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Deep Magic: Ley Lines
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/20/2016 08:01:57

Ley lines are channels of magical energy that criss-cross the land - many people in the real world believe they exist, so it's reasonable to suppose that you can find them in worlds where magic is real! Here, they are accessible to casters of both arcane and divine magic. Details of where they are to be found (along with a note on their presence in the Midgard Campaign Setting) and how they are detected are accompanied by notes on how they are actually used - basically, a caster taps into ley line energy to provide a burst of power to the spell he is casting at the time. The effects can be a bit unpredictable, but a caster can 'lock' a particular ley line to get rather more consistent results.

If you do use the Midgard Campaign Setting there's a map showing where the ley lines are. If you don't use it, the map will serve as an example of how to distribute them across the surface of your chosen campaign world.

Tapping in to a ley line requires specialist knowledge, provided by taking the appropriate feat (or by studying with a geomancer during downtime), and a die roll to measure the level (if any) of success. Random effects can be obtained even from a 'locked' ley line if the roll to tap the line is not very good. Several tables, based on how powerful the ley line is, are provided to supply the random effects... and if the roll is really bad the caster can suffer backlash effects!

There are two feats to choose from, as well as the geomancer arcane tradition for those who want to immerse themselves in the study of ley line magic. Unlike many traditions, it is not a specialisation of itself, but intensive study of how to use ley lines irrespective of what sort of magic is being cast. Some practitioners of magic rather look down on geomancers due to the nature of their studies - but I can see how it's a potentially useful discipline, especially as they appear to be the only people with the ability to lock a ley line to themselves.

We then come to a collection of ley spells, which are available to druids, sorcerers, warlocks and wizards. Apparently despite the 'pure energy' nature of ley lines, other spell-casting classes do not have access to these spells - it's not clear whether or not they can access the ley lines themselves given the appropriate knowledge. Each spell has a full description and the necessary game mechanics to use it.

This is an interesting and nuanced exploration of ley line magic, which should make it straightforward to introduce it into your game.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Ley Lines
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Deep Magic: Illumination
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2016 08:40:03

Invented it is said by the shadow fey, illumination magic mixes astrological observation with an elemental-style manipulation of light and shadow to track the paths of fate and control light and the absense of liight. At its most practical level, it uses the stars to predict when danger is near, and then draws on the power of darkness to attack their foes. It's an obscure school of magic, barely known outside the shadow realms.

The work opens with the abilities granted to practitioners of this school of magic. Whilst it is necessary to be able to see the stars frequently to gain various powers, many of them actually work best in total darkness. There's a single feat - Star and Shadow Reader - which enables the mage to track and interpret what's going on in the stars, and a spell list followed by details of each spell and the game mechanics necessary to use them to effect. Spells are practical and in the main offensive, as in designed to be used in combat. There's quite a necromantic flavour as well, which some people may find off-putting.

A fully-developed NPC illuminator (as practitioners of this school of magic term themselves) is also provided. She's quite intriguing and an encounter with her would make a good way to introduce illumination magic into your game.

It's quite an inventive form of magic with considerable potential. There is little background to how it came to be and how it interacts with the rest of magical knowledge, you will have to figure out how it fits into your world and its cosmology, but it is a neat way to combine the concept of reading fate in the stars with some practical in-game application.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Illumination
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Deep Magic: Void Magic
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2016 07:24:18

Many creation myths speak of the universe coming into existance when some all-powerful being spoke words into a void - what if that void's still there and you can find out some of the words that will bestir it into doing something? That's what void magic is all about. Sounds tasty... but those who look into the void tend to go mad, so beware!

The school of void magic hinges on being able to master void speech. It's pretty dangerous, after all the void is a big nothing, oblivion... and by using void speech you give oblivion a form. It's pretty nasty even when not mixed with magic, and the written word is not much better. Expect bleeding eyes and the very paper degrading in front of you. Even when used with the best intentions, void magic tends to nasty consequences. It's hard to learn although apparently aboleths are quite good at it. Void magic spells are also hard to learn. You don't pick them from a list, you have to be taught them by someone else or find them in a scroll or captured spellbook. For those using the Midgard Campaign Setting there are some notes on the best places to find those who can speak void speech and who might know some interesting spells.

Still want to dabble? Only wizards are able to learn void magic, and there are a couple of feats to aid them. There's also an arcane tradition,, the Void Speaker, that you can follow. Next we get a very short spell list, a couple of cantrips then one or two spells at 1st to 9th level, followed by their full descriptions and necessary game mechanics. That's pretty much it, although Void Speakers have the ability to weave a few words of void speech into any spell and cause temporary insanity as well as whatever the spell is supposed to do - nasty.

