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Shadows of the Tower Issue #01
Publisher: Mind Forge Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2006 00:00:00
This is the first issue of ?Shadows of the Tower,? a free e-zine spinning out of the Barroks-Tower.net gaming community. This is a dense document (lots of artwork, a good deal of it full-color) that focuses mostly on material you can use in your Dungeons & Dragons game. After an introductory letter-from-the-editor presenting the e-zine, and a few pages devoted to what?s happening within the Barroks-Tower.net crowd, the d20 material begins.

?Things Are Not What They Seem? is featured in the ?Need an Encounter?? column. There isn?t much build-up here; instead, this encounter with Lionel Arcan, a high-level human wizard king and his followers could best be used to cap the end of an adventure. The characters ? Lionel, his concubine followers, and his ogre fighter champion (named Legbreaker) ? are given enough background and motivational information that a DM could use this material to supplement his or her existing game.

The ?Slice of Life? column is devoted to the NPC Duragar Brandhammer, a clean-shaven dwarven smith self-exiled from his people. This single page isn?t designed to be a full encounter, but a brief character description and adventure hook are provided.

Three prestige classes based around a sensory theme are next presented, and of them, the aesthetic eye (a blind character who has developed his or her other senses to higher levels to more than compensate for the loss of sight) is the most promising. The other two ? the sentinel (a rogue-like class who?s trained his or her senses to become aware of pending danger before the danger finds the sentinel) and the sensory adept (a near-monk-like class devoted to expanding all the senses) ? are well-balanced, but the aesthetic eye just seems like more fun to play.

There are two new feats and five spells, as well as a handful of magic items and even a few artifacts. Additionally, there are three new weapon qualities (the ?dusting? quality is the stand out here ? upon impact, a dusting missile weapon releases a fine dust that dulls an opponents olfactory senses, negating the Scent ability). Monsters and a brief piece of original fiction round out this supplement.

There?s a little bit of everything in this first issue of ?Shadows of the Tower? (save anything psionic); gamers are sure to find something of use here. The formatting and presentation is functional, but could use some tightening up in places, and if one isn?t careful while navigating this .pdf, you may inadvertently have your web browser redirected to either Barroks-tower.net or the homepage of Mark Allen, the contributing artist to this project.


LIKED: There is quite a range of D&D material available in this issue of Shadows of the Tower (with only psionics not getting a mention - see below). Most of the text is easy to follow, and the artwork is quite good.

DISLIKED: I would have liked to have seen a psionics-mention or two here, especially since the theme of this issue revolved around the senses.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of the Tower Issue #01
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MP3s + NPCs Pack 1: Habeus Corpsus
Publisher: Mindscape Music
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2006 00:00:00
Habeus Corpsus is essentially two products, a small collection of NPC concepts and five music tracks intended for RPG use. This package is billed as a modern horror game supplement, but it really is non-campaign specific.

The NPC concepts are short and to-the-point. There are no statistics or specific game references. Instead, these one-sheet descriptions are designed to give the player or gamemaster a spark of an idea for a character concept, and then point him or her in the right direction in further developing the character. After the character description, three or four questions are presented to help the player or GM start thinking more about the character?s background and current motivations. It?s not a bad tool, but the concepts themselves could have presented a bit more information; in some cases, only five sentences are presented to describe the character concept.

The music tracks, however, are the strongest point of this supplement. For the most part, these tracks are clean and solidly produced (there are a few slight pops at the start of some of these tracks, but they would only be overly noticeable if the tracks were looped over and over again at the game table). These tracks range anywhere from four-and-a-half minutes long to just over six minutes, and they?re varied enough so that each one invokes a unique feel and mood.

They are a bit dark, but they aren?t quite dark enough to be considered horror music. The two tracks most deserving of being called ?horror game music? would be ?Someone Just Stepped Over Your Grave,? which has an almost Italian zombie movie vibe to it, and ?Sans Obol,? which is perhaps the most filmic of all the tracks, and could a bit of tension to a climactic battle near the end of a gaming session.


LIKED: This product definitely has versatility, and can be used in a variety of different games and game-settings.

DISLIKED: I would have liked to have seen, or rather heard, the music get a bit more dark.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
MP3s + NPCs Pack 1: Habeus Corpsus
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None so Vile - Disciples of Darkness II: Soul Harvester
Publisher: Blackdirge Publishing
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/23/2006 00:00:00
Writer Aeryn Rudel has created a truly dark prestige class in ?None So Vile: Disciples of Darkness II ? Soul Harvester.? As a class for which PCs to aspire, it?s downright creepy; as a class for NPCs, the soul harvester is definitely a character concept to be feared.

Normally, I?m not particularly moved by role-playing material introduced by lengthy fiction. However, the prose that made up the first page-and-a-half of this supplement is quite well written and leaves no question as to what kind of character a soul harvester might be. Be warned: this is a piece of writing that pulls no punches. This brief story of hobgoblin-cleric-turned-soul-harvester Jukko Ironscourge is harsh, but fits perfectly the flavor of this prestige class.

