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StarCluster 2
Publisher: Better Mousetrap Games
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
StarCluster 2 is a game with a grand design and flawed implementation. The background setting and story is pretty solid, the classic sci-fi diaspora of refugees escaping from generic cataclysm 34. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and the authors put a lot of thought and effort into "why things are the way they are".

The game mechanics are perhaps too thought out and suffer some overcomplexity problems, despite a design goal of making things as simple as possible. It uses a d100 and reminds me a little bit of Traveler and Star Trek. Overall, the layout and structure (single column, pages of charts/tables, no bookmarks) make it very difficult to read.

My best recommendation would be to take the settings, gut the mechanics, and call it even. A layout specialist and a content editor would be helpful as well to make the product flow a bit easier and be more accessible.

At the end of the book are dozens of pages on star systems and planets. This information is nice, but could easily have been separated into a free download. The art appears to be pictures modified in photoshop to appear appropriate for the setting. It's a little odd at first, but it grows on you.

LIKED: The setting and detail.

DISLIKED: The mechanics, the look and feel.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 2
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Bloodsucker: The Angst
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
For anyone who has ever been involved in a World of Darkness LARP, this book accurately portrays "those people". If you don't know who "those people" are, they're probably "your people". Bloodsucker: The Angst is a streamlined d20 sourcebook/setting for playing wanna-be vampires and the generally pathetic antics that come with it. I've been there myself, so I can fully understand where the author is coming from.

This is a witty and fun satire written by a guy who has obviously been there, done that, and bought the tee shirt. It's written in a very loose and casual manner (with a British vernacular) and is quite easy to read. It numbers just over 100 pages, although no bookmarks are included.

The artwork is rough and, in many place, just simple doodles - but it works for the subject and adds the right sense of humor to the book.

LIKED: The sense of fun mixed with sharp satire. It is a funny book and a good read.

DISLIKED: The game is what I call a "shelfer" - something you buy because of some interesting quality (viciously satirizing White Wolf), put on a shelf, then pick up once every few years when talking to the ex-LARP crowd. The lack of bookmarks in a long publication is always a problem.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Bloodsucker: The Angst
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Publisher Reply:
I don't tend to bookmark shorter or less serious works as people seem to like making their own references. I've got a friend who liberally peppers his RPG books with strategic post-its :) 100 pages doesn't strike me as a long publication especially. I'm wondering a little where the disappointment in the value comes from though, it is a playable game and the playtesters got a little mini campaign going with it. I see it being run something like Urban Faerie. However, in response, I'm going to drop the price a little.
All Fall Down by Philip Reed
Publisher: Ronin Arts
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
All Fall Down is a basic storytelling game (not of the White Wolf variety) where the players are all children in a dying village. The objective of the game is to be the last child to survive plague and/or depression.

The mechanic is simple and there is no game master - player votes determine the overall results. The "winner" is essentially the last child standing, the others dying off from the aforementioned sickness and depression.

The author admits at the end that the rules are not completely polished, mentioning that playtesters wanted more complex rules and things he would change. This begs the question - why didn't he?



LIKED: It's simple and can be done in one evening.

DISLIKED: Unfinished

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
All Fall Down by Philip Reed
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Publisher Reply:
The product description clearly explains that the game involves the death of children. I feel it is the responsibility of the customer and reviewer to read a product description before making a purchase or accepting a product for review. For those with a sense of the twisted/disturbed, I feel this is an excellent game for a fun evening and I stand by my decision to write and release the game. This review says nothing about the game itself but instead focuses on the game's concept.
Hearts Swords Flowers
Publisher: Electric Mulch
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
Hearts Swords Flowers seems to be more of a primer for running an anime-style game, and a specific style of anime at that, than a general gaming product. "Shoujo" is a genre of manga aimed at young girls, with "a strong focus on character interaction, atmosphere, and complex dialog."

