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2300 AD Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/02/2015 08:00:13

This book takes a look at Earth in 2300 AD - after all, however far explorers roam the galaxy, there's still something special about the place everyone came from! It's made up of three main sections. Firstly, there's a more detailed look at Earth itself than was possible in the core rulebooks. Next comes a section on 'cybertech' - surgical, chemical and mechanical augmentations - for those who'd like that aspect introduced to the game, and finally there's an adventure which makes the most of both.


The first chapter is The 24th-Century World. This looks primarily at the 'Western World', on the grounds that the majority of role-players are most familiar with the present-day west, rather than any lack of significance of other parts of the world. It provides an overview of the sort of place Earth has become, and is followed by a chapter OQC which is Orbital Quarantine Command. Just as today many nations wish to control what is brought into them, it was realised as soon as space exploration began that anything brought back to Earth from space could prove hazardous if not devastating to the biosphere (older gamers may recall that the Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined when they returned home from the Moon!). OQC is a collaborative effort between all spacefaring nations with its headquarters at the orbital end of the Beanstalk and a lot of roving spaceships to intercept every vessel approaching Earth.


This leads naturally into the next chapter, Gateway, which is all about the settlement at the orbital end of the Beanstalk, but takes the time to explain the operations of the Beanstalk itself as well. Gateway is a very cosmopolitan settlement, and it has duty-free status, and it is a destination in its own right as well as a transit point for those arriving at or departing from Earth. There are quite a lot of plans here of Gateway and the Beanstalk to help you get the picture.


This is followed by a series of chapters looking at the history and present-day state and geography of a range of nations, starting with America followed by Texas (now indenpendent), Mexico, Canada, South America, Australia, Japan, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. There's a lot of information here, well worth a read if you want to know what Earth has become. Players should at least read up on where their characters hail from. Everything in this part of the book is 'player-friendly' - it's the sort of stuff you get in history, geography and current affairs class in school.


We then move on to the second section, with a chapter called Cyberpunk: An Introduction, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. The use of augmentation technology appears tied in to the rise of megacorporations that rival nation-states in size and influence, and in some smaller corporations that have been swallowed up by organised crime, and it is these two groups which make the most use of it. This overview is followed by chapters on Bionics and Cyberspace (remember, this book was written before the World Wide Web took the internet out of academia and into popular use). These both provide plenty of options that may be utilised by the characters or indeed their enemies.


Finally, the adventure Worm in the Big Apple provides an adventure in which Provolutionist terrorists strike fear into New York City. Pregenerated characters are provided, but if you'd rather use your own make sure that they have the necessary skills to succeed. The adventure starts as everyone takes a bus from the airport into town and... well, they are thrown right into the middle of things. Maps are plentiful, and game mechanics are presented in sidebars adjacent to the text for which they'll be useful. It's quite short, but should provide for an evening of entertainment.


All good solid stuff, its use being determined by whether you intend your plots to bring the characters to Earth and if you want to include cyber-tech in your game. The background material about the Earth nations is interesting, and will be of use to any characters coming from there.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook
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2300 AD Kafer Sourcebook
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/31/2015 11:52:43

In exploring the universe according to 2300 AD, human beings have encountered a few alien species... most are friendly and only one poses a massive threat: the Kafer. This book presents the Referee with all he needs to know to use them to best effect in his campaign (and would be an absolute treasure-trove to human military intelligence, so make sure they never get their hands on it!).


The first chapter, Kafers: An Overview, presents basic information on Kafer appearance, culture and history, with special emphasis on their dealings so far with humans. Throughout, hints are provided to enable you to present them effectively, bringing out salient features of their behaviour and nature without explicitly stating them, rather giving the party the information they gain by observation and letting them draw their own conclusions - a neat approach.


Next comes a visit to the Kafer Homeworld. This is described in standard astronomical and planetographical terms although it must be remembers that it hasn't been explored by humans yet so this information is only available to a party if they go to take a look - it won't be found in any databanks, however obscure or comprehensive they are! This is followed in quick succession by chapters on Kafer Physiology, Psychology, Sociology, Government, Language and Technology. It's all quite fascinating to read, and highlights why humans and Kafer do not get along... and may never be able to do so. The coherency of such a well-designed alien species makes them into excellent adversaries, it is one of the best such alien designs that I have seen. Telling is their relationship with another species, the Ylii, an advanced but much less aggressive race, the Kafer find it incomprensible that the Ylii would prefer to live in a state of 'not-war' with them.


Kafer language is hard to translate and even harder to pronounce or for that matter to read and write. It's worth the effort to pick up a little, though, as it is another way to highlight the 'otherness' of Kafers. To pronouce it properly you'll need to master an epiglottal click and trill your Rs. Their technology is equally baffling and suggestions are given as to how to bring it to the party's attention and facilitate their experimentation. Ingeniously, notes are given suggesting the 'obvious' interpretation of each item to human eyes as well as stating what they actually are: something the party may only get a chance to deduce if they see the item in action. Their naval vessels are presented with different levels of data: that known to Naval Intelligence, that which any Naval officer who's encountered them (or been told about them by one who has) might know and the real data, as well as the observable performance should the party see one. Again, neat information-handling at various levels to enable you to pass on what might be known. There's a chapter on Kafer Space that will allow you to take the war to them - or explore the region - with plenty of detail to make this exciting.


For those wanting to understand the Kafer further, there's a chapter called The Politics of Power which examines the political landscape - again something innovative and quite alien (and possibly having the potential of being manipulated against them, if only you could get a few of them to listen to you rather than to attack!). There's even more about the Ylii with a chapter devoted to them, then finally comes Fun With Kafers, a chapter that offers an assortment of ideas for mixing them into your plotlines.


Some of the most 'alien' aliens written for a science-fiction RPG, these are well worth a look even if you don't play 2300 AD... and if you do, they pose a remarkable threat to your party's peaceful life.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Kafer Sourcebook
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Halloween Coupon Book
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/31/2015 10:52:24

Nice for passing a few minutes if you're bored waiting for the sun to go down and all the ghosties and ghoulies to come out... but if you're a long-time enthusiast of Lord Zsezse Works you may well have all of the items you get discount offers on.


The creature in the stump is well worth a click, though :)


Quite impressive use of PDF technology too...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Halloween Coupon Book
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2300 AD Colonial Atlas
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2015 09:13:33

This book contains details of the 29 worlds that have so far been colonised by people from Earth. They are organised by where they are - Core, the French Arm, the Chinese Arm and the American Arm - and each receives an essay-style presentation that includes astronomical data about the complete system, details about the colony world itself (with special note taken of those natural and environmental characteristics that could make it a challenge to live there) and wide-ranging backgroud and historical material covering its development from discovery to the present day. The intention is to provide the referee with sufficient information to allow the characters to visit any world, and have adventures thereon.


The only colony in Core (i.e. near to Earth) is Tirane, a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. It was the first world outside of our Solar System to be visited and colonised, and still serves as a jumping-off point wherever else in the galaxy you might wish to go. It is very Earth-like, capable of supporting Earth flora and fauna whilst people from Earth can eat native plants and animals (and, of course, vice-versa!), and is now well-populated by people from many nations on Earth.


Next, we take a look at the French Arm. Not everyone here comes from France, however, but they are in the majority (remember the dominance of France in the 'future history' in the core rulebook?)... although there are a lot of Bavarians there as well, due to a strange (and as yet unexplained) tendency for French probes to get lost whilst identical Bavarian ones operated as intended. There's a map, a cunning attempt to present 3D space in two dimensions - although the formula for calculating the distance between any two stars is enough to daunt all but confident mathematicians! Some entries include adventure ideas, others highlight places of interest that a tourist might want to visit... it's thought, however, that it might take a lifetime to visit all the planets described in this book, so choose wisely where you want to go! Many worlds have colonies from several nations and they do not always coexist in complete harmony.