There are two main attractive features of the soul harvester class. First, the soul harvester?s weapon becomes his or her sacrificial blade, and becomes the tool of the actual soul harvesting. As the soul harvester slays more enemies with the sacrificial blade, certain benefits become available to the character in the form of ?virtual feats,? like Power Attack, Improved Critical and Greater Weapon Focus. Additionally, the sacrificial blade can, for a short time, function as a magical weapon with various weapon enhancements (an example of how the sacrificial blade can be used as a flaming weapon is given). Certain metamagic feats can also be earned through use of the sacrificial blade.

The other feature that truly sets this prestige class terrifyingly apart from the others is its dread mark class ability. The soul harvester can ?taint the essence? of a foe, ?marking the victim?s soul as the property of the soul harvester?s dark god.? This invisible mark lasts for a short time (one minute per soul harvester level), but if the target is slain during the time the dread mark is upon him or her, the victim must make a Will save or have his or her soul consumed by the soul harvester?s deity.

(The soul harvester also has the sacrificial strike class ability which allows him or her to perform a coup de grace attack as a standard action instead of a full round action.)

This is an information-packed supplement. After breaking down the specifics of this prestige class, writer Rudel presents material describing how a soul harvester might be played, how the character would interact with other characters and their place in the world. The supplement concludes with a sample soul harvester (Jukko Ironscourge?s statblock and historical information is here) as well as information about the dark god Nurrog Bahl, the Crimson Harvester and Elfreaper.

The writing is tight, and the artwork and graphic design supports the material nicely. This is a slick product; graphic designer Erik Nowak should be commended.

As a DM, I would be a bit hesitant to allow a player to bring this character to the table, and as a player, I would be both thrilled and terrified to face an NPC soul harvester.


LIKED: Enough material is packed into this supplement's few pages to make this a fully-realized NPC. The idea of a soul harvester should be scary, and writer Rudel has done a fine job of crafting such an effective NPC. As a DM, I'm looking forward to incorporating this class into an upcoming game!

DISLIKED: There is nothing I didn't like about this product!

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
None so Vile - Disciples of Darkness II: Soul Harvester
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17 Bard Spells
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/22/2006 00:00:00
The Manual of the Minstrel contains 17 bard-specific spells. It is a brightly-colored book that appears quite useless to non-bard characters, but when a bard uses it, or even approaches it, its supposed power is made quite clear. The drawings inside dissuade non-bards from the text within; the bell attached to the bookmarker rings for bards but ignores other classes. The spells are obvious bard-centric.

Tony DiGerolamo is the writer of ?17 Bard Spells,? and the 7 levels of bard spells are all represented here (although in some cases, there is only one new spell for some of the higher spell levels).

The spells are all certainly playable and usable; most the material is well-balanced, but some spell schools seemed a bit questionable (I don?t know if ?instant hangover? really should belong to the necromancy school).

Some of these spells, especially the earlier-level spells, seemed more annoying than useful. While it certainly may be interesting for a bard to be able to cast ?invitation? and instantly create and send a number of invitations to his or her upcoming performance, I don?t know how often a spell like this would be used in a gaming session. ?Perfect addiction? allows the bard to cause a target to become addicted to an item (food or drink) or activity (like gambling), and while this certainly may produce some interesting in-game scenarios, I don?t know how often a player will chose to use this spell at the table (especially with the accompanying 100 gp cost). (Although I could see how some of these spells could be used by a DM/NPC to interesting result.)

Spells like ?roadside repast,? which creates a feast for the bard and his or her companions, or ?the amazing escape trick,? which allows the bard to instantly teleport to a prepared safe location at the utterance of a trigger word (spoken by someone other than the bard), might be more useful in the hands, or spellbook, of a PC.

?Improvised spell? is one of the final spells in the Manual of the Minstrel. Its description is a bit vague; a bard can use this spell to ?make up a 1st to 3rd level spell on the spot.? There is little direction given to help players and DMs in determining just what a 1st level spell would be, versus a 2nd or 3rd level spell. Something like this is just too open-ended for a structured spellbook.

Overall, ?17 Bard Spells? is a nice package, and if nothing else, can provide the DM with a few ideas for interesting NPC spellcasting.


LIKED: This is a nicely-structured package; The Le Games is notorious for putting together products that are easy to read and use, and "17 Bard Spells" is no exception. And for ease of use, the bard class listing is listed in an appendix at the back of the supplement.

DISLIKED: Some of the clip art artwork has appeared in other gaming supplements, and the type of artwork was inconsistent.

As for the content, I don't know how useful some of this would be for players. "17 Bard Spells" might be better targetted at DMs.

A spell list at the beginning of the supplement and incorporating these spells in the the bard class listing in the supplement would have been appreciated.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
17 Bard Spells
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NEO FIGHTERS: The Fire Knight
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/22/2006 00:00:00
?Neo Fighters: The Fire Knight? is The Le Games? latest entry in their Neo Class line, and as the title suggests, writers Christopher Sniezak and The Le present a variant fighter class called the fire knight, a warrior who?s mastered the fiery passion within and has learned to project it in a variety of offensive and defensive ways.

