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e-Adventure Tiles: Ice Cave Pools
Publisher: SkeletonKey Games
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/23/2008 21:29:08
A beautiful tile set. Also prints beautifully in black and white. I can think of some other things that would have enhanced the set -- like some drop-in dungeon detail, icy stalagmites and rocks for instance, or wrecked boats, to add even more variety. Maybe such can be made available as a separate product at some point.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
e-Adventure Tiles: Ice Cave Pools
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Goblin Warband
Publisher: Mayhem in Paper
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/20/2008 10:10:57
An extremely useful set of paper miniatures in any fantasy setting.

You get three files with essentially the same images. The main file is one page of twelve full-color, nicely shaded goblins with an enormous variety of different weapons and defenses. There's even a shaman or witch doctor included for use as a leader figure or to add some magical oomph in an RPG. There is enough variety for players to be able to say "I'm shooting at the (whatever) one" and be easily understood.

The secondary file contains the same images without color. If goblins in your campaign world are a different color, or you have two groups of goblins going up against each other, I guess you can use these for kitbashing.

The third file is a .GIF of the same uncolored images (the other files are .PDFs). I had some BIG trouble here -- when I edited this file to customize the images, the resolution wasn't just a little bit lower; it looked a LOT lower, to the point of starting to pixelize. In the end I just called up the .PDF and screencapped it to make my own editable file. Results were perfect.

The last file contains matching slot-bases for these figures. One Monk has either the best or the second-best paper miniature bases I've seen, depending on your point of view. It's a toss-up. WorldWorks bases can slide miniatures in and out easier, but come in a LOT less variety and cost money. One Monk bases work best when you glue the figure in, I've found, but you can get any kind of floor (not just dirt, cobblestone and wood, but multiple choices of indoor and high-tech flooring) and, best of all, One Monk bases are FREE on their website.

Essentially, for the price of one "unit" of goblins, you're getting goblin swordsmen, goblin axemen, goblin spearmen, goblin club-fighters, goblin archers AND a goblin mage. Arrange the appropriate miniatures on the page in the configuration that matches your unit, and there you go. This means all your goblin needs are met in a single package (or at least a sizable percentage of them), and you can draw freely from these troops to design your dream unit.

It might have been nicer if the big section of instructions in the middle was on a separate page, allowing them to provide three rows of four miniatures instead of two rows of six. That would make the page less cramped, and thus make it MUCH easier to cut and paste the figures around to produce the unit you want.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Goblin Warband
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~delete
Publisher: One Monk Miniatures
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/20/2008 09:56:55
An extremely useful set of paper miniatures in any fantasy setting.

You get three files with essentially the same images. The main file is one page of full-color, nicely shaded thief/ranger types with one bow and one sword each, as well as miscellaneous "cololr" equipment. They are all male; nine are Caucasian and one is African. There is enough variety for players to be able to say "I'm shooting at the (whatever) one" and be easily understood.

The secondary file contains the same images without color, so you can produce thieves and rangers with differently colored cloaks (VERY useful for large battles, or for Robin Hood type settings where multiple players will be fielding these types of characters).

The third file is a .GIF of the same uncolored images (the other files are .PDFs). I had a little trouble with this one, as the results just weren't as good as when I used the .PDFs. Since it's the same images, though, that didn't matter -- I ended up producing my own .PNG version of the images with screencapping.

The last file contains matching slot-bases for these figures. One Monk has either the best or the second-best paper miniature bases I've seen, depending on your point of view. It's a toss-up. WorldWorks bases can slide miniatures in and out easier, but come in a LOT less variety and cost money. One Monk bases work best when you glue the figure in, I've found, but you can get any kind of floor (not just dirt, cobblestone and wood, but multiple choices of indoor and high-tech flooring) and, best of all, One Monk bases are FREE on their website.

It's true that all of these figures are identically armed, and with a weapon combination good for wargaming but not terribly likely in RPG settings. While the double-sided images make it hard to remove the bow in the graphic, once you've printed them out and assembled them the bows can be removed in seconds, leaving a realistic-looking clenched fist.

All in all a very useful set. It'd be nice to see female thieves and rangers at some point, but that's a future-product-request issue, not a problem with this product.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
~delete
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Amber
Publisher: Diceless by Design
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/20/2008 09:19:58
This review assumes you are familiar with Roger Zelazny's "Amber" novels. If you're not, don't bother -- the rulebook assumes you've read at least the first five books (the Corwin arc) and is nigh-incomprehensible if you haven't.

