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Shadowrun: Missions: Season 5 Prep Files
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Steven T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/27/2013 13:18:30
What is there to say? If you're going to run Shadowrun Missions Season Five these files are must haves. I really love the new npcs this season! Super colorful, super interesting. My only complaint is that there needs to be more Shadowrun Fifth Edition material! Weekly releases would be great!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Season 5 Prep Files
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vs. Monsters Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Ronin Arts
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
Vs. Monsters is not what I expected. And that?s OK.

I had heard of Vs. Monsters many times before actually getting to see the game. I was familiar with Phil Reed?s original design of the game as part of the 24 hour RPG project, as well as its subsequent release to the general public through his Ronin Arts company. Knowing Reed?s work mainly from his excellent d20 PDF?s, I assumed that Vs. Monsters would be another fantasy game about killing monsters and taking their treasure.

Consider me pleasantly surprised.

Vs. Monsters is tough to summarize, but in my pitch to my players when I presented the game to them I summed it like this. Imagine if Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while playing Over the Edge and then designed a game.
Boggles the mind, right? Let?s see if I can better explain the premise.

Players in Vs. Monsters take the role of early 1900?s Americans who live in ?The Town.? The Town is surrounded by everything you could imagine fitting in to a horror move from that time period. You have The Village, The Church, The Road, The Forest, and The Mountains. Are you getting The Picture? The setting is vague, leaving room for the GM to add all the detail he wants. Need another locale? It shouldn?t be too hard to fit in whatever you need for your game.

Characters are created in a manner that reminds me favorably of Atlas Games Over the Edge system. Characters have broad traits that encompass everything they may want to do. Just assign four values to the attributes of Fighting, Defending, Thinking and Running and your character starts to take shape. Good Stuff and Bad Stuff act as a rudimentary system of merits and flaws, and either influence ability scores, grant powers, or alter the cards a player draws when determining the results of actions.

In a novel twist, the action resolution mechanic is Vs. Monsters relies on a deck of cards. It?s a clever, creative system and one simple enough to sum up in a single paragraph. Draw a number of cards equal to the appropriate attribute. Compare the highest card drawn against a target card. If your highest card is equal to or greater than the target card you succeed. If it?s lower, you fail. Reed goes on to list some combat modifiers, suggested values for differing difficulties as well as a system for opposed challenges, but this is not supposed to be rocket science. If you?re looking for the most novel, innovative, robust rules system around, keep looking. This is beer & pretzels land, and simplicity is king. The Vs. Monsters system is as intuitive as Go Fish, and so simple it makes ?rules light? systems like True 20 and C&C look like calculus.

Of course, as a horror genre game, there is a basic system for fear and the effects of fright as well. Surprisingly though Reed has thought this system through enough to include rules for fairly complex stunts like called shots, initiative, surprise, and multiple actions in combat. Reed really covers all the bases. GM?s will be hard pressed to find an action that can?t be quickly resolved with the Vs. Monsters mechanics.

The GM?s section of Vs. Monsters is just a few pages long, but there is a lot of great stuff packed into this section. General themes for horror will be a big help to GM?s unfamiliar with the genre. Rules for creating specific nemesis characters to challenge your players, and a few sample adventure ideas are all contained in this section.

Of course what horror game would be complete without monsters? Vs. Monsters has your standard zombies and witches, but it includes a few surprises as well. The notes on different methods of ?defeating? ghosts are very helpful, and add more flavor than just combat. There?s a section specifically for GM?s who want to run a Cthulu-esqe game, and a very interesting monster called ?The Misters? that left me wanting more. Having read Gaiman?s Neverwhere, I?m pretty sure Reed is borrowing the concept of The Misters from there, but I?d liked to have seen more about the one monster that is specific to the VS. Monsters setting.

The whole time I was reading through Vs. Monsters, one thought kept running through my head. Namely, that this system is almost perfectly tailored to running a live-action game! Everything, from the half-sized format of the book when printed, to the use of cards rather than dice, to the simplified character sheet and mechanics just screams LARP to me. And that?s how my group play tested it. No, we didn?t use costumes, but we did move through the ?Haunted House.? Much to my delight, the system perfectly suits my LARP needs! No more endless bouts of rock, paper, scissors for me. There?s almost no learning curve. I presented the game to my group, and had them playing in under an hour. There aren?t many RPG?s that can do that, especially in the horror genre.

Vs. Monsters is an easy to learn, quick playing game that manages to handle the spooky horror genre effectively while still remaining simple and flexible. For a game that started so humbly as a 24 hour experiment it out performs a lot of more ?professional? RPG?s.

LIKED: The sheer simplicity of the rules is a real treat. I have plenty of complex games already, I don't need another. But there's always room for something that I can teach players quickly while still getting good results. The mechanics are innovative, and as I said in the review, this has become my new LARP system of choice. Maybe not what Reed intended, but it handles that need perfectly.

DISLIKED: I really wanted more about The Misters! And while I appreciate the vague nature of the setting, I would have really liked to see The Town fleshed out in more detail.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Monsters Deluxe Edition
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Publisher Reply:
I had honestly never considered using the system for a LARP but it sounds like you've managed to make it work. Thanks for the idea! As for The Misters, they were primarily inspired by Neverwhere and Lost City -- but I do have some plans for them in an upcoming supplement.
Urban Legends - Oak Island Money Pit
Publisher: Dog Soul Publishing
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
When I?m playing a game set in the modern world, I want things to be as realistic as possible. Even if the PC?s are casting spells, and chasing monsters, it helps the feel of the game if there?s still some level of realism. I still want the world to be basically the same. There should still be a president. My character should be able to shop at Wal-Mart. History should be more or less the same, with a few supernatural quirks added in.

One thing that helps add that feeling of reality is when a product is based on a real world location. White Wolf figured this out early on with their ?Someplace by Night? line. Dog Soul Publishing has also figured this out, and made good use of the effect in their product Urban Legends ? Oak Island Money Pit.

If you?re a fan of real world conspiracies and unsolved mysteries, then you may be familiar with the Oak Island Money Pit already. If not, don?t worry. Author Steve Honeywell has done a very thorough job of covering the history and mystery of this Canadian urban legend. For those unfamiliar with the tales, here?s a synopsis in a nutshell. In 1795 a visitor to Oak Island, just off the shores of Nova Scotia found what he believed to be a buried treasure. Since then, numerous people have spent ridiculous amounts of time, energy and money trying to find what is buried on the site. Bizarre coincidences, rumors and problems have thus far kept anyone from finding anything of value, but they have found just enough cryptic clues to keep them trying up to the present day.

This book presents all the information a Gm would need to incorporate the Oak Island Money Pit into their d20 Modern game. Essentially a large, open-ended adventure, Honeywell has added enough twists and turns to allow the Gm to expand this into a mini-campaign. One very nice touch is the wide variety of possible treasure contained in the pit. Honeywell includes all the current modern theories about the pit?s contents, including Templar treasure, or the wealth of Sir Francis Bacon, but he has also added enough supernatural possibilities that would make Oak Island an interesting locale for a game featuring more supernatural fx elements.

Research is always a big part of any modern adventure, and Honeywell has made sure to include plenty of history and rumors, along with appropriate DC?s to find this data. Even better, if like me, you allow your players to access the library or internet if their PC?s access the same materials, you?re in luck. Honeywell has helpfully included an excellent bibliography of books and websites that could make great props and resources when running this campaign. When my players wanted their PC?s to research the island, it helped set the mood, as well as focus the investigation to allow them to scour the listed websites.

