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Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2014 01:55:09
As a .5 product, Tower of the Black Pearl was originally written for the pre-DCC Dungeon Crawl Classic line of adventures, for D&D/d20/OGL/whatever gameplay. Not surprisingly, then, it's more of a generic FRPG module, than an epic-swilling Harley Stroh DCC adventure. Unfortunately, while it's a good generic module, it's not as vivid as the Michael Curtis DCC adventures, either.

The plotline is that once every 100 years (or whatever), The Tower of the Black Pearl surfaces for only eight hours. However, a group of pirates arrive first, and the PCs have to deal with them as well as the Tower. The adventure has twelve areas, and is a standalone adventure. If you're looking for a longer more developed pirate-y adventure, I highly recommend the TSR / WotC Underwater Saltmarsh series, starting with U1: Secret of Saltmarsh.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2014 23:56:52
So what were your characters doing at second level? Killing orcs? Hacking at zombies? Running away from lizardmen? Well, if you're playing a Harley Stroh Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, you're doing nothing of the above. You're probably playing another of his fantastic epic-swilling insanely brilliant how-do-we-top-this adventure.

And fantastic this one is. A magical demi-plane in another dimension is slowly succumbing to chaos-plasm, and it's up to the characters to save it. No, wait. The characters just want to get out, and it won't be easy with three not-so-friendly wizards in an age-old power balance, each expecting the player characters to swear fealty and assist them. Add to this some jaded petty and powerful NPCs, a demon manipulating the game hiding in plain sight, and several mindless hideous creatures lurking at the edges of the world.

The game? Every day, the demon, in the guise of The Fool, deals the cards from a deck and the NPC associated with each card returns back to life and swears fealty to the the wizard who received it. Every day, the wizards scheme and attempt to use their minions to capture the plaques of the other wizards to escape the plane. None have succeeded, and for as long as the other NPCs have remembered, they have died, resurrected, and are well-aware of this endless cycle of eternal stalemate.

Except it's not going to be eternal much longer. With the arrival of the PC's comes the corruption of chaos. The demi-plane is embedded in chaos, and has been able to resist it dissolution into the chaos-plasm. But the PCs arrival has caused the chaos to slowly reclaim and consume the plane, and everyone has only so much time left.

The adventure is well-crafted, with the Harley Stroh elements we've come to expect from his previous scenarios: dangerous mad NPCs with strong personalities, detailed devious dungeons, and epic dimension-spanning plotlines. And did I mention that the PCs can become part of the deck? Yes, that does mean players may find themselves swearing fealty to opposing wizards each day!

Not suprisingly, there's more of an emphasis on the wizards and their minions-of-the-day (perhaps including the PCs!) than your average dungeon crawler. While this is an exciting diversion from the usual generic FRPG adventure, it's probably best for experienced GMs and players willing to roleplay out their unusual situation. Unfortunately, other than some GM tips, there's almost no information in the adventure bridging the power struggle plot with the dungeon lairs of the wizards. For example, while we have a detailed layout of the dungeons and the personal agendas of NPCs that live there, we don't have examples of how the wizards even communicate with the characters. Do they appear as ghostly images? Do their minions speak for them? Do they invade the character's dreams? Of course, wizards being wizards, any of these ways of contacting the player characters would work. It's pretty much the GM's responsibility to negotiate and roleplay out the relationships the characters have with the wizards. I really would have liked to have read some examples of how the adventure played out in playtest groups to get an idea of how to run it.

So if you have the players up for this sort of adventure, and have the GM ability to run it, enjoy the adventure. Much more interesting than killing orcs.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
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Golden Sky Stories
Publisher: Star Line Publishing
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2014 20:27:13
Introduction: I'll preface this review with a high recommendation for the free Golden Sky Stories Demo PDF. It actually contains most of what you need to understand and try out a henge roleplaying game. Henge (pronounced hen-gay) are animals who can transform into humans, and their stories take place in small countryside towns in Japan. Henge adventures are small, slice-of-life stories about helping others by doing little things. It's a child who's lost something, a Japanese shrine protector who's lonely, or a misunderstanding that needs to be taken care of.

The demo PDF not only summarizes the rules (although presents them in an alternate form for purposes of learning the game), but includes a complete introductory adventure. Print multiple copies so players have their copies of the rules and character generation. The PDF truncates the complete rules and does not have all the henge character types (see character generation), nor game master support. But, for some players and game masters, henge roleplaying can be so far from conventional combat-oriented RPGs that they may find the demo quite useful to get used to it. Individual pages from the PDF can be printed as rules summaries, character type summaries, and the character sheet. I would recommend first playing through the demo, then using the book for further storytelling.