It's an interesting concept but one possibly best confined to your NPCs (until someone steals a spellbook and starts leafing through it...). It reads a bit like a hasty summary of an idea that has been better developed, more is needed if you want to make void magic an integral part of your game. For example, what are the effects of studying void magic for any length of time? A mechanism for staying sane would be helpful after all the vague threats of it being dangerous to use, although the effects on other people are covered adequately. Even just wandering around muttering in void speech can make people frightened of you. (Wonder if that works on students?)



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Void Magic
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Pirates of Drinax: Theev
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2016 12:58:40

In the middle of the Sindal Subsector you'll find the three systems that make up the Theev Cluster. Strategically important, it has a bad reputation as a pirate hotspot that encourages many merchants to go the long way around to wherever they are going. They are also remarkably hostile towards the Imperium. For most Traveller players I've met, it's their kind of town!

The Introduction gives the history and background of the cluster along with a map of part of the Sindal Subsector to help you get located. It winds up with a discussion of the Imperial Navy's dealings with the locals.

We then move on to the first of the systems, Vume. It's probably the least hostile system, but that doesn't mean it's a very welcoming place - and that's not just because the main planet is an airless, waterless rockball of a world! Most life is found on the orbital highport, although people venture to the surface to explore some ancient ruins... billed as an Ancients site although nobody is really sure if it was them or some other long-lost race who built the ruins. They are now inhabited by some quite peculiar folks.

Next we read about the Theev system. Now a bit of a backwater if not pretty much abandoned altogether, it used to be part of a major trade route. Their highport was bored out of a moonlet artificially placed in a geostationary orbit around the main world. It is not recommended to break the law here, as they don't go in for the nicities of law courts and endless appeals - perpetrators are merely shown out of an airlock... and that's the official law enforcement by a black-robed bunch called the Widows. Travel to the downport is discouraged, and as the world is arid and very dusty, people generally only go there on business - or hunting for rumoured treasures outside of the controlled environment that protects the one inhabited city that has grown up around it. The place is ruled by the Pirate Lords, and the Widows enforce their rule at least in the Upper City. The Lower City is darker and meaner...

Finally comes Palindrome, the third system in the cluster. It's a run-down backwater, even the highport is scruffy and half-abandoned, even though it still claims to be Class B. The planet below is uninviting, with a thin atmosphere and little surface water and a single domed settlement called Astrogo which is run as the personal property of a retired pirate, the Lady Yemar. Here, the standard of living is high, supported by a TL of 12, and the community is quite insular and inward-looking. It is a good place to find those 'special' items not on sale elsewhere, and a haven for fugitives. The place is quite welcoming to outsiders provided they don't strut around in Imperial uniforms.

This is an intriguing group of worlds likely to prove popular with the ethically-challenged. Each is brought to life in the concise notes provided, although you will have to provide even the notable inhabitants and any maps you might need, even the rest of the systems are not well-developed. When your party decides to go 'shopping', send them here.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pirates of Drinax: Theev
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Deep Magic: Rune Magic
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2016 07:45:05

The assumption is made that you have a reasonable grasp of what runes and rune magic are, and already know that they are associated with people from cold northern realms (think Vikings in the real world), it dives straight in by explaining that you need a Rune Knowledge feat to use them at all, and a Rune Mastery feat to develop your skills. Thereafter, though, the contents are excellent with a lot of material to get your teeth into.

First up, the Rune Knowledge and Rune Mastery feats are given in full detail, then there's a fascinating run-through of the runes themselves. This makes it clear that learning rune magic is a slow and painstaking process: when you learn Rune Knowledge you get to choose just TWO runes which you can use (and Rune Mastery enables to use a single rune you know at a higher level)... fortunately you can take both feats multiple times. For each rune, you get a specific bonus just because you know it, and then you learn the effects of tracing that rune (standard and mastery levels of knowledge) - and there's an image as well so you know the shape to trace.

Next, there are several rune rituals to perform. These are associated with specific runes and there's the rather cryptic comment that once you know the appropriate rune, you can eventually master the appropriate ritual - no indication of how long that takes or what you have to do to master it. The rituals themselves are full of Norse flavour, fitting that mindset.

Then there are rune magic spell lists (for all spell-using classes) followed by the detailed spell descriptions themselves. Many again have Nordic themes or deal with cold, curses, and similar concepts, although there is no real connection with runes themselves otherwise. They do fit in well with the general themes of the magic in this book, however, so could work well for spell-casters of appropriate origin or as spells used by a character who also has the rune-using feats in his build.