Adding that focus to the adventure was important, because this adventure is very loose and open ended. Three basic plot hooks and a timeline of events are all the GM has to work with for this adventure. Once you get your PC?s to Oak Island, the adventure really hangs on the PC?s willingness to root out clues and talk to the parties involved. This is not your average d20 Modern ?shoot-em-up?. This adventure is all about investigation, character interaction, and a big reveal at the end when we finally discover just what the GM has chosen to put at the bottom of the pit. It?s a refreshing change to find an adventure like this. These sorts of adventures are a real boon to the harried GM. It?s easy for a GM to pick a monster from a book, and give the team some reason to track it down. It?s a much bigger job to send your PC?s after a real mystery and plant the clues they will need to figure things out. In this respect, Urban Legends ? Oak Island Money Pit really shines.

Another added value included in this file is a 73 page PDF that includes the maps and floor plans that will be needed during the game. If you like to use miniatures, tokens or counters during your games, then these pre-tiled maps will be a big help. I have just two complaints with the maps. First, I would have preferred to not have them pre-tiled, so that I could print out only the sections I want. However, I recognize that everyone using this product may not have the same printing capabilities I have, so I understand the need to keep things accessible to everyone. Second, the maps are all clearly labeled by room, with full room names. I would have preferred to just have numbers that matched a room key, so I could keep certain rooms secret until the PC?s enter them. Again, this is a minor complaint, and the solution was easy enough. I just kept the map off the table, or covered any hidden areas with other books or papers until I was ready to reveal them.

This is a complex product that will deliver exactly as much as the GM puts into it. Again, this isn?t a simple adventure. It has a lot of depth to it. There are numerous NPC?s with a variety of motivations that the GM will need to be familiar with. You?re not going to be able to skim this book an hour before game time and then run it. I reviewed the adventure for nearly a week before I ran it, and I still felt that I could have used a better familiarity with it. That?s not a complaint. I appreciate the detail and scope of the project. But aspiring GM?s would be well advised to do their homework before running his adventure.


LIKED: I love the concept of taking real world urban legends lke Oak Island and making them fantasy adventures. The extra large scale maps were a nice touch, and helpful for runnning miniature based combats. The fully detailed DC's for research, and information gathering were very helpful when running this adventure, and the bibliography was enormously helpful to to me as GM, and to my players as they took part.

DISLIKED: I would have preferred to see the maps without written room titles or hidden details, and I would have rather tiled them myself.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Urban Legends - Oak Island Money Pit
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The Amazing One Sheet Dungeon
Publisher: Basic Action Games
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
This is one of those products that makes so much sense I wish I had thought of it myself.
The Amazing One Sheet Dungeon #1 ? The Buried Temple is an innovative product. Taking the very idea of the small PDF gaming product to the extreme, BAG offers an entire dungeon ? 17 rooms and encounters ? in a surprisingly compact format.

The first page is the dungeon map. This is done in the classic top-down ?blueprint? style familiar to most gamers. The map is clear, if a bit Spartan, but it is completely gridded, and perfectly useable for running this dungeon.

Page two presents (in a VERY small font) the plot hook/premise of the dungeon, and the encounter key to all the rooms shown on the map. The encounters are balanced for the levels the product is written for (four second level characters). And there is quite a bit of flavor text crammed into such a tiny product. The encounters are also surprisingly varied. This isn?t just a map and a list of enemies to slay. There are traps, hazards, and even the opportunity to interact socially with the denizens of the Buried Temple.

This product has a very ?old-school? feel to it. The map is reminiscent of early TSR modules, and the encounters have a very organic if haphazard feel to them. You get the impression that this dungeon really is a buried temple only recently uncovered and corrupted by the forces of evil. Which is a remarkable achievement in a file this small!

While some of the mechanics are a little off from perfect accuracy to the rules, this is only a minor flaw. If I need a dungeon in a hurry, I?m not likely to bother to grade the text on math and formatting. I want a map, some challenging encounters, and some clever plot twists. This product delivers exactly that and nothing more. It?s tight, concise and it leaves me wanting more. When I ran this for my gaming group, they were left wanting more as well. There is plenty of room left for the DM to elaborate on how the Temple was buried, who else might be seeking the artifact contained within. I applaud Rutkowsky?s ability to cram so much into so little space.


LIKED: It fills a very real niche. If you have a game coming up in a few minutes and have nothing ready, then you can run The Buried Temple minutes after downloading it. I also liked the "old-school" blueprint-stle map.

DISLIKED: Some of the math and formatting are off. This is a minor problem, and does not interfere with the playability of the dungeon. I do hope that fture installments are a little better edited though. This is

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Amazing One Sheet Dungeon
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Publisher Reply:
I am glad you enjoyed the product. We do indeed intend to tighten up the loose ends for the next installment, and will also probably re-release this one with proper adjustments made. Also, a more printer friendly map may be included as well.
Folkloric - Baba Yaga, the First Setting in Rassiya
Publisher: Dog Soul Publishing
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2005 00:00:00
Very rarely do I find a product that I makes me want to use every part of it. Sometimes I find a good feat, or a fun looking class, but for the most part, I tend to pick and choose bits ad pieces from a variety of products when creating a new character, or ploting a new campaign. Baba Yaga, the first product in Dog Soul Publishing?s Folkloric line is the first product in a long time that makes me want to use everything in it. And there?s a lot of good stuff in here.

For those who might not be familiar with the legends of Baba Yaga, she is a legendary witch/hag who haunts Russian forests in her chicken-legged hut looking for children to devour. But it?s not really important whether or not you?re familiar with the Baba Yaga stories, because after reading this product, you will know everything there is to know about the hag.

The fluff to crunch ratio of Baba Yaga is perfectly balanced. The book opens with a fiction piece that sets the tone for the entire product - Dark, grim (should that be Grimm?), and mysterious. The book starts of by presenting all the elements of setting in strictly vague terms. This is an excellent technique, as it allows the DM to allow the players to read these parts and get a feel for the setting without having everything spoiled.

After the opening fiction we dive right into the inhabitants of Rassiya, the setting locale. Again, these really stand out. There are plenty of characters here, and each one is just dripping with plot hooks. From the Three Maids who were all changed by their encounters with Baba Yaga, to great monsters like the Three Horsemen, the Leshye (blue-skinned satyr-kin), the Lebedinoe (swan people), and the Bolotnitsa (evil snake-tailed mermaids) the inhabitants of the lads of Rassiya are vividly described, and again, each of hem is brimming with plot hooks, as well as a host of different ways to connect them together.

It?s worth commenting here on the connectedness of this product. Everything and I mean everything in this book is connected. As a DM this is ideal for me. I can have the PC?s meet a few townsfolk in the village of Derevna, and no matter who they speak to, there?s a reason for them to seek Baba Yaga, or go on some quest that eventually will lead to encountering the hag. Even the more random monsters like the Bolotnitsa have reasons to connect to other creatures and locations in Rassiya. This is for me the strongest aspect of Baba Yaga. It makes my job as DM so easy! No matter what plot hook I want to spring on the players, I can be assured that they are likely to find more and more reasons to adventure. This isn?t a ?fire and forget? product. This is a book that is likely to form the foundation of an entire campaign, or more likely several campaigns.

The locations detailed are as well done as the characters and monsters. The maps are top notch, and each area has a clear and easy to read encounter key. Again, no matter what location the PC?s choose to visit first, adventure awaits them. Want to purchase silver weapons from Sir Yebriniy's Silvers? He?s sure to tell them of his ancient quest to slay a great beast. Need a good night?s sleep? Those who stay in Padushka?s Snatvornaye Inn are certain to get just that, and a little adventure thrown in to boot. There are random encounter tables for each location as well, which once again makes this book easy to use and very DM friendly.

Of course the product wouldn?t be complete if it didn?t finally get around to delivering the straight dope on the title character ? Baba Yaga. Again, the work here is outstanding. Suitably horrific stats are provided for Baba Yaga, along with a back story that really explains who this hag is, and gives some suggestions as to why she does what she does. More importantly, there are excellent instructions for how to handle encounters between the hag and the PC?s. This is a big help, especially for DM?s who haven?t dealt with creatures of this power level before. (And Baba Yaga is just as powerful as she should be! CR: 20!) Every possible encounter the PC?s might have when visiting the hag is fully detailed with stats and plots galore. Everything from the magical talking creatures and items that guard the witch?s yard, to the precise DC for a Bardic Knowledge check to know the proper form of address for the infamous chicken-legged hut is laid out in exquisite detail.