GSS demo: http://starlinepublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/201-
3-GSSDemo-StarlinePublishing.pdf


Character Generation

Each player will play a henge. (GSS still has a game master, called the narrator.) A henge is an animal who is able to take human form, and, in Japanese countryside culture, many animal types have stereotyped personalities: Foxes are haughty centuries-old creatures, often associated with the local gods surrounding the town; Raccoon dogs, or tanuki, are shapechangers, including into inanimate objects; Cats and dogs are close to their western perception as independent or friendly creatures; and Rabbits are needy -- but spoiled -- creatures. The setting for a henge is typically a small countryside Japanese town, with local gods (more like supernatural entities) reflecting aspects of the nature around them.

Each character receives a set of powers associated with their henge, and selects up to three weaknesses associated with their henge. For example, the Cat powers are Kitty (0), Fuzzy (4), Peek into Hearts (6), Stealthy Feet (8), Cat Paths (10), and Friends (14). Numbers indicate the cost in Wonder tokens to activate the power. Each Weakness also provides an additional Power. The Can't Swim weakness, for example, is paired with the Acrobatics (4) Power.

Each character has four attributes: Henge, Animal, Adult, and Child. Henge represents supernatural abilities; Animal strength and animalistic power; Adult the ability to do adult things, including technology; and Child the ability to do emotional things, like wheedle adults and have fun.

Each player then defines the connection their henge has with each other player's henge. A connection is a description and degree of a relationship that you have with another entity. For example, your character could have a Rivalry of strength 1 to another character. While connections need to make sense, they need not be the same -- one character may have Protection 2 towards another character, but the other character may have Love 2 towards the first! The strength of each connection is 2 if there are two other characters, or otherwise 1. Player henge also have connection to non-player entities, such as humans, animals, and even the town itself.


Mechanics

Rather than conventional "roll dice to beat or exceed a number", GSS uses a currency-based system. The game has three currencies:

Dream: Dream tokens are awarded during a scene by players and the narrator for good roleplaying. At the end of a scene, players spend dream tokens to increase their connections with other characters (including themselves) that they've encountered during the scene.

Wonder: Wonder tokens are used during a scene to pay the cost for a character to use one of his powers. For example, the shapechanging raccoon dog has the Become Anything (8) power, so would spend 8 Wonder whenever he shapechanges. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths TO others.

Feelings: Feeling tokens are used during a scene to add to an attribute to make a "check". Similar to adding a dice roll to a stat to make or beat a target number, the Narrator tells the player which attribute will be used and what total result will be required. The player may spend any Feeling he needs to pass or exceed the check. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths FROM others.

While the mechanics aren't difficult, the terminology and gameplay is quite different from conventional, combat-focused RPGs. I found it tricky to understand the complete rules of the book, so recommend learning from the demo. A glossary and index would also have been useful. The mechanics are probably best learned through the demo pdf, and the rulebook used once the narrator has the basics down.


Stories

GSS provides support for the narrator to adjust to this different sort of roleplaying: story design advice, town setting advice and a premade town, two introductory stories, an animal bestiary, descriptions of the various types of people in town, and both play sessions and an example story. The descriptions of the types of animals and people in the town include adventure seeds narrators can use to form adventures. After all, henge stories are often about helping others. Despite henge stories being different than western generic fantasy roleplaying, they may be well-suited for improvisational play: the narrator presents and open-ended problem, the players brainstorm a possible solution, and the narrator runs with it. After all, if a boy wants to try to confess his feelings to a girl, there are many ways of doing it! Also, like slice-of-life manga stories, GSS stories may be one-shot, as well as longer-running stories.


Art

The primary artist is manga artis Ike (altitude attitude). His own manga, Nekomusume Michikusa Nikki, "Catgirl's Wayside Grass Diary", is about a henge cat girl who lives in a small countryside town. (The manga is occasionally risque, so would be rated for older teen or higher. Most of Ike's art on Danbooru, Pixiv, and Konachan are SFW.) Unlike the generic fantasy art in most rulebooks, the art in GSS not only supports the section of the book it appears in, but often shows a glimpse of the personality of whoever is in the picture.


Conclusion

If you're looking for a gentle, non-violent, all-ages roleplaying game, this is it! Mechanics still stay within the realm of conventional roleplaying, but the simple countryside setting and "helping others" gameplay are entirely different. The slice-of-life genre allows the narrator to adjust the story to the amount of time available for the gaming group, and subject matter to the group's sensabilities.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Golden Sky Stories
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #77: The Croaking Fane
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 01:04:31
Michael Curtis' The Croaking Fane doesn't have the fantastic epic-swilling heights of insanity of a Harley Stroh's DCC adventure, but is a highly thematic dungeon crawl nonetheless. The party hears of an abandoned fane, enters, and fights froggy things. The Croaking Fane has something of a backstory of two amphibious factions fighting it out, but I'm not sure how well it affects the dungeon-crawling gameplay of the adventure. Still, players wanting a good, highly-themed, froggy crawl should enjoy The Croaking Fane.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #77: The Croaking Fane
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #76: Colossus, Arise!
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2013 02:36:33
One axiom of good dungeon design is the "method behind the madness". Yet, despite this adventure advice, most dungeon crawls hand-wave their background with the simple "abandoned caves with monsters who wandered in" trope. I look forward to Harley Stroh's dungeon adventures because this never happens. Instead, Stroh will take an adventure cliche and run it to its insane yet consistent conclusion. In "Colossus, Arise!", that trope is the "Cycle of Mankind".