An absolute tour de force, one of the most innovative RPGs ever created. Re-creating the ultra-powered Amber universe, where player characters can essentially create planets of worshippers in a matter of minutes and destroy universes on a whim, would be impossible in the standard wargame-based RPG setting. (Witness the Dragonball Z RPG, a valiant attempt at not-quite-as-powerful characters that ends up an algebra textbook.) By using a minimalist rules structure and ranking PCs against each other instead of on a concrete scale, Amber RPG manages the task abstractly.

PCs are built on a certain number of points; they bid these points against one another in auctions to purchase their basic attributes, then go on to use the leftover points to buy powers, strongholds, and artifacts. (Lesser magical items and allies can be created on the fly.) Players have the option of overspending, which will produce a dark character plagued by ill luck, or understpending, which will produce a more likeable character smiled upon by fortune.

The powers and abilities on offer are mostly very flexible. Sorcery is a pain in the butt (but, then, the characters in the novels also whined about its complexity), but the universe-spanning powers Pattern, Logrus, Trump and Shapechanging can all be used as the basis for strong characters. Since most of what a power actually DOES is up to player creativity, duels between characters end up resolved most often not by raw point expenditure but by a combination of planning and tactics.

A wealth of GM information is also provided, including all of the characters from the first five novels (with multiple interpretations of each, yet, including evil interpretations of heroes and neutral views of villains). There are pages and pages of advice on helping players develop great characters, constructing a campaign (including Amber-like universes using Zelazny's core concept but none of his worldbuilding), controlling basically uncontrollable PCs, and adapting the rules to your own tastes.

All in all, this is about everything you could want from an Amber RPG (except, well, any coverage whatsoever of the Merlin books, but that's why they published the Shadow Knight sourcebook).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Amber
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The Mutant Experience
Publisher: Mongoose
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/11/2008 08:05:23
This book essentially comes in three sections: a collection of new mutant powers of various types, a toolkit for allowing GMs to determine the status of and attitude towards mutants in Alpha Complex ... and a lot of junk.

Unlike most Paranoia books, this isn't much good for pleasure reading. It's primarily a reference book.

Essentially that's it. If you want more mutant powers in your game, this book will provide them. "Paranoia Straight" GMs, particularly, may be interested in some of the alternate Alpha Complexes and how they treat their mutants. I didn't find anything in here that got me particularly excited, but I don't feel my money was wasted either.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Mutant Experience
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The Centauri Republic Fact book
Publisher: Mongoose
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/11/2008 08:01:52
Priceless, not just for those playing Babylon 5 per se but for anyone playing in a sci-fi game that could use a "Centauri-like" expansionist race or some nice prestige classes. This book covers psychology, physiology, culture, practices, hardware and ordnance, and really makes the Centauri into more than just the "Romans with the serial numbers filed off" that they're usually portrayed as.

The only complaint I have is something common to ALL of the B5 fact books: the wasting of massive amounts of space producing non-canon maps for every single inhabited planet in the empire. Honestly, while having the writeups of the worlds is useful, the "view from orbit" map is pointless (and looks randomly generated).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Centauri Republic Fact book
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All-Purpose Miniatures Rules
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/11/2008 07:57:09
These don't actually work for ALL purposes; rather, they provide a decent rules framework for squad-based skirmish games, large engagements, and epic engagements. If you're looking for something that can handle RPG-like framework for simulating Star Trek / Doctor Who "heroes and redshirts" objective-based engagements, Fantastic Worlds is fast and flexible and available for only slightly more.

On the other hand, if you're just looking for a way to use your entire miniatures collection for wargaming, this is not at all a bad way to go. A bit beer-and-pretzels, but fun.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
All-Purpose Miniatures Rules
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D&D - Basic Set
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/10/2008 20:35:55
First, the set is fantastic, period. You can use this to introduce kids as young as eight to the hobby. There's no objectionable material, the writing is clear and concise, and everything is explained far better than it would be in any later edition. It even includes two "choose your own adventure" style adventures, one intended to use a GM and one intended to play solitaire.