As a sourcebook on a manga-style game (for the BESM Tri-stat system) it is invaluable. For anything else, it's pure fluff. The content is hyper-focused on the topic, and it does a great job of breaking down the genre into usable conventions for role-playing. The breakdown of the various conventions and symbolism may be valuable to other writers who want to see a good example of how to structure their writing, but overall the book reads less like a game and more like a dissertation.

The layout is single-column and bookmarks are non-existant in the 96 pages of text. The art is all manga-style and very good.

LIKED: The comprehensive and detailed handling of the subject matter.

DISLIKED: It's a little too focused on a subject that I care little to nothing about. The layout is a bit hard to read in electronic format and there are no bookmarks for easy reference.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hearts Swords Flowers
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Future Player's Companion: Tomorrows' Hero
Publisher: The Game Mechanics
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
The Future Player's Companion: Tomorrows' Hero is, in many ways, your standard gaming supplement. It provides new races, class, skills, and feats for playing in a d20 future setting. In that, it does a very good job. The writing and editing are solid, with a clean layout and easy to read formatting.

The game mechanics presented are neither groundbreaking nor overpowered, which gives the product a very professional, authentic feel to it. The artwork is nice, adequate for the book, but not overdone. It's very easy to read and well organized.

LIKED: The layout and overall presentation are top notch. It's well organized and accessible.

DISLIKED: It's very specialized to d20 future, so it has a narrow focus. If you're not interested in that focus, you won't be interested in the supplement.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Future Player's Companion: Tomorrows' Hero
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Neiyar: Land of Heaven and the Abyss
Publisher: Bards and Sages
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
Neiyar is an interesting setting, with enough new races, classes, and gods to keep a player or GM occupied for some time. It does have some serious flaws that need to be addressed.

The primary location, the island of Neiyar, is a matriarchy where outsiders are a way of life. This alone makes it pretty unique as a game setting, as not many games actively make guys, the majority of the gaming crowd, the power minority. The book is crammed full of setting background, religions, races, classes, cities and maps, and everything necessary to run a campaign. Story hooks are included in the location settings for ease of use. It very much takes the appearance of someone?s homegrown setting, a place that was nurtured from infancy over a long period of time.

That appearance is both its blessing and its curse. The setting has a very plain and poor layout. The editing is good, but nothing stands out. At just under 200 pages, I began to look for any splash of color like a man in the desert thirsting for an oasis. The art is varied; the vast majority being (bad) clip art and low quality drawings. It was a surprise, then, that the pages would occasionally hold an illustration of some quality. The divergence was somewhat confusing and I wonder if they ran out of money for art.

There are extensive sections on cults and organizations and new monsters. The first appendices start on page 138 of 192, and cover a broad variety of subjects. It includes everything from a glossary of terms and sample myths to a starting adventure. The actual text of the book, after the index (which is nice, by the way), ends at page 185. The rest of the book is a character sheet and some ad space.

Overall, the layout and presentation of Neiyar was confusing and frustrating. With all of that in mind, though, there are some valuable and worthwhile things in the setting if you have the time and inclination to look.

LIKED: The setting, in general. The level of detail and thoroughness of the locations, the people, and the organizations of the land.

DISLIKED: The format and layout are bad, as is the art (for the most part). Some bookmarks would have been very helpful, especially for a book that nears 200 pages. It works better as a printed doc and, if you have the money to print out 192 pages, it is in a good format (no color) to do it.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Neiyar: Land of Heaven and the Abyss
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for your thoughtful review. I appreciate your concern about the lack of color, but Neiyar was originally designed as a strictly print work, and color would have doubled the price. And I couldn't justify doubling the price just to add color! One of the things we strive to do is keep printing costs down so that the books are affordable (I have a personal problem with $40 campaign books, myself). Color maps are available for free download on our website at www.bardsandsages.com/neiyar for those who want them. The art issue was more a lack of any one artist being able to dedicate enough time to all of the pieces needed than anything else, though many folks who have purchased the print version have told me they liked a lot of the art. And thank you for pointing out the index. It's always been one of those things that drove me nuts about RPG books, and there were many lost hours of sleep making sure it was as complete as possible ;)
Honor and Corruption
Publisher: Alea Publishing Group
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
Honor & Corruption covers exactly that and is a mechanic for keeping track of the relative honor of any player or NPC in a game. Before I get into the mechanics, let me first say that the art here is gorgeous ? the pages look like parchment, a bit fancier than the Player?s Handbook layout, and it works well. I wouldn?t want to print it, however, for that very reason ? luckily, it?s only 32 pages (not counting the add-ons they packaged with the zip in the download).