The last remnants of the Ur-Lireans, divine, statuesque titans of the second age, wish to bring the next cycle forward. This isn't good news for your adventurers, quite content to keep the third age going as long as possible, thank you very much. Your heroes come late to the scene, as the Ur-Lireans have already "uplifted" men from the current third age into so-called "Sons of the Second Age", and they're not exactly making themselves unknown around the area.

Several desert encounters provide background of the reach of the Ur-Lireans. Then, after infiltrating past the Second Sons, the party arrives into the lair of the Ur-Lirean cult. The Ur-Lireans are quite busy sacrificing victims, uplifting third age men into Sons through horrible ceremonies, and engaging terrible magics and powerful artifacts to animate the dead titan (and his frickin' autonomous BRAIN) from the first age. You know, because the 484 soon-to-be-hatched bloodthirsty worm-men of the fourth age aren't enough. Good luck (and good bye), third age.

Subtlety this ain't, but the previous DCC adventures should have told you that. Instead, DCC presents us yet another momentous world-shattering epic adventure that should keep your players busy. Or, at least, very very dead.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #76: Colossus, Arise!
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Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns: PATHFINDER
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2013 13:12:09
Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns is a 70+ page Pathfinder Compatible supplement by EN Publishing, a part of EN World. Members of the EN World community helped contribute to this book, adding a great amount of creativity (including Bear Wrasslin!) to this somewhat crunchy book. In addition to a wide variety of staid and creative tavern, tournament, festival, and even magic tournament games, rules for drinknig and gambling are provided. GM advice is provided, along with a sample tournament, an exotic market night, and large gambling house. An appendix of tables for merchandise, tavern drinks, etc. ends the book, along with a roster of ready-to-use NPCs.

This book is pretty much a must-have for those neglected scenes in which the party has a bit of recreation in the tavern, before the inevitable stranger asks them for help. (And why did he ask for help? Because he saw how well they did in the tavern game!) A party's proficienty in a tournament will catch the attention of a noble who is looking for services. Taverns, fairs, and tournaments can be sources of rumors, information, and the occasional thief. Even if you don't use Pathfinder or OGL, you can let the book do the creative work of the backdrop, so you can focus on the plot and adventure.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns: PATHFINDER
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Deadlands Noir: The Old Absinthe House Blues
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2013 23:09:38
The Old Absinthe House Blues isn't a bad adventure. But after the Red Harvest adventure of the core book, I found OAHB to have less noir and be less intertwined with the New Orleans of Deadlands: Noir. Particularly with the investigation and bayou locals, it felt like something close to a Call of Cthulhu adventure, without the highly thematic mythos.

The adventure is also more linear than I'd like. The adventure breaks down into three acts: investigation in New Orleans, convincing the locals in the bayous, and a climactic fight against some thugs some high cornfields. But the investigation requires the players to follow a particular path, and the bayous has an encounter with an undefeatable creature. A game master may have to rewrite the adventure to add more flexibility.

On the plus side, the adventure is adaptable. Because it's not deeply connected to the Deadlands: Noir version of New Orleans, and the focus is roleplaying over mechanics, new players (and even game master) can get into the adventure without knowing much of Deadlands: Noir New Orleans, nor must they use the Savage Worlds game system. The adventure has also been designed to allow other adventures, such as personal scenarios, to be played between OAHB acts. Since the adventure starts in New Orleans, the gamemaster can easily introduce OAHB elements into the New Orleans-based Red Harvest adventure of the core book.

At around 30 pages, it can be printed on the laser printer without changing the toner. However, I would recommend playing out the core book adventure first, and seeing what other Deadlands: Noir adventures come out later.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir: The Old Absinthe House Blues
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Deadlands Noir
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2013 23:52:19
Introduction

Alexander L. has written a fantastic review of Deadlands Noir, so, instead of assuming you're incapable of reading his review, I'll some additional comments to add to it.

*****

Do you need Deadlands: Reloaded?

No, but you should be familiar with the Deadlands setting. But, since Deadlands: Noir takes place in the Depression, certainly none of the characters will care about some history lesson from a century ago. They're too busy trying to find a dime for their next meal. The Deadlands weirdness works well as the underbelly of the city, so players unfamiliar with Deadlands can easily play player characters who are discovering things they shouldn't know.


