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B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2013 21:31:26
Ah, The Keep on the Borderlands. For many, this was the adventure that helped launch the lifetime hobby of Dungeons and Dragons. Here we have the classic D&D setup; a home-base for the PCs near a complex filled with monsters. It has become a cliche in adventure design, but here is one of the originals. There is no plot, no elaborate backstory, and not a lot of "fluff" to bog things down.
What you do have is a really fun adventuring environment that's complete enough to run as-is but open-ended enough to fit into almost any campaign. It's also a great piece of nostalgia.

There are a few elements of this adventure that you may see as either good or bad, depending on what you're looking for in the product. First, the large cave complex filled with monsters is not very "realistic" from real world standpoint. If you think too hard about the logic of all these hostile creatures living like neighbors right next one another, it begins to fall apart. On the other hand, the caves are very well designed as a game element. The "dungeon" is non-linear, meaning that the players are free to explore it and face its perils in different ways; There is no railroading here, just a free-form area full of monsters, traps, and treasure.

Another aspect of the module that may bother some readers is the bare bones design of the Keep itself. While most of the NPCs are given stats and a job title, none of them have names or descriptions. To me as the GM, this was a feature rather than a bug. There is great fun to be had in giving names and (random) personality traits to the residents of the Keep! Your mileage may vary, though, and certainly if you're looking for an adventure where all the work is done for you, you'll be disappointed here.

It's also worth mentioning that the module contains a bit of advice for new Game Masters. While none of this is ground-breaking stuff, it's concise and well-written and, overall, offers good tips on running any classic-style D&D adventure. If you're looking for an introduction to classic Dungeons and Dragons, or want an easily portable adventure that makes up for its lack of realism with a really fun design, you can do worse than the Keep on the Borderlands.

Note: The scan of the module is fair and seems to print out well. Wizards cleaned up the flaws present in the older version and the maps that are included are easy to read. While the initial offering lacked the maps for the Caves of Chaos, the publisher quickly corrected the problem. Great job!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Basic)
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LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/07/2011 02:30:06
Lamentations of the Flame Princess features a rules system inspired by the original version of D&D, coupled with art that pushes the boundaries of the gruesome and macabre. It's a clever, streamlined RPG and, for the most part, the artwork adds to the overall feel of the game without being juvenile or shocking just for shock's sake.

This is a revised version of the original Lamentations, with brand new artwork of a more adult nature that author James Raggi calls “grindhouse.” Personally, I'm not in the target audience for a “grindhouse” version of anything. I'm not looking for more blood or crawling eyeballs in my RPG books. I have to take my hat off to Raggi here, though, because grindhouse or not, what he's created is a pretty darn good.

As I said before, Lamentations is most definitely a version of Original Dungeon and Dragons, one of many products of the “old school renaissance.” It contains the usual mix of character classes and spells familiar to anyone who has played basic D&D. What's interesting is how the book presents these common elements; this is a game that emphasizes a different feeling than vanilla D&D. While the pulp influences of the early “weird tales” are present in OD&D, Lamentations turns them up to the maximum. Here is what the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft looked like before every tentacled monstrosity was named, statted, and cataloged.

Lamentations offers a lot of advice on building and maintaining a certain feel. The book dispenses with set lists of monsters and magic items, instead giving the referee tools and guidance on employing their own creations. Spells, while usually standard in their effects, often have their own “weird” flavor. The rules descriptions are brief, clear, and support the game's milieu. While I don't always agree with the mechanics (only fighters' improve at combat?), my nitpicks are small and easy enough to houserule.

This product is not for everyone, however. While I think that the new art meshes nicely with the feel Raggi is going for, art is always subjective and I get the feeling that some of this stuff is going to be very polarizing. When it works, it adds to the game, but when it doesn't the results seem gimmicky. I also have to pick on the font a bit. It might be a minor point, but the text uses an old-fashioned lettering that I find a little hard to read at times.

Also, Lamentations is written with a do-it-yourself philosophy that might be off-putting to some gamers. I agree with the author's opinion on keeping magic items rare and unique, but I sympathize with the neophyte GM who needs more examples to guide him. Sometimes, do-it-yourself can come across as incomplete design. There is a sample adventure in the referee book that lacks a map, which the author explains away as a lesson to the referee on thinking on his feet. I understand what Raggi is trying to do here, but I'm not sure if I buy it.

Overall, I'm very pleased with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I think that James Raggi took a risk putting out a product designed to push the envelope like this one does, and I believe he succeeded. If a modern version of old-fashioned D&D appeals to you and you aren't squeamish about art, I recommend this work.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
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Harvesters
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2010 12:30:01
In Harvesters, players take on the roles of anthropomorphic animals who go on D&D-like adventures. It's basically Redwall meets Dungeons and Dragons. The game uses a slightly paired-down version of the Castles & Crusades rules system. It is intended to appeal to children ages 6 and up, although there's nothing here that would keep adults from enjoying it. The first half of the book contains the rules. The second half is an adventure.

I played this game with my two children; boys ages 10 and 7. They both have some experience with RPGs, having played a handful of games with me before. The bottom line is that my boys had a great time. We were up past midnight playing and Harvesters was the very first thing that my 10 year old son talked about the next morning.

I'll start with the adventure, which is really the meat of this product. The plot focuses on the mystery of a group of missing animals, who've disappeared while bringing in the all important fall harvest. The players explore the countryside, following clues to find the lost harvesters. The book details an area with lots of things for the players to encounter and explore. If the players pick up on the clues, they can go from point A to point B, skipping a lot of the superfluous regions. Alternately, they can wander around, meeting hostile snakes, a noble skunk, and other interesting creatures. With all the detail about the town of Wheat Hollow and the surrounding regions, Harvesters has the makings of an interesting little Campaign Setting. I really enjoyed what is here and I'd like to see more.