Stopping the level progression at three feels weird to me and always did, but it does let them control how much power players can see and keeps the move from set to set exciting. The only real, serious flaw is the introduction of races as classes. (Your job is elf? You elf for a living? Are you paid well for your elfing?)

That aside, though -- I purchased this with the intention to print, and discovered to my annoyance that it prints very lightly. Had no problem with any other books, just this one. It can be done but you have to fiddle with your printer a lot. (I think someone scanned the whole book as full color, resulting in the text actually being gray instead of white.)

I had the same question with all of the TSR ebooks, but WHY is this all one file? It should have been scanned as two separate ones, one for the player's booklet and one for the Dungeon Master's. Combining them all into one makes for an unwieldy file size and much harder searching.

Ah, well. What do you expect for five dollars? I'm just glad to have an electronic copy of this so I can keep using it without having to risk my vintage copy.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
D&D - Basic Set
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Xcrawl Core Rulebook
Publisher: Goodman Games
by RAISTLIN W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/21/2007 20:50:33
I was honestly not expecting much from this product -- the basic idea, showing dungeon crawling as a professional sport, is cute but could be fully explored in a much smaller, cheaper book. Just adding the higher level spells to the d20 Modern rulebook would be able to handle it.

I was very pleasantly surprised. There are a couple of (useless) prestige classes, a rather silly system for generating a "nested" GM within the game, and some good new items and spells. Surprisingly, though, the meat of the book is a full-fledged setting, a differently-imagined dystopian America ruled by Emperor Ronald Reagan and dominated by clergy of the Roman Gods.

Xcrawl itself isn't the most interesting feature of the setting, but it's a great excuse for getting PCs up to a decent level before involving them in the real meat of the setting -- the intrigue in the Leagues, how they can use their celebrity to change the world around them, and how they interact with the lunatic populace and government.

The oversimplicity of the idea they're selling the book on should be chalked up to the marketers. The writers and designers did a crackerjack job creating an innovative "fantasy modern America" well worth exploring.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Xcrawl Core Rulebook
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Glantri: Kingdom of Magic
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/29/2006 00:00:00
One of the best books for one of TSR's most creative settings. Glantri is a functional magocracy, ruled by a noble class of powerful wizards and the secret crafts into which they have been initiated. It is something akin to Renaissance Italy, full of intrigues, warring factions, and surprising alliances; PCs can easily fit into this world as apprentice wizards at the Great School of Magic, allies, enemies, or minions of the various Princes, or as Princes and Princesses themselves for a fascinating high-level campaign.


LIKED: While the majority of the book is taken up by the Princes' intrigues and detailed character descriptions, there is more than enough basic information on the operation of the Principalities to make Glantri a living, breathing city with little additional effort on the DM's part. The characters and the setting are both fascinating, and the culture is refreshingly different from the others in Mystara.

DISLIKED: The scan is ... not the greatest. There's an upside-down page, the maps are chopped up and useless, and the contrast is a little bit off, making an already colorful graphic design look unpleasantly garish. The adventure is no great shakes, but it was okay -- unfortunately, the adventure included an accompanying compact disc of sound and dialogue that is NOT included with this purchase. Without the disc the adventure goes from adequate to pointless.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Glantri: Kingdom of Magic
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Disposable Heroes: Western Set 1
Publisher: Precis Intermedia
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/02/2006 00:00:00
A neat system; the download contains instructions only, and you go to PIG's website to receive the actual product. The menu will display all of the miniatures with checkboxes; on your first trip you select Print All, and subsequently can go back and print sheets of single miniatures or a small assortment, pre-numbered so you can tell them apart.

How do they compare to Pinnacle's Cardstock Cowboys? Well, there's slightly less variety, but the ability to print full pages of any one miniature without messing around with graphic fonts is a good one. Cardstock Cowboys give you a greater variety of different choices for each character type, but you're paying for a lot of Deadlands-specific stuff and the pages aren't customizable.

In the end, I would say that if you are running a Western RPG you want the Cardstock Cowboys, so your players have a better chance of finding distinctive pieces to represent themselves. But for a minis game, definitely go with the Disposable Heroes for their printing flexibility.


LIKED: The artwork looks unimpressive on the website. Be patient and download the actual miniatures; they look like Disney cowboys, very well-drawn and realistic but still cartoony. They're perfect for any but the most grim Western games.