This download includes two versions of ?Neo Fighters: The Fire Knight? ? a landscape version of the .pdf and a printer-friendly version. For the most part, the printer-friendly version of this supplement was used for purposes of this review.

The fire knight is a 20-level playable class designed for the PC in mind (although there is enough descriptive material, or ?fluff,? to inspire DMs when it comes to creating interesting NPCs). This is a variant fighter class; the writers don?t forget this with the base attack bonus and saving throw progression. But instead of picking up a new bonus feat every other level, the fire knight earns some very specific class abilities.

From the start, the fire knight gains fire resistance (he or she starts with fire resistance equal to his or her level, but at 12th level, the resistance equals the fire knight level?s x one-and-a-half). At second level, the fire knight bonds with a chosen weapon, using the ?soul sword? class ability. As the fire knight progresses in level, the abilities tied into the soul sword increase, starting with gaining a bonus to Search checks and moving up to being able to cast ?scorching ray? through the weapon. Eventually, the fire knight?s bonded weapon becomes a ?flaming burst weapon? and can even fire fireballs.

Eventually, once the fire knight reaches his or her 20th level, he or she can cause an opponent?s blood to boil over and instantaneously combust, causing 10d10 points of fire damage. (This class ability rightly belongs at the 20th level mark.)

This is a well-balanced class, and while it doesn?t introduce any tweaks or additions to the core D&D game mechanics like some of the other Neo Class products, ?Neo Fighters: The Fire Knight? presents an interesting class nonetheless, and definitely deserves a look. There are a few minor grammatical and typographical errors in the document itself, but the supplement is still instantly easy to use and even incorporate into your existing game.



LIKED: This is a solid product, and the descriptive text for the fire knight (pun intended) sparks more than a few ideas for interesting PCs and NPCs.

DISLIKED: There are a few typograchical errors throughout the document, but perhaps the most off-putting element of this document is the first page of the printer-friendly version of the supplement; it is a near-full-page ad for Politically Incorrect Games' Disposable Heroes Paper Minis. If you're not careful where you click on this page, your internet browser will be hijacked and you'll be taken to Politically Incorrect Games' website. This was quite frustrating.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
NEO FIGHTERS: The Fire Knight
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the comments! We are happy to work with Politically Incorrect Games and we were very pleased with the Disposable Heroes (DH) product they provided to us. The DH attachment actually features *four* heroes that can be used in any fantasy campaign! Note that DH is only available only on the portrait PDF version (remember, Neo Fighters comes as a zip file with 3 versions!), and does not count towards the official page count. So saddle up, and give it a try, because we are certain you will love Neo Fighters and we know that you will love Disposable Heroes!
Unorthodox Sorcerers
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2006 00:00:00
The Le Games scores another hit with ?Unorthodox Sorcerers,? a collection of variant sorcerer classes for use in your Dungeons & Dragons game. There are two short stories (?Playing God? by Martin Jenner and ?Farm Boy? by Melinda Moore) that are entertaining, but as fun as they are, they are not the reason you will want to pick up this supplement. Rather, there are five variant classes that demand attention.

(As with all their products, The Le Games includes two versions of ?Unorthodox Sorcerers? in this supplement ? one printer-friendly version and one formatted for easy screen viewing. For purposes of this review, I?ll be referencing the printer-friendly version.)

Each of the sorcerer variants is not just a sorcerer with different class abilities. What makes each of them stand out is the accompanying text explaining why they are different. This material isn?t just written for a player?s use; DMs paying attention can find inspiration for interesting NPCs or organizations.

The numeromantic sorcerer is a numerology-based caster, expressing their spells through numbers rather than words. Immanent heresiarchs believe that humans are on the path of transcending themselves and becoming something greater (perhaps even greater than the gods). Followers of the sixfold septateuch are sorcerers that combine their spellcasting with a fanatic religious faith in a demon god.

The two unorthodox sorcerers that stood out, however, are the suppresser (a sorcerer that believes that magical power should only be used by the select few who truly values and deserve it) and the occult detective (a sorcerer that acts more like a magical policeman/woman and crime scene investigator, pursuing crimes perpetuated by magic users). The descriptive text of these classes alone more than makes this supplement worthwhile.

A prestige class called the pyramid mage is introduced, and, as its name suggests, he or she derives most of his or her magical ability through the use or focus of pyramids (even going as far as sleeping with a small pyramid on their head). The flavor here is interesting, but it should be noted that one of the class skills for the pyramid mage is listed as Alchemy, which would be contrary to the current Dungeons & Dragons rules set in which the skill should have been listed as Craft (alchemy).

A handful of spells (including an interesting one called ?map dungeon? which allows the caster to send his or her spirit into a dungeon or underground complex to create a map within the area of effect of the spell), baubles and urus of power, and a thorough glossary providing complete spell lists, select spell descriptions and core sorcerer class information from the SRD.

Clip art is peppered throughout this supplement, and most of it is used effectively. Some pages are devoted to nothing but this clip art, however; there are over ten pages that could have been either devoted to more material or eliminated completely. Also, as I?ve read and used a number of The Le Games? previous products, I?m starting to recognize some of the clipart. (For example, a portrait used in the occult detective section was also used as a cultist in ?Unorthodox Clerics.?)