Also, I have to mention that my kids got right into the adventure setting. My 7 year-old was playing a River Otter Knight named Sir Otter. His first order of business was visiting the locale colony of River Otters, helping them fish for a while and collecting a few fish of his own to take along on the adventure (he carefully wrote “3 fish” on his character sheet). He also used his swimming ability to his advantage during the adventure. I think both kids got into the role of their specific animals.

My older son grabbed on to the plot right away. He picked up on the clues presented in the adventure and came to the right conclusion about what happened to the harvesters. He was very excited to find evidence of a wolverine's involvement (his Badger Cleric's natural enemy!) and spent the whole adventure looking around every corner for wolverines. I think this adventure is perfect for kids and mine are very eager to finish it.

The rules are pretty much copied right from the Castles and Crusades Player's Handbook, only paired-down to cover a smaller range of levels. I'm a fan of C&C and its simplicity lends itself well to a game for children. There were a couple of places, though, where the rules relied too much on the C&C books. For example, Harvesters only describes spells very briefly, forcing me to crack open my Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook to find out the distance, duration, and specific effects of various spells. The product blurb claims that Harvesters contains “all the rules you need to get started”, but a GM is on his own for all but the most basic spell info.

In other places, the rules are complete but not distinct enough for my tastes. I would have really liked to see some elements unique to Harvesters. I was expecting to see clever animal-themed spells, equipment, and classes. Instead, we get the typical D&D tropes of fighters, wizards, chainmail, etc. Don't get me wrong, I LIKE those things, but it would have been nice if the game put a more distinct spin on them and made them its own. Harvesters, while certainly very playable, doesn't feel as complete as it should. It's good, but I want it to stand truly on its own and be great.

I give Harvesters 4 stars. If the idea of playing a Redwall-inspired D&D game appeals to you, or you're looking for an RPG that you can play with your kids, give Harvesters a try.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Harvesters
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Actual Monk
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2007 00:00:00
This is a short PDF presenting a brand new monk class. Unlike the David Carridine-inspired kung-fu wanderer in the Player's Handbook, this class is based on the western ascetic commonly associated with Christian monastic orders. In the intro, the author makes a fairly good case for adding a class like this to the D&D game. Clerics, the author points out, are focused on a wide range of abilities beyond divine magic. There is room, then, for a focused divine caster with a set of abilities more befitting a religious scholar.

The monk class is a weaker fighter than the cleric, with fewer hit points and only one good save. I was disappointed to note that his skill list and skill points are identical to the cleric's, making the monk no more scholarly or learned than clerics. Throw in Turn Undead, access to cleric domains, and the ability to spontaneously cast healing spells, and I'm starting to wonder the point in playing a monk at all.

Eventually, the monk gains access to a unique suite of abilities: Vows and Devotions. Upon reaching certain levels, the monk may select one new class feature from a list of eight. These include appropriate options such as Vow of Chastity or Vow of Silence. The devotions all have latin-inspired names like Devotion to Ars Mentis, which I thought was a neat touch.

However, the mechanics behind the Vows and Devotions are a mixed bag. The worst of the bunch is probably the Vow of Poverty. This vow requires the monk to give up all but his most meager possessions. In exchange, the monk gains a small bonus to his Fortitude saves. Unless you're playing in a very low magic campaign, trading in the thousands of GP in magic items your character is likely to accumulate over his career for a single saving throw bonus seems like a very poor choice. Compare this to the Vow of Chastity, which grants a similar saving throw bonus in exchange for a life of sexual abstinence (a mere roleplaying restriction!) The Devotions are better balanced, although none of them are really inspired in any notable way.

I understand that the author was trying to create a class that emulated the cleric in the same way that the core sorcerer emulates the wizard. I have no problem with keeping monks similar to clerics, but there is very little here to make them interesting enough to play. Sorcerers have spontaneous casting and a different set of skills than wizards. Monks are clerics with worse saves, fewer hit points, and a handful of powers roughly equivalent to a few bonus feats.

LIKED: The introduction is well written. The author really did a good job selling me on why a class like this is needed in D&D. I also thought that the non-rules bits, such as the paragraphs on why monks might become adventurers, were clear and entertaining. The layout is clean and the background image looks nice on my screen.

DISLIKED: There is definitely room for class like this in D&D. Unfortunately, this book fails to deliver the goods. The author made a class that is too similar to the cleric and, ultimately, I don't think many people would be interested in playing a monk as written.

Also, as a minor complaint, the monk table is really hard to read due to a big block of text running right through the top of it.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Actual Monk
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Publisher Reply:
Jaysis! How long does it take you people to get around to reviewing something :) I tend to the RP side of things and the mechanical and 'phat lewt' concerns aren't high on my agenda. It may well indeed not be suited to people who are more into number crunching and checks and balances in that manner but i think it stands up as a more RP oriented character.
War of the Burning Sky #1: The Scouring of Gate Pass
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2007 00:00:00
With this product, EN Publishing kicks off a grand adventure path: twelve modules designed to carry a party of first level heroes into the heart of an escalating war between powerful nations. When the dust settles, the PCs will have reached 20th level and become instrumental in the outcome of a dangerous conflict.