Another feature of this PDF that really lends a lot of utility, as well as ?replay value? to the file is the random chars for traps, treasures and magic items that might be found in Baba Yaga?s hut. These charts are simple to use, but can generate a massive amount of variety. Best of all, these charts create items that fit the mood of an encounter with this legendary hag. Is the potion she gave the PC?s a blessing or a curse? Should they risk poking around in her pantry? Or is that a recipe for disaster?

Author Michael Fiegel really goes the extra mile with his NPC?s. Not only do we get stats for all the major players in Rassiya, we also get a section covering some sample dialogue and reactions these characters might have with PC?s. Again, this is a big help to DM?s. It?s great to have a well developed character fleshed out in a book. It?s even better when the author explains what you?re supposed to do with this character. This has always been a pet peeve of mine in setting material. Sure, I know Mordenkainen and Elminster are powerful magi. But how am I supposed to use these goons in my game? No such problem here, everyone from Baba Yaga herself, right through Kookla the living doll, and her mistress has enough detail to use right out of the box. These characters have personality. They aren?t just a collection of numbers and feats, they have personality and motivations. It makes a world of difference.

The file closes with three appendices that continue to add value to this book. The first is a full racial description for the Lebedinoe swan-folk. All the information needed to use these fey as a LA+3 PC race is included.
The second appendix is the very much needed glossary and pronunciation guide. Let?s face it, with names like Koschei the Deathless, Misha Skomorokh, and Chyorniy, it?s quite helpful to have some idea how to actually say these words.
The final appendix is an excellent segment on Rassiyan naming conventions. This is well researched, and will be very helpful for a DM who wants to create Rassiyan adventures of his own, or for players who need suitable names for their Rassiyan PC?s.

And before I forget, the artwork is just as good as the writing. Reuben C. Dodd has done some great work here. The cover (which in my opinion is the weakest piece in the book) is an eerie image of a young child?s face cradled in a marled crone?s hand. The interior illustrations perfectly capture the mood of the dark Russian forests that spawned these legends. The portrait of Baba Yaga on page nine conveys an air of malice and cunning that perfectly suits the old witch. Evocative moody stuff to be sure. I?m looking forward to seeing more of his Dodd?s work in the future.

There you have it. From start to finish, this is a first class product. Whether you?re just looking for some new monsters to spice up a game, or a handy village to drop into your world, or even a full-blown campaign setting Baba Yaga has what you?re looking for. If you?re an old grogard like me, you?ll appreciate seeing this old favorite get a new treatment that handles these old legends so thoroughly and in such a playable manner. The random traps, magic items and treasure charts also have a real ?old-school? feel that I enjoyed.


LIKED: What DIDN'T I like about this product? From top to bottom Baba Yaga is first rate. The witch herself is suitably powerful, and many an adventure could be built around her. I really enjoyed how well connected everything in he book is. The characters all have plot ooks that lead to locations. The locations have plot hooks that lead to items. The items lead back o characters, and it all circles back to the old crone herself.

DISLIKED: I really can't find anything negative to say about this book. It's that good. The cover left me a little cold. It's moody, but doesn't really portray any action. That's a very minor complaint about a superb product.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Folkloric - Baba Yaga, the First Setting in Rassiya
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Masterwork Monsters: Bugbear Feats and Throwbacks
Publisher: Clockwork Golem Workshop
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2005 00:00:00
As a DM, no matter what kind of fantasy campaign you?re running, chances are good that sooner or later your players are going to encounter a group of humanoids. It might be goblins, it might be orcs. If it happens to be bugbears, then Clockwork Golem Workshop?s new Masterworks Monsters: Bugbear Feats & Throwbacks can help you make that encounter a little more memorable.

I?ll admit that bugbears have never been high on my list of favorite foes. I?ve always been more of an orc and goblin man myself. However, after reading through MM:BF&T I found myself wanting to take these bear-like Goblinoids for a spin, just to see what they can do with the new toys detailed in this short PDF.

And I mean short. With a one page introduction, and a page of OGL, only seven pages of actual game material are contained in this tightly focused PDF. There is a distinct lack of artwork in this file as well. Aside from the CGW logo, the d20 logo, and a single line drawing of a mace/club, the PDF is all text. On one hand, this is good, as it means the bulk of this product is dedicated to new gaming data. However, I really would have liked to see at least one illustration of a bugbear in a product specifically about bugbears. An illustration of the new Bugbear Throwback class would also have been a welcome addition. And while the fact that there were no bookmarks in a file this small doesn?t bother me at all, I?m sure there are gamers out there who will be disappointed by their absence. And seeing as the file is quite small, it shouldn?t have been too difficult to include them.

After a short one page introduction where Ball spells out his concept of what bugbears are all about, we dive right into the crunchy bits. Twenty-five new feats are presented to help tweak bugbears into more flavorful and effective adversaries. Several of these feats, like Bear Paws and Ursine Grip focus on bugbears similarity to real bears, and enhance that similarity to great effect, giving bugbears powerful claw and crush attacks respectively. Even better is the fact that many of the rest of the feats described could be easily applied to any humanoid, or even PC?s.

One small detail here is that the feat Craft Savage Magic Item seems a little bit too strong. With no other requirement than a spellcaster level of 5+ someone with this feat gains all the benefits of the Craft Wondrous item feat, as well as the Craft Magical Arms & Armor feat! Granted, they are limited to only making certain types of items, weapons and armor, namely those most suited to a tribe of savage humanoids, but strictly speaking, this feat could quickly become superior to either Craft Wondrous Item, or Craft Magical Arms & Armor ? kind of a design ?DON?T? when designing new feats. DM?s should think long and hard before allowing this feat into their games, as it may have the potential to unbalance things. Additionally, I would have liked to see these feats properly split into categories. What feats are general feats? Which ones might be appropriate choices as fighter bonus feats? Which feats are strictly bugbear only?

The last new bit of crunch outlined in this file is a four level prestige class called the Bugbear Throwback. The Throwback is a bugbear that becomes more and more bear-like as he ages. In many ways, this class is similar to the racial paragon classes seen in Unearthed Arcana. In addition to being a great compliment to a bugbear barbarian, the throwback class offers a DM a way to really individualize a bugbear tribe. No matter how many bugbears your PC?s have encountered, they are sure to remember the tribe whose elders have all degenerated into powerful bear-like throwbacks! While it certainly isn?t a necessity, I would have liked to see this class applied to a fully-statted NPC. It?s always interesting to see just how the designer intended the class to be used. While I may feel that the throwback would work best with a barbarian build, maybe the designer really intended is to work with the bugbear?s favored class of rogue?

If you already have large numbers of bugbears in your campaign, then Masterwork Monsters: Bugbear Feats & Throwbacks will be money well spent. It might be a real help to a DM using any kind of savage humanoids, as many of the feats are general enough to be used with other races. If bugbears aren?t your cup of tea, then this product will see little to no use.

LIKED: Loads of good crunch. Some very flavorful feats. The Racial Paragon class is a great touch.