In some ways, the detailed system for gaining and losing honor reminds me a bit of Werewolf: The Apocalypse (White Wolf) ? there is a table of things to do and things not to do. The modifiers all seem to be for diplomacy and perform skill checks and a new type of feat called honor rewards. These feats aren?t purchased as normal feats, rather each game session a player may attempt to get a reward via a dice roll against a set DC.

These rewards range from masterwork items and monetary rewards to situational modifiers and benefits, such as an aura of courage (much like a paladin, but for a limited time) or a temporary damage resistance. You can even use it to get holdings from a lord. The chapter on corruption has all sorts of modifiers that make the corrupt look plain evil and has a very Legend of the Five Rings/Werewolf wyrm-touched feel to it.

The races have some problems, but they?re interesting. Honorborn are described as being especially righteous, but their only alignment restriction is lawful ? so a character could be an evil honorborn, which doesn?t make much sense given the background. Also, there doesn?t appear to be any challenge modifier for a honorborn character, and it should be at least +2. Tarnishborn, their opposite, do not have a necessary level modifier either. After reading them, I just wondered why they didn?t use the celestial and fiendish templates instead.

Subclasses are a new concept introduced in the supplement; basically, it?s an add-on class that you take in conjunction with a normal class selection in exchange for a cut in experience. The author takes steps to balance it, but only in the challenge rating of character. This becomes a problem if one member of the party takes a subclass and another does not. The penalty is identical to percentage cut for multi-classing, so there won?t be too much of a gap. The player with the subclass will have access to additional feats and abilities per level that the other members of the party will not.

The last section is a list of various honor-related feats for players to get. The feats have odd trade-offs, the most common being a reduction in sneak attack ability in exchange for some other bonus. The reduction is not permanent, however, and can be exchanged on a day to day basis.

Overall, I like the general concepts, but I?m not sure of their value in a game. Honor and corruption are treated as tangible things that have a real effect on the abilities of a character instead of a nebulous, social classification and reputation. Some might find that useful, so might not.

LIKED: The layout and art were gorgeous. The ideas were well presented and formatted. The concepts were interesting and offered a new look at a little broached subject.

DISLIKED: The bookmarks were listed without any organization or structure. The game material and mechanics are only valuable in settings where such concepts have meaning. Honor and corruption are definied mostly by western, Euro-centric ideals (medieval). Honor and corruption are more living, breathing things that affect a character rather than pressures and social responsibilities. It's not printer friendly.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Honor and Corruption
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Elements of Magic - Mythic Earth
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
For those of you not familiar with the line, Elements of Magic is a stand alone magic plug-in for d20 fantasy games. Elements of Magic: Mythic Earth is an updated, revised, and streamlined supplement for magic used in both fantasy and modern day games. It?s fully compatible with any d20 fantasy and d20 modern game out there.

It?s a great system and allows players and game masters to really control magic and make it do almost anything. Sacrificing a little power for a lot of flexibility, Mythic Earth is the best magic system available period.

The product itself has a solid and clean layout. The first primary section is on mythic settings and creating a unique mythos for your game. Spellcasting and magical traditions covers the basic mechanics of casting spells. This chapter includes magical traditions (backgrounds), new feats and magical skills.

The third chapter, the Magic of High Fantasy, covers more background organizations, a new advanced class for d20 Modern (the Mage), types of magic items, and sample characters. The sample characters are fully written out and have full descriptions of the signature spells available to them. This section also discusses certain types of mythic creatures, such as faeries and dragons.