Do you need Savage Worlds?

You should. About a third of the book includes Deadlands: Noir rules for Savage Worlds, stats for important NPCs in its New Orleans setting and a bestiary of Deadlands critters you don't want to tussle with.

The Savage Worlds RPG and miniatures skirmish game system support cinematic gaming very well. The Deluxe PDF edition is ten dollars and really can be used for more roleplaying games by itself. The earlier Explorer's Edition can be found hardcopy for ten dollars or less at the OLGS. You can also get the Savage Worlds: Test Drive edition free on DriveThruRPG or the Pinnacle games site. You're welcome.

Of course, with this being Noir, your players will be investigating and roleplaying more than hacking and looting. So, if your players are obstinate, adapting Deadlands: Noir to your system of choice isn't impossible.


Is this game only for Deadlands players?

No. This game could have been equally called Noir: Deadlands. Deadlands gives the game a unique flavor, but can be suited for your playing group's taste. Investigative Call of Cthulhu players will also enjoy this game, as Deadlands: Noir supports adventures where something spooky lies underneath the story.

In fact, most character types have changed, and some eliminated entirely. Blessed, sykers, and martial artists are rare so will be covered in the Deadlands Noir: Companion. Indian shamans exist, but not in the urban landscape of Deadlands Noir. Mad scientists evolved into patent scientists. Hucksters were hunted down, with those remaning becoming Grifters. Voodoo, however, has risin in New Orleands, allowing players to play shamanistic characters. And the Harrowed are still there. Savage Worlds supports designing characters based on skills, not classes, so players always have the option of playing their favorite noir character idea.


What if I don't want to run premade adventures or don't want to set Deadlands: Noir in New Orleands?

Okay, maybe this book won't work out too well for you. There *is* a two-page mystery generator you can use to create your own adventures. But about a fifth of the book is dedicated to a seven-adventure campaign, with the shorter mini-adventures usable between these adventures. New Orleands (and its corrupt factions) is the only city covered in this book. See the Deadlands: Noir Companinion for additional cities.

*****

Web Support

As of this writing, the Deadlands: Noir KickStarter is still shipping dead tree versions of its books, so it's not too surprising that the only support are some premade characters and a character sheet. The premade characters are definitely worth looking at. Deadlands: Noir mentions miniatures and printable and purchasable maps of the adventures in the PDF, but I couldn't find mention of them on the website.


PDF Format

One irritation I have with PDFs is that many of them make a PDF of the book, and that's that. IMO, Since PDFs have an unlimited page count, and material that couldn't be included in the dead tree version because of printing costs should be included. Also, PDFs allow printing of individual pages. The artwork includes mug shots of NPCs. So Pinnacle could have included NPC picture profile handouts for the GM to print and cut out for the players to see whom they were dealing with. Also, since Savage Worlds supports miniatures gaming and they have the full-body art of the beasties, I would have liked to see paper miniatures included with the PDF.

Conversely, a 145 page grey-color intensive coffee-table PDF is not something you want to print out. No printer-friendly version is included. Entries for NPCs and beasts have widows and orphans (ie. a one-page entry for a beast will start at the bottom of one page and go to the other side). Artwork that looks purdy in the electronic coffee table book consumes ink and toner when you have to print out the page it's one.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir
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Savage Worlds Deluxe
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/29/2013 23:20:14
Savage Worlds is a generic cinematic simulationist RPG, with miniature skirmish rules. Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer’s is the newest edition, providing an update to the third printing of Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition. Savage Worlds is published by Pinnacle Entertainment, with settings Evernight, 50 Fathoms, Necessary Evil, Rippers, Low Life, Deadlands: Reloaded, Tour of Darkness, Necropolis, and Weird War II. Just under fifty companies have been licensed to create product for the Savage World game system.

The Rules

Each character has attributes and skills, collectively called traits. Traits are represented by a type of die, such as d8. Whenever a character performs a Trait Test, they roll the appropriate Trait die, add modifiers, and try to reach a Target Number, typically a 4. If two characters are in a conflict, they each make an opposed Trait Test, with whoever rolled the higher number winning out. A character also has a Race, Derived Statistics, Edges and Hinderances (advantages and disadvantages), and Gear. Additional rules allow cooperative rolls for characters, and group rolls, for Extras.

Sounds typical, right? Well, Savage Worlds adds a number of cinematic rules to the standard "skill roll vs. target number" mechanic. Aces allow "exploding dice", where an additional die roll is added if a die's highest number has been rolled. For every 4 points above the Target Number the hero achieves a Raise for the roll, for additional effects, such as additional damage. Every hero roll includes a d6 Wild Die, whose results can be used in lieu of their regular die roll. Bennies are "plot points", allowing a Trait reroll, and taking the better of the two. And so on.