DISLIKED: I wanted to see more of how the author intended to use the product. Some NPC's using this new material would have been helpful.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Masterwork Monsters: Bugbear Feats and Throwbacks
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Campaign Planner
Publisher: Ronin Arts
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2005 00:00:00
If you are at all familiar with PDF gaming products, then the name Philip Reed will be well known. Reed is well known for producing smaller products that deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Campaign Planner is no exception to this formula. Campaign Planner is not the kind of RPG product the market is used to. There are no prestige classes, no new spells or magic items. Instead, Campaign planner is a DM?s workbook, full of ready-to-use forms that will assist even the least experienced gamer tighten up a campaign design. The full Campaign Planner package is composed to two nearly identical PDF files. The first is a collection of ready to print blank design forms, while the second is those same forms modified to be typed directly into on your PC. If you have the full version of Adobe Acrobat you can save all your typed data directly to disk, but even with nothing more than the free Acrobat Reader you can print your typed data without saving it.
Campaign Planner opens with a color cover by Alberto Moreno - a brooding archway over a fantasy door. It?s a moody evocative piece, which is good, since it?s the only artwork in this brief PDF file. But that?s not a criticism. I would be hard pressed to figure out another place to put artwork in this product. Don?t buy CP expecting it to be a great read, or a full of eye candy. This is a working product, designed to be used, not just another book to thumb through for pretty pictures or some light reading.
The next 33 pages are a collection of forms an aspiring campaign builder can use to flesh out his game in as much detail as could be desired. These pages are adequately bookmarked, and it?s easy to find exactly the section you are looking for. These pages are presented in workbook style ? blank forms waiting or a designer to fill them out and flesh out a campaign world. These forms cover nearly every basic aspect of fantasy campaign design. There are pages for detailing what classes and races are used in the campaign, as well as any modifications being made to the standard core rules. There are sections to detail important NPC?s, locations, a calendar, events and holidays.
Each page offers several leading headers, and plenty of room to add in your own custom details. The pages are divided up well, and since they contain no artwork, it is a simple matter to print out as many or as few pages as needed for your campaign. The one issue I have with any of the forms really only applies to the location forms. These forms contain a section of graph paper for drawing a map. I feel that these areas might be a little small to accommodate some of the areas. The town and dungeon map sections in particular would probably be better handled by just drawing a map on a separate page. Additionally, these same graphed areas are present in the digitally editable version of Campaign Planner. It might have been better to leave room to digitally insert a computer generated map or picture file right into the PDF. These complaints are really just a matter of preference though, and do not in any way diminish the general usefulness of Campaign Planner.
If you are the type of gamer who relishes fleshing out very detailed worlds, or you have always wanted to design your own campaign world, but never knew where to start, then Campaign Planner will be a great help to you. This is doubly so if you have the full version of Acrobat, and will be able to digitally edit your files. If you favor a more seat-of-the-pants, ?winging it? style of campaign, this product will be less useful. Additionally, it?s only fair to point out that Campaign Planner was released in 2003, and has since been followed by Campaign Planner 2, 3, and a Deluxe version that combined several CP?s into one. Combining the original with these later refinements would undoubtedly add value to each of them.


LIKED: Super versatile. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of campaign development, I can't imagine a better product.

DISLIKED: I'd have prefered an option to digitally edit and save the files, but that is clearly just my personal preference.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Planner
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The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
Publisher: Bards and Sages
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
One of the biggest changes to D&D in the 3.X editions of the game is he addition and codifying of skills. No longer is the game hindered with a complicated system of Weapon Proficiencies and Non-Weapon Proficiencies. Now we have a clear, simple, and most importantly usable system of skills.
Making the most of these skills is a key part to ?tweaking? or ?min-maxing? any character. Any source that can improve these skills is a big help to a player. Bards and Sages have given the skill based character a real shot in the arm with their release of The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore.
At its most basic, the Encyclopedia is a collection of books that can train characters studying them in a variety of skills. How wide a variety? How about this wide?

Animal Training and handling
Appraisals
Covert Activities
Cultural Studies
Craftworks: Artistic Expressions
Craftworks: Fabrics
Craftworks: gems and stones
Craftworks: glass and pottery
Craftworks: metals
Craftworks: wooden
Gymnastics
Language Constructions and Speech Patterns
Mechanical Devices
Mental Acumen
Nature Studies
Occult Studies
Performance: acting and speech
Performance: Music and dance
Planar Studies
Professional Development
Psychology
Religious Studies
Survival

After a suitable period of study, the reader of a volume receives a competence bonus on one or more skill checks. Of course, they one get this bonus if an Int check reveals that they have properly absorbed the material. There?s a well thought out, and easy to use system of study included here that could easily be used as an adjunct to the standard experience system if you wanted to add a level of complexity ie. Training times, etc.

In addition to the books in the Encyclopedia, there are a number of other books included that offer similar effects, as well as a collection of book-related items both magical and mundane. These items are one of the better portions of the PDF. In general they are items that would be of great use to wizards and other knowledge based adventurers. Things like the Portable Library Shelf and Pen of Scribing would be exactly the kind of treasure one might find in a wizard?s study. All the items in the book are well balanced, and fairly low powered. They would make good loot for beginning parties, and should remain useful throughout an adventuring career ? which is more than can be said for the average +1 weapon.


LIKED: The book related items are a lot of fun. They would fit perfectly into any number of arcane libraries, wizard's towers, or necromancers workshops.

DISLIKED: The bonuses provided by the books all vary. There doesn't seem to be any pattern or balance to the books. this is offset by the proper item creation costs being adjusted accordingly, but I would have prefered a standard bonus package per book.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
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Fantasy Clipart Collection 1
Publisher: Sacrosanct Games
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
The old adage ?Show don?t tell.? is as true in roleplaying games as it is anywhere else. Would iconic monsters ever have become ?iconic? without the great illustrations showing what they looked like?
It?s obvious that Sacrosanct Games understands that a picture really is worth 1000 words. Just by looking through Fantasy Clipart Collector Set 4 it?s easy to tell that they appreciate visual storytelling.
As the title implies, this is a collection of clipart themed for the fantasy genre. With more than 80 images, this file is loaded with options. He artwork is all computer generated #D graphics. There are a selection of heroes & villains, rogues, wizards, warriors and humanoids. The artwork is all full color, and the poses are very dynamic. There are a few static ?mug shots? but for the most part we see the characters in action, or at least in a dramatic pose.
Each image is a single figure against a solid color background. The images are in the popular JPG format, which will make viewing them in any standard web browser a snap. Aside from the Humanoid file, which includes creatures like medusas, orcs and demons, most of the artwork is of humans, with an occasional elf or dwarf snuck in for good measure.
It?s nice to see a variety of ethnicities and cultures is represented as well. Obviously in a collection this size there isn?t room for everything, but I was pleased to see adventurers of color, and costumes that weren?t just versions of the clothes from Lord of the Rings. Tribal shamans are right here along with dark necromancers, and ninja right beside Norman knights. There?s vary little gratuitous ?cheesecake? here either, with the loin cloths equally shared among both male and female figures.


LIKED: Variety. There are a nice assortment of figures in this collection. Very few of these images feel like "standard" fantasy illustrations. The artwork is relatively gender and ethnically balanced, which is a pleasant surprise in a fantasy RPG product.

DISLIKED: Computer generated artwork always feel "cold" to me. The skin tones never seem quite warm enough, and the facial expressions are never quite realistic. This is most likely just a personal preference, and should not reflect on the quality of the artwork.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Clipart Collection 1
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Anime Girls Volume One
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
Adding a three-dimensional aspect to a game is a great way to focus players. Sure, it?s easy enough to imagine the action going on, but when a player has a miniature playing piece to identify with it adds another level of connection between character and player. And that can in turn add a level of involvement in the game.
Metal miniatures can be costly and time-consuming to paint, while tokens lack the three-dimensional aspect that makes miniatures so exciting and fun to use. Stand-up paper figures are an excellent combination of the 3-D fun of miniatures, with the ease of use of tokens.
Anime Girls Volume One contains 16 different paper miniatures for use with a wide variety of games. The miniatures have full color artwork on the front, and a grey silhouette on the back, which makes determining facing simple.
The enclosed instructions are detailed and simple to follow, and include enough phot references and tips that anyone should be able to successfully print and assemble these figures.
The artwork itself is computer generated, and consists of a variety of anime-style girls in different costumes. Everything from the traditional schoolgirl, to sorceress, modern and fantasy alike is give a little coverage here. These minis could be used in just about any game that has a call for an ?Anime Girl?. The hairstyles have the vivid pink, blue and green coloring so prevalent in anime.