Like all great adventures, this one begins in a tavern. The PCs are charged with a simple task: escort a cleric out of harm's way while an invading army of mage-hunting inquisitors lays siege to the city. Things, of course, get more complicated once the action gets going. By the time the adventure concludes, the seeds have been sown for the greater campaign to come, hinting at the intrigue and danger building in the background.

Throughout most of the adventure, the PCs are in a city that is under attack by an invading army. The adventure includes plenty of tools to help the DM make this fact very clear to the players. In some cases, the war adds an additional level of danger to the combats and action scenes. In others, the war plays a background role, adding to the flavor of various scenes. One of my favorites is an aerial battle scene that precedes an encounter with an enemy soldier. This not only good imagery on the author's part, it is also an inventive way to trigger a fight.

Most of the Scouring of Gate Pass is written in a non-linear fashion. There is a general flow to the plot with a series of encounters that the DM is meant to insert along the way. That is not to say that everything is wide open, but the design facilitates a sense of free choice for the players. If your group dislikes railroading, they shouldn't feel too constrained by this adventure.

The author definitely wrote this book with the DM in mind. Sidebars throughout give advice on dealing with potential problems, adding or removing elements, and other issues that might crop up. These are the sort of things that one expects in a professional adventure, but they are all too often excluded.

Finally, I should give credit to the people responsible for the cartography. The maps of the various adventure sites are easy to use and nice to look at, a combination that is often difficult to achieve.


LIKED: This is a good adventure that hints at even better things to come. There is a great deal of support for this product outside the module itself. Both a player's guide and a DM's guide are available for free download. There are also battle maps and other handouts as well.

I thought that the author did a great job making sure that the war stood out as a major piece of the adventure, even when it is only adding flavor in the background. Done right, with a skilled DM, I think that Scouring of Gate Pass will really hook players into the events of the unfolding plot. This is a great start, and I look forward to checking out the rest of the modules in this series.

DISLIKED: This adventure is very dependent on the DM's ability to keep the plot flowing along properly. The somewhat open nature of events means that the referee will have to be very familiar with the module as a whole.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
War of the Burning Sky #1: The Scouring of Gate Pass
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Clash of History: Witch Trials
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2007 00:00:00
This PDF focuses on witches from a historical viewpoint. Included are two new classes; one core and one prestige. The PDF is short at only around a dozen pages. There is a single piece of internal artwork, a medieval period piece that fits the theme of the book well.

After a brief introduction, the book presents a new core class: the witch. Witches are spontaneous arcane spellcasters who use the same spell progression as sorcerers. For some reason, the author chose not to include the sorcerer spells per day chart, instead referring the reader to the Player's Handbook. I would have preferred its inclusion here, if only for ease of use. Space constraints are not really an issue in an electronic product, so why not save me from having to cross reference my PH every time I want to make a witch? A minor quibble, I know, but a quibble nonetheless.

The class itself is a bit disappointing. Witches are very similar to sorcerers up until 5th level. At that point, their alignment determines whether they will gain the abilities of a white witch or a black witch. White witches are healers who can brew healing potions and lay on hands. Black witches gain the power to bestow curses, brew baneful potions, and change their shape or appearance.

The witch's class abilities are very fitting, but the mechanics behind them are lacking. By the time the black witch can use her Lesser Curse power, for example, she can already cast Bestow Curse five times per day. Bestow Curse is superior to Lesser Curse in almost all categories, leaving me to wonder at the real benefit of the class ability. The first power of the white witch, Healing drink, allows her to brew healing potions despite lack of access to spells such as cure light wounds. It is not a bad idea, but the witch has to spend XP and take time to brew the potions just like any other character. She gets no reduction in time, experience, or any other benefit above and beyond the normal effects of the Brew Potion feat. Sure, sorcerers can't normally make healing potions at all, but as a 10th level ability this doesn't exactly jump out and grab me.

Finally, the witch has no spell list. The author suggests that the player select common spells from the sorcerer / wizard spell list. Why not, at the very least, list spells that fit the theme and feel of the class? Leaving the work up to the individual player or GM strikes me as lazy, and it makes me question the necessity of this book at all.

I'm more pleased with the new prestige class: the Inquisitor. Inquisitors are basically paladins who trade away a few typical paladin powers for a suite of themed abilities. Overall, I like the class features. Forced confession allows the Inquisitor to render his target unable to lie, with a save based on the results of an Intimidate check. I thought that the mechanics behind this ability were clever. Forced repentance, a similar power, lacks mechanical utility but fits the theme and feel of the class well.

The remainder of the book is devoted to a brief appendix on the historical view of witches and witchcraft, plus a timeline showing the shifting attitudes of the populace towards witches from 1000 AD to the modern era. This section, while well written, is very brief. In talking about an anti-witchcraft manual, for example, the author alludes to a number of historical myths and impressions, but doesn't actually list them. While the information we are given is interesting, little of it is actually useful at the gaming table.


LIKED: This PDF is very well written. It reads like a quality article you'd expect to find in a magazine such as Dragon. There are lots of good ideas here, and an industrious GM would find plenty of inspiration for working psuedo-historical or historical witches into his or her campaign.

I think that $2.25 is a fair price, making up somewhat for the shallow nature of the content.

DISLIKED: This book feels incomplete. While I learned that medieval people had a number of superstitions about witches, I know almost nothing about what those superstitions actually were. The writing and subject matter are good enough to whet the reader's appetite, but ultimately the book doesn't deliver any juicy details.