These are followed by a couple of neat magic items. The nithing rod is rather fun, it's a kind of landmine you set for an enemy whom you'd like to curse. Once you have created it (and you have to know the individual, it's not a general purpose weapon) you set it up someplace you think your enemy is likely to pass, and when he does it not only casts bestow curse on him, it keeps on doing so until he fails his saving throw! They also curse anyone who tries to tidy them away, although then they only cast the curse once.

There's also a couple of conditions - snow blindness and hypothermia - and a couple of monsters which relate to the rituals earlier, which summon them. It helps if you have the full statistics of whatever is conjured up, after all!

Overall, this is a nice selection of material to bring a northern flavour into your game - it's good on the crunchy bits, the actual effects you can create using your rune magic, but a little short on the flavour that would put it all into context.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Rune Magic
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Deep Magic: Clockwork
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2016 07:14:27

The concept of 'clockwork magic' first arose in Zobeck and then in the Midgard Campaign Setting, both published by Kobold Press, but of course the almost-magical qualities of clockwork go back to very early times - China about 2500 BC or the Greek 'Antikythera mechanism' that is nearly as old. Often used in temples to impress worshippers with their deity's power, or for navigation and timekeeping, it's still a bit mysterious if you don't know how it works. And of course, in a fantasy game we can add magic in as well. It's a plausible mix of magic and technology for the sort of cod-mediaeval worlds most of us use for our campaign settings... many of which have lost ancient empires to loot for inventions that have been lost as well.

Clockwork magic, then, has its origins in time manipulation, precision craftwork and machining, constructs and mechanical devices. Opinion is divided as to whether it was a devotee of a god with a suitable sphere (craft or time perhaps) or a tinkering mechanic who added magic to the steam or water power he was used to using to power his machines that first hit upon the concept. You may wish to establish your own origins for it, or just assume that it is known in certain circles in your world.

For clerics, and others of a religious persuasion, there are details of a Clockwork Domain and a couple of sample deities for whom it could be appropriate. Warlocks may seek out the Great Machine as a patron, and gain suitable abilities and access to spells from that connection. Wizards may choose to become clockwork mages, studying the school of clockwork magic. Each of these provides a framework for the individual character to begin to practice clockwork magic in some manner.

The rest of the book is filled with an array of spells that are in some way associated with clockwork or time in general, often with links into the fascinating world of constructs. There are other snippets scattered throughout: clockwork creatures you can summon and a nasty disease called rust that affects both flesh and bones and constructed beings.

Overall, it's an entertaining collection of magic. It could possibly have done with some items and gadgets to go along with the spells, but apart from that this makes a good starting point for adding a novel form of magic to your game.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Clockwork
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KOBOLD Guide to Plots & Campaigns
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2016 12:39:08

This book is for those who want to take their adventures to the next level: a collection of essays with titles like "When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroes", "Action Scenes: More Than Just Flashing Blades" and "Using Cliffhangers Effectively" suggests that it's about adding a bit more zing and cinematic flavour to your plots... but there is more with other essays touching on using oral traditions, tone, plenty on adversaries and more. It's fascinating just to read through, but the layout makes it easy to return when you want some advice on a particular topic as well.

Appropriately, it starts off with James Jacobs on "Beginning a Campaign". This isn't so much about the plotting and planning that goes into starting a new campaign, it's more about what can start the actual playing of that campaign with a bang that makes the players sit up and take notice: this is no ordinary campaign but something really special. Thinking cinematically, start by building anticipation with a few teasers, a trailer if you will, for the game that you intend to run, and give your new campaign a compelling name. You may wish to release sufficient information to at least allow for sensible character choices after all. Discussion then moves on to that all-important first session. You want them to be panting for more. It's good to really understand both the characters and the people who will play them - indeed you may use the first session for character creation and not actually start play until the next one. Then there are more good ideas for how to actually get the game rolling as well. All excellent stuff and well worth reading however many successful campaigns you have under your belt.

Next up Jeff Grubb addresses the matter of "Other People's Stories". Even if you like writing your own materials, there's nothing to be embarrassed about using published material. Jeff is full of good advice about how to pick the right adventure module for your campaign, then how to file the serial numbers off and weave it seamlessly into whatever else is (and will be) going on. (Check out my adventure reviews, this is the way I approach them, as resources to enhance your own campaign, not a substitute for having one of your own). Or you may just appropriate elements for reuse in your game.

Then Wolfgang Baur writes about "Choosing an Ending First". Even the most sandbox campaign needs an objective, or it ends up more of a never-ending soap opera game than a plot-driven campaign. Goals are important, whether set by you or by the players, and some kind of a climactic event is always a good way to end a campaign properly, rather than just let it peter out. Plenty of good ideas to chew over here as you start to plan that campaign.