LIKED: here's not a lot of support out for the anime genre game. These paper figres fill a mch needed niche.

DISLIKED: The art is a little "off". It's not real anime art. it's more like "faux" anime art. Rather than looking like authentic anime artwork, it looks like an attempt by someone who kind of gets the idea, but not quite. The poses are very static. I would have like to see more dynamic poses.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Anime Girls Volume One
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Publisher Reply:
Steven, Thank you for all the very positive comments... respectfully, after reading all of them, I am not sure why you gave the product only 2 stars..<?> Regarding the images, they are computer generated from anime characters. I hope you like the poses better in the next set...:) Thank you for leaving feedback...:)
E.N. Mini-Games - With A Bullet (A Gun-Fu Adventure)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/28/2005 00:00:00
It has been said that there are two types of good game masters. Those that are complete control freaks - the kind that meticulously track every aspect of their game and swamp the players with detail. And then there are the Gm?s that are masters of winging it. They do very little planning, and run a freeform, devil-may-care kind of game where putting on a good show is at least as important as good planning.
That second kind of GM is going to have a real field day running With a Bullet, the first adventure released for the En Publishing mini-game Gun-Fu.

As is fitting for an adventure for a very quirky game, With a Bullet is a very quirky adventure. Never mind those adventures that offer multiple hooks and scaling advice for GM?s to manipulate the adventure to fit their campaign. With a Bullet dispense with such formalities, and gets right into what the Gun-Fu system does best ? action!

The entire adventure can be, and is succinctly summed up very few words.. To quote Reid?s introduction ?Our heroes find themselves in a taxicab on a crowded street in a troubled nation. They have entered into an agreement to smuggle medical supplies to a local dealer named Tony, and so far all has gone well. All ceases to go well.?
There?s a little more than that. But in essence, that?s the sum of the plot. Clearly, the GM is going to be called on to flesh this adventure out with more details.

And honestly, that?s a good thing. Gun-Fu is a mini-game. It?s a bare-bones framework for telling a specific kind of story. It?s not the kind of game that requires intricately detailed adventures, because each Gm is probably going to build a different style of game. From this initial setup, it?s easy to see that With a Bullet can accommodate man styles of game. He PC?s could all be gangsters and underworld types, or they could just as easily be undercover police. This adventure could take place in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, or any other setting. By keeping details to a bare minimum, Reid has ensured that With a Bullet can be enjoyed by the widest variety of groups possible.

The adventure itself consists of a series of six encounters that can be run in almost any order. The initial complication to the smuggling job introduced in the setup is brilliant. The PC?s are minding their own business in a taxicab, ready to make their illicit delivery, when a rogue terrorist tosses an explosive device in the window of their cab. In some games, that kind of setup would feel like a railroad. It would seem like a cheap attempt to kill PC?s and destroy their gear. In a Gun-Fu game, it?s a perfectly valid start to the action. With the Gun-Fu damage save system, this early in the game, before PC?s have exhausted their Panache Points, they are likely to be able to walk away from even a ground zero explosion. And the genre is rife with characters that burn through weapon after weapon. This isn?t D&D where every +1 sword is ruthlessly hoarded. This is Gun-Fu where shell casings rain like water, and a duffel bag full of guns is standard equipment. It?s a novel way to start a game, and it works.

Without spoiling the adventure, suffice it to say that the remaining encounters are all quite similar, and just as in genre. There are the usual double-crosses and betrayals, plenty of gun battles, mistaken identity and much more. The encounters are all appropriate for the recommended 5th level characters.

The only encounter that left me cold was Smash & Grab, which sees the PC?s attacked while shopping. For some unknown reason, military forces decide that firing a machine gun at some shoppers sounds like a great idea, and proceed to do so. Don?t get me wrong, it?s a great scene, full of action and explosions. But it doesn?t do much to advance what little plot the adventure has. Furthermore players being what they are, they?re likely to want to take the military machine gun for themselves. It?s a potentially game-breaking weapon that will either badly weaken the PC?s if they fight and lose, or greatly strengthen the PC?s if they somehow manage to abscond with the big gun.

The adventure concludes in inimitable Gun-Fu style with a gunfight to the death onboard a cargo ship. As befits a violent mini-game, this final chapter is appropriately titled ?And Then Everyone Dies?

With a Bullet does a good job of illustrating the kinds of action-packed adventures that the Gun-Fu mini-game was designed to tell. The adventure itself is left wide open and absolutely will require some serious ?winging it? to be playable for any group. I see this as a strength, rather than a weakness. Considering that this adventure is the same size as the Gun-Fu mini-game itself, the price is definitely right, and for a GM who needs a little more help designing adventures that fit the genre, With a Bullet is right on target.


LIKED: With a Bullet starts with action, and ends with action. It's right on target for the wuxia/Hong Kong action genre.

DISLIKED: The "Smash & Grab" encounter seems out of place, as if it was just aded as filler. It doesn't further the plot in any way, and has a potentially game-breaking weapon in it. When I ran this adventure, I simply skipped that encounter.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
E.N. Mini-Games - With A Bullet (A Gun-Fu Adventure)
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E.N. Mini-Games - Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/28/2005 00:00:00
Sometimes you?re in the mood for a game full of detail - a game where you have to track every round of ammunition, every hit point, and every five foot step.
Then there are times when all you want from your game is action. You want to kick in the door, grab the bad guy by the throat and enjoy some good old-fashioned butt-kicking action.
Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics is that second kind of game

Let?s start with some basic definitions. Gun-Fu is a d20 system mini-game. It?s not quite a stand alone game, and not quite a setting book. It?s not really a campaign book, because you?d be hard-pressed to run a campaign in this genre. But enough of what it isn?t, let?s look at what it is.

Basically, Gun-Fu is a tightly written, simple set of rules and conventions for playing short, highly charged games that mimic the Hong-Kong action films of John Woo and others like him. If you?ve ever watched the Killer, or Hard-Boiled, and wanted to have explosive stunts and dynamic gun battles like that in your games, then Gun-Fu delivers. These movies are frenetic, intense, and never stop moving. It?s fitting then Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics supplies an extremely easy to use rules-set to mimic that style.

When I say that the rules are easy to use, don?t assume that this is a rules-light or newbie friendly system. While at its core, Gun-Fu uses the basic d20 Modern rules system, the rules have been pretty vigorously massaged and tweaked. Using Gun-Fu effectively will require a decent understanding of the d20 system. It?s kind of like that old saying ?You have to know the rules before you can break them.? Let me explain what I mean as we look at some specific examples from Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics.

After the cover, and a short introduction page, we get right into the heart of any RPG ? character creation. It?s here that we first see how flexible and powerful the Gun-Fu mini-game is. Rather than the tightly defined classes of D&D, or even the more loosely defined hero-types of d20 Modern, Gun-Fu offers only two character classes ? Aggressive and Defensive.
But you won?t find any massive class tables here. Instead, players can modify their class to suit their style of play. The two classes are very similar, differing only in how many ?good? and ?bad? saves they get. Of course, since the players can freely assign their saves as they wish, no two characters are likely to be built in exactly the same manner.
Class skills are fully customizable by the player, and both classes have the same number of skill points.
This is smart design. For a mini-game like this, detailed class skill lists are much less important than in a long-term campaign-style game. However, it can be a little daunting if you aren?t very familiar with the standard d20 Modern rules.

The Feat list has also been pruned from d20 Modern. Again, this makes perfect sense for a game that is much more about high-energy gun battles than about generic ?adventuring? Several feats have also been retooled to work better in the Gun-Fu mini-game. Notably, the Cleave family can now be used with ranged weapons. It?s a small change, but it adds a lot to the flavor of this mini-game without being broken or abusive.