The Chinese and American Arms follow, with similar diversity including some truly fascinating native wildlife. Most worlds are still actual colonies, owing aliegiance to their 'home' government back on Earth, although the distances involved means that they all have to be to at least some extent self-governing. Those who revel in the concept of different ways of doing things will find plenty here, the 'what-if' that makes for good science-fiction is well represented amongst the 29 colonised worlds.


It's a fascinating glimpse at a wide range of well thought out worlds, any of which could provide a place to visit or even a home to your party, with plenty for them to do whilst there... and virtually all is generic enough rules-wise that you don't need to be playing 2300 AD to make good use of them.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Colonial Atlas
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2300 AD Nyotekundu Sourcebook
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2015 08:39:13

The Nyotekundu Sourcebook describes a system in the French Arm that is pretty hostile to life, but has excellent mineral resources so people persevere with the place. Providing a wealth of detail and a complete adventure, the book has been designed with a mind to present a thoroughly detailed place through which the party can pretty much wander at will, whether or not you want to run the adventure. Plenty of ideas are scattered throughout to facilitate this, with suggestions for possible encounters, interactions or even complete adventures being provided amidst the descriptions of locations and details of inhabitants. Neat!


The first section, Inferno, is much more than information about one of the two planets in this system, beginning with a bit of background history about the early exploration of the system, indeed about early exploration of space in general. Much of this is probably known to the characters, but there is a neat suggestion that you can let the players read the background prior to the game, but if they want their characters to know it once you have started play, they either have to rely on memory (or, if cunning, any notes they made!) or make a computer use role to access the data! (Incidently, readers of Napoleonic-era naval fiction will recognise the captain of the survey vessel responsible for the initial exploration of the Nyotekundu system as the descendant of Nicholas Ramage, hero of a series of books by Dudley Pope!) There's plenty of astronomical and planetological data here, with Inferno being hot, tide-locked and with an unbreathable atmosphere and the other planet - Cocito - being a gas giant. Inferno boasts metal ores aplenty and at least one of Cocito's rings has lots of ice, so plenty of miners are to be found here, and there is a lot of through traffic as well because the Nyotekundu system is the 'gateway' to the rest of the French Arm where ships at least pause to discharge their stutterwarp engines before proceeding.


Next comes Outposts, in which we learn about living, working and just visiting on Inferno. Lots of people intending travel to destinations further on down the French Arm end up here for at least a layover - it's cheaper, apparently, to get a ticket to Nyotekundu and then pick up a vessel going to your intended destination than to book a through passage. On Inferno it's either too hot or too cold, you cannot breathe the atmosphere, there are frequent earthquakes and other unpleasant environmental factors mean that most residents live and work inside pressurised environments that are mostly underground. These actually are surprisingly nice, as the detailed descriptions of the French settlement Portes d'Enfer demonstrate - there are even nightclubs to visit and luxury apartments as well as more basic facilities. There's also a smaller Azanian outpost, Naragema.


This is followed by Training Mission, which sets the party as new recruits in the Aberdeen Mineral Exploitation Company. AMEC has a robust and extensive training programme to prepare its employees for life and work out in the black and it's a good way to ensure that the party has the skills they'll need to survive. There is quite a lot of detail about employment with AMEC and this suggests one way of weaving it into a game: leave allowances are generous, so maybe that is when the party has its adventures, with work being more or less glossed over in between vacations unless you deem something noteworthy occurs.


Training complete, the next section introduces the Orbital Mining Station Andrew Carnegie, an AMEC station which could provide a base and workplace for the party. There's a lot of detail about its layout and operation, befitting somewhere that becomes 'home' for the characters. This is followed by a section called Player Dossiers, which provides a wealth of detail about 21 people based here. Some can be used as player-characters if you wish, the rest are NPCs. The idea is that these are their personnel files, so inquisitive characters may actually come across them in the course of play... unlike the Referee Dossiers which follow! These contain full stat blocks, so if a player will be playing one of these characters, you have the materials to provide them with a complete character sheet.


Finally, there's the adventure Echoes of the Past. Two routes into this adventure are provided: either the party are already working aboard the OMS Andrew Carnegie or they are on Inferno for whatever reason and are approached by AMEC and asked to investigate when a distress call is received - a neat way of making virtually everything in this book useful even if you cannot convince your characters to sign on with AMEC as employees! It all begins when something... unusual... is discovered during a routine sweep of ice from Cocito's rings, and things rapidly go from strange to worse. It all provides for an atmospheric and tense adventure, and plenty of ideas are provided to extend it into the start of a whole campaign, or at least supply material for further adventures.


All in all, this is an outstanding example of how to present a location and use it to the full. Even if you are playing some other star-faring game rather than 2300AD you could well find material to adapt to your preferred ruleset to good effect.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Nyotekundu Sourcebook
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Bondsworn: Desiderius and Keale
Publisher: Mór Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2015 08:31:43

This is designed as but the first in a series called Council of Lords which is intended to provide players and GMs alike with a wealth of additional lore and game mechanics to enhance their enjoyment of the Imperiums Campaign Setting. Considerable reference is made to the Campaign Guide: Plight of the Tuatha, and this book will be of limited use (particularly as far as new rules are concerned) if you do not possess it. If you do, however, it adds to the richness of the setting, describing two Bondsworn in quite a lot of detail.


OK, so what is a Bondsworn, anyway? Basically, it is an individual or group that runs an area or provides a function for the Avitian Emperor and all the people that work for or are beholden to him/them. This is described by referring to the Lordship (an individual leader or group of leaders) and the Commonus, who are all those who help support the Lordship's function... in any role whatsover, from functionaries to soldiers, cooks, people who dwell in the area. In a feudal-style ceremony, people swear an oath to the Lordship and the Bondsworn as a whole upon reaching the age of majority (10 years) - just how the choice of which Bondsworn is made is left a bit vague. Most being territorial, it's probably based on where an individual lives at the time. Although this sounds feudal it isn't strictly so, the Lordship does not take on concomitant obligations although many do treat their Bondsworn well, as extended family even, others do not, regarding them as slaves and chattels. As long as the Lordship fulfils their duty to Avitus, they can run their own affairs pretty much as they like.


First up is the Bondsworn Desiderius. They're on the up and up, gaining prosperity and prestige at an amazing rate... although nobody's quite sure how and many feel they are due a catastrophic downturn in their fortunes ere long. The background and organisation is described, with notations throughout as to the suggested Difficulty Class (DC) of finding out each nugget of information, a neat touch to aid the GM when the characters become interested in the Desiderius. Hyperlinking is also used to good effect, to appropriate parts of Campaign Guide: Plight of the Tuatha and even to a webpage on the Mór Games website where there's further information and an attempt to build a community around this Bondsworn... something that at the time of writing is under construction although you can 'swear your oath' to them, presumably if that's the group your character has chosen to join. Several NPCs are provided in enough detail to play them convincingly, whilst there is also a section on playing a Desiderian, useful for characters wishing to throw in their lot with them.


We then meet Bondsworn Keale, an ancient Bondsworn with origins in a union between the human Baronness Ke and an elf called Valerian Aledone (the name being derived from ancient tradition by the combination of their two names upon marriage). Their wealth is based on countless acres of fine woodland as well as excellence in arts and crafts. They also mine silver and mithril. Again, history, NPCs and other information is provided, along with some pithy quotes attributed to Keale Lordships.