The Inquisitor prestige class is worth checking out if you're interested in an alternate path for your paladins. The witch core class, which is the logical backbone of the product, falls flat. If you're interested in the subject matter, this book is a good start. You'll have to do most of the leg work on your own, however, and this PDF is by no means a complete primer on witches or the European witch trials.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Clash of History: Witch Trials
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Antique Maps XXXII - Mississippi River Basin of the 1700s
Publisher: Split Eye Productions
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2007 00:00:00
This is a scan of an actual historic map showing a central portion of the United States circa the 18th century. The map itself is very detailed and has a nice, hand-drawn quality to it. The sepia color scheme lends an antique feeling to the product, adding to the visual effect. Map labellings appear to be written in French.

While this product is literally a map, I don't think it is very useful for the kinds of things one generally needs a map for in a roleplaying game. You couldn't, for example, use it as the overland map for a campaign. There is no key, no real scale that I can find, and everything is written in a language I don't speak. Clearly, a lot of work would need to be done to turn this into a tool with a lot of utility.

As a visual aid or source of inspiration, however, I think that this product does well. Imagine a group of players in a historical RPG set in the United States around the time of the Louisiana purchase. The PCs decide to purchase a map of the area from a local fur-trapper, and the GM hands them this as a starting point. The players could add their own details as the campaign progressed, building and expanding the map as they go. Or perhaps the map contains clues to a treasure hidden in the 1700s by a French explorer. The modern adventurers must try to follow in the footsteps of the explorer, all the while dealing with terrain that has experienced centuries of change.


LIKED: This is a nice visual aid, and a creative GM will certainly find something clever to do with it. If you're looking for authenticity, you can't go wrong with an actual map conceived and created in the 18th century region it depicts.

DISLIKED: I had problems viewing this product. The main map is too small to see in any detail, while the various zoomed-in portions showed too small a section for my tastes. The format may be ideal for printing, but it doesn't hold up as well when viewed on screen.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Antique Maps XXXII - Mississippi River Basin of the 1700s
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Octavirate Presents: Lethal Lexicon Vol 1
Publisher: Octavirate Games
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2007 00:00:00
On page ten of Octavirate Presents: Lethal Lexicon Volume 1 there is an illustration that, I think, nicely summarizes this product. The picture depicts a cartoonish adventurer attacking what appears to be a beholder. Honey drips from the beholder-like creature's mouth while a swarm of angry bees zero in on the unlucky adventurer's nose. I can imagine this scene playing out at the gaming table. The cruel GM smiles as the PC buries his pole-arm in the "beholder." With a sickening feeling, the player realizes that the monster he's attacking isn't a monster at all, but a very elaborate beehive shaped like one of D&D's most famous monsters. As the poor hero is stung again and again, the GM lets slip the creature's name. It is, in fact, a bee-holder.

The player groans, but it is a groan of death.

There is something of a tradition, especially among the old-guard designers who pioneered the early RPG games, of not always taking the game too seriously. What better way to keep things light than with the occasional goofy (but deadly) monster? The great thing about this collection is that, despite the inherent silliness in these monsters, the whole thing is really clever.

Take, for example, the bear-owl. This monster is comprised of the parts of owl and bear that weren't used by whatever mad-wizard first created the famous owl bear. In other words, its an owl with a bear's head. I'm actually a little frightened by how much sense this makes. Its a bizarro, wahoo kind of sense, but sense nonetheless.

What about the biclops? This hideous giant has TWO eyes! Or the bipolar bear, a two-headed arctic dwelling ursine with two distinct and opposite personalities. How about the militant vegan ape, an obvious homage to the carnivorous ape popular in many 1st Edition adventures? Or the Children of Amon-Kor? These walrus-headed humanoids serve a most obscure and insignificant deity: Amon-Kor, Egyptian god of ice-cold winters.

Another favorite of mine are the Scientifically Inaccurate Dinosaurs. These are dinosaurs inspired by scientific and cultural misconceptions. Ripped from the pages of cheesy B-movies, the dinosaurs are "uniformly aggressive and do not hesitate to engage in battle." Examples include the Brontosaurus, which doesn't technically exist, and the Spiked-Thumb Leaping Iguanodon. The latter, according to my limited knowledge, is based on changing paleontologist opinion on just where the iguanodon's spike-like bones were located; its head or its hands. This version of the monster tosses out all the boring fossil evidence in exchange for a mighty leaping eye gouge attack. Take that, science!

There are, of course, monsters that I didn't care for. The various Endangered Dragons, while a neat idea, are either too mundane (the Cobalt Dragon) or too goofy (the plaid dragon) for my tastes. The Bonacon, a magical cow with a flaming manure attack, sinks too low for me. Evil clowns, on the other hand, are well done, but something I've seen before.

Each creature's stat block contains information for those players using common variant rules such as wounds/vitality, armor as damage reduction, or 3.0 style damage reduction. I'm not sure how many people utilize these alternate rules, but their inclusion was a nice touch.

LIKED: I'm not usually in the market for humorous RPG products, but the Lethal Lexicon Volume 1 is so well done, it really rises above my expectations. When it comes to stupid humor, there is a fine line between clever and dumb. Thankfully, this book stays mostly on the right side of that line. It helps that many of these monsters are deadly enough to be remembered beyond their pun-ridden names and strange attacks.

I'm tempted to take away a few points because this book is so silly. Doing so would be unfair to the spirit of the product, however, so I can't do it. The author sets out a pretty clear mission statement in the opening pages: to capture the kind of don't-take-yourself-too-seriously fun often present in the glory days of D&D. This goal, I believe, is achieved rather handedly.