Chapter four is devoted completely to spell mechanics. This section is worth the price alone, as it gives detailed and comprehensive rules for creating and using spells in a game.

The Appendix gives detailed rules on converting Elements of Magic revised to the Mythic Earth rules, which would incorporate any standard fantasy d20 game. It also includes a long list of sample tradition feats, which modify what magical abilities are available.

The sidebars stand out really well and make reading and referencing the document simple. The bookmarks are well organized and structured, also an aid in reference. It runs 58 pages, one of which is the license, two of which are contents and the title page. The edition I received had the front and back cover images separate, so I assume it was the version for POD.

LIKED: The rules, the layout, the bookmarks, the writing, the sidebars and highlights.

DISLIKED: There aren't many other products or settings out there that use this system. That's unfortunate.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Elements of Magic - Mythic Earth
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Celestius Ex, 2nd Edition
Publisher: Crown of Thorns Studio
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
I wasn't sure what to think when I first opened this document. I'm not religious and here I was reviewing a religious-themed game. More than that, a self-proclaimed Christian role-playing game.

With that said, Celestius Ex 2nd edition is well written and thorough in it's approach to delivering a comprehensive system for playing in the setting. Players can take on the roles of angels, humans, or wildings (half-demons). The writing, editing and layout are very professional - especially impressive considering the size of the document (230 pages). The art is not spectacular, but not bad either.

The game itself is a d20/Silver Age Sentinels mesh with some additional materials thrown in. My first impression was that the characters had a super-hero feel to them; I suppose that's the best way to represent otherworldly beings. The majority of the chapters, after the mandatory setting description and flavor text, is devoted to character creation and game mechanics.

If religious-themed games are your cup of tea, or if you're looking for a game that reflects Christian values, this is for you. It seems to be a niche game, though. While the religious aspects are covered greatly, the game doesn't really capture the darkness and evil of the demons. The religious background and references are quite good though, and make up for this.

LIKED: The content and setting is detailed. It has an index and bookmarks.

DISLIKED: The bookmarks are in one large list and could have been subdivided by chapter to make things easier. The bookmark names aren't very descriptive some of the time and, in some placer are blank. It is very long, so would be better suited to being a print book rather than a pdf.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Celestius Ex, 2nd Edition
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Ship of the Line
Publisher: FJ Gaming
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
First thing to keep clear is this is a board game, not an RPG. With that in mind, this is a gorgeous, elegant game. The rules, while not perfect, are efficient, well written, and clear. It's brimming with historical content, naval terminology, and just plain fun.

I cannot recommend this game enough. The author has filled it with historical naval artwork depicting many major engagements of the Napoleonic era.

If this were a boxed game, it would probably run for $25 minimum.

LIKED: The historical content, the game mechanics, the authentic feel. It's really a great game.

DISLIKED: The rules could probably be improved.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ship of the Line
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Chris, Thanks for your comments, all feedback is appreciated and I'm glad you liked it. If you go over to my website (www.fjgaming.com) you'll find some variant rules for ship of the line, submitted by other customers, which may address some of the rules issues (they include conversion rules to play the game on an octagonal grid, submitted by Pete Jones).
Barbarians Versus
Publisher: Mystic Ages Publishing
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
Barbarian To-Do List:
1. Drink Mead and Get Drunk

I think this game starts off on the right foot and keeps on going. It's very funny and well written, with great formatting and simple rules. Character creation is easy to follow and, although the author gives the option for a more serious game, I don't think he really means it. This game is meant to be fun and light hearted with lots of barbarian smashy goodness and alien lizards. He recommends watching B-movies for plot ideas and I agree.

Between the funny random barbarian facts and the simple mechanic (more dice = good) it is a fun little game. The character creation includes such steps as "What your barbarian whimpers for" and "choose your battlecry". Also included are such gems as the "Random Looting Table" and detailed drinking rules; just what every budding barbarian hero needs.