The next essay is "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" by Robert J. Schwalb. This is a thoughtful exploration of the thorny subject of running an 'evil' campaign, preferably without the characters turning into complete psychopaths. The main key seems to be open dialogue with your players to determine the precise nature of the game, what will and will not be acceptable behaviour. Another is that all actions have consequences... Interesting and thought-provoking reading, with plenty of ideas if you want to try out playing the bad guys.

Steve Winters then looks at "Otherworldly Visions" - ways in which to make it clear that the world of your game is not the real one outside your window. (Just in case the presence of dwarves and elves and dragons - or galaxy-roaming starships - hadn't already given it away, that is.) It's all about mood, images, conditions and events... and if you follow Steve's suggestions you might end up with some very weird worlds indeed!

Next is "When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroes" by Clinton J. Boomer, in which he muses on how to steal...er, be inspired by... the tricks TV shows use to keep our attention week by week (or even during the ad breaks in the middle of a show). It's more than that, though, with ideas about using episodic formats, about building on things that happen (even, especially, when they are unexpected - just as showrunners pay attention to what the fans think and may even amend stories, bring characters back and the like in the light of what they say). And there's plenty more to glean from this essay, too.

This is followed by "Tricks from the Oral Tradition" from Kevin Kulp along much the same theme, only here it is traditional storytelling that's being picked apart for good ideas to apply as you devise and run your game. Pacing and timing, improvisation, presentation and more are discussed. Of particular note are the comments about making NPCs come to life by the way you have them speak - with hints and tips that will empower the least actorly of GMs to handle them with confidence.

Margaret Weis then discusses "Action Scenes: More Than Just Flashing Blades", beginning with the perhaps startling thought that they need to have a purpose, not just be there so as to have a brawl. Using examples from well-known novels, films and TV shows, Margaret shows how to use 'action' - by which she means combat most of the time - creatively to enhance or advance the game, actually contributing to and driving on the plot. Other types of action are also covered, however.

Then Wolfgang Baur is back with "Tone and Bombast" in which he discusses the relative merits of realistic and cinematic approaches. Above all, he says, don't be cautious, or small in your ambitions. Make things personal and visceral, perhaps even unfair, then make the imaginary headlines even worse... how would the events in question come over on the main evening news?

If you like adding complexity, a busy-ness that reflects the real world, try Ree Soesbee's "Branching Storylines and Nonlinear Gameplay" for size. Role-playing, after all, has always been about interactivity and character agency, so here's how to design plots that actually work well with that freedom of action. One of the saddest moments in role-playing was when a player asked me after a game "Did we do what we were supposed to do?" Ideally, there should be no pre-determined course of action, just a setting and events to which the characters respond, and which in turn respond to what the characters do. Find ideas for making that happen here.

One of Ree's suggestions is using NPCs creatively, so the next essay - "Crooked Characters: A Simple Guide to Creating Memorable NPCs" by Richard Pett is a timely one. It runs through the process, concentrating on what that NPC is like rather than what his stats are and providing several tables to roll upon to aid you in teasing out each NPC's nature. As example there are some dozen NPCs described in a few vivid sentences, many spawn plot ideas just by reading through them.

Next, Ben McFarland looks at "Fashioning the Enemy" and delves deep into the art and craft of creating memorable and believeable Bad Guys to oppose the party and drive the plot along. Start with what that villain wants to accomplish, and from there hone him into what he needs to be to achieve his goals - players lavish time on planning their character's development, and you should do the same with their antagonists. How did he come to be like he is? And what is his life like now? Who does he look up to, or fear? A good villain is worth his weight in gold to creating a good plot, oh, and don't forget the minions.

Wolfgang Baur again with "Pacing, Beats, and the Passage of Time" which looks at keeping a game moving at a speed that's just right for whatever is happening at the time, with a particular emphasis on the campaign level rather than what is happening around your table minute-to-minute. Fascinating stuff with ideas you may have never thought of before.

Then Kevin Kulp is back talking about "Complex Plotting". It's all about turning the player characters' actions into ripples that travel through that world, with unintended consequences, and keeping track of all those changes they've caused in a dynamic, living game world. Strew plot hooks about and let the characters choose which ones to follow up, perhaps even have several complete plotlines... I recall one game I ran where there were five plots, the characters concentrated on two, dabbled in another two and never even noticed the last one. The trick is not to develop anything further than an outline until you need it (else you get swamped).

Steve Winter next with "Sharpening Your Hooks", an in-depth look at the ways you can use adventure hooks throughout a campaign, not just to introduce the next adventure and convince the characters that they are actually interested in whatever's going on. Of course, it's not really a hook but the bait that attracts them in... and the adventure that each hook refers to need not even exist until some interest is shown, especially if the party is busy about something else at the time.