Overall, however, ?Unorthodox Sorcerers? is a solid supplement and is well worth its cost. As a player, I?m eager to give a few of these classes a try; as a DM, I plan on incorporating them into the game I run.





LIKED: The creativity and diversity shown here is top notch, and is indicative of most of The Le Games' products. The five classes are unique and playable, and the extra effort made in explaining just what these classes are and how they work, they can be used in your game soon after downloading this product. (And including a piece of excellent gaming music is a definite plus!)

DISLIKED: Saying I didn't like the short stories is a bit strong, but I don't know if I would have enjoyed the product any less if they were absent. The repeated artwork was a bit distracting as well. However, these factors did not cause me to think this was anything but a 5-Star supplement.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unorthodox Sorcerers
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Class Distinctions: The Magus
Publisher: Heyoka Studios
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/06/2006 00:00:00
?Class Distinctions: The Magus?, written by Rogan R. Hamby, presents a playable, 20-level core class for use in your Dungeons & Dragons game. This is only an eight-page supplement (three of which are devoted to the outside cover, the inside cover, and the Open Game License), so writer Hamby and editor James Stubbs (who also handled the layout for this supplement) waste no time before diving into this new arcane caster class.

The first page is devoted to describing just what a magus is in terms of the role the class would have in the Dungeons & Dragons game. The writing is sparse yet efficient, and after reading just this one page, readers and players will have a good grasp as to who or what a magus is. The core classes from the Player?s Handbook and even the Expanded Psionics Handbook are mentioned here, and the magus? viewpoints on each of these classes is made quite clear.

The next few pages contain the magus? ?crunch.? The magus is perhaps most like the wizard ? same hit die, both carry spellbooks, etc. ? but as players explore this material further, the unique differences are made evident. In addition to a spellbook, the magus also carries a research tome. The research tome serves as a sort of journal for the magus, but can also be used with the magus? spellcasting. Like a wizard, a magus can learn a spell through research, and when using their research tome in this fashion, they are able to forego a certain amount of spellcasting material components (the amount of which increases as the magus gains levels).

Another feature of the magus and his or her relationship with the research tome is that he or she constantly has general idea as to where the tome is, and at 12th level, the magus can ?scry? the research tome at will.

A magus memorizes spells by embedding the arcane knowledge into their mind. The required amount of memory, measured in units called rotes, increase depending on the level of the spell cast (a magus can cast spells from the sorcerer/wizard spell list). A 0-level spell requires one rote, but to determine the number of rotes required for a higher level spell, multiply the spell level by three. The level progression table for the magus shows how many rotes a magus has available per level, and the rules for how to determine bonus rotes (?A magus gains a bonus number of rotes equal to their Intelligence modifier times the highest level of spell she can cast each time she gains the ability to cast a new level of spell.?) are easy to understand.

At higher levels, the magus can add another spellcaster?s spell list to their own, but it?s not easy. The research must be undertaken personally; a magus cannot simply take spells from the cleric?s or druid?s spell list from another magus? spell book or research tome. There is also the possibility of the magus developing a phobia if the magus isn?t careful.

There is a new spell ? ?recall rote? ? included in this supplement, as well as a few new feats and a new magic item ? the ring of the magi (which functions similarly to a ring of wizardry).

?Class Distinctions: The Magus? is a solid supplement, and packs a fully-playable class into its few pages. Everything from the statistics players will need to play this class to material that will help players and Dungeon Masters incorporate this new class into their existing games is included (with even a sample magus NPC included). The fact that this supplement also recognizes psionics as part of the game is a definite plus.

There is only one noticeable grammatical error, but beyond this simple omission of a space between two different words, this is a solidly built supplement that as a reviewer I enjoyed reading and as a player, I look forward to playing!


LIKED: I really enjoyed this supplement. The magus is a character class that isn't meant to replace an existing arcane caster (but certainly could), and allows enough flexibility that it can be easily inserted into an existing game or campaign. The writing is efficient, and the layout is spot on. As a fan of psionics, that the psionic classes are mentioned thrilled me even more. The "look" of this supplement is just as good as the material itself; even the cover design immediately speaks to what readers and players will find within this supplement. "Class Distinctions: The Magus" is affordably priced, and highly recommended.

DISLIKED: There is just one grammatical error that I noticed, but beyond this, I found this product to be completely enjoyable and usable.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Class Distinctions: The Magus
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Koboldnomicon
Publisher: Bards and Sages
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/28/2006 00:00:00
Kobolds can either be a lot of fun or a huge annoyance; Bards and Sages? ?Koboldnomicon? seems to try hard to land in the ?lot of fun? camp. This 64-page sourcebook presents variant kobold subraces, spells, feats, weapons and even a kobold-handful of deities.

The first couple of pages are devoted to an introduction from the publisher and then another introduction from someone named ?Simon.? Apparently, Simon is the poor soul who first stumbled across this strange collection of kobold lore, and his cautionary tale serves as a warning to all those who dare read this supplement.