The three biggest changes from the ?standard? d20 Modern rules are Panache, Flaws, and the Damage Save.
Panache points are very similar to Action Points. However, they are determined differently (total of all ability modifiers + level), and they provide many more options. Not only does a Panache Point do everything an Action Point does, it can also perform such amazing tricks as: causing an enemy to run out of ammunition, negate a hit, improve your defense by 5, immediately recover from stunning, escape death via stabilization, or even get a burst of inspiration from the GM.
A Panache Point can also be used to temporarily suppress a Flaw. This is handy, since every Gun-Fu character possesses a Flaw. Flaws are negative traits and conditions that can control a character who fails a Panache check. Flaws are defined by riggers and Effects. When a PC encounters the Trigger for his flaw, he must roll 1d20 + current Panache against a DC of 15. Should he fail this test, the effect of his Flaw kicks in.
And hoo-boy can these flaws be doozies! Suggested Triggers include things like holding a gun, loud noises, or witnessing a death ? these are all going to be VERY common occurrences in a Gun-Fu game! The effects are equally severe. Possible effects include blindness, nausea, or even unconsciousness.
Thematically, these Flaws fit the genre perfectly. Plenty of characters in the films of John Woo had some sort of odd quirk that kicked in at inopportune times leaving them in some way impaired. Mechanically, the Flaw system reminds of the Limit Break system seen in White Wolf?s Exalted game. (Which strangely enough also mimics Asian cinema!)
The biggest change in the rules comes in Gun-Fu?s use of the Damage Save mechanic. This is the same system used in Green Ronin?s Mutants & Masterminds, and Blue Rose games, but toned down a little to account for he lower power levels of Gun-Fu PC?s. It?s a clever system that fits the Gun-Fu genre to a ?T?. Instead of hit points, or even a wound/vitality system, Gun-Fu PC?s can take bullet after bullet and not stop fighting until they miss that final damage save and go down.
This is the perfect mechanic to model the genre?s blood-soaked heroes. Whether you?re playing ?Mickey Mouse? getting peppered by crime lords, or even a ?Die Hard? style of play, the damage save gives players the freedom to engage in over the top violence without the fear of sudden death the a hit point system would impose.

After a brief explanation of weapons in the game, and how their standard stats need modified to account for a hit-pointless system, Corey Reid finally gives some tips for how to use this mini-game. This section is a little short for my taste, but it does give GM?s and players a basic idea of what kinds of stores work best with the Gun-Fu mini-game. Personally, I?d have a liked a little more detail here, but I suppose that all the detail you could ever need is readily available at the local video store. A nice looking two page character sheet is also included, and the file closes with the obligatory OGL notice.

This is in no way shape or form a game for the meek. The subject matter is bloody and mature, and mastering the alternate, freestyle rules used requires a fair degree of advanced d20 comprehension. However, if you are up to the challenge, Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics delivers the perfect mini-game to handle a ?Woo-esque? style of modern RPG. This isn?t a game about super-powered heroes righting wrongs and winning treasure. This is a fast-paced train-wreck where PC?s wage war with a hail of bullets, and a steely glint in their eye. This is balls-to-the-wall freestyle roleplaying. There?s no map, no miniatures, and no remorse. I love it, and if you are a John Woo fan, you will too.
If you?re looking for tactical combat, where every move is plotted out, and each attack analyzed for maximum effect, look somewhere else for fun. But if you want to kick butt and take names, then Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics is going to be right up your alley.

LIKED: This game perfectly captures the genre it covers. It's action-packed, and can exactly model a very tricky gaming style. The simplicity of the rules system keeps things moving.

DISLIKED: If you're not familiar with the films of John Woo, or the Wuxia genre, you're going to be lost here. I would have liked a little more fluff to help GM's that aren't as familiar with the source material.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
E.N. Mini-Games - Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics
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Bardic Lore: The Fachan
Publisher: Highmoon Games
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2005 00:00:00
One of the joys of DMing is seeing the looks on the players? faces when you manage to surprise them. My personal favorite is when I surprise them with some new and bizarre creature they have never heard of. And when it comes to bizarre creatures, they don?t get much more bizarre than the one seen in Highmoon Media?s Bardic Lore: The Fachan.

HMP?s Bardic Lore line is a series of PDF?s dedicated to translating ancient Celtic myth and legend into d20 statistics. The Fachan detailed in this file is a legendary creature of terror that originates in the Highlands of Scotland. I was quite excited to review this product, since I am of Scottish and Irish descent. Legends say that these freakish monsters were said to have only one of all their body parts ? one eye, one leg, one arm, etc. The opening illustration for The Fachan certainly adequately depicts such a creature. Artist Kelso Kaiser?s two Fachan illustrations in this file (the only two illustrations in this file, aside from a Celtic knot work-style border at the bottom of the pages) remind me favorably of the style seen in White Wolf?s Changeling: The Dreaming game, which is good for an illustration trying to capture that same feel of Celtic myth.

The opening text surrounding this initial illustration is a short fiction piece describing a horrific encounter between an angry Fachan and the narrator, one Amergin O?Mil. The story itself is well written and gives an idea of the role this monster takes in the game, but the font it was laid out in is hard to read. This might just be a personal preference, but if the fiction must be in a different font, it really needs to be just as legible as the main body text. That said, while it takes a little longer to work through, this is only a minor problem.

Full d20 stats are given for this new monster, and are laid out in a fairly standard format similar to that seen in the MM. Personally, since legends usually connects the Fachan to their giant relative the Formorian, I?d have liked to seen the Fachan as a Giant. Again, this in no way reduces the playability of the monster as written. It?s just my personal preference based on my interpretation of Scottish myth. And mechanically, the Fachan works just as well as a Monsrous Humanoid.

One particularly nice touch the author includes in the monster?s Special Qualities is a specific mechanic for the creatures Horrid Appearance. Old Scottish tales often detail how a man could die of fright by simply looking at a Fachan. Horrid Appearance allows a Fachan to treat a Charisma penalty as a bonus for the purposes of Intimidation checks. Add in a racial bonus to Intimidate, and you?ve got a scary looking monster, that can use its awful appearance as an advantage. This is a nice design. A brief section on Fachan society and a guide to using them in your campaign rounds out the monster stats.

Guidelines are also included for those brave souls that might like to play a freakish beast as a PC. The Fachan has a Level Adjustment of +1, putting it in the same league as the Bugbear, Hobgoblin, Aasimar and Tiefling. There?s even a three level Racial Paragon class similar to those seen in Unearthed Arcana. A Fachan Paragon can become even more frightening, improve his armor and Strength, and ultimately even grow to large size. This is another reason I feel the Fachan would have been better served by being statted out as a Giant, rather than a Monstrous Humanoid. A sample NPC Fachan named Gwrgenau is also included. Perez wisely chose to have Gwrgenau make use of the new Fachan Racial Paragon class. This is a feature that should be used by more products. By have the new monster use the new class, we see how the author intended both to work together. Gwrgenau?s personality is sparse, but well done. I particularly liked the fact that a leveling scheme is included for Gwrgenau. Not everyone can use a CR 12 monster in their campaigns. By including a leveling scheme, Perez has added a lot of playability to this monster, without requiring too much work on the DM?s part.

As a big Bard fan, I was also quite pleased to see a table including DC?s for Bardic Knowledge checks regarding the Fachan. As I said in the introduction one of the best parts of DMing is seeing the surprise on the faces of the players when they encounter a new monster. Another great feeling is seeing the look of triumph on their faces when the use a rarely utilized ability to gain knowledge about this unfamiliar encounter. This is a feature that would have been a real asset to the MM! Bards are a core class that is difficult for many DM?s to handle. Including Bardic Knowledge checks for new monsters makes a DM?s job easier, and I?m all in favor of that.

Bardic Lore: The Fachan is a solid hit. If you?re running a Celtic themed campaign, this critter is sure to puzzle your PC?s. While mechanically the Fachan is merely playable, the extra effort put into the presentation, even in such a small PDF is quite impressive. You?ll get a lot of mileage out of the Fachan.