So far this book has been jam-packed with ideas for making a campaign go with a bang right from the start. What if despite all that advice and your best efforts, it doesn't? Zeb Cook to the rescue with "The Art of Letting Go" - a treatise in a few short pages on how to improvise, casting aside all that careful preparation and just wing it. It comes naturally to some people, but if you're not one of those, this gives you a starting point to give it a go. I know my best games have been no more than a few bullet points and a lot of outlines... and the worst the ones that were all written out ahead of time (it's almost the complete reverse when it comes to writing an adventure for publication, of course!). Improvisation at the table works best with a fair bit of planning in advance, which is then set aside once play begins.

Back to the plotting with the next article by Ben McFarland, "Plotting a Generational Campaign". This discusses games that last for years, even centuries... in-game, I mean, not in real life (although games that last for years are a possibility). I did once design a Vampire: The Masquerade campaign that spanned time from before the birth of Christ up to the present day (never got the chance to run it, alas), but here you'll find ideas to make these long-lasting time-spanning games work effectively. Plan ahead, and know where you are going, yet keep flexible enough to let the characters take over and affect their futures. Relationships, alliances, deeply-felt emnities, all play a part, and remember to weave these into the characters' own histories.

Next is "Using Cliffhangers Effectively" by Amber E. Scott. It's jam-packed with ideas for using cliffhangers to effect in your game, making your players hungry for more... and back next time, eager to continue. You need to keep track of where everything (and everybody) was when you stop, and to make sure that all that anticipation is adequately rewarded when play resumes.

Finally there is "An Improv Adventure: The Journey from Here to There" by Zeb Cook. In it, he provides a complete framework for a simple adventure making use of many of the concepts discussed in this book, particularly his own notes on improvisation, of course. Use it as an exemplar - or even run it sometime.

So, there you have it. A book which any GM, irrespective of the system(s) they prefer to run, ought to have. Read it, study it, keep it to hand to dip into. If there was a degree in role-playing, this would be a set text for the GM module!



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KOBOLD Guide to Plots & Campaigns
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Imperial Mysteries
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/06/2016 07:57:15

A newly-Awakened mage might feel that their new-found power is limitless, but they soon learn that it is not... but can it be? This work looks at those who push the limits, treat the 'rules' as mere guidelines if not challenges. For some, this may be a step too far, it certainly is for many mages as the opening story tells. Others, though, prefer to pursue this quest. Even if you don't want to take your game that far, your cabal may encounter the odd will-worker who has - as an ally or an enemy - and here you will find the resources to make that happen.

Here we learn of the archmasters, those who have smashed through the rules and forged their own, carved their own parth through the mysteries, understood the Imperial Practices, learned to control the fundamental forces of the fallen and supernal worlds... maybe even ascended... It's not an easy road to tread, it's not just a matter of acquiring more and more knowledge and adding more spells to your grimoire. The transition to archmastery is called the Threshold Seeking, and is so shattering to one's worldview that it is rightly described as a second Awakening. The accomplished mage suddenly realises that all the knowledge they've been gathering so painstakingly since they Awakened doesn't remotely describe what's really going on... and then they set to and begin to find the truth. The theme is that there is no going back, the mood is how dangerous it is to meddle in such matters. Even more dangerous are the others of similar power that are encountered: old gods, deathlords from the underworld and beings only dimly guessed at until they burst forth in contention.

The Introduction explains all this, and comments on how you might link in material from other books in the New World of Darkness (now Chronicles of Darkness) game lines. Then Chapter 1: Threshold talks about how one makes the transition from regular mage to archmaster and provides the rules necessary for developing magic power up to a mind-blowing (and character sheet wrecking) NINE dots, complete with example spells.

Then, Chapter 2: The Invisible Road looks at the world archmasters inhabit, the strange realms open to them to explore and the alliances they might forge - or conflicts they may enter into. This is continued in Chapter 3: The Supernal Ensemble, where we meet example archmasters from a range of factions in the Ascension War that's raging unbeknownst to most ordinary spell-slingers, never mind sleepers... along with plenty of equally-powerful beings that may be their adversaries.

Finally Chapter 4: Ascension looks at what this actually means and an appendix Imperium provides a system for playing archmasters in the Supernal World... where what they get up to can affect the very nature of reality. This super-high-powered stuff isn't for everyone, but if it appeals, there's plenty of Storytelling advice to help you make it happen in your game - whether your mages seek archmastery for themselves or just encounter one - or even the ripples in reality left by one - during a more conventional chronicle.