What?s unfortunate is that for a supplement so designed for a ?Dungeons & Dragons? game, Simon?s introduction feels better suited to a game of ?d20 Modern.? The fantasy-trappings that make D&D what it is are missing from this introduction.

However, the opening chapter of the book does an excellent job of providing the gamer/reader with an idea as to what is to come. ?Love Slave of the Kobold Queen, Part 1,? by Johnathan M. Richards, is a first-person narrative of poor soul named Mallen who?s relating his kobold experiences to his fellow adventurers.

A page is devoted to adapting the kobold as a player character race. The mechanics are the same as the mechanics from the ?Monster Manual,? but a bit more information is given here to help players if they decide to choose kobold as their race. ?For player characters, playing a kobold means living with the fact that you are generally going to be looked down upon my [sic] members of other races . . . The kobold PC needs to make a choice.? The choices presented address how a kobold PC might approach any of the core classes from the ?Player?s Handbook.?

Three kobold subraces (the most interesting is perhaps the quahali kobold who embrace death gladly for they believe in reincarnation) and an ?Ode to a Kobold Sentry? (also by Richards) later, we?re given three prestige classes (the most interesting ? the painted witch doctor, who paints his or her face in such a way that he or she can paralyze, petrify or even kill his or her opponents ? isn?t even kobold-specific and can be played by any tribal race), three kobold paragon classes (one generic and two variants), and a new 20-level player class called the vermin kin (a variant ranger that is more vermin-based than animal-based). The vermin kin is the stand-out here; great care was taken to not just replace any reference to an animal companion with a vermin companion. Instead, the vermin kin gains class abilities like ?vermin scouts,? which allows him or her to, by observing and understanding how vermin behave, to gain a bonus to a Knowledge (nature) roll. (?For example, he may be able to discern how far ahead an adversary is by calculating how long it would take a spider to re-spin a web that had previously been disturbed.)

There are a handful of kobold feats and a new skill ? Acrobat ? presented here, and then we?re treated to four pages of new spells. The feats are mostly kobold-specific, and while the spells aren?t necessarily designed only for use by kobolds, most of them definitely have that ?kobold flavor.? There are three new ?Power Word? spells here (Backstab, Lie and Tire) that seemed a bit out of place (the spell descriptions don?t explicitly state these were kobold-specific or ?devised spells, but my human brain had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that ANY ?Power Word? spells warranted inclusion in a book of kobold-lore).

Two more short fiction pieces (?Dinner? and ?The Trap? both by Peter Schaefer) lead to the section on kobold equipment and traps, and then the book wraps with a few sample NPCS and five kobold deities. ?Love Slave of the Kobold Queen, Part II? brings this supplement to a close.

Overall, there IS some good material in ?Koboldnomicon,? but the supplement is inconsistent in its tone and presentation. Some material is clearly meant to be humorous (right down to the disclaimer at the end ? ?we only test on humans, who are willing to be experimented on in exchange for XP?), while some of it is presented as straight game material. While the idea of a kobold PC might illicit a few snickers, this is a supplement that can?t seem to make up its mind if it?s in on the joke or trying to rise above it.


LIKED: As a fan of new and well-designed player classes, I enjoyed the amount of thought that went into the paragon and prestige classes, but especially the vermin kin. It's a unique spin on the ranger that I'm eager to play myself!

When the "Koboldnomicon" is trying to be funny, it hits it mark, and wrapping the book with Parts I and II of "Love Slave of the Kobold Queen" was a wise choice.

DISLIKED: There's no cover! Additionally, this product is spotted with typos and grammatical errors (there aren't any actual misspellings - just cases in which the wrong, correctly spelled word was used).

Also, as mentioned in the actual review, this supplement seems to waver back and forth between trying to poke fun at the kobolds and presenting them as a serious player option for the game.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Koboldnomicon
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Dance of Darkness
Publisher: Bailey Records
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2006 00:00:00
Starting soft and slow, ?Dance of Darkness? scratches at the listeners/players, and before the first minute of this four-minute-fifteen-second track begins, the intensity (helped with a few subtle sound effects of grunts, groans and general unpleasantness) has picked up, and the characters are in a much more dangerous situation than they were before the GM hit ?Play? on his or her mp3 player.

This track doesn?t immediately scream ?battle music? (but a creative GM could definitely some where to include it in a climactic fight scene of some sort, to be sure), but instead seems to fit a more subtle confrontation between the players and some creepy and definitely ill-intentioned NPC or two.

Truthfully, the word ?Dance? in the title may be a little misleading as this doesn?t quite seem to inspire any kind of dancing between the forces of good and evil. Rather, as good as this music is, it seems best suited to be used in scenes in which the PCs would want to go into a room/chamber/NPC?s den, do what they need to do quickly, and then get out before anything escalates further. The music is well-produced, but it definitely encourages getting-in-and-getting-back-out-again-in-a-hurry instead of lingering in any sort of fight or combat. If the DM has to allow this track to play over and over again, then the PCs get what they deserve.

So much of deciding what music is ?good? or ?bad? is based on personal taste, and ?Dance of Darkness? may not be to everyone?s liking. Even if you don?t use it in your game, however, this bit of music could very well inspire a scene, a villain, a location or maybe even the creation of a magic item for use in your game.