DISLIKED: I mentioned earlier that I don't care for the cobalt dragon. That isn't entirely true. I actually think the cobalt dragons are really cool. They aren't, however, funny. Nor do they strike me as particularly silly. I guess the joke lies in the fact that cobalt is a bit of a strange mineral on which to base a dragon. Fair enough, but it doesn't jibe well with the rest of the book. Radioactive dragons may be over the top in a ?ten years old in your cousin's basement? kind of way, but they're in an entirely different category than cows with flaming poop attacks or super-intelligent space apes.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Octavirate Presents: Lethal Lexicon Vol 1
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for the review. I would like to note that of all the creatures in the book, the Bonacon, frighteningly, is actually from legend and heraldry. Flaming excretea and all. -Trent
Marsh of the Wild Things
Publisher: 12 to Midnight
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2007 00:00:00
The premise of Marsh of the Wild Things reads something like a deliberate experiment in monster ecology. The author mixes an exceptionally intelligent behir, a superstitious tribe of troglodytes, some ghasts, shocker lizards, and a band of merrow. The resulting blend is an interesting exploration adventure filled with a wide variety of creatures, all living within the confines of a single swampy setting.

One of the constant challenges of adventure design is the trick of building a cohesive and usable plot while still giving the PCs some measure of control. Wild Things does well in this regard. There is very little railroading involved. Basically, the PCs must cross a dangerous area in order to rescue a group of innocent villagers. Along the way, the party encounters many of the marsh's monstrous denizens. What the PCs do with those encounters is ultimately up to them. Once the basic quest is complete and the villagers are rescued, the players then have the option of delving deeper into the adventure or moving on to other things. Overall, as long as you're playing with an adventure-minded group of heroes, you can give them the reigns and let them journey through Wild Things as they see fit.

There are a few design and layout touches that enhance the adventure's usability at the table. There are a handy sidebars that help clarify rules where necessary. In addition, each section ends with a GM checklist which lists useful reminders for keeping things on task. All adventures require some prep work, and these short lists are a big help in that regard. Its also nice to have the monster and NPC stats gathered together in the appendix. I'm a big fan of handouts and visual aids, and Wild Things does contain an old standby: a note to hand the players when their characters discover an NPC's journal. Things like this are always a welcome addition for me, although I would have like to see a few more handouts and the like.

Another thing that struck me as positive was the author's clever use of groups of monsters whose abilities go well with each other. There is at least one case where a villain's special attack really helps stack the deck against the heroes. Marsh of the Wild Things is a fairly standard d20 fantasy adventure, but its also a pretty good one. The designers weren't trying to think outside the box so much as work within the definitions of the genre to create a fun and challenging module. In that regard, I believe they achieved what they set out to do.

LIKED: Marsh of the Wild Things is a good adventure. The plot is simple but well structured. The somewhat open nature of the adventure environment give players a feeling of freedom while keeping the flow of play within the GM's grasp. There is an eclectic selection of monsters with just enough backstory on their recent interactions and motivations to help the GM build a sense of verisimilitude. A clever synergy between some of the monsters, along with a few surprise tactics (which I won't spoil here), should keep things interesting for players expecting a series of easy encounters.

DISLIKED: Some of the character dialog reads a little clunky to me. I prefer things paraphrased, since few people speak in real life the way that characters speak in fantasy games / novels. Also, the maps leave something to be desired. They're functional, but not very pretty.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Marsh of the Wild Things
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OSRIC Unearthed
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2007 00:00:00
If you aren't familiar with OSRIC, it is essentially first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons stripped down to the bare rules and released as open content. The idea is provide a means for publishers to release brand new content for the original AD&D game. The core rules are free so, if this sort of thing interests you, go hunt down a copy and download it.

OSRIC Unearthed is a collection of rules additions for the OSRIC core rules. It is written in the spirit of 1st Edition's Unearthed Arcana and contains everything from new classes and weapons to spells and martial arts. The book uses art and layout clearly suggestive of the AD&D books of the 70s, a style which adds a definite feel of nostalgia to the product.

The PDF begins with a selection of new classes. These range from typical fantasy fare such as the knight, bard, and barbarian to new classes such as the brawler and the noble. Overall, I thought that the classes were well designed. The barbarian's berserk ability, for example, is a very simple but effective take on barbarian rage that works perfectly within the parameters of the OSRIC ruleset. I also liked the rules for improving a knight's warhorse's hit points. Other rules were less appealing to me. For instance, the barbarian flies into a rage anytime he is targeted by a magic-user's spell and makes a successful saving throw. I know this is a Conan the Barbarian inspired hold-over from the original rules, but this rule seems unnecessarily arbitrary. Pity the poor magic-user who casts a beneficial spell on his friend the barbarian.

I thought that the designer showed a good attention to flavor and detail in many of the classes. I particularly like the ninja's ?nine signs? of ninjitsu, a concept lifted directly out of ninja mythology. The yamabushi is an interesting take on the familiar monk class, while the noble would serve a unique support role in a standard adventuring party. In addition, many old-school fans will be interested to see the return of the thief-acrobat.

Following the new classes is a very brief selection of new weapons and then a very large section on martial arts rules. Martial arts include both eastern and western styles (although the former is far more prevalent than the latter) as well as armed and unarmed varieties. Most of these are taken directly from the real world. The majority grant a better base armor class as well as a bonus to certain kinds of attacks. In many ways, the styles work something like feats, with each selected style taking up a weapon proficiency slot. Once a base martial art is learned, the character becomes eligible for maneuvers: special attacks that open up additional combat options. Maneuvers include familiar things like power attack and disarming attack. The styles and manuevers are balance and add quite a few options in combat to a character willing to devote some time and effort into learning them.