I'm torn. The academic side of me wants to delve ever deeper, but this whole concept is a bit of a game-changer. Do I want to bend my chronicles quite this much? I'm not sure. But archmasters can make excellent plot devices...



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Imperial Mysteries
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The Abedju Cipher (Mage: The Awakening)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2016 08:08:30

Do you know whom you can trust? And are you yourself trustworthy? This adventure, which can be run as a stand-alone or woven into an ongoing chronicle, lets you explore the whole concept of trust - and what happens when it is misplaced. It could serve as the initial adventure for a new cabal but can be scaled up relatively easily to challenge more experienced will-workers.

The plot itself is quite straightforward. A powerful artefact, the Abedju Cipher, is part of a travelling exhibition due to visit a local museum and there are those who'd like to, ah, acquire it for themselves. The cabal will get caught up in the shenanigans and will have plenty of opportunity to influence the course of events... once they have decided who, if anyone, they can trust. To support this plot you get an outline of events, some well-detailed NPCs (who, if you are running this as part of an ongoing chronicle, may well prove useful contacts or determined opponents in the future), and even a rather sketchy map of the museum. You may wish to substitute a better floorplan from a real museum, most hand them out as visitor guides or even have them on their websites - particularly useful if you have set your game in a real-world town.

Whilst there's considerable background on the Abedju Cipher, what it actually is and does is left open, although one suggestion is presented - one which I'm not sure would arouse quite as much interest in magical circles as the Cipher has in this scenario, however! Be that as it may, various factions are after it, and the plot revolves around their attempts and the cabal's reactions: will they aid one of the factions or even try to purloin the artefact for themselves? And given that at least one faction has decided to stage a heist, what will the cabal do when caught up in the middle of it... and will they be able to explain their actions to mundane law enforcement afterwards?

Good use of the Storytelling Adventure System is made to ensure that the copious details provided are well-ordered and can be accessed just when you need them. Eight fully-developed scenes are provided, with just two or three being core to the plot. The rest may be used, modified or left out entirely as suits your needs. These scenes are summarised on cards you can print out and have in hand when you run the adventure. Main NPCs come along with loads of background and role-playing notes to help them to come alive, and complete character sheets for when you need to get the dice out.

Overall, it's a cracking yarn and should provide an enjoyable session or two of play. Simple on the face of it, yet the scope for development and ramifications to spill over into the rest of your chronicle are tremendous.



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The Abedju Cipher (Mage: The Awakening)
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Ready-Made Player Characters (Mage: The Awakening)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2016 07:54:35

Opening with an explanation of how the individual mages came together, this work presents a ready-made and fully-detailed cabal for those who want to just jump in and start playing (perhaps a one-night game is planned rather than a whole chronicle) without having to make their own characters first. Of course, they'd also make excellent NPCs if it's necessary for your mages to meet up with (or vie with) another group of will-workers.

For each character, there is detailed personal background material that gives a clear idea of personality and approach to life and magic, and TWO character sheets, one for a started character and one for a more seasoned version. Illustrations, a physical description and role-playing hints help the character come to life.

With two members of the Mysterium, two members of the Adamantite Arrow and one unaligned, the group has an interesting balance. This is reflected in the personalities: an awkward geek, a scatty girl taking on responsibilities, a couple of older more responsible individuals and a teenage tearaway who lists 'Craft: Vandalism' amongst her abilities! Most players should find at least one of the characters congenial enough to play. It's also a good introduction to how to create a balanced cabal that will be able to work together.

Although the cabal itself is good to go, you will need to put some thought into their sanctum, although it is briefly touched upon in the introductory notes. That said, this is well worth a look for an excellent example of a cohesive group or indeed, for the intended purpose - ready-made PCs!



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Ready-Made Player Characters (Mage: The Awakening)
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Mage Noir
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2016 07:46:20

This is a fascinating sourcebook for anyone who wants to break out of the presumed 'present day' setting of Mage: The Awakening and take it back to 1940s America, drawing on the style of 'film noir' and hard-boiled detectives like Philip Marlowe as inspriation. The idea is to create the look and feel of the times rather than an historical recreation, but there's plenty of background material to help you get a grip on this. The Introduction explains all this, then lays out the theme as being 'the price of Awakening' and the mood as one of cynicism, laying out why these are felt to be appropriate.

Chapter 1: The Party's Over is a broad sweep through 1940s America, historically and culturally, designed to support the development of the theme and mood specified. This is developed further in Chapter 2: The Power and the Glory, which looks specifically at mages in 1940s America and how this particular time period affected individual and organisational outlooks, and the ways in which the various orders operate, a theme continued in Chapter 3: Nice Guys Finish Last. This chapter also describes what is like to Awaken in the 1940s, and come to Supernal understanding at this time in history, and there's also some discussion about how having participated in World War 2 might affect both the Awakened and those whose service contributed to their Awakening... and how they might feel when they got back home.