DISLIKED: It's not a huge disadvantage, but you have to be online to get customized miniatures pages. That's slightly inconvenient. More to the point, though, it's a relatively small set without that much variety. You have one or two of each cowboy archetype and that's it.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Disposable Heroes: Western Set 1
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for your feedback, but you misunderstand the purpose of this set - it is a western set, not a cowboy set. There is more to the west than just cowboys, and you're paying half the price of the Pinnacle products.
Faction War (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/01/2006 00:00:00
Faction War is the ending adventure for the Planescape setting, and was thus intended to wrap up all of the setting's loose ends once and for all. Planescape never really had a real metaplot -- though they sure tried with the last series of products -- but for what it's worth, here's how it ends.

The plotline is that one of the biggest villains in the setting finally decides to make his move, and step one is stirring Sigil up into a huge war between the factions. He should be easily stoppable, but all the characters who could do so seem to disappear or are "laying low" during the adventure so it's up to the PCs.

The product consists of a series of loosely related adventures that involve the players going to various places to witness NPCs doing things. It's a lot like a White Wolf adventure in that way.




LIKED: The backstory is actually pretty interesting, and this adventure would have made an interesting novel. Unfortunately, as the book even admits itself, there's no way the PCs will ever find out what's really going on; most of the events that take place are deeply ironic in one way or another, but the players are never let in on the joke. Still, it's quite a good joke in the end.

DISLIKED: There's really nothing here. The previous products (Great Modron March and Dead Gods) have all been leading up to this, and it's underwhelming ... just a couple of routine missions set in a war-torn Sigil, a grand finale no one but the DM can appreciate, and no real way to influence the outcome. It's sad that such a vibrant and creative setting had to end in such an uninvolving way.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Disappointed

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Faction War (2e)
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1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/07/2006 00:00:00
The First Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was flawed in many ways -- overcomplex, inflexible, too focused on minutiae and too "boardgamey" -- but it was many people's first gaming experience. This makes it more than a simple historical curiosity; it's an artifact.


LIKED: It's a faithful scan that offers half of everything you need to begin playing Dungeons and Dragons (you will also need the Dungeon Master's Guide or a Gamemaster Screen for some vital charts and tables, and a Monster Manual is highly recommended).

DISLIKED: There were no real "bells and whistles" -- it would have been nice to have a choice of covers, for example.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook
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Monstrous Compendium - Planescape Appendix II
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/06/2005 00:00:00
The second Planescape Monstrous Compendium fills in a lot of holes, providing useful descriptions of some Upper and Conflict Plane critters instead of focusing on the Lower. It provides a few more useful sects for good NPC encounters, but a few more "unthinking brute" type monsters than we really needed.

LIKED: The encounters and creatures in here are weird enough, and the Upper Planar NPC races interesting enough, to get $5 worth of value out of it.

DISLIKED: It's good, but it's not indispensible. Skim the page on aasimar, and the rest of the book is painfully optional.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Compendium - Planescape Appendix II
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A Guide to the Ethereal Plane (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Raistlin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/06/2005 00:00:00
The Guide to the Ethereal Plane is, in the vein of the Inner Planes and Astral guidebooks, a basic outline of the environment of the plane with advice on running adventures there. It includes a variety of encounters and adventure ideas, and basically just integrates everything previously said about the plane between two covers.

Overall, the book is less useful all the way through than the others are, because it's geared more towards gathering up info and providing specific adventure outlines than in being a general resource. I'm just not sure there's enough to say about the Ethereal to fill a book, so I'm willing to be a bit generous.

LIKED: The conceptual information on the plane was very good, and I liked how PCs can now use willpower to shape the very stuff of the plane. (It's dumb, though, how once again everyone is expected to waste a proficiency slot on a plane-specific ability -- do they realize how few proficiency slots characters actually get?)

DISLIKED: Too much of the book, especially the encounter lists, is ripped off from other books in the series. Places like Maelost that have already been exhaustively described once don't need it again, and we don't need intricate descriptions of monsters straight out of Monstrous Compendium III. Also, they repeat the error of the Demiplane of Imprisonment being a separate area. The sections on the Prime are also unhelpful; in particular, Krynn's includes the metaplot from Dragonlance Fifth Age, which isn't even the same RPG.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Guide to the Ethereal Plane (2e)
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