The book concludes with a dozen or so new magic items, followed by a short section with advice on using the OSRIC rules to run Arthurian or Oriental campaigns. The latter portion covers only three pages of the book, and contains very little other than a brief description of the campaign concept and a few notes on how each class fits into the setting. The advice is sound, but it's too brief to serve as anything more than a starting point for a GM willing to do a lot or work and research on his own. The addition of a list of suggested reading would have gone a long way to making this short section more useful.


LIKED: OSRIC Unearthed presents a number of well-designed rules in a package that has the right look and feel for a book full of 1E AD&D rules. The new rules strike a great balance of mechanics and flavor, adding to the game's options without dragging things down with too many details.

DISLIKED: I'm afraid that the martial arts rules may not be for everyone. They're well designed, but they add a level of rules-bloat that some OSRIC players may not be willing to deal with. A character who takes karate, for example, suddenly has access to ten combat maneuvers; well beyond the usual array of options available in the OSRIC rules as written. In a game that relies more on GM fiat and less on hard and fast mechanics, this may be too much. Since the bulk of the book deals with these rules, you'll find OSRIC Unearthed less useful if you aren't interested in adding martial arts to your game. Even the class section leans heavily on the martial arts rules, making it hard to justify getting this book if you don't plan to use at least some version of the martial arts rules.

Also, it seems that much of this book is geared toward players interested in adding an oriental feel to their games. There are three classes, three magic items, and about six new weapons with a strong eastern theme. If you don't like to mix your east with your west, OSRIC Unearthed won't be as useful to you.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
OSRIC Unearthed
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Divinity
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2007 00:00:00
Divinity is a roleplaying game in which players take on the role of a god or similar divine being. Game play focuses on the interaction between the gods, their mortal followers, and other divine entities. Characters interact with their world in a number of predefined ways, depending on their personality and focus. A stealthy or tricky character, for example, might be good at using subterfuge, while a particularly benevolent divinity would likely have skill in empathy and etiquette. Task resolution is diceless, with players succeeding or failing at a given attempt based mainly on their power level. Players also have the option to bid "will points" to achieve more difficult tasks or overcome rival characters.

Divinity is a "rules light" game that stresses story over hard mechanics. In most cases, the rules exist primarily to encourage the players to stay in character and behave within the confines of the genre. Characters who use power beyond their normal abilities, or act in violation of their portfolios, run the risk of diminishing in worship and, eventually fading completely into obscurity. On the other hand, characters can grow in power by working within the confines of their defined roles, granting succor to their followers, and interacting with their divine peers.

By design, divinity is very abstract. It's a largely story-driven game, in which the rules take a back seat to character actions. I consider this design style a strength, but in some ways the rulebook suffers for it. The author seems to be writing somewhat stream of conscious, with thoughts and ideas presented in a disorganized fashion. For example, the first chapter gives a very brief listing and description of skills. Chapter two then gives a slightly more detailed skill list. Unfortunately, there's no clear design or layout reason for this division. There are a few other places where the author mentions a rule in brief, only to refer the reader to another, slightly more detailed section of the book where that rule is explained again. In another example, a section in chapter 3 actually refers the same chapter for more detail. I'm sure it was just a typo, but that sort of thing is potentially very confusing when you're trying to use this reference in actual game play.


LIKED: I really like the idea behind this book. Playing a deity in a roleplaying game like this interests me, and I think that making it a largely abstract and story-driven game was a wise move. The rules, though light, support the intended style of play.

I should also point out that Divinity contains notes on using it for live action roleplaying. I have no experience or interest in LARPing, but it seems that these rules would lend themselves well to that sort of gaming.


DISLIKED: Divinity lacks polish. The book needs stronger examples to help players understand how the game is meant to be played. The rules should be cleaned up and compiled, with all the mechanics kept in one location for ease of use. With stronger organization and the removal of a number of typos, Divinity could be turned into a nice little game.

I'm calling this book 2 and a half stars. I think Divinity would play fairly well at the table, as long as the GM has a good idea what he's doing. The typos and lack of clarity, however, drag the book below a 3 star rating.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Divinity
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The Last Free City/The Festering Earth (OGL Version)
Publisher: Final Redoubt Press
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2007 00:00:00
This product details Felric's Redoubt, a city in The Echoes of Heaven campaign setting from Final Redoubt Press. The download also includes the adventure The Festering Earth, part two of a ten-part series taking the characters from 1st to 20th level while they face the dangers of a world-threatening plot. You can read my review of the setting here on RPGNow.

The Last Free City continues the innovations started in the original product. One of the best is the way the book denotes adventure hooks. The designers are very clear regarding which of the various plot threads will be developed in future supplements and which are free and clear for the DM to explore without fear of contradicting later published sources. I also really like the included maps, which were all created using Campaign Cartographer. The raw CC files are in the download, giving a little added utility to those DMs who own that program.

The Last Free City opens with a detailed history of the city itself. Felric's Redoubt was founded in the wake of a long a bloody conflict between agents of the Empire Vurtus and those few souls who dared resist the imperial power. It was interesting that the city of Felric's Redoubt was built in a sub-optimal location. According to the book, the initial survey for the fortress that later grew into the city was poorly handled and city leaders had to compensate by building a number of improvements. I found this an interesting and realistic change from the usual well-planned and modern-looking cities that often show up in gaming products.