Next, Chapter 4: Stories in the Naked City addresses the sort of chronicles you might want to run, with loads of examples, tips and tricks to help you get started. But that's not all, there is a complete adventure (using the Storyteller Adventure System) in which the mages investigate a messy murder. And if you want to drive straight in, there's the Lamppost Cabal, pre-generated characters who are products of the time and have banded together to face the future together - and hopefully make some money in the process (a key sub-theme of this setting...).

Everything is neatly bundled up to make a mage-filled version of 1940s America come to life on your tabletop. You'll note I have coupled the date and the location throughout, for this is very much America-centric as well as being set in the 1940s. There's scope for exploring the effects of global war and technological advance in the rest of the world in your game, but this book - although it might give you a few ideas - is not designed for anyone running a game set outside of America. It captures the whole film noir vibe quite well and should help you craft some vivid and memorable chronicles.



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Mage Noir
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Lines of Power (Mage: The Awakening)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2016 13:15:20

This is a complete ready-to-play adventure for Mage: The Awakening which can be dropped in to whatever else is going on in your chronicle with little difficulty, or used as a one-off. It uses the Storytelling Adventure System, which basically means that it's best run from the PDF as you get the advantage of extensive hyperlinking and the like.

The adventure really only works if your cabal has an established Sanctum and Hallow, because the plot involves having to fight to defend it: if you want to weave this into an ongoing chronicle, make sure that they have reached this point first. It all begins when someone comes round invoking the Right of Hospitality - the bounden duty to aid a fellow mage in difficulties by letting them stay for a while - on the grounds that they are being attacked by whoever the cabal's current rivals might happen to be. From then on, things go downhill really fast.

A lot of background material is provided about the people involved and what they are trying to accomplish, which enables you to play them to good effect. The plot's deliciously devious as well, and is laid out clearly once you've been introduced to the NPCs. There are opportunites for combat and for investigation and at least one point when your mages ought to be wondering what just hit them!



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Lines of Power (Mage: The Awakening)
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New Paths 9: the Priest (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2016 13:03:22

If you've ever had dealings with real-world ministers of religion - be it a father or a vicar, an imam or a rabbi - you know they have very little in common with the average fantasy 'cleric' apart from devotion to their deity. This priest is a bit different from the clerics you're used to playing, and wouldn't dream of picking up a weapon to further his deity's ends (spells, however, are a different matter!).

OK, so what do you get? Like any class, there's some descriptive text explaining what it's all about, the fundamental features of the class... and a rather good and dramatic drawing that suggests a spell is being cast. Then there is the usual game mechanical stuff: hit points, alignment, class skills and progression chart, then the class features are listed.

Spellcasting is a bit interesting. The priest has to prepare his spells in advance, but once he has cast a given spell it's not 'gone' - he can cast it again provided he's not cast his full allowance of spells at that level. The number of spells that can be prepared is a bit limited (and a high Wisdom doesn't help here although feats do), however the choice is wide - pretty much any cleric spell is available. The number of spells the priest can actually cast does attract a wisdom bonus. Priests also get a bonus 'cure' (if good) or 'inflict' (if evil) spell on top of the others they may learn. Neutral priests can choose which type (cure or inflict), but once made that choice is permanent. To prepare spells, the priest needs to meditate or pray for an hour, which should be at the same time every day.

Another neat feature is the Divine Gift. The priest can pray, asking his deity for a specific blessing on himself or the rest of the party - there's a list of benefits from which the priest can choose at the time of uttering the prayer. These include things like spell enhancements, the priest going invisible or being able to fly, and even calling down a divine intervention, allowing any one player to re-roll a single d20 roll with the addition of half the priest's level to the result - and still being able to choose which roll, the new one or the original one, to use!

The book rounds off with a couple of new feats and a nature-based archetype, the Chosen of Nature. They use the druid spell lists rather than the cleric ones. There's an interesting sketch of a rather punk-looking Chosen of Nature having a chat with a young fallow deer, too... although the best piece of art in the book is a white-robed fellow who really gives over the impression of having his God on his side. (Unfortunately it's not signed so I don't know which of the three artists credited is responsible.)

This makes for an interesting class, appealing to the player who enjoys getting into the role and playing a character using his powers in the service of his deity.