LIKED: The fun factor can't be ignored. The simple mechanic and obvious joy in the writing. The formatting is excellent and prospective publishers might want to pick it up just for that. The dice mechanic is fitting for the genre, which is a weird thing to say, but it's true.

DISLIKED: Nothing.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Barbarians Versus
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True20 Adventure Roleplaying
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
True 20 (the updated version) is a stripped down D20 system that has more in common with Mutants and Masterminds than with traditional D&D. The three classes are generic enough to produce a near-classless system.

The backgrounds, including race, all have a standard system for abilities and a nice mechanic called "favored feats": feats that can be selected by members of a race regardless of whether they meet the class requirement.

In lieu of alignment, characters choose a virtue and a vice to define them. The Convicion mechanic, basically identical to the hero point mechanic in M&M, is also used.

The Skill mechanic is different - instead of buying individual ranks of skills that are purchased each level, a character buys the skill itself and always uses it at their character level+3.

Feats have class prerequisites, training (skill) prerequisites, and feat prerequisites. There are no ability prerequisites, however.

Magic, or "Powers", are essentially feats with a supernatural prerequisite. They also have ability checks (adept level+3) and can cause fatigue during use. There are no spell slots, memorization lists, or spell points.

Weapons just give a strength bonus when doing damage - in this case a toughness save against a static DC + the weapon's damage. The system is identical to M&M's mechanic. Armor provides a bonus to the toughness save.

A small bestiary and conversion section is included at the end for anyone who needs them.

LIKED: The single mechanic is nice, so not many rules need to be learned. The section on interaction skills, especially in combat, was nice as well. The racial breakdown of abilities is fair and balanced as well.

DISLIKED: I'm not wild about the magic system. The idea is great and it's simple, but to me it's a bit too simple. I didn't print it out, but 98 pages of black bars (top and bottom) could be an issue.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
True20 Adventure Roleplaying
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Grim-n-Gritty Hit Point and Combat Rules, Version 4.0
Publisher: Diamond Thunderbolt Productions
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
This is a very solid core of rules to make combat as nasty as you want to. The changes to hit points, armor class, and critical hits are all very useful in running a more serious, deadly game. The author's supposition that skill is more important in determining damage than weapon selection strikes a chord.

It is more suited if you prefer low-magic or gritty campaigns. Any wizard of suitable power will be able to decimate a party under these rules, so care must be taken when integrating. Monsters, likewise, are a larger threat to a well armed party and encounter levels need to be modified to compensate.

This is appropriate for a certain group of gamers, but anyone who likes playing small creatures or high magic might not enjoy it as much.

LIKED: The alternative damage, critical hits, and overall variants.

DISLIKED: It is so "realistic" that it takes all of the cinema/fantasy out of the fight.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Grim-n-Gritty Hit Point and Combat Rules, Version 4.0
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Dungeon Dive 2: Abandoned Temple
Publisher: Dark Quest Games
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
Need an abandoned temple in your game but you don't feel like designing it? This is where this supplement, second in the "Dungeon Dive" line comes in. It's a pregenerated, ready-to-use abandoned temple that can be inserted anywhere in your campaign.

Complete with varying difficulty settings for whatever level your PCs happen to be, the temple is easy to use with little preparation. All together, it's a small and valuable tool in any GM's arsenal.


LIKED: It is clear, simple, and easy to use with little fuss. The formatting is solid and the bookmarks make it even easier to reference.

DISLIKED: Not much.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Dive 2: Abandoned Temple
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Dungeon Dive 1: Thieves' Guild Hideout
Publisher: Dark Quest Games
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2005 00:00:00
The title says it all in this supplement - it's a pregenerated, generic thieves' guild hideout, complete with varying difficulty levels of monsters depending on the size and level of the PCs.

It is basically a small adventure without the plot, leaving the GM available to use it as he or she sees fit.

LIKED: It is clear, concise, and easy to use.

DISLIKED: Not much.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Dive 1: Thieves' Guild Hideout
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