Finally, there's a Gamemaster Section which in the main provides some neat scenario ideas for those who wish to bring these two Bondsworn to life within their game. These are quite skeletal, and you'll have to develop them into full-blown adventures for yourself, but as suggestions they are quite imaginative.


Overall, there's good material here if you have decided to use the Imperiums Campaign Setting. Presentation is attractive, although more attention could have been paid to proofreading - the most glaring error is when 'Bondsworn' suddenly changes to 'Bloodsworn' in the Gamemaster Section! - but the mistakes don't detract from the sense too much. It certainly highlights the rich depth of this campaign setting, and leaves you waiting for more!


[Would have awarded 4.5 stars did the system permit...]



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bondsworn: Desiderius and Keale
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2300 AD Ships of the French Arm
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2015 07:28:58

The Introduction explains the purpose of this book concisely: it's a compilation of data for some 46 spaceships commonly found in that particular region of space, classified as being warships, commercial ships, survey ships and, well, anything that doesn't fall into one of the other three categories. Warships belong mostly to the French and the Germans, some there to keep an eye on each other after the War of German Reunification (which spilled out into space colonies even though the actual issue was on Earth) and others to watch out for Kafer incursions. These last have been joined by vessels from other powers. Commercial vessels generally concentrate on transporting cargo or passengers, whilst just about everyone sends out survey ships to explore new worlds ripe for colonisation.


Each ship entry comes with an illustration and a history of how it came to be built as well as technical data about its capabilities, and there's also a 'Ship Status Sheet', compatible with the Star Cruiser space skirmish game or for use with the 2300AD rules for space combat should a brawl break out. The illustrations are line art, views of the vessel in question in flight, and quite good if you want a general impression of what a given craft looks like when encountered. There are no deck plans, you'll have to make something up if for any reason the party ends up going aboard.


There is a goodly collection of warships, as well as some fighters and even missiles and a few sensor drones. Various cargo carriers are provided, including one which carries 'drop containers' fitted with their own retro-rockets to facilitate being dropped from orbit to colonies who have not yet established suitable infrastructure to handle cargo arriving from space. Many are bulk carriers, suitable for hauling ores back from mining colonies, but there are others like, for example, an animal transport designed to move live animals out to colonies... they, unlike inanimate cargo, need artificial gravity to thrive, generally provided by spinning all or part of the ship. People tend to prefer gravity too, and similar techniques are used in the better passenger ships. Most of the survey ships presented are large laboratory ships equipped to go to a system and explore it thoroughly over the course of a year or so. The miscellaneous vessels include couriers and a mining ship.


Whilst there are many interesting spaceships in this collection, none jumps out as being really suitable for party use. These are the ships that the characters will encounter in the main, rather than the ones that will become their homes or workplaces. At least, not unless you intend a game involving serving naval personnel or the crew of a cargo hauler or something like that. The lack of deckplans also mitigates against using them as ships in which the party will travel, or only for a short trip just to get somewhere for the next adventure. It provides a good overview of what is out there in the black, though, to enliven encounters or indeed a character's backstory if they wish to include the vessels on which they served.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Ships of the French Arm
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Player's Handbook (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2015 03:46:17

So here it is, the latest re-creation of the original role-playing game. It opens without preamble, with a chapter on 'How to play' that assumes you have never heard of role-playing games before; but gives a vivid overview of what role-playing is about - structured make-believe - that should leave nobody in doubt about what is in store. Key points include the pivotal role of the Dungeon Master as being able to direct a storyline with complete flexability to respond to player-character actions, and the core idea of having fun! Next comes a brief overview of the fantasy-mediaeval setting (with some preconceptions about the lack of an overarching empire and ancient races that have gone before that may not suit everyone's campaign worldview) and a potted history of the D&D game since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson first came up with the concept in 1974.


We then move on to more detail of how the game works, with the main components being player-characters, a Dungeon Master, an adventure (published or written by the DM), and the rules and dice. Miniatures are assumed to be essential as well although I've rarely found them to contribute much to play even in combat. Within the adventure, the game proceeds by encounters - which are either combat or non-combat (everything else, from figuring out a trap or picking a lock to seducing someone or talking your way out of trouble!). Between encounters, you explore the world you're in. Exploration doesn't take turns, but encounters, particularly the combat ones, take a more mechanical turn-based approach. The chapter ends with the core rule mechanic - roll a d20, apply modifiers and compare to a target; if the target is exceeded you have managed to do whatever you were attempting to accomplish.


Chapter 2 is Creating Characters, the real core of the rules as once you know what your character is capable of, he can start to come alive within the alternate reality. It's good to see that proper attention is paid to the concept of role-playing as well as to the mechanics of what the character can do within the ruleset. To begin with, you are encouraged to think about what sort of character you want before you even look at the options like race and class that are available, subsequently making your choices in the light of the character you want to play... although things are a bit biased towards what you fancy doing in combat rather than within the game as a whole. A quick overview of the options is given here, more detail later on, although it's advised that you decide your race and class before determining your ability scores - strength, constitution, dexterity, intlligence, wisdom and charisma - by one of three methods. These are a standard array (six numbers which you distribute as you please), a customised array (start with an array of lower numbers but raise them by spending points) or the traditional method of rolling dice for a random set of numbers. You get racial adjustments to apply after you have allocated numbers to abilities. Alignment is also discussed, but it is an optional extra now if your character wants to take a clear moral stance, and there are fewer to choose from than the 9 used in earlier versions of the rules. It's advised that most players stick to good (or lawful good) or remain unaligned unless the group as a whole wants to indulge in evil. A selection of deities is provided, and it is suggested that most people worship several choosing the one most appropriate for their needs at the time, while clerics will probably devote themselves to a single one - but acknowledging that the others also exist. Finally comes some ideas for those to whom role-playing may not come naturally, a series of questions to consider about what your character is like as a person. You also might have some mannerisms, describe what you look like and think about your character's background before he started adventuring.


Next is a brief word about languages, a review of the different sorts of checks (die rolls) which the game mechanics call for and the detail of what happens when your character gains a level. Characters now can progress from 1st to 30th level, these fall into 3 tiers of heroic, paragon and epic - the assumption being that even a 1st-level character is a hero of some note. Finally there's an overview of the character sheet, showing where you write everything.


Chapter 3 explores Character Races in some detail. Some are familiar, some new and some are missing... and all have racial traits that serve as a collection of bonus features to apply to your character. One new race is the Dragonborn, scaly dragon-descendants who walk around like people but have breath weapons and other draconic characteristics. Dwarves and Elves are familiar, but another new race is the Eladrin - fey creatures similar to Elves (and with pointy ears!), while Elves themselves are closer to nature, wilder beings than hitherto, the Eladrin have taken on the love of artistry and magic Elves had. Half-elves and Halflings remain, both being inveterate wanderers; while Humans are still given the advantage of being infinitely adaptable. New - at least, to the mainstream game - are Tieflings, descendants of human-demon hybrids that are claimed to have once ruled the world... and have horns and tails to prove their heritage. Each race has notes about their general demeanor and some sample character outlines to give you a bit more of an idea about them.