LIKED: This product really captures the feel of Celtic myth. The Fachan is not a creature most players are likely to have encountered in other games, so if you're looking for a surprise. This will work really well. The new mechanics for the Facahn's frightening appearance is very flavorful and well done.

DISLIKED: While I would have preferred to see the Fachan statted up as a Giant, hat's just a design preference, and there is nothing mechanically wrong with the creature as presented.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bardic Lore: The Fachan
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A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
Publisher: Alea Publishing Group
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2005 00:00:00
Some role playing books are like a bag of gold pieces. You find it laying in a treasure horde, and eagerly scoop it up, happy to add more gold to your coffers. But once you?ve read them, you realize that this treasure was all too quickly spent, and you?re going to have to go make another raid for more gold. Every now and then though, you come across a product that is more like an abandoned mine. At first glimpse, it?s just a dirty hole in the ground. But as you explore it, and make several repeated trips to this mine, you start finding a few shiny bits of rock. Eventually you stop to appraise these shiny trinkets, and you realize that you?re sitting on a diamond mine. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders is that kind of product.

When I first looked at the product it left me cold. Ho-hum, I thought. It?s just a book about knights and templars. I suppose it might be useful if I wanted to run a low-magic crusader type game. But as I took my time reading, and began really looking at the systems developed in this book, I became more and more impressed with the wealth of material presented in this package. Clearly, if a crusader era, low magic game is what you?re looking for, then this is the product for you. However, even if you aren?t interested in crusades, or even knights and paladins, there is still a host of useful material for almost any campaign.

The color cover artwork by Ryan Rawls, Joshua Raynack and N.C. Wyeth is fitting, depicting a group of knights in matching livery. The cover is laid out in the by now familiar ?faux-tome? style, with leatherized texture surrounding the artwork. Gilded lettering, an ?embossed? seal and faux keyhole complete the design. It?s well done, and would certainly fit right in on a bookshelf next to the latest offerings from WotC. One page of credits, one age of advertising, and one page of Table of Contents/introduction lead off before we come to the bulk of the book.

It?s been said that RPG products live or die on crunch. Colorful flavor text is great, but if I?m not getting something mechanically new, then why bother? In this respect, A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders does not disappoint. There is crunch aplenty in this book, and while it?s presented in the light of Alea?s default setting of Terra ? a Crusade era, Earth-like fantasy world, there are plenty of great parts that could be easily transplanted into any world. Appropriately enough, chapter one lays out the new rules used in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders. First up is the Class Template.

A Class Template functions much like any other inherited or acquired template. It is a set of statistics/abilities that are added to a qualified character in exchange for a Level Adjustment. The difference between a Class Template and a regular template is that the abilities gained via Class Template are applied to the character as he levels up. This is an excellent way to mirror the concept of a military order without having to design a prestige class. With Class Templates, any PC, no mater their class can operate as a member of the order, without dipping into multiclassing, or switching to a variant class. Want to play a Rogue with a heart of gold who serves as a scout for a group of Templars? Just add the appropriate Class Template and you?ve got a whole new twist on the character. For me, templates are one of the most creative parts of the d20 system, and this novel use of them is a real winner. As I said before, while the Class Template system is perfect for modeling military orders, it can be applied to far more than that. The system would also work well for modeling guilds, and even adventuring groups with a special focus. I know I?ll be getting a lot of mileage from this concept.

Another winner in chapter one is the system for Banking & Loans. Once again, this is a perfect fit for a book dedicated to military/crusading orders. Raynack rightly includes a brief history of medieval banking, noting the historical use of banking and lending by the Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon. It?s always nice o see that an author has done his homework before presenting a book dealing with the subject. I have seen banking systems that require the DM to possess a degree in Business Administration to run. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders? system is much simpler, and ultimately more useable and fun. Aside from serving as a moneychanger, the main role of a bank is to offer loans. Loans are handled through the existing Skill, Feat and Level systems. Want to borrow 500 gp from your order? Take 5 ranks in the Loan skill. Pay it back and you get your skill points back to spend elsewhere. Want more money? Offering a Feat as collateral in conjunction with a few ranks in the Loan skill allows you to overdraft your account even further. Still need more cash? Take an Overdraft negative level and you can accrue some truly impressive debt! The system is simple and elegant. It is worth nothing that it does still require some monitoring by the DM. An unscrupulous player could take the Loan Feat in order to have cash to use now, then pay it off when he needs the Feat to qualify for a Prestige Class. While this may be a trifle unbalancing in some games, bear in mind that the PC is still operating without a Feat during this time. As long as the DM carefully monitors the use of this system, there should be no problems.

Sadly chapter one does contain a few clunkers. The Reputation & Fame rules are a nice idea, but really just boil down to the DM choosing to apply a situational modifier to social skills if your reputation is well known. And since situational modifiers aka Favorable & Unfavorable Conditions are a part of the core rules, this system doesn?t really offer anything new. The Multi-skill Check suffers from the exact same problem. While it makes sense that a few ranks in Survival might help someone making a Heal check in the wilderness, there?s no need for a new rules system to handle this. The section on Skill Synergies in the PHB specifically notes that the DM can add new synergies at will. Why complicate a perfectly useful system?

Chapter two dives right into the military orders themselves. Each of these features an appropriate Class Template full of new features for your characters. While many of these orders are based on standard, historical groups, there is plenty of accommodation made for fitting them into any fantasy game. Again, I was pleased to see the author using accurate history to lend flavor to his rules here. The Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon historically was destroyed by tales of witchcraft. Here the author allows Knights Templar to chose to become dedicated foes of witchcraft, or worshipers of the dark forces themselves. The rules for this are well done, and could add a lot of interesting twists to a group working as part of this order. There are several purely fantasy based orders detailed as well. Need a military order dedicated to fighting undead? Try the Order of the Perpetual Day. There?s even a ?blank? order Class Template ready for DM?s to fill out and design their own military order.

Chapter three delivers thirty-four new feats, including a new class of feat ? the Order Feat. These feats are only available to a member of the appropriate military order. In the cases of some of the more powerful feats, like Divine Physician which allows you to cast any spontaneous cure spells as a free action, PC?s will need to be high ranking members of the order to qualify. The feats seem well balanced. While there are some such as Sudden Strike (add your initiative modifier to attack rolls vs. specific opponents) that are quite strong, they are all balanced with appropriate restrictions and limits.

Chapter Four sees the introduction of two new ten-level Prestige Classes ? The Grandmaster, and the Knight Commander. Both of these are really designed for high level play. The Grandmaster in particular being suggested as an Epic Prestige Class! This is completely appropriate. The Grandmaster is designed to be the head of a particular order. This character by his very nature must be a legendary figure. A PC can only enter this class if the previous Grandmaster is dead ? a ruling that evoked first edition nostalgia for me as I recalled the old named character levels and descriptions of challenging for rank. The Grandmasters abilities make him he supreme leader of his order. He can inspire his troops, and improve their combat abilities, even as they die to protect him. The Knight Commander is quite similar to he Grandmaster, but rather than a worldwide leader, the Knight Commander is instead the highest ranking member of an order in a single city. His abilities mirror those of the Grandmaster, with a few minor differences. Realistically, although it isn?t required, a PC should pass through Knight Commander before taking on the role of Grandmaster. These prestige classes are very much in the style the d20 designers originally intended. They are meant to evoke the atmosphere of a specific group, rather than just a set of new powers to tack on to a character. The roleplaying hooks connected to even becoming a Knight Commander of Grandmaster are truly grand. Not to mention the possibilities inherent in holding such a position.

