the delightful Market Town, determined to live free of noble influence, serving as neutral territory and home to many a scheme and plot. There are also various traditions, events and locations suitable for incorporation into whatever is going on in your game. Each listing is replete with interesting characters and other snippets poised to breathe life into proceedings, as well as many ideas for plots.


Finally there is the Iron Plot. This is an adventure that begins in the party's own house, but takes the characters far afield about the business of the house's liege lord. It can serve as an introduction to a whole series of adventures, a jumping-off point for your whole chronicle. It also provides opportunities to introduce some of the major players in Westeros, the ones well-known from the books or TV screen, into your game, rubbing shoulders - crossing swords or wits even - with members of the party. Part of the adventure involves investigating another house, and two options are provided for the target house - both ones listed in this book. but of course the party may be part of one of them. It all ends, of course, with a good brawl... but one which leaves as many questions as it answers, great scope for further adventure.


This is indeed a shining example of what you can do with this ruleset - a resource you can mine or just an exemplar for your own creations, but well worthy of being picked up by any Narrator.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter
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The Ettin's Riddle (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/05/2016 07:20:33

This early scenario was originally released as a free download as part of the 'Original Adventures' series from Wizards of the Coast. Aimed at characters of around 2nd-level, it casts the party as unwitting agents of the deity Heironeous, whose scheme to punish a rather over-zealous (not to mention cruel) cleric has somewhat backfired.


With plenty of background material to ensure that the DM knows what is going on, the party is presented with a situation in the village of Newkeep - an ettin has destroyed the only bridge across a nearby river, and the villagers would like some help in dealing with it. A few hooks are provided in case the party doesn't accept the challenge at once, and then they can get on with attempting to track the ettin, lie in wait for its next visit (it has taken a fancy to the village cattle so comes nearly every night) or attempt to solve a cryptic riddle that's appeared on the wall. One they actually come face-to-face with the ettin, there's an interesting moral dilemma for them to solve...


It makes for a nice gentle adventure with scope for more than 'bash monster, take the loot', with a good feel of Newkeep as a place existing outside of the needs of a party of adventurers for somewhere to adventure in. There's a complete annotated map of Newkeep with the main locations and people described, and resources to help you run the party's initial arrival and subsequent investigations. Oldkeep, where the ettin has made its lair, is also mapped and described... and the ettin is not the only opposition that the party will face.


A nice adventure with a lot more to it than originally meets the eye, giving scope to develop the characters' personalities and style, a good one for a fairly new party.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Ettin's Riddle (3.0)
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Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space - Arrowdown
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2016 10:30:27

Intended as an introductory scenario - and released as a free download - this is a fast-paced adventure that can be run in a single session designed to give 'screen time' to as many different character concepts as possible, yet give a true flavour of what the universe inhabited by the Doctor is really like. Incidentally, if you have the original Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space box set (the one with the Tenth Doctor played by David Tennant on the cover), this is one of the adventures that came with it, also released in one of the scenarios in the Tenth Doctor Adventure Book.


Firstly, a section called What's Going On gives the GM the lowdown on what is really happening, then we're off with a Prologue that assumes the characters have met the Doctor and already seen him in action. It also assumes that Amy Pond is there. If your group are not the Doctor's companions (or potential ones) you'll need to devise something of your own although a few guidelines are given for a UNIT party or even people who as yet have not begun to travel in time and space. Then there are lots of notes about the town of Arrowdown itself, complete with a photo of the Eleventh Doctor capering around on a rocky beach called Macross in South Wales - slightly disconcerting as I can think of at least two or three other seaside towns in South Wales that would fit Arrowdown much better - Porthcawl or Penarth, for example. But I digress...


As the party explores the town they will (hopefully) begin to notice that everything's just a little bit off. Incongruities abound. Their investigations will lead them to discover what's going on and suggest a possible solution. Several possible solutions are given, making it easy for you to run with whatever the party comes up with... or make suggestions, should they prove baffled by the whole situation. This makes for a dynamic, fluid feel to the adventure... and one that's great fun to run (I cannot answer as to what's it's like to play!).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space - Arrowdown
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Doctor Who:Adventures in Time and Space - The Ravens of Despair
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/02/2016 07:54:53

This isn't an adventure. Instead, it introduces an ancient group called the Ravens of Despair who follow, or are drawn to, sorrow, despair and defeat wherever it takes place in the universe. Understanding their origins, nature and capabilities, you can then incorporate them into your own adventures - and to get you started, there are some ideas, some plot seeds, to build upon or draw inspiration from.


The creatures known as the Ravens of Despair were made by an even more ancient bunch called the Alturons, creatures of pure thought who needed to have some physical alter-egos or avatars to interact with the real world. Specifically, they made the Ravens because they found the universe to be a troubled place. Their intention was to make creatures that could absorb sorrow and despair... unfortunately, they botched it and although the Ravens can feed on such feelings, they intensify them for whoever was feeling them in the first place.


We read about their nature and how they function, what they look like and plenty more. There's a character sheet for them and notes on how they can be detected and perhaps even dealt with... maybe. You can also find out which races particularly dislike them, and which ones they tend to avoid (Daleks, for example, as they prefer to destroy rather than causing distress to their opponents!).


Finally there are three adventure outlines and notes for a two-part story arc than involves the Ravens. They are quite ingenious and include a mysterious retreat patronised by celebrities who want to shake off the blues or additions, a far future successor of New York where the annual Founders Day celebration is now a somber Day of Mourning, and a prison ship drifting in space full of panicking prisoners... and finally a rogue Alturon shows up, causing chaos for the Incas and others. Plenty to get to grips with here.


It's an interesting concept with a strange race that could serve as recurring opponents, or just the basis of a single adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who:Adventures in Time and Space - The Ravens of Despair
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