Next comes Chapter 4: Character Classes, again a mix of old and new with notes on the capabilities of each one. Your class is more of a vocation than a career choice. You can be a Cleric, a Fighter, a Paladin, a Ranger, a Rogue, a Warlock, a Warlord or a Wizard... but no longer can you be a bard. Perhaps they'll show up later, but at the moment the emphasis is on classes which excel in combat. Even the Cleric is described as a 'divinely-inspired warrior' rather than as a priest who can fight! (If you thought that was a Paladin, he's described as 'a champion dedicated to a specific deity.') Most of the classes are pretty obvious, although the Rogue is more of a sneaky fighter, the Warlock gains his magic from a pact with a supernatural power (other than a deity, else he'd be a Cleric) with the power chosen affecting what's available to you, and the Warlord is a specialist battle commander. In battle, each class acts as one (or with aspects of more than one) of defender, striker, leader or controller; and draws power from arcane, divine or martial sources. All characters of a given class share some class features, while they can also choose from class-specific lists of skills and powers to customise their characters. For those who want a hand with their choices, there are 'builds' based on different concepts within a given class which suggest a mix suitable to that concept. For those who rise in level, once you reach Paragon status (11+) you may choose a more specialised Paragon Path within your class, and again at 21st level you can choose an Epic Destiny to shape your character's ultimate role.


Powers are the core of class capabilities and are made up of at-will (use as often and whenever you like), encounter (may be used only once per encounter, but as many times a day as you like) and daily (only once per day) ones. An at-will power may be a simple spell or healing ritual, or the ability to use a bow or a sword to effect, while encounter and daily powers are more complex and taxing actions which basically are tiring and require you to rest, or at least take a pause, before you can perform them again. They have a complex yet standardised presentation which shows you precisely what you can do, and provides the game mechanics to gauge your success. To begin with you can choose only a handful of lower-level powers, but as you rise in level the number and strength of the available powers increases. All of which makes for a very long chapter which repays careful study before you decide what you want to play! It rounds off with a discussion of the Epic Destinies available, most of which are open to characters of more than one class provided they meet the prerequisites.


Chapter 5 looks at Skills. The basic assumption is that your character has a basic level of competence in every skill, but can choose to study some of them in more depth. Even without specialisation, you get better as you increase in level, but further study of your chosen skills - a subset of the full list is available to each character class to choose from - grants a further bonus when making a skill check. If you want to learn a skill that's not on your class list, you need to take a feat Skill Training to do so. There are 17 skills in total, all quite broad and often combining both practical and theoretical aspects of that skill. Generic craft, knowledge, etc., skills are no more. You can still choose to 'take 10' on a skill check (accept a result of 10 + applicable bonuses rather than risk a low roll) if not under pressure, and are assumed to be doing so for 'passive' checks - for example, if someone is sneaking up on you, do you notice him even if you aren't keeping a look-out (i.e. have not asked to make a Perception check)? The skill descriptions give detailed ideas for how to use each skill in a variety of circumstances, along with guidance as to what skill checks are appropriate when doing so. Choose skills with care, they are useful and a way in which to greatly enhance your non-combat abilities and to use them to good effect in playing a rounded character, rather than a fighting machine.


Next, Chapter 6 looks at Feats. On the whole, feats are used to enhance what you are already able to do, but they can give you some of the capabilities of another class (useful, since multi-classed characters are a thing of the past although the use of specific multi-class feats enable you to dabble a bit in one other class from your own). You start off with but one feat (two if you are human) and gain one every second level thereafter. You often need to meet prerequisites to take a feat, and generally can only take a given feat once. More impressive feats become available once you reach the Paragon and Epic tiers. Most feats are primarily combat-oriented, enhancing something you do in battle, or letting you mix in something new.


Chapter 7: Equipment ensures that your character has all that he needs to go adventuring. All starting characters have the clothes they stand up in and a notional 100gp to spend on gear. Needless to say, the emphasis is on weapons and armour, which are covered in great detail. An oddity is a restriction on selling stuff... according to the rules you can only sell things if the DM allows it and then only for a fraction of the cost. (Hmmm... scuttles back to see if haggling comes under the Bluff skill...) Only art objects and the like can be sold at full value. Adventuring kit is also included, but in quite broad terms, and there's a brief discussion on how much you can carry.


The next section of the chapter looks at magic items. Although they can be purchased occasionally, the idea is that you find and acquire them by adventuring or use a ritual to enchant one of your own (which costs as much as the purchase price if you found it in Ye Olde Magick Shoppe). Again, if you find yourself with surplus magic items, tough. The rules say that if you sell them you only get one-fifth of its nominal purchase price. Now I'm all in favour of preventing looting for the sheer monetary gain, but I'd prefer to restrict it through role-play - maybe you cannot find a buyer who can afford it, or trade in magic is illegal in this town so you have to make a dangerous journey to somewhere you can sell (or run foul of the law) rather than use an arbitrary rule. Still, there is a comprehensive list of magic items to get you started with your collection. Many, instead of exhausting 'charges' when you use them, work like your own powers - being able to be used at will, once per encounter or once per day. Things like potions are still one-shot, though; when you have drunk one and its powers take effect, it's gone. For weapons and armour, there is a whole range of magical properties which you can apply to a weapon or suit of armour, so it's a very customisable system. Similar effects can be applied to holy symbols, orbs, staves, etc. for those characters who use such items; and likewise shields, boots, gloves, rings, and other ordinary items are also capable of enchantment. There are also some wonderous items, so if you want your very own magic carpet...


Next, Chapter 8: Adventuring gets down to the guts of the game. Going adventuring is what your character was created for, after all. Starting off with quests - why you might go forth and where you can go - the chapter takes a detailed look at encounters and what you can do during them, as well as the rules for exploration, rewards, and the rest and recovery you'll need after you've been doing all these other things! The concept of the 'encounter' is simple: this is when role-playing is set aside while you use your character's statistics and the dice to determine if you succeed at whatever you are doing... obvious if it's a brawl, but a mechanic that come in useful when you are trying to do anything in which you can suceed or fail, be it opening a locked door or trying to convince the guards at the gate to let you into the city. Obviously, as you get more familiar with the rules the non-combat encounters can be woven seamlessly into the storytelling with a few die rolls.


Rewards tend to be quite mechanical. Each encounter successfully resolved should garner you experience points (XP) which are used to gain levels. You can also receive action points. You start with one, and can use it during an encounter to make an extra move or to use certain feats. You gain extra ones at each 'milestone' (these aren't clearly defined, but a lot of the rewards material is no more than summarised here, the full details are in the Dungeon Master's Guide) or you can take an extended rest, lose any you have not used but start again next day with one. Treasure is also a reward, the loot you pick up in the course of your adventures. This might be cash or things readily convertable to cash (gems, artwork and other such valuables) or it may consist of magic items. Wise parties will keep track of what they find and determine a way of sharing it out fairly. There are also the intangible rewards, that is, anything that isn't of monetary value or adds a combat bonus... but for role-playing purposes, being in a High Priest's good books, owed a favour by a wizard or awarded the local city's Medal of Honour has a value all of its own!


The section on exploration is mainly concerned with movement and the rules applying thereto, speeds over different sorts of terrain and the like. Mounts, marching order (and why you need one...), light and vision and other topics are also covered. You also find the rules for breaking things, kicking in doors and so on... and after all that exertion, it's time to take a rest. There are two types of rest each with a set of applicable rules. A short rest lasts about 5 minutes, the sort of thing you might do after an encounter, and you can take as many as you like and circumstances permit. An extended rest is the equivalent to going to bed for the night: it lasts at least six hours and usually includes sleeping and eating. You only need to do this - and only gain the benefits thereof - once a day.