Chapter five presents Remedies & Poultices, which are great ideas hampered by a clunky rules set. The concept behind these various liniments, compresses and poultices are to offer low magic games, or groups without a dedicated healer some access to rapid healing. It?s a great idea, and the actual concoctions themselves are well designed. Each mixture is detailed with the method of application, and the time needed to make it. The varieties of mixtures each allow healing for a specific type of wound. Falling damage requires a different treatment than wounds caused by acid, which in turn must be treated differently than burns. It?s a good idea, and one that makes sense in a world without a cleric to just ?kiss it and make it all better.? The problem is that these substances can only be created with a Multi-skill Check as detailed in Chapter One. It seems like the Mutli-skill Check was only designed for use with these materials. Here?s really no reason for it. Each of these potions could have just as easily been created with an appropriate Craft skill check.. Considering the the makers Heal ranks are sued to determine the duration and effectiveness of these substances, I just don?t see why Raynack felt the need to tack on a clumsy new system to their creation. It feels artificial. Fortunately, it?s a simple matter to just dump this system and use the standard DC?s listed with a normal skill check.

New Spells are outlined in Chapter Six, as well as a new system of Spell Augmentation. Spell Augmentation allows as caster to use special materials (usually herbs) to slightly enhance the effectiveness of a spell. These effects can only be brought about by a PC that has the appropriate class feature instructing them in this ability, or by a highly skilled scholar who researches these variations on casting. Each spell is listed, in standard format, along with the following additional information: The DC required to research the augmentation; the components required to effect the augmentation; alternative components that can be used with added difficulty, and the augmented effect each caster will receive modified by the caster?s level. It?s nice to see that the author included augmentations that will apply even into Epic level play. The spell augmentation system is a real gem, and will combine nicely with other d20 products that offer unique spell components to enhance spells.

Appendix one describes four new monsters, and two modified versions of the Vampire Template from the MM. The monsters are clearly designed for Alea?s default Terra setting. The Jackal, Dire Jackal, Scarab Beetle, and Spawn of Anubis all have an Egyptian flavor to them, as do the new Vampires. The Egyus Vampire summons different animals, and creates different spawn. It also has a different slate of weaknesses. Likewise the Romus (Roman) Vampire summons different beasts, and can assume different forms from a standard MM vampire. Again, the weaknesses are changed as well. These variant templates while clearly designed for a ?Cleopatra? style Rome vs. Egypt campaign could be a real surprise for any group of adventurers who think they are dealing with a ?normal? vampire.

Appendices two and three contain three maps. Two of these are aerial views of a keep and a castle. They contain no legends and are ready for a DM to label and drop into his existing campaign. The third map is an overland view showing an area controlled/contested by Templars and Teutogens. Again, it seems clear that this map is designed with Terra in mind, and has been labeled appropriately. The labels are vague enough that an enterprising DM could file the serial numbers off and use this map in his own campaign as well. It?s worth noting that each of the maps has been included as a high resolution JPG file. This will allow easy modification in any image editing software.

While most OGL disclaimers are fairly dry reads, it?s worth pointing out that Alea has embraced the OGL concept fully with this product. Under the open game content section on page 44 is mention that this book is to be accompanied by an ?Alea Publishing Group Reference Document? or APGRD. This file would contain only the open content found in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders, and is designed to allow publishers easy access to this material. While my review copy did not contain this document, this is an admirable feature, that really encompasses the spirit of the OGL, and I applaud APG for their efforts.

If you?re itching to run a Crusaders game ? don?t waste time. Buy this book now. There a mass of great information in this file, making it a must have if you are playing such a campaign. If the crusades aren?t your thing, this book still offers a lot of bang for your buck. Five bucks gets you a great system for designing new military orders, guilds, etc. as well as some excellent crunchy feats and a simple and elegant banking/lending system. While the spell augmentation system is slightly flawed by the Multi-skill check it?s easy enough to salvage, and useful enough to make it worth doing so. OL isn?t a shiny bag of easily grabbed gold. It?s a demanding read that you?ll need to mine to truly harvest its riches.


LIKED: The banking system is simple and elegant. The Class Template concept is a great way to build custom classes, especially for troublesome classes lke Paladin that otherwise have problems with mlti-classing.

DISLIKED: The Multi-Skill check sysem is clnky, and unecessary. It adds uneeded complication to an otherwise great idea. The rules for Reputation and Fame were likewise more complex than need be. Good ideas, but clunky implementation.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
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17 Magic Cloaks
Publisher: The Le Games
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2005 00:00:00
Magical cloaks have long been a staple of fantasy literature. From the first time we read of the elven cloaks given to Tolkien?s Fellowship, all the way up to Harry Potter?s Invisibility Cloak, whenever a fantasy character wraps himself in a magical cloak, you just know something cool is about to happen. Magical Cloaks should be mysterious, enigmatic and most of all ? magical! In this respect, The Le Games has definitely delivered with their PDF ?17 Magical Cloaks?.

Part of The Le Games? ?17? line of PDF, this product delivers exactly what the cover advertises. 17 Magical cloaks ? no more, no less. I was pleasantly surprised to see that unlike many other companies, The Le Games has no problem listing every cloak to be found in the PDF right on their website. All seventeen are listed right in the ad copy. The PDF files are all fully bookmarked, and it seems The Le Games commitment to making user-friendly products doesn?t stop there. While many other PDF publishers include two versions of their files ? one for on screen reading, and another formatted for printing ? TLG goes one step further and includes an RTF file that can be easily copied from, edited or manipulated in whatever manner the buyer wishes. As a DM who likes having fully prepared and printed notes for my game, this is a big plus.

All told, there are seven files contained in the ZIP for 17 Magical Cloaks. In addition to the three variations mentioned above, there are a JPG of the cover artwork, a JPG advertising another TLG product, and a ?Shameless Advertisement: PDF for Tyche Games in Athens, GA. The final item is a ?Read Me? text file that explains what each of the other files is. I appreciate the number of files in this bundle.

Opening up the on screen PDF we find that the file begins with a brief two page overview of how to use these cloaks in you game. Including this is very handy. The power level of these cloaks varies wildly! A DM who casually introduces an item like the Cloak of Vampirism is in for a decidedly different experience than he?d get by introducing something like the Cloak of Goo. DM?s should look these cloaks over and get to know their abilities before randomly introducing them as treasure. TLG has made accommodations for this, and clearly encourages DM?s to compare the power of these cloaks to the power level of their game. Of course, should you wish to start adding these cloaks in immediately, a random treasure table is included as well. If your PC?s are the types who enjoy making their own magic items, there?s even a bit of advice for introducing the ?recipes? for these cloaks into an existing game.

That done, the authors dive right into some cloaks. There are some real gems here. The Cloak of Dragon Strike offers a minor AC bonus and some fire protection, but it also transforms into a Medium dragon to fight for its master. The Cloak of Razor Flight would be perfect for any X-Men readers who are fans of Archangel. There are a few oddballs here that will have players and DM?s alike scratching their heads wondering ?What the heck do I do with this thing?? The Cloak of Ugliness makes the wearer hideous and deformed, but it offsets this by allowing them to drain Charisma and use it for themselves. As the owner increases in level he can learn to drain more points, and even other attributes. Another one that left me wondering was the Cloak of Goo. This bizarre little creation can slough off portions of itself to create architecture. Bridges, walls, etc. can all be shaped from the goo shed by this cloak, which then regenerates its lost mass. Very strange ? these items are clearly not for every campaign, but their very quirkiness makes me want to find a way to add them into my game.

LIKED: The Le Games delivers exactly what it promises in this product, namely 17 Magical Cloaks. The cloaks are extremely varied, and one or more of them should fit into almost any campaign. The files themselves are attractively laid out and easy to use without being overly flashy. The inclusion of an RTF version of the file is a big plus not only for those who want to copy and paste, but also for those who wish to print the data without any images.

DISLIKED: I don?t begrudge the advertising files contained in the package, although if I downloaded this file via Dial Up, I might wish the advertisements had not been included, or at least been smaller, especially if I lived outside of Georgia.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
17 Magic Cloaks
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