Besides the history, the book gives descriptions of the language, names, and culture of the city. Notes on swearing, insult contests, and vows give the DM the tools to really help make the setting come alive for the players. There is a great deal of space devoted to the various guilds that control the city's commerce, as well as the people that run them. Art, government, entertainment, and the law are all touched upon as well. The level of information is good, and certainly detailed enough to be useful at the gaming table.

The PDF itself is nice-looking. The layout is good and there is decent art throughout. I appreciate the inclusion of an index, which supplement's the PDF's bookmarking and helps those who want to print the book and use a physical copy at the table. I really appreciate the designer's skill with Campaign Cartographer, a program that is often considered to have a steep learning curve. This is a small-press product, though, and it does show a bit from time to time. The art is black and white, and some pieces aren't all that impressive. Its a small complaint, however, and the PDF looks good overall.

The other part of this download is the adventure. The Festering Earth continues where the previous module (included in the campaign setting download) left off. It is a fairly complex adventure with an involved plot. Essentially, the party must work with and against the church to stop a demonic serial killer. There is also a section called a teaser, which is a kind of mini story-within-a-story. In it, the players run 1st level versions of themselves some ten thousand years in the past. These teasers are meant to provide a slowly unfolding backstory while simultaneously giving the players a direct hand in the history of the world. They probably won't work for every group, but the concept is certainly an innovative one.

Players will appreciate the author's efforts to avoid railroading and allow them to explore as they see fit. DMs will appreciate the extra tools the book gives to help keep things on track. These take the form of Dramatic Purpose sidebars, which explain the designer's intent for each scene. In addition, notes are scattered here and there on potentially unexpected results and how to deal with them. The adventure is a good one, and one of its principle strengths is how well it is tied to the campaign setting.

LIKED: These products are like a glimpse into a very detailed and interesting home-brew campaign setting. The level of background and setting information is impressive and the layout and presentation is professional and appealing. The author does a great job detailing the city, and the included adventure is nicely meshed with the setting. Felric's Redoubt is excellent, regardless of which game system you're using to run it.

DISLIKED: As heavy as it is on setting detail, Felric's Redoubt is very light on rules. Part of this, I believe, has to do with the way the book was written. There are four versions, each for a different game system. To this end, the designers have kept the actual rules content fairly sparse. There is enough to run things, but not much more. When done properly, rules can really support setting detail. A few prestige classes and feats would have helped support the fluffy bits with a firm layer of crunch.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Last Free City/The Festering Earth (OGL Version)
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you very much. I've taken your system comments to heart (from your previous review). There are two prestige classes and a base class in The Lost Kingdom of the Dwarves.
The Forgotten Isle
Publisher: Magique Productions, Ltd
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2007 00:00:00
For those who don't know, OSRIC is an open-content version of the First Edition Advance Dungeons & Dragons rules. Its an effort to give publishers the ability to produce new products for the old game system, and one that has found a small but enthusiastic place in the modern gaming community.

The Forgotten Island is a module originally written in 1991 and ran at a convention called U-Con. This is an updated and revised version. The adventure spans some seventy pages and is divided into three parts. The art is pretty good throughout. There are a number of handouts and visual aids. Some of the art is really good. The illustration on page 44 of part three is a particularly cool piece of black and white art. The layout, on the other hand, is a bit amateurish. It looks a lot like something created in the pre-desktop publishing era of the 1970s. While this is consistent with the first edition products that inspired it, the module's presentation could have used some freshening up.

The adventure is, by default, set in Magique Productions' house setting: the Realms of Arkonus Fantasy Campaign Setting. Its not tied too tightly to the setting, however, and should be usable in just about any typical fantasy setting.

Part one details a small port city and gives the PCs an enemy in a group of rowdy pirates. There are a number of things to see and do in town, and I could see a party spending a lot of time wandering around there. I think one of the strengths of first edition shines through here. With the rules-light nature of OSRIC, more focus can be placed on the kind of details that aren't governed by rules. PCs sneaking around the warehouse, for example, might run afoul of one of the tough dockworkers. The rules-light nature of the system means that only about two lines of text are need for the dockworkers' stats, leaving the rest for description of the area.

Part two covers a journey on the high seas in search of a mysterious island. There are a series of planned events here that play out something like a timeline. The GM will have to be careful here to control the pacing of this section, lest it play out like one long section of flavor text. After their journey, should they survive the dangers, the player characters reach the island and the next phase of the adventure begins. There is a vast ruined city here, filled with a wide variety of monsters, tricks, and traps. There is plenty to explore and a number of dangers to face. In the end, the players must make a decision that could have world-wide effects.

LIKED: I like old-school adventures, and the Forgotten Isle certainly falls into that category. The wide variety of locations, from a city to an ocean to an undead-filled ruin keeps the adventure feeling fresh throughout. There are lots of handouts to help the GM run things smoothly. When the PCs find an important map, for example, the GM can simply hand the players the map handout. These sorts of things aren't necessary, but they're very welcome.

DISLIKED: Backstory is important in an adventure, to be sure, but I think that the Forgotten Isle suffers from having a little too much epic background. The Isle itself isn't that hard to insert into a generic fantasy world, but the backstory might be another matter. I think that the designers would have been better off leaving a little more to the GM to flesh out. The end result feels a little clunky to me. Some parts are given too much detail, while others are kind of hand-waved away. The Forgotten Isle really relies on having a good GM to make sure things run smoothly and work for the players.