While the whole range of activities that comprise 'adventuring' are key to the game, for many the core activity is combat - it's certainly one of the most complex and rules-intensive parts of the game - and Chapter 9 is devoted to a detailed discussion thereof. To enable it to be administered fairly and logically, it gets quite mechanical with the action taking place in rounds during which each participant - character and monster alike - has a turn in which various actions can be taken. When everyone's had their turn, a new round begins. At the start of the combat encounter, you'll need to determine (with the DM's help) where everybody is and both player-characters and monsters (i.e. all present who are not player-characters) need to roll initiative, which determines the order in which turns are taken for the whole of the combat. The use of some visual means of depicting the combatants and their surroundings is recommended, even if you don't like playing with miniatures it can help to make a rough sketch. There's a whole load of detail about what you can do and how, area effects, range, line of sight and so on... well worth ensuring that everyone has at least a basic grasp of this chapter or else combat can take a very long time while people figure out what they can do!


After you've been in a brawl, chances are you will need to heal your injuries, so the topic of the next section is Healing. Each character has hit points determined by his class, level and Constitution score. You cannot exceed this maximum, but every time you take damage you loose them - being classed as 'bloodied' when you reach half your hit points and falling over unconscious when you reach 0... at which point you are dying and need attention. Each character has at his disposal a number of 'healing surges' which you can use to regain hit points. Once per encounter, and whenever you like outside of combat, you can activate a healing surge to regain one-quarter of your maximum hit points (if you haven't lost that many, you don't get more than your maximum back, of course!). An extended rest enables you to regain the full number of healing surges to which you are entitled by your class and Constitution modifier. Use of the Heal skill, healing powers and the use of various items can allow other people to help you regain hit points as well.


Finally, Chapter 10: Rituals looks at complex ceremonies which create magic effects. They are always performed from a written text, being too long and complex to memorise, although you need to spend time beforehand studying a ritual in order to master it. To actually perform the ritual you spend a length of time specified in the ritual carrying out the necessary actions such as scribing circles, reading aloud from the text and so on. You may also need to purchase items to be used during the ritual. The Ritual Caster feat (available initially to Clerics and Wizards) is needed although you can enlist the help of assistants who neither need the feat or knowledge of the specific ritual. You can do a one-shot ritual from a scroll, and do not need prior knowledge or the Ritual Caster feat to use it, although you will need any necessary items. Rituals can be used to enchant magic items or create an effect directly - such as an arcane lock to protect your treasure, or consulting an oracle to find something out. Curing diseases or enabling you to understand a language you don't speak are some of the other useful things you can do if you know the right ritual... and there are a whole lot more, many based on what you may remember as non-combat spells in earlier editions of D&D.


Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised. The game has been rebuilt from the D20 system, giving something that is coherent and playable. It's a bit combat-obsessed - there again, so are many gamers! - and everyone will find something they cherish has been left out (I want my Bard back!). The actual combat system is possibly over-complex without any options for abstraction for those who do not enjoy being quite so mechanical, but on the whole this is a worthy successor to the tradition that started with Gygax and Arneson...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Handbook (4e)
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2300 AD Aurore Sourcebook
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2015 08:25:28

The Introduction sets the scene: this is a sourcebook all about a planet called Aurore, first introduced in the adventure Kafer Dawn, which is actually a large moon in orbit around a gas giant in the Eta Bootis system in the French Arm. It's almost as big as Earth, with sufficient atmosphere to allow people to live there without the need for spacesuits, but challenging enough to make colonisation an adventure in itself. You can run Kafer Dawn without this book, but if you want to keep on using Aurore for your own adventures it will come in very useful.


The first chapter is entitled Aurore: Background, and it is recommended that the referee allows the characters to discover the information herein through research and experience rather than letting them read the chapter. It deals with the history of the exploration of the Eta Bootis system from the first survey and landings right up to the present, including the Kafer War. It is not so much secret material as stuff you need to make an effort to read up on, most is available in libraries and other records, or can be found out if you want to ask the locals. A native of Aurore would probably know it, should a character have this as their planet of origin. Although in the French Arm, the first colony was actually Ukrainian, with two separate colonies, one French and one by a consortium of American, Texan and German mining corporations, being established later. It was the French who named their settlement Aurore, which came to be the name used for the entire world. Early establishment of power satellites aided the growth of the mining industry but incompatibility of Earth and Auroran lifeforms made agriculture difficult until soil from back home was used to seed and terraform plots of land in which carefully selected plants and animals could be raised. The Kafer War caused widespread destruction and although humans have (just) clung on to the main settlements, mopping up operations to clear the planet of remnants of Kafer forces are still ongoing.


A detailed 2-page map of the surface leads into the next section, Aurore: The World. This provides a detailed run-down of Auroran planetography (you cannot really call it GEOgraphy after all!) with both physical aspects and information on settlements being covered. This is followed by a chapter on Life on Aurore, with information on typical careers pursued by locals, new skills and much more. As a frontier world, Aurore is always ready to welcome newcomers ready to grasp opportunities and work hard. If you don't fancy fishing, mining or homesteading, there are militia and mercenary opportunites as well. Many years ago, one of my characters (an expert sniper) found his services in demand!


Next comes Aurore: Biology, and this is rich and strange indeed. Had I read this before the game, I'd have left the sniper home and played a xenobiologist instead! The conventional differences between 'plant' and 'animal' are blurred in a fascinating manner. Quite a few sample creatures are presented for characters to encounter - for study or combat is left open depending on inclination and situation. A neat piece is a collection of unknown and unnamed creatures, hitherto unknown to science or even the local colonists, which the referee can have the party 'discover' when appropriate during their stay on Aurore. If they survive, they can have the fun of naming and describing them should they so wish.


The next section is Adventuring on Aurore. This provides a wealth of encounters, each classified by where it might take place, and each with the potential of developing into much more than a mere encounter if that's what you want. Mechanically, there are notes on how to resolve novel tasks not covered by the core rules, and there's also a useful set of notes on the general appearance of the place designed to help you come up with vivid and colourful descriptions as the party travels around. This is followed by greater detail in a section entitled Planetographic Details, which gives extended descriptions of different parts of the planet. We also meet some typical locals, complete with colour illustrations. Throughout, there are hints which could be expanded into adventure ideas if you need them. There's also information about weather and environmental hazards, depending on where the party decides to go. A separate section of Special Information provides the referee with more hazards and opportunities for adventure based on the nature of Aurore itself.


This is followed by Personalities, a section which introduces some local movers and shakers, providing biographical and game mechanical information as well as notes on how they might interact with the party or influence the course of an adventure if they are encountered. Then comes material on the Kafers and their equipment, and finally a section called Military Operations - as Aurora is a world at war, it is likely that the party will be swept up in events even if they don't intend to become involved! There is a lot of material here that will aid you in running military actions, however you manage to embroil the characters (I seem to recall conscription being involved...). If you are wargamers at heart, there is plenty of technical information to cater for playing out skirmishes with various vehicles and combat units, or to provide a background for role-playing adventures - scouting or covert missions can always work well.


Overall, this sourcebook presents a vividly-imagined world with plenty going on, ripe for adventure and well worth a visit...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD Aurore Sourcebook
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2300 AD Man's Battle for the Stars
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/19/2015 08:15:14

The main contents of this boxed set, a revision of the original Traveller 2300 rules, are an Adventurer's Guide and a Director's Guide. An adventure, Kafer Dawn was also included, but was released separately as well so will be reviewed on its own later.


The Adventurer's Guide begins by setting the game in context, describing the future history that led to the present day of 2300AD. There's an interesting note in the credits to the effect that much of this was actually gamed out by a select group in a massive political/social/diplomatic/war game over the course of a year or so: an interesting approach that ensured that it wasn't just a single person's ideas but born out of interaction between several independent viewpoints... a bit like the real thing! It also ties matters more firmly back to another GDW game by stating that the 'World War III' mentioned in this game is the one you are embroiled in if you play Twilight 2000. This introductory section rounds out with the usual potted explanation of what a role-playing game is and what you need to play it.