LIKED: This is a good piece of music that can be used in a number of different scenarios or scenes in your game. Evem if you don't use it in your game, it's still an inspiring piece of music to prep your game or just write to.

DISLIKED: As good as this piece of music is, it might not fit into your game easily. Also, the distinct opening and ending of this piece might make looping this music in your game a little awkward.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dance of Darkness
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NEO CLERICS: The Opus Priest
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2006 00:00:00
A cleric class that avoids magic? No magical aid? No spells? No domains? That?s exactly what ?Neo Clerics: The Opus Priest? presents, and presents well. Written by David Gallant, this installment in The Le Games? Neo Classes line creates a priest-based class which functions well despite its lack of divine magic.

The opus priest is dedicated to showing others how to live without magic, both arcane and divine. Believing that the solutions to life?s problems should be found through more mundane means, the opus priest is willing to work for his or her solutions. Rather than being confrontational with other PCs who do rely on magic and spells to help them succeed, the opus priest serves more as an example rather than an adversary. In fact, if the opus priest uses magic or benefits from spells, he or she will lose all of his or her class abilities for a day.

The class abilities for the opus priest all fit together well. Opus priests are granted the Endurance feat at 1st level as well as a bit of spell resistance (the spell resistance increases with each opus priest level). Further bonus feats are offered as the character advances, and while the available feat list is a bit small, the feats are devoted to the class? work ethic (some of the feats are Athletic, Diehard, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative and Iron Will). A new feat called Personal Craftsmanship is also introduced (and granted to the opus priest at 3rd level) which grants the character a +1 circumstance bonus when using an item created by that character (this bonus can also mean a +1 to attack roles or a +1 armor bonus to the character?s Armor Class).

The opus priest introduces a new mechanic to the game in the form of divine boons. Instead of casting any kind of healing magic, an opus priest can call upon his or her deity ? the Patron of Works ? to grant healing. At all even levels, an opus priest is granted a number of boons based on his or her level. At first, the boon only heals 1d8 + 1 hit point per opus priest level, but as the character advances, the number of d8 increases. At higher levels, the boon can also restore ability damage. This is a clever and in-character workaround to having a cleric-based class with no healing magic, but the boons are finite. Once the opus priest uses them, there is no strict game mechanic for the opus priest to gain more. (Fortunately, there is a sidebar detailing how a player and a DM can work out a system in which the opus priest can earn more divine boons. Some examples, like creating masterwork items, are given.)

This class is solidly designed. Writer Gallant has done an excellent job in creating a cleric-like class that stands on its own merits and is also rich in role-playing opportunities. For gamers who prefer a lower-magic world, the opus priest is an obvious choice, but even in a higher-magic world, this class would be fun to play.


LIKED: This is a great product! The non-magic using opus priest more than makes up for its lack of spellcasting with its own class abilities. This is a character rich in flavor and solid in mechanics. Of The Le Games' Neo Class releases, the opus priest is easily one of my favorites.

DISLIKED: While the opus priest's stance on magic use is made quite clear, no mention is made of how the opus priest may view psionics. This is a minor omission, however, and an attentive DM (if he or she even uses psionics in the game) can easily overcome this.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
NEO CLERICS: The Opus Priest
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Unorthodox Barbarians
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2006 00:00:00
There are five new fully-playable 20-level classes in The Le Games? ?Unorthodox Barbarians,? and while it would have been easy for writer Robert J. Grady to put together simple variants of the barbarian class (note that I didn?t capitalize the ?b? in barbarian!), he didn?t. Instead, this supplement is made up of five new barbarian-style classes that present unique role-playing material for players and DMs alike. Aside from all of them being illiterate, there is little to confuse the classes with one another.

The conqueror can best be described as a barbarian with commitment. Any alignment choice is open to characters of this class as they devote themselves to a lifestyle of war and plunder. The descriptive text inspires perhaps a general-like character in a barbarian tribe, or perhaps a tribe made up of conquerors themselves, out to take your gaming world by force. As the character progresses, it gains new bonus skills as part of its ways of war class ability (available skills to be added to the conqueror?s skill list include Bluff, Hide, Sense Motive and Move Silently). There?s a bonus feat in the class level progression, but the class ability that stood out is the conqueror?s inspired initiative. In a round in which the conqueror has a higher initiative than his or her opponent, the conqueror?s melee critical threat range increases by 1.

Most planar marauders hail from the Material Plane proper, but their ties to the other planes (the Elemental Plane of Fire, for example) make characters of this class especially unique. They are dangerous barbarians, as writer Grady describes, ?in search of loot and glory.? Early in the class? progression, the planar marauder can sense portals as a spell-like ability, but as the character advances, he or she can enter into a planar rage, the effects of which are dependant on the plane the character chooses to take advantage of. A fiery rage makes the planar marauder immune to fire damage and gives his or her natural and unarmed attacks the ?flaming? enhancement; the positive energy rage grants the character fast healing 2 and allows him or her to cause an additional 1d6 or positive energy damage to undead targets.