Initiative is a slightly gimmicky deck of playing cards, with each hero and his allies, or GM group of whatever being dealt a card. Highest rank goes first. Jokers, however provide a temporary bonus and allow the hero to go at any time during the round. A Hold allows a hero to wait on another character's action, and interrupt with a successful Agility contested roll. Player Characters can either Move their Pace of 6 inches, or Run an additional 1d6 inches, with a -2 Trait test penalty.

A Melee Attack is simply an opposed roll of Fighting Skill vs. Parry. Ranged Attacks are a Shooting Trait Test, with Target Numbers of 4 for short range, -2 modifier for Medium Range, and -4 modifier for Long Range. Additional rules allow multiple targets. Melee Damage is the character's Strength die and weapon's damage die. Ranged Damage is the weapon's damage die. Damage dice can also Ace (explode). Total damage is compared to the defender's Toughness, and can have raises.

You've probably seen that crunch before, but the next cinematic mechanic is damage. No abstract hit points here! Characters are either Shaken, Wounded, Incapaciated, or Dead. If the damage roll was successful, the target is Shaken, but each raise causes a Wound. If the character was just an Extra (such as a minion), he's out of the combat. Each wound means a -1 on Trait Tests, and three wounds means Incapacitated. Keep a benny around to soak damage: make a successful Vigor roll to shake off those wounds! Or spend a benny to automatically stop being Shaken. Additional rules cover situations such as Aiming, Area Affect Attacks, Breaking Things, Called Shots, Hazards, etc. Tests of Will is a great cinematic mechanic, in which heroes can Intimidate the bad guys, or Taunt the behemoth.

Dramatic Tasks have their own mechanic. A standard Dramatic Task requires five actions (rounds) and five successes. Dramatic Tasks are typically difficult (-2 Trait modifier), but other characters can cooperate. Just don't draw a Club for your action, or the GM will inflict a -2 Complication, with disasterous results!

Horror and mythos game masters will like the Fright Table. The Fear mechanic is a Spirit attribute trait check. A horrific scene can cause a character to be Shaken. Something from the mythos will have worse effects! Both can result on a roll on the Fright Table, ranging from a useful Adrenaline Surge, to a Charisma-penalizing streak of white hair, to a heart attack!

Additional rules include Interludes (breaks between adventures), Mass Battles (eg. Mars invades Earth), Social Conflict, and Vehicles.

An entire chapter is dedicated towards Powers (magic, psionics, super powers, weird science) using a power point system, and detailing specific powers. Another chapter is Game Mastering advice. The Bestiary chapter has both Abilities (similar to Edges and Hinderances) for creatures, and sample beasts. The book ends with several unconnected "One Page Adventures" designed for a single session of climactic play, plus some templates for area effects.


Buyer's Guide

I do recommend first downloading from DriveThruRPG the free Free RPG Day Test Drive rules, which come with a modern day horror adventure. The additional mechanics in the Deluxe book can be intimidating, and the Test Drive rules provide an excellent framework for new players and game masters. The pdf download of the Deluxe book does not come with a printer-friendly version, so if you don't plan to bring your iPad or laptop to the game table, also check your OLGS for the hardcopy Deluxe Explorer's Edition, for about $10. The Deluxe Edition has some updates, but the two editions are still compatible, and rules changes are on the Pinnacle website. Pinnacles Entertainment has the Test Drive, additional adventures, and other support for Savage Worlds.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Savage Worlds Deluxe
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Heroes of the Sea - Savage Worlds
Publisher: Modiphius
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2013 17:45:52
Achtung!Cthulhu's Heroes of the Sea is the second adventure in the Nazi meets Mythos Zero Campaign. However, the events in the previous adventure, The Three Kings, do not directly lead to this adventure, and Heroes of the Sea can be played on its own. Besides the Overview, the adventure can be divided into three additional sections.

Random Encounters: I found this section the most disappointing because it gave the GM the least amount of prep to run an encounter. The encounters will be realistic, and I find these the hardest to roleplay. I highly recommend the GURPS WWII sourcebooks, particularly All the Kings Men, which describes Dunkirk, and Iron Cross, which details Germany's armies. GURPS WWII has some campaign advice for running cinematic vs. gritty WWII adventures.

Plot Episodes: The adventure itself is fantastically creative. "Heroes of the Sea takes place against the backdrop of Operation Dynamo, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) wartime troop evacuations in history. Following the German Blitzkrieg invasion of Belgium and France in May 1940, the combined forces of the British Expeditionary Force (the “BEF”) and the French First Army found themselves surrounded on three sides and in danger of being driven into the sea—a potential loss of almost half a million men." That's right -- Deep Ones. And U-boats. Oh, and a Nazi outpost in the *Dreamlands*, too. And an underwater archaeology site -- with Nazis. The adventure does a great job integrating these disparate elements together into an adventure.