Then attention turns to character creation. This remains fairly similar to Traveller 2300 beginning with selection of homeworld and body type before determining characteristics by random die roll, although now there is a point-buy option for those who do not want to leave it all to chance. Throughout the explanation of the character generation process, sidebars describe the creation of a sample character to show how it all works. Skills are gained through spending skill points that come from background, education, career and any other training, with the options available coming from the careers and other training that the character has had. Every so often, you need to roll a 'turning point' to see if the character is able to continue in character generation. At this point, if he passes the roll he may opt to change careers or stay in the current one (he can only change career once for no adequately-explained reason), when he fails it is time to end the process and begin play. This section finishes with a flowchart and sample character sheet.


Next is the information that you need to generate a character, sections on Careers and Skills. Careers serve a couple of purposes. They determine which skills are available to the character and they identify some organisations which characters may have worked for or even may get hired by during the course of the game. Careers are grouped by type - academic careers, military careers, exploratory careers, etc. - to aid in chosing something that fits well with your concept. These sections are followed by ones on Upkeep (the cost of living) and Technology, which talks about the current 2300AD state of play in various areas, and this leads in to an Equipment section where you can find just about anything that the well-equipped character might want to have. It's quite amusing to look at the 1988 concept of future technology compared with what's available in 2015 - the 'hand communicator' is a lot bigger than today's smart phone, for example. Fascinating sidebars describe Pentapod technology, often organic, that's sold by an alien race but which is widely available.


Weapons, armour and vehicles get their own sections, and then comes the History section. Starting in 1700AD, this sets everything in context with an overview of history rooted in real-world events (at least until the 1980s) and continuing on with 'future history' to bring you up to 2300AD. OK, there are some differences as you might expect: here the Iron Curtain didn't fall until the Cold War turned very hot around the turn of the century with World War III taking place (and going nuclear) around the year 2000, but it's all very plausible... and for a game set in 2300, even this is getting into the realms of history that most people only have a general idea about, so unless your character is a history buff, it's of less relevance than what your grandparents did during the real World Wars last century is to you! Three events that followed, however, built the foundations for this game's present: a fuel crisis that led to the end of dependence on fossil fuels, the French Peace (in which France, the only European nation to survive the war unscathed, rose to global prominence) and the Melbourne Accords, which set agreements about space exploration in place. From there, mankind reached out to the stars... with a few wars and skirmishes and national rivalries to keep everyone on their toes. Notes on political geography (on Earth and in the Solar System) and on the far-flung colonies which arose from exploration finish up this book. There are some 50-odd colonies which are arranged roughly by national origin, so there's a French Arm, a Chinese Arm, an American Arm and so on. Many are now independent, but hark back to their original culture and nationality.


And then on to the Director's Guide. This provides a wealth of resources for the GM, from the nuts and bolts of running combat to deeper wide-ranging issues of theme and goals. The Introduction begins by musing on the nature of the GM's role and provides some broad sweeps which are defined in following chapters. There's also the usual admonition that players should read no further... in expectation that only one member of a group will ever be the GM, it appears! And why would you buy a boxed set (or download the PDF) if you only intended to read half of it?


The first section is on Running Adventures, and offers suggestions on presenting scenes such that they come to life for the players, and running NPCs as individual characters in their own right. Discussions follow on running linear and open-ended scenarios, breaking an adventure into episodes and scenes and a lot more nuts-and-bolts that may be obvious to experienced referees but new to those just beginning their stint behind the screen. All along it encourages flexibility in response to what the players want to do: allowing them as much freedom of action as possible is, perhaps, the greatest difference between a role-playing game and a computer one, you're not constrained by the programmer's imagination but can respond to anything, however unlikely, that the party comes up with. There are suggestions as to where to get ideas for adventures, including pinching... ahem... being inspired by... plotlines in other genres.


The next section, Organisations, not only suggests a few but looks at ways of using the concept of large organisations to effect - perhaps to foster ideas of identity, as employer, enemy, supplier... you name it, there are many roles organisations can play. They might be military or paramilitary, academic, commercial... and all have the potential to be influential in your game.


We then move on to more game-mechanical areas beginning with Experience and Renown. Characters can gain both during the course of their adventures, using experience to improve themselves (by increasing skills) whilst renown is a measure of the character's fame or notoriety, and can influence they way in which people react to him or even how much he gets paid. Next is a look at Aliens. Yes, humans are not alone! However, encounters are still rare enough to be exciting and out of the ordinary. There are notes on their motivations and physical appearance, and suggestions of how they can be used in adventures here, along with sample NPCs and sketches.


Back to game mechanics and Event Resolution, with a methodology of describing a 'task' that includes what is being attempted, how hard it is and what resources are being brought to bear, ending in giving a target that you can roll against with 2d6. It looks more complex than it is, and with practice ought to become second nature. Next is a look at Non-Player Characters, with plenty of ideas for coming up with distinctive ones quickly without having to go through the complete character generation process. This is followed by Combat, basically a specialised event resolution conducted in turns during which each participant acts in a set order. There are plenty of examples to help you understand, fortunately, but again it sounds more complex on paper than it really is once you have got your head around it and begin to play.


A section on Star Travel follows, with lots of detail on how to run normal starship operations and even an explanation of 'Stutter-Warp' (the way faster-than-light travel is achieved). When things are less than peaceful, turn to the next section on Space Combat, which is run board-game style with miniatures or at least some kind of markers being regarded as well-nigh essential. This is followed by a section called Ship Listings which provides a myrid of ready-made craft to use in your game.


Space travel dealt with, where will you go? The next part of the book opens with a section on World Generation - which can get quite addictive! This system will result in incredibly-detailed star systems, you may prefer a more simplistic narrative approach and just describe what the party sees as it approaches a habitable world and lands there instead. If you enjoy making things as realistic as possible, work through the entire process, it is quite robust and gives fairly accurate results as far as my knowledge of space science can tell. This is followed by World Mapping and Animal Encounters. The book rounds out with listings of known colonies, star charts and assorted useful forms.


There is also a solo adventure, Terror's Lair, whose initial intention is to help new Referees get to grips with the rules by actually playing through it. It can then be adapted to provide an adventure for the entire party if you like. It involves the exploits of a narcotics agent in pursuit of a drug smuggler aboard an interstellar liner and is quite entertaining if straightforwards.


Overall, this is a slightly more streamlined and improved version of Traveller 2300, but remains the sort of game that resonates with those who like a high degree of detail. complexity and realism in their games. It certainly makes me want to grab some dice and head for the stars!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
2300  AD Man's Battle for the Stars
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2300 AD Traveller: 2300
Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2015 08:19:51

This game, which isn't Traveller at all despite the name, came as a boxed set with a Player's Manual, Referee's Manual, an adventure (The Tricolour's Shadow) and a star chart. The basic premise is quite simple. The year is 2300AD (surprise!) and Earth is not dissimilar to the planet we know today, although they have fought another world war which went nuclear. Space exploration has burgeoned, and the game revolves around those who have sought their future out amidst the stars, colonising new planets or trading between them. Nation-states have survived as a concept, no world government or anything like that, but the landscape may be different from that which exists today.