The wild rider is a true nomad, and many of the character?s abilities revolve around or rely upon his or her mount. Feats like Mounted Combat, Mounted Archery and Ride-By Attack are included in the class? progression, and a new feat ? Extend Spur Frenzy ? is included at the end of the class description (spur frenzy is a class ability that allows the wild rider?s mount to rage).

These are only three of the five unorthodox barbarians, but the other two classes ? the corsair and the savage screamer ? are just as interesting, useful and playable.

?Unorthodox Barbarians? is a solid supplement well worth the price. At the very least, players and DMs will find inspiration for playing their barbarian PCs or NPCs in a slightly different manner, breaking out of any ?dumb barbarian? stereotypes. At most, someone?s going to get to play a fascinating barbarian variant and enjoy a fulfilling gaming experience.


LIKED: The Le Games takes care of the consumer; both screen-friendly and printer-friendly versions of this supplement are included here. The classes are interesting and unique; all five of them fill a different niche at the game table.

DISLIKED: Class names are not proper nouns; there is no reason to capitalize the 'c' of conqueror or corsair. Also, spells should be italicized. These are nit-picks, to be sure, but they can be a bit distracting when trying to incorporate this product's text into your own gaming material (and because they're nitpicks, I'm still giving this product a 5-star review).

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unorthodox Barbarians
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Cthulhu's Rising
Publisher: Bailey Records
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/26/2006 00:00:00
Two-minutes-forty-four-seconds may not seem like a lot of time to set a scene in your dark fantasy or horror role-playing game, but that?s all the time you?ll need when playing Bailey Records? ?Cthulhu Rising? as part of your game?s background music.

Composed by T. W. Cory, this track jolts the listener immediately into a hard-hitting, yet bleak place. The pounding tempo (a driving drumming drills throughout the piece, occasionally accompanied by what sounds like a didgeridoo) doesn?t let up one bit, actually increasing in intensity as the track comes to its end.

Music can add so much to a role-playing game, and a wise GM can use this music for a cut-away scene, a scene in which the player-characters stumble across a sinister ceremony or some strange cult activity, or even as the accompaniment for a game or campaign?s finale.

You can hit ?repeat? when using this track; it isn?t just a mindless, repetitive loop. One-minute-thirty-two seconds in, there is a slight pause in the pounding drums, which serves as a sort of natural break point, smartly keeping this track from becoming too monotonous if left on ?repeat? for too long.

(That said, I would have liked to have heard a slightly longer version of this track.)

The title of this track ? ?Cthulhu Rising? ? is indicative of what game system Bailey Records obviously has in mind for this track, but don?t let this fool you. This is a piece of music that can find its home in an edgier darker modern setting, a dark fantasy setting, a Conan-esque setting, and so on. I would find this music quite appropriate for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I?m preparing now!

This is good music, and immediately brings to mind several possibilities for use in a role-playing game.


LIKED: This is a smart and dark piece of gaming music that lends itself for use in a variety of different game settings. It's well-produced and is quite inspriring.

DISLIKED: I would wish for a longer track if I had to improve upon this product.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu's Rising
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Character Portraits, Set 1
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2006 00:00:00
While there?s no replacement for verbally describing your role-playing game character, having an artistic rendition of the character you describe can enhance the character?s ?reality.? Knowing just what he or she looks like brings an extra amount of life to the character and, overall, to the game itself. Unfortunately, most of us don?t have the talent or time to create a piece of artwork that would represent our character(s).

Bad Baby Productions? ?Character Portrait, Set 1? presents 10 full-color portraits, plus 2 bonus black-and-white images (only one of which is a portrait) drawn by Robert Hemminger. The illustrations are all of male, human characters, which immediately limit their use (although the one black-and-white portrait is of a character with pointed ears, so he could be an elf). The standard fantasy gaming classes are covered here; in fact, it seems as if every one of the core classes from the Dungeons & Dragons game is represented in this set.

Judging and reviewing artwork is completely subjective. What one person likes another might not like, and so on, but in an attempt to provide a fair assessment of this product, I have to say that I wasn?t overly impressed with this product. I?m not an accomplished artist myself, but too many of these portraits did not catch my eye. Some of the figures stand in unnatural, rigid postures. Others almost seem to be the same person, just in different clothing. A lack of detail in some of the characters? faces make this a difficult product to use.

The introduction to this product is also a bit confusing. In it, the artist states ?You may not resell these images,? but quickly follows up this statement that if the product is going to be used in someone else?s product, a copyright statement citing Robert Hemminger must be included. This confused me. Are other publishers allowed to use this artwork or not?

In the end, regardless of whom this product is marketed toward or whether it can be used in other products or publications, I wasn?t overly impressed with the artwork here. Check the demos first to see if this is artwork you can use before buying it.

LIKED: The layout and editting of the project is simple and clean, and is easy to navigate. Also, the very last piece of artwork (which is not a portrait) is the best of the bunch.