Appendices: The contents end with appendices for Pregenerated Characters, New Rules, Vehicle stats, Dreamland Creature stats, and Handouts.

On the whole, I preferred this adventure over The Three Kings, although GMs may wish to do more WWII research so he can run the realistic encounters called for in this campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Heroes of the Sea - Savage Worlds
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Three Kings - PDQ Core Rule Book
Publisher: Modiphius
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2013 17:43:32
PDQ: Roughly half the book is based upon the PDQ system adapted for pulp Call of Cthulhu. Optional rules include Mythos Dice and Heroism. If you're not familiar with the PDQ system, it boils down to a simulationist task resolution system, where the GM sets a task difficulty, and the player rolls dice and modifies them to see if he succeeds. PDQ, however, adds some nice RPG color to this task. Rather than predefined skills, a player starts out with a set number of modifiers. He then selects his skills and traits. based on his character, subject to the GM. So, for example, a character can have Good [+2]: Personality: Fearless, encouragig the player to roleplay his character a certain way. The PDQ core system is available online for free.

Adventure: Three Kings: While it's obvious the writers did their research, I felt let down by the lack of specifics in this half of the book. The adventure felt more like a campaign of adventure seeds, than the highly descriptive Cthulhu adventures written by other companies.

Pregenerateds and NPCs: I should mention that the NPC Nazis, resistance fighters, and not-so-reliable souls in the adventure can be quite colorful. With the NPCs -- even ones on the same side -- factioned against each other, I hope Modipihus publishes a Fiasco-based version of this adventure. The adventure comes with four pregenerated characters.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Three Kings - PDQ Core Rule Book
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Welcome to Mortiston, USA! An All-American Zombie Apocalypse
Publisher: Scrying Eye Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2013 00:44:27
Don't let the big ol' zombie art fool you. "Welcome to Mortiston, USA" is a deluxe post-apocaplyptic campaign setting where the living are more of a threat than the dead. Or, as the setting says, "People complicate everything and desperate people with weapons only make it worse".

Mortiston starts with a bang -- three of them, in fact. A low-tech terrorist explosion starts a fire at the deserted Moriston All School. This is followed by the terrorist's low-yield nuke, destroying four blocks of the city, sending an EMP pulse through the entire town, disintegrating most of the city's firemen, deputies, reporters, and National Guardsmen, and setting off a firestorm that lasts five days. A military train, rerouted earlier in the day, is caught in the explosion and crashes into the telephone exchange building. All this before 12 o'clock.

Interestingly, the actual explanation for the zombies is left up to the GM, though the designer includes the origin he used in his version of the campaign. While Mortiston plots out the web of factions and personalities in the town, and includes a timeline of events, it's still flexible enough for the GM to add and modify. (A GM could even remove the zombies entirely!) The timelines are packed with adventure seeds of scenes for the GM to develop.

Primer: This section is an overview of the campaign. Besides what I've mentioned above, the Mortiston describes itself as a generic zombie apocalypse setting for multiple licensed RPGs: Outbreak: Undead, Savage Worlds, The Modern Path for Pathfinder, and OGL Modern. System-specific details are mostly NPC stats, and don't get in the way of the rest of the campaign. The primer also notes that the symptoms of radiation sickness are the same as those of the initial stage of the zombie virus -- it may be amusing to roleplay paranoid zombie-fearing players vs. unconvinced NPCs, or even run a version of this campaign with no zombies at all.

Timelines: The campaign provides a 24-hour timeline of the day of the disaster, a 111+ day timeline, and a summary of the the Stages of the Apocalypse. The 24-hour timeline is well-detailed, covering four pages of events. The 111+ day one is two pages, only highlighting major occurances every few days. The Stages provides an overview of the Mortison County as it declines. These timelines provide a framework for running the campaign over time, although the GM will still have to develop them.

Personalities: Mortiston provides nineteen colorful NPCs, with half a page for background, and another half for stats. Many of them are tied to the eight factions in the game, so will likely encounter PCs face-to-face in the game. Pretty obviously, more than nineteen people survived, so the GM will have to create additional NPCs for players to interact with. Unfortunately, the campaign does not have an index, making it tricky to find references to the Personalities versus NPCs mentioned only in the Places of Interest.

Places of Interest: Similar to Personalites, Places of Interest features about 30 locations in Mortiston. Besides a background and any people associated with the location, each entry has very useful descriptions of its "Relationship to other groups" (ie. factions), Resources (for scavenging), and a short timeline of the condition of the location. Special Locations in Mortiston are briefly mentioned in the GM notes.

Factions of Mortiston: After the detail and color of the Personalities and Places of Interest, I was somewhat disappointed in the Factions sections. At two pages, this section spends only a few paragraphs on each faction. However, a GM can rely upon standard tropes (eg. criminals vs. law) The information is nonetheless useful, detailing the number of people in each faction, their fighting ability, and relationships with the other factions. Most of the color of the factions are covered in Personalities and Places of Interest.