The Player's Manual, after an introduction which presents the basics of what role-playing is, launches into History, starting back in 1700 and using sweeping eras (the Ages of Reason, of Industry, and of Technology) to paint a picture of the world up until the year 2000, which is when World War III broke out between the superpowers of America and Russia (still the USSR, the Iron Curtain did not fall in this alternate history which, it must be remembered, was published in 1986!). The Age of Recovery followed, spanning the next century and characterised by times of shortage and experiments with alternatives - by 2050, for example, oil production and consumption although much recovered was far lower than before the war due to the development of alternate power resources. The only European nation not ruined by the war was France, with the rest of Europe, North America, the Indian subcontinent and Asia also suffering devastation. Space travel resumed in the 2040s, with treaties agreeing that colonisation should be open to all. An Age of Exploration (2101-2200), in which various nations and consortia reached out to the solar system and (with the development of a practical stardrive) beyond, was followed by an Age of Commerce as colonies became established and new discoveries were made. Different nations rose and fell, and indeed wars were fought (although these were mere skirmishes rather than all-envoloping conflagrations), resulting in a collection of traditional rivalries and cooperations that colour relationships in 2300AD.


This discussion is followed by one on Political Geography, which examines many different nations and charts their rise and/or fall between 2100 and 2300. It's well worth reading to get the underlying flavour of what different nations think about it other and the influence that it has on day-to-day life on Earth, in the solar system or out in the stars. Revel in it, it's quite different from the homogenity many starfaring games assume. Next comes a discussion of Technology looking at the fantastic developments that have become commonplace to people of the 24th century. Again remembering when this was written, it's amusing to note that 'computers are commonplace, ... an appliance like the telephone or running water'! This first part of the book rounds out with discussions of major colonies and foundations - the pan-national, often star-spanning, organisations with which characters might interact.


The rest of the book deals with generating and equipping the character ready for play. A character is mainly described by attributes and skills, which are given numerical ratings, but you also need to know where he grew up (Core or Frontier world) and the gravity he was born under, which affects size and shape. Attributes are rolled on 4D6-4, and although random rolls are mandated, there's an option to reroll one physical and one psychological one if you are not happy with the results. Skills, on the other hand, are purchased with points earned from career choices and other options. Each career comes with a list of skills available as well as an initial training package which you pick up automatically. (Oddly, just as I write this, the list of mandatory courses for the PhD programme I'm starting on turned up!) The gear your character might want is divided into equipment, weapons (a huge variety), vehicles and armour, all illustrated with neat line drawings, and the book ends with lists of nations, languages, and colonies, and a note on Upkeep - how to calculate your living costs.


Turning to the Referee's Manual, this begins with an essay on Life on the Frontier, which looks at issues like how people born on colony worlds view new immigrants (who provide most of the population increase) and differing views on what is 'home' - a tendency to look towards wherever they were born rather than where they are living now. It then explores some of the ways in which you can earn your keep on frontier worlds, especially those activities likely to be appealing to the characters in your game. We then move on to Tasks: here the task resolution system is explained. A formularic approach is used, the task itself must be stated along with difficulty, assets, time to complete and type. Once you've figured that out, roll 1d10 and apply appropriate modifiers, with success coming at a result determined by the difficulty of the task. Then of course you need to work out the results, from spectacular success to equally spectacular failure! There are plenty of ideas and examples and even a diagram.


Next is a section devoted to Combat. A turn sequence is used, with actions being resolved in initiative order (although an action can be held until later if desired). The standard task resolution system is used to determine if the attack succeeded, damage then depends on the weapon being used (and what armour the target has). Again, there's plenty extra detail to the process, and examples to show you how it is done. The section ends with the treatment of wounds, combat flowcharts and a hit location diagram.


The next section is devoted to Star Travel, and looks at all aspects of the subject from running, equipping and crewing your starship to power systems and crew pay... except for Space Combat, which is in the following section. For this, it is recommended that you use a hex map and markers (or models) to represent the starships involved. This is followed by a section on Ship Listings, which demonstrates how starship data is managed - much of this is needed if you are running a space combat, maybe these two sections should have come in reversed order! Several example vessels are provided.


This is followed by World Generation. There may be 30-odd existing colonies out there, but - especially if the party likes exploring - you may well need to create some more. This can get quite technical if you choose to follow the process in full, but will give rise to star systems that obey astronomical laws. Once you have your worlds sorted, it's on to Non-Player Characters and a system for determining their motivations (if their role in your plot has not already done so) by drawing playing cards.


Back to planets now with a section on World Mapping for all those occasions when the party wants to roam off, along with a section on Animal Encounters to provide some entertainment for them. Finally there's a load of forms and flowcharts for character generation and other processes, lists of stars and so on.


Finally, The Tricolour's Shadow is a short introductory adventure that sees the party given a surveying job in a remote mountain valley in a southern region of the French Continent of Beta Canum-4. They'll find a bit more than interesting geological formations... The plot is quite straightforward, but should get the whole group, referee and players alike, familiar with the game mechanics. It's probably best used as a one-off for that purpose rather than as the starting-point for a campaign, though.


Overall this is a good game with some interesting approaches to future history and the exploration of space, particularly relating to the idea of different nations from Earth all being out there exploring and colonising (and bickering) rather than some unified 'world government' - this adds an extra spin to things. Contemporary gamers may find some of the systems a bit too detail-oriented, some parts do look like you need a high level of mathematics to cope, but it's actually quite straightforward once you get to grips with it - and the most complex bits are some of the design sequences, which you can do at your leisure. Still a good game, almost 30 years after it was published!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
2300 AD  Traveller: 2300
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Demon Cults 5: Servants of the White Ape
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2015 07:21:10

With a gloriously scary cover illustration this, the fifth installment of the Demon Cults series tells of a cult that has its origins deep in the jungles of the south. Whilst you can locate it in any suitable jungle in your campaign world, it is ideal for Kobold Press's Southlands, part of their Midgard setting, and appears - much more than the other Demon Cults - to have been written specifically for it.


The first section (titled Leaders, Organisation and Goals) tells a compelling tale of a lordling in pusuit of profit who encountered savage white apes deep in the jungle and in his attempst to survive he discovered hidden lore that enabled him to eventually become a powerful summoner and almost a god to the apes. His eidolon, a giant white ape, is exceedingly savage and together they have conquered not only the apes but several surrounding tribes. Now they are spreading further afield...


Detailed stat blocks for both lordling and eidolon are given, followed by a collection of adventure ideas organised by APL. Hidden away in the eidolon's stat block - and shared, it appears, by all the white apes - is a nasty disease called spellscourge. Mentioned in the opening story (in passing but unexplained there), this affects the victim's Int or Wis scores, thus diminishing whatever spellcasting abilities they might have had. Scary stuff in a fantasy world. Many of the adventure ideas that follow involve the spellscourge, either seeking its origins or trying to combat its effects, many of the rest are explorations that will bring the party into contact with the white apes even if they don't come looking for them in the first place.


The New Material section goes into greater detail about spellscourge. Apparently those who die of it have a chance of returning from the grave as crazed undead driven to spread the disease even further. This is modelled by an acquired template of 'Spellscourged creature' that can be applied, the more powerful the spellcaster was in life, the more terrible he is as an undead creature. As an example, a spellscoured coatl (who pops up in one of the adventure ideas) is provided. Finally, there's a couple of magic items. The Father's Staff is a relic from the ancient city that's the origin of the white apes, property of a mighty sorceror, and you can cast a selection of spells from it. The other one is a white ape hide made into armour (+2 hide) which also confers additional ape-like properties on its wearer.