DISLIKED: The artwork just wasn't varied enough to warrant much excitement. Also, there is a bit of confusing language in the introduction that might scare off potnetial users of this product.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Disappointed

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Character Portraits, Set 1
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Publisher Reply:
Sorry you did not like the art work, but as you say, taste is subjective at best. All work suppied with these products is thumbnailed on our site, and can be reviewed ahead of time to determine whether you like it or not, and you are willing to pay the low price to aquire their use. As for the use statement, no you cannot re-sell these works on their own. That means you canot go off and print up a bunch of copies and then sell them off. You can though use the images as a part of your print or E-product, as long as you include the copyright statemnet. This is the standard for most illustraion.
Dungeon Dive 6: Under the Ice
Publisher: Dark Quest Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2006 00:00:00
This is one fun adventure! While Amalara?s ?Dungeon Dive 6: Under the Ice? is not designed to be an adventure in and of itself, it can definitely play like one. Writer Mike Wallace has put together a sort of ?along-the-way? set of encounters that a DM can use as needed in an existing campaign. This particular installment of the ?Dungeon Dive? series takes place in and mostly below the depths of a frozen glacier, and the encounters and inhabitants all reflect this unique setting.

A complete map illustrates the dungeon with its 15 encounter areas, and the accompanying text (the read-aloud text is economical and effective) will help a DM walk his or her party through this ?pre-adventure? scenario. Additionally, ?Under the Ice? could be run for characters from 8th-to-16th level; each encounter location can be populated with different creatures and monsters depending on the party?s overall experience level (there are three ?settings? ? low, medium and high).

Rules for surviving a glacial environment are presented cleanly, and the entire text is neatly put together. Monster descriptions and stat blocks are nestled in the back end of this module, making the layout of this product attractive and easy to use. (For the locations that are trapped, however, the trap description is given immediately in the text, which means a DM doesn?t have to flip to the back pages or go to the last screens of the .pdf to see what might happen if his or her players fail their saving throw while crossing the unsecured plank in the frozen barracks or while crossing the naturally-camouflaged crevice in the choked hallway.)

Many of the monsters are arctic variants of monsters found in the Core Rulebooks (a hellfrost basilisk or polar medusa), but the differences between these variants and the ?standard? versions aren?t hard to understand or game-breaking (the polar medusa, for example, has tiny frost worms instead of snakes for hair, and turns its victims to ice instead of stone).

The statblocks could have used a bit more work in terms of proofreading, however. Most of the problems that crept into the production of ?Dungeon Dive 6? are easy fixes, though, and it shouldn?t take too much time for a DM to make the necessary adjustments to use this product.

Despite this, however, ?Dungeon Dive 6: Under the Ice? is a solid product, and while the introduction clearly states that this product could be used to just get the players from one point in the game?s plot to another, I?d go as far as saying that this module could be run on its own as an adventure in and of itself.


LIKED: This is a well-designed and well-constructed product. Obvious effort has been made to make this a module that can be used quicly and easily; one quick read-through and a tiny bit of work at the end, and the DM is ready to go.

DISLIKED: A bit of editting and mechanics snafus in the appendixes is a bit distracting, but not insurmountable. These errors are the only reason I'm not giving this product five stars.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Dive 6: Under the Ice
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Cavalier's Handbook
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/21/2006 00:00:00
Gamers that have been playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons since its first edition will remember the cavalier class. More knight than paladin, this honorable warrior upheld the ideals of chivalry and valor. As the game evolved, however, this class was left behind, and while it was certainly possible to play a knightly character in the AD&D game, the cavalier was not included in the second edition of the game. Now, with the game in its 3rd major edition, the cavalier class is back. Robert J. Schwalb is the designer behind Green Ronin Publishing's "The Cavalier's Handbook," and a great deal of thought, effort and affection is apparent in this supplement.

Instead of just applying the 3.5 rules to a 1st edition class, "The Cavalier's Handbook" creates a new class that stands out from the core classes in the standard D&D game (and even as a class for use in the d20 Modern game!). The obvious similarities between the cavalier and paladin are pointed out and addressed early in the book; "The Cavalier's Handbook" gives players and game masters enough material to not just insert a new class into the mix, but new prestige classes, feats and even rules for running a joust.

The new mechanics introduced to the game aren't hard to use. The variant rules for determining social class and lineage are a little table-heavy, truth be told, but they aren?t overly complicated. A section titled "Taking the Knight out of the Cavalier" gives suggestions for making this traditionally human-only class (the racial restriction for the cavalier was a think of previous editions of the game) more accessible to other races.

With its new magic armor, shields, weapons and other items, this supplement doesn't miss its mark. "The Cavalier's Handbook" is billed as being part of Green Ronin's Master Class line. The work that's gone into this material almost makes some of the classes from the Core Sourcebook seem lacking.

LIKED: Everything about this supplement screams quality. The artwork is top notch; the layout and editing are professional. The material presented is balanced between being cavalier-specific and being applicable to an ongoing or established game. Green Ronin has even gone the extra mile by including sidebars that show how some of their other products ("The Witch's Handbook" or their "Book of the Righteous") work with the material in this supplement, and vice versa.

DISLIKED: The only thing that was lacking is perhaps a few new spells. While the cavalier is not a spell-casting class, there still could have been a few spells that dealt with the cavalier's steed or their honor.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cavalier's Handbook
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