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New Paths 9: the Priest (Pathfinder RPG)
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Mage Chronicler's Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/15/2016 07:46:25

This book presents a wealth of ideas to spark the Storyteller's imagination, emphasising just how broad the scope of this game is and the multitude of things you can do with a 'contemporary magic' game. This is exemplified by the opening fiction, which tells the tale of four children Awakening... what does happen to those who Awaken early? Did someone (or something) help them to come into their powers in advance of when they would normally develop?

Chapter 1: Genres of the Awakened World explores seven different styles of game you could run, concentrating on mood and tone and emphasis rather than game mechanics, although any new rules you might need are provided. The genres explored are action horror, pulp adventure, epic fantasy, Faustian sorcery, lucid sleepers (this is an urban fantasy approach with mages living amongst normal folks, hiding yet using their powers), punk, and noir. Masses to conjure with here!

Next, Chapter 2: Mirror Magic looks at changing the very essence of what 'magic' is... mechanically, the rules stay pretty much the same, but it might be weird science or perhaps mages cast their spells by taking drugs, or maybe it's all psychic powers.

Then, Chapter 3: Building Character discusses not just characters themselves, but the things that define them: cabal, path and order; and looks at how to enhance and change them to suit your needs. It also covers magical 'style' in depth, looking at how it works and how it affects each character, complete with pertinent game mechanics.

Finally, Chapter 4: Mage Chroncles contains three artiles about running the game. One looks at a three-tier concept, the second considers that awkward fact that using magic the characters might find it too easy to gather information and thus derail your plot - find out how to make that work for you rather than against you - and the last one considers what happens when your mages get really powerful.

I said 'finally' but actually there is more: a whole fifteen chronicle ideas. These might inspire you to come up with your own ideas, or you may choose to run with them more or less 'as is'... or modify them to suit your requirements. Ideas a-plenty. This is a book to read whilst you are plotting your next game, rather than with a mind to changing the current one (unless perhaps you decide to end an otherwise conventional chronicle with all the 'mages' waking up in rehab having finally dried out from whatever they were taking!). Loads of ideas to sift through and consider, plenty of scope to help you let your imagination run riot!



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Mage Chronicler's Guide
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Night Horrors: The Unbidden
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 08:20:55

Opening with a weird bit of fiction - the reflections of someone around whom terrible things happen, yet they can never quite remember - the Introduction begins by talking about the rules of magic. In, that it ought to have them, and indeed does... just that they are not always clear, even to those who study magic and make use of it. Even those who practice magic only think they know what they are doing, it can be unpredictable - a bit like herding cats. This book asks what happens when magic enters the world unbidden, just as a tornado or forest fire doesn't trouble to ask before it destroys your house. Magic doesn't care, if one can anthropomorphise for a moment, whether the mage wielding it is able to control it or not. Magic changes things, sometimes for the better and sometimes not, but always for the weirder.

So what does that mean for our game? Using magic is, for most mages, a pleasreable activity, a bit of a rush even - but it can so easily get out of hand. Mages can get carried away, drunk on their own abilities and power, becoming filled with pride at what they can do... and that's when magic turns and bites them, or escapes to cause unintended effects elsewhere in the world. This book is jam-packed with ideas for handling such events and their consequences in your game... it's time to make magic scary!

To aid you in making this happen, this tome contains a whole bunch of... well, antagonists for want of a better word. In presenting this feeling of forces bigger than the mages attempting to use them, and scary to boot, concentrate on description, on building up atmosphere - show, not tell. Each entry is designed to provide resources to make that happen, with detailed descriptions and backgrounds, secrets and rumours and above all story hooks - ideas about how to weave them into your plots and indeed build entire plots around them.

There are four sections, based on the nature of the entities therein. First up are Mages - well, that's obvious. We know what mages are. But these ones, well - the magic has got to them. Some are innocent (but no less dangerous for all that), others know exactly what they are doing and revel in it. Next is Characters and Creatures. They are not mages but have been touched by magic in some manner. Then there are Constructs and Objects. Not all artefacts were created deliberately, on purpose. Sometimes they just... happen. Then there are Conditions and Infections. States of being that can arise when magic and paradox run riot. As a bonus, there is actually a fifth section, Places. This describes three places where magic has got so far out of hand that it's affected entire locations.

If you like the idea of magic almost having a mind of its own, running amok, you will find ideas to inspire and help you make it happen in your game. Even better, if you'd like to inject some honest-to-goodness horror into your chronicle, here are some tools to freak out the most self-contained and confident will-workers. Indeed, it's when your mages are getting confident, think they know what they are doing and have everything under control, that it is a perfect time to spring something from this book upon them. But use sparingly: less is more when it comes to horror and wild magic... even a small instance will have everyone nervous about their next spell!



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Night Horrors: The Unbidden
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