GM Notes: This section contains the already mentioned Stages of the Apocalypse and Special Locations in Mortiston. The section also provides a description of Utilities and Communications after a post-apocalyptic attack, a list of Neighborhoods in Mortiston, a Weather table, maps of effects caused by the terrorist attack, and other notes. While I found the Utilities and Communications section usefully detailed, I found the Locations and Neighborhoods to be scanty compared to the much more detailed Places of Interest.

What Will Michael Do: As an alternative to simply letting the town die out, the campaign ends with a climactic "ultimate monster", in the form of the militant Michael Sparks and charismatic Reverand Thompson. This section has a summary of how they will destroy and take over Moriston, although, again, the GM will have to work out the details.

Webpage support: For a free sample character and location, see DriveThruRPG's entry for the publisher, Scrying Eye Games. You will find there several other freebies for their other products. The designer's blog, 365ZED.com has additional Mortiston notes and material, including a free Fiasco Mortiston playset, sample characters, and more. Scrying Eye Games own website has little additional information about Mortiston and the designer's webpage's last entry was in December 2012.

Fiasco: On the designer's website, he includes a free standalone Fiasco playset based on Mortiston. Fiasco is a non-conventional storytelling game, in which a playset establishes the relationships and motivations of the players, as well as the location where the story takes place. The players then create the scenes and play out the story, improving details as the game session plays. Thus, the player-generated specifics of a Fiasco playset can compliment the broad overview of a campaign (and do much of the work for the GM!). The GM himself can modify the playset and interrupt play (eg. adding the plot-twisting Fiasco "Tilt") as necessary -- even stealing ideas generated in the Fiasco play session for the overall campaign. Fiasco sessions have a reputation for dark endings, well-suited for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA".

EEP!: EEP! 1 is the first "Extended Electronic Package" for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA", and is available as a separate $2.99 purchase from DriveThruRPG.net. I am not clear if other EEPs will be made, and when EEP! 1 was originally written.

PDF: The download comes in both a colored and black-and-white format. I particularly liked that the formats allowed printing of individual sections and NPC and location pages without widows and orphans. Most of the art is useful (eg. NPC and locations pictures), reducing the amount of ink and toner used for GMs wanting a hardcopy.

Overall, Mortiston is an excellent post-apocalyptic campaign setting. But like all campaign settings, the GM will have to work on the specifics, or use a system, like Fiasco, which will do this for him.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Welcome to Mortiston, USA! An All-American Zombie Apocalypse
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2013 03:36:53
I pretty much look forward to a new release of Dungeon Crawl Classics, at least those by Goodman or Stroh. The best ones injected a good dose of weirdness to your typical fantasy RPG, but with a coherence that gave a "method to one's madness". Most adventures I've read do either one, but few do it together like DCC.

Unfortunately, Curtis' The Sea Queen Escapes does the weirdness well, but lacks any structure or meaning behind it (cf. the cultist's tentacled lair in People of the Pit). That still puts this adventure on the level of some of the great AD&D adventures, like White Plume Mountain, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The encounters, while linear, are immensely creative, and highly themed to the adventure (a water vault, followed by an earth prison). Additional useful rules are provided for water-based dungeoneering. The adventure has about twenty encounters, including the climax.

I would suggest DCC's Jewels of the Carnifex over this adventure, but if your players need some more experience, your group will enjoy this adventure.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Annihilation Event Book (Premium Edition)
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2013 23:01:44
Introduction

The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Annihilation Premium Event Book is a full-featured Event spanning the various Annihiliation books. The Premium edition includes the Basic book's Operations Manual. The Event book also serves as a sourcebook for Marvel's cosmic empires and entities. The Hero Datafiles contain entries for Marvel's cosmic heroes and anti-heroes.


Operations Manual

The Operations Manual included in the Premium Event Book is the same as the Marvel Roleplaying Basic Game. It includes a Random Datafile Generator to create characters, but not the Example of Play download. (Note: OM18, The Doom Pool as Opposition, has an example of ship vs. ship combat, which may be useful as an example for starship vs. starship battles.)


Cosmic Scale

The Event book has a host of gamemaster preparation suggestions and optional rules to run a cosmic-scale event. I'm most impressed at how organically MHR adds cosmic comic book ideas to its narrative system. Starships are treated as characters, so easily fit into the game mechanics. Unlockables can be used, such as an unlocked ally Skrull infiltrating an Annihiliation Wave base, allowing the heroes in. To represent an impending threat, a die from the Doom Pool can step up as its act as the Timer complication. (And when it reaches d12, it doubles, returns to the Doom Pool, and can be spent as 2d12 to end the scene -- with the planet destroyed!) And the Doom Pool starts at four dice! Players receive cosmic assistance as well, with Cosmic Power Sets. Play a Shi'ar with the Nova Corps Centurian Power Set. Or recreate a cosmic Human Torch with the Herald of Galacticus Power Set.