This is a mixed delight. The spellscourge concept is truly scary for any fantasy world, and the idea of a horde of white apes living around a ruined city deep in the jungle is one that has been around for a long time. The various exploratory adventure ideas, in particular, pick up on that well. However the so-called cult itself has prefunctory treatment, with the lordling leading it seemingly both fairly insane and desirous of power... but with no clear idea of what he wants it for or is going to do with it. Plotwise, the idea of an exploration of a jungle region that discovers giant white apes and a terrible disease has merit... provided that you have worked out how the disease can be defeated before your campaign world is denuded of magic-using characters!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 5: Servants of the White Ape
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Demon Cults 4: The Hand of Nakresh
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2015 08:34:01

'Hand' of Nakresh is a bit of a misnomer, for as we delve into this, the fourth of the Demon Cults series, we discover that Nakresh is a simian demon with EIGHT hands, most of which are usually found in someone else's pocket! Apparently the lowermost hand on the left side is reserved for the most audacious thefts and is the one from which the cult takes its name, being led by five crime-lords who naturally take an interest in notable heists.


Beginning with the cult's leaders, organisation and goals we read more about these crime-lords. Known as the Five Exalted, they compete to pull off the most daring and audacious thefts, for bragging-rights seem to be what it's all about... and every few years the rest of the cult votes on who pulled off the best heist and elect him or her as The Exalted. (Pity they don't put as much thought into their titles as they do to planning their robberies!) Competition is fierce and whilst it's against the rules to harm each other or their minions, just about anything else is fair game - unless someone is captured by law enforcement, when everyone is expected to rally round to rescue them.


Each of the current Five Exalted is presented in detail, along with full stat-block and background, plenty of ideas here for budding rogues as to equipment and methodology. There's also a sidebar about fitting them into the Midgard underworld, if that happens to be the campaign setting you're using, but it should prove relatively easy to embed them into whatever campaign world you have chosen for your game.


These are followed by a series of adventure ideas, sorted by APL. Here, the Hand of Nakresh are placed as adversaries - you may choose to use them as occasional enemies (or rivals) or weave an entire plotline about how the cult becomes a growing nusiance, running several of the adventures at different stages of the campaign.


Thieves who like their gadgets will be interested in the new magic items, which are presented next. These include the bizarre and complex Ley Line Absorber (or Dweomer Absorber) which draws in magical energy from its surroundings that can then be manipulated by the operator. Then there is the Monkey's Paw of Fortune (which can alter fate) and a Shrieking Aklys (which, er, shrieks when thrown). Also here is a new spell, Scattered Images, which is a bit like Mirror Image but the images all scamper around doing different things rather than copy what you are doing. Finally, there is the clockwork siege crab, a giant mechanical vehicle made of brass, iron and glass in the shape of a giant crab. Not the best thing for a stealthy exit, but impressive nonetheless.


If you fancy some crime-fighting, this provides useful concepts for adversaries and what they might be doing. Despite the large number of ethically-challenged characters to be found, there is no provision for those who might want to join the cult, and maybe work their way up to being an Exalted, which could make a fun campaign idea. There also is nothing about Nakresh as a demon-god, or what cult membership confers over and above being part of a thieves' organisation (which are pretty commonplace). Some nice adventure ideas, and good crime-lords to flesh out your underworld, though.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 4: The Hand of Nakresh
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Demon Cults 3: The Cult of Selket
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/07/2015 12:08:53

In the third volume of the Demon Cults series, we learn of the cult of Selket, a deity revered by many desert-dwellers. With the scorpion as her sacred creature, she is a goddess of healing, death and the afterlife. Desert-dwellers look to her for protection against dangers such as venomous creatures, sandstorms, and the blazing sun, seeking her healing power for their afflictions, and her vengeance on their enemies.


All this sounds like a perfectly reasonable religion... if it wasn't for the way in which devotees, organised in cell structures terrorist-style, hang out around oases and the outskirts of towns on desert fringes and seek converts through fear rather than through persuasion and love. Worship in hidden temples involves music, narcotic vapours and the handling of live scorpions... the faithful, should they survive, see it as a mark of divine favour. Somewhere deep in the desert lies the ancient and ruined City of Scorpions, which devotees want to see restored to its former glory.


The cult maintains a group of assassins, called the Desert Scorpions, who kill on command of the priests of Selket (and not for gain, like most professional assassins). Their leader, a dwarf called Sadiki Sefu, is presented with complete background and stat block, as is the Chief Pristess, Dakhamunza Sat Selket, Daughter of Selket. There's also full details of the guardian of the City of Skorpions, about whom I shall say no more in case your party decides to go there!


These notes are followed by a selection of adventure ideas, organised by APL, which can be used as one-offs or in a campaign arc in which the party defends the land and whatever faiths they hold to be true against the cult. Should you use the Midgard campaign setting, there's a sidebar explaining where the cult fits in; whilst for those who'd prefer to embrace the worship of Selket there are notes on 'playing for the other team'! With a purview of healing, death and the proper passage into the afterlife, it's quite plausible that a party might decide to help Selket's devotees to restore her worship rather than fight against them.


Next is a new materials section, with new monsters (venomous mummies for starters...), a new magic item and a spell, and finally a couple of new traits: Selket's Favour (remember the scorpion-handling - you're good at it) and Expert Embalmer, the skill of mummification.


There's not really anything demonic here, it's a solid desert cult that should fit into whatever deserts there are in your campaign world nicely, with options to use them as allies or adversaries, a neat touch.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 3: The Cult of Selket
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Demon Cults 2: Doomspeakers
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/06/2015 08:11:38

This, the second of the Demon Cults series, presents a cult that deserves its billing as evil, nasty and not the sort of thing that any right-thinking person ought to even consider joining... but they do make brilliant adversaries, vile folk you can get a righteous buzz from wiping off the face of the earth (or whatever planet is your campaign world). Members of the Doomspeakers cult are demon-worshippers who study a tome called The Book of the Nine Dooms, anti-paladins who learn and practise vile magic that consumes their very being as they wreak misery and destruction on their foes.


We start with an overview of their leaders, organisation and goals. Like most demon-worshippers, they are not big on organisation, it's more a case of the meanest and most powerful clinging on to power for as long as they can. Any group will likely have an anti-paladin at their head, with a following of various classes (clerics, wizards, oracles and barbarians seem most likely) and a horde of gnoll minions to do the heavy lifting. They share the common demonic goals of bringing destruction on all mortal life, preferably as nastily as possible. Several example senior cultists are presented with complete stat blocks and background information: I wouldn't care to meet any of them in a dark alley (or anywhere else for that matter).


These are followed by a collection of senario ideas and notes on cult activities, arranged by APL for easy selection. Each presents a situation that has at the root of it members of the Doomspeakers, it is up to the party to sort things out. Many seem quite innocuous at the beginning... All are described in suitably generic terms to make it easy to fit them into an ongoing plotline on your campaign world. Many have the potential to be developed into a plot arc of their own, especially if you weave several of them into your campaign allowing the party to discover the growing threat posed by the Doomspeakers and giving them an opportunity to do something about it. If you use the Midgard campaign setting from Kobold Press, there's a sidebar about running these adventures to effect, particularly in the Sarkland Desert in the Southlands and also on the Rothenian Plain.


Finally, there's a couple of nasty magic items and a new spell, the Doom of Ancient Decrepitude which causes rapid ageing for both the caster and anyone nearby when the spell is cast.


The Doomspeakers are definitely villains and antagonists. It would have been interesting to read some more about The Book of the Nine Dooms and the powers it confers on those who study it (some of which can be deduced from reading the descriptions of the leading cultists provided), but the adventure ideas are varied and interesting. If you want to put up a nasty bunch of demon-worshippers as opposition to your party, this could be a good place to start.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 2: Doomspeakers
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