I also had a bit of trouble finding things from time to time. The organization of the product, while not bad, could use a little attention. I also found the conclusion lacking. If the PCs make the wrong decision, it could have apocolyptic consequences. Unfortunately, the book glosses over the details and gives a few sentences to the effect of bad things happen and the world ends. I exaggerate, but not much.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Forgotten Isle
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(Aid) The More Better Indispensable Character Formfolio
Publisher: Creative Mountain Games
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2007 00:00:00
This is one of those handy little products that I'm glad someone else took the time to design. Essentially, this is a PDF of character record sheets that can by typed on directly and then printed for use at the gaming table. Those who own a full version of acrobat can save changes for later use. The main sheet is a fairly standard d20 character sheet. There is room for the usual stuff: stats, skills, saves, combat, etc.

In addition, there are sheets for tracking spells and spellbooks. You can either customize your spell list by typing known spells directly on to the blank sheet, or you can use any of the premade sheets that already list the standard spells for each character class. Where appropriate, these sheets contain room for class specific notes, such as a favored enemy section for rangers or a turning chart for paladins. As a bonus, there is a sheet listing the summon monster tables from the PH.

I've always been a bit anal-retentive when it comes to character sheets. I like my sheets to be very neat and organized, and what better way to accomplish this than by typing directly to them on the computer? The only drawback is that I lack a full version of acrobat, so I'd have to redo the sheet every time I want to level up my PC. Not a fault of the product itself, but it does limit its usefulness to a significant portion of the audience. I'm assuming, of course, that most people don't have a full version of acrobat available. If you do, then you won't have this problem.

I would also have liked a few more character sheets. The included generic one is good, but if you don't like it then you're not going to get much use from this product. By using the advanced features of Acrobat, its possible to give the user some control over the sheet's appearance. Unfortunately, The More Better Character Formfolio doesn't take advantage of any this, which I think is a bit of missed opportunity.

LIKED: Overall, though, this is a useful product that's worth the low price. Having the spells already written out for you is nice, especially for clerics. If you like typing your characters and then printing them up, you'll love the More Better Indispensable Character Formfolio. I can see this being particularly useful to people designing session for conventions, where you don't want to challenge strangers to read your handwriting when giving them premade characters.

Oh, and the name is just awesome. I can't convince my word processor program that formfolio is a real word, but I know I've added it to my personal lexicon.

DISLIKED: As I typed a PC onto this sheet, I found myself wishing for a few features. For example, it would be nice if I could type something next to the spell names on the spell sheets, such as a page number for quick reference during play. Also, a few variants on the standard character sheet would have ensured that the Formfolio found a home in anyone's campaign.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
(Aid) The More Better Indispensable Character Formfolio
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Publisher Reply:
Some found the Formfolio was not as useful as it could be because they did not have the full version of Adobe Acrobat, and therefore could not save a filled in form. However, it has since been shown me that this Foxit Reader allows precisely that (and is free). http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/rd_intro.php Very nice to be able to adjust your character between games and, also, make up a number of spell lists for various standard occasions, such as traveling in the wilderness, traveling in a dungeon, spending time in town to rest, spending time in town to research, etc. All clean and easy to read.
The Algernon Files 2.0 (M&M)
Publisher: BlackWyrm Games
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2007 00:00:00
If there is one thing I can't get too much of, it is NPCs for my Mutants & Masterminds games. From on-the-fly enemies to inspiration for heroes and supporting cast, books such as this are a great resource for any M&M GM. Each character in the Algernon Files 2.0 features an illustration, name, background, stats, public information, and other necessary bits for using these villains and vigilantes in your home campaign.

Besides the characters themselves, the Algernon Files describes the default comic-book setting in which they live and adventure. In many cases, this information is incorporated into the background details of the NPCs themselves. Most of it is generic enough that it can easily fit into your own homebrew, or you can change it (or ignore it) if you so choose.

There are also lots of goodies worth stealing. My favorite is a fully fleshed-out headquarters. Its history and purpose are linked to the setting, but it could easily fit into any typical superhero world. There is also an occult manor, a bar, and a cathedral. One of the neat features of the locations is that most of them include not just maps but also artistic depictions of the building exteriors as well.

The meat of the book, of course, is the characters, and there are a lot of them. I'm particularly impressed whenever a product such as this surprises me. I found that characters that I thought would be lame turned out to be pretty cool once I read the descriptions. Even guys like The Best Man might find their way into my campaign. The nice thing about these guys is that, even if I don't like an NPC's background or appearance, I can file off the serial numbers and just use the stats.

Any collection of characters such as this one is bound to have hits and misses. The nice thing here is that there are so many choices, the odds are you'll get your money's worth. Very few of these offerings are obvious rehashes of existing comic book heroes, which further adds to the utility of this book.


LIKED: This is a great compendium of good guys and bad guys for your Mutants and Masterminds game. A wide variety of PLs, plus the large numbers of NPCs, helps make up for shortcomings that books such as this typically suffer. If you're looking for a product of this type, Algernon Files is a sure bet.

DISLIKED: There are, of course, characters that didn't work for me. In a few cases, I was simply turned off by a name. Film Noir and Lady Liberty come to mind. The former for his name, the latter because she seems (unintentionally) silly to me. I also found the layout a bit unappealing. Something about the stat sections of each character looks a little unappealing. I can't put my finger on it, maybe the color scheme, maybe the font, but it does take away just a bit from the product.

One other minor thing is the number of legacy characters. Its a little harder to fit someone into your campaign if they come linked to another NPC. This is something that can be ignored without too much problem, but it does require some work on the part of the GM.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Algernon Files 2.0 (M&M)
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