Sourcebook

In addition to gamemaster preparation, the Event is presented as a Sourcebook and three Acts. The Sourcebook can be used outside of this Event, and summarizes the Kree Empire, Skrull Empire, Nova Corps, Shi'ar Empire, The Eternals, The Negative Zone (including Annihilus and The Annihilation Wave), Galactus, The Crunch (Kyln), and Other Cosmic Locations. Datafiles of important characters and archetypes are included, as well as milestones and unlockables for each faction. (The Hero Datafiles also include player characters who belong to these factions.) Additional cosmic Event Milestones are also included.

Acts and Actions

The Event is designed for four to six players, and contains about six month's worth of gaming. The Event consists of three Acts which follow the Annhiliation storyline. Each Act is broken down into Scenes: Buildup Scenes, Key Scenes, and Optional Scenes. Each Buildup Scene provides Hooks for different kinds of characters to encounter the Annihiliation Wave. Much like other Event books, the Event book provides key details for a Scene (eg. Watcher datafiles, and Scene seeds to further flesh out the Scene). Each Scene is only a few pages long, but the Event book provides plenty of gamemaster assistance to play a scene. (Besides, we've all read the comics, right?)


Hero Data Files

This section contains data files for the Fantastic Four (pre-Civil War) and a number of cosmic beings. While suitable for the various factions involved in this cosmic war, most cosmic beings in the Marvel Universe aren't terribly popular (eg. Firestorm, Beta Ray Bill), especially compared to their villainous counterparts. (Blastaar and Super Skrull are available, but who wouldn't want to play Annilihus? A pity that none of the acts are written with player characters as Annihilus or his minions!)


Conclustion

Want cosmic? Well, here it is. Even if you don't plan on soon running the Annhiliation Event, there's enough material here for some Fantastic Four stories, Kree and Skrull invasions, or an errant Galactus minion on Earth (again). New gamers may wish to start with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game book, since the Annhiliation Event requires them to understand both the narrative Marvel Heroic Roleplaying System, as well as a cosmic-scale Event. A gamemaster with a mix of new and experienced MHR players can ease in the new players in the Kyrn Prison Buildup Scene with a fight with some prison mooks (using the Example of Play) and some starship combat (based on the previously mentioned OM18: The Doom Pool as Opposition).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Annihilation Event Book (Premium Edition)
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Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2013 18:39:53
I've enjoyed Cubicle 7's Cthulhu Britannica series, and their Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore is no exception. The book discusses how to incorporate Britain's folklore into Call of Cthulhu as, well as provides several written scenarios.

Folklore's "Using Folklore in Call of Cthulhu Games" is one of the best adventure design articles I've read. This article analyzes various permutations a folklore element and a mythos threat can relate to each other. For example, a piece of folklore can be mere rumors originating in a mythos threat. Or the folklore can actually exist, alongside the mythos, and act as a red herring -- or even vice-versa. Although written for folklore and the Cthulhu mythos, it can be used to meld any two ostensibly separate "mysterious genres" and not just in the 1920's. For example, you could use this article to help design a modern-day adventure involving the FBI or Illuminati (or both!) and the mythos.

"Using Folk Magic in Call of Cthulhu" is a shorter but still interesting analysis of how folklore-related "magic" can be use in roleplaying: as a derivative of mythos magic, as an entity unto itself, as medicine, or even as placebic belief. Some creative examples are included, and I wish this section had a "random idea generator" to help Keepers make up their own spells. Again, this section can be used for non-folklore magic, such as shamans and even modern-day psychics.

"A Folklore Bestiary" was enjoyable from the point of refreshing me on various folklore beings (eg. water horses) and has a useful but alas brief entry for magic-using humans (druids, witches, cultists...). Unfortunately, most of the entries are written from the viewpoint that the folklore entity exists, and include a short discussion of how it would work as an agent of the mythos. A dragon connected to the mythos is a bit much for my tastes. "Old Ones and Old Gods" is a too-brief discussion on plugging in mythos entities with British folkore.

"Folklore Mythos Threats" consists of nine well-written Cthulhu scenarios. The scenarios lack the conventional (and arguably unnecessary) handouts, maps, and pregenated PC's. The introduction even mentions that the Keeper has "enough materials ... to quickly build their own scenarios", but I think there's enough here for play. The adventures are NPC-heavy, so Keepers weaker in playing NPC roles may wish to enlist a roleplaying co-GM to enjoy developing the non-player characters.

If you've enjoyed the Cthulhu Britannica and Cthulhu Britannica: Scotland books, Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore will not disappoint!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore
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