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I Love the Corps: Marine Training Manual
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 13:53:43

If you want to play a game that combines science fiction, military action and horror (but doesn't take itself TOO seriously, without being annoyingly comedic) this could be what you are looking for. This book is the player's handbook, so both GM and players need to be conversant with its content.

The Introduction begins with an overview of the current situation. It is now 2450 and Earth has been uninhabitable since 2200. Former colonies near and far flourish, some have joined the Colonial Dominion. These have contributed to the formation of the United Colonial Marine Corps, the military arm of the Colonial Dominion. Extraterrestial lifeforms are known to exist but only one alien sentient race is officially recognised as an ally. A brief explanation of what a role-playing game actually is follows.

The rest of the book is made up of three sections. The first, Mission Briefing, elaborates on the background and setting of the game. Next is Boot Camp, which runs through the character creation process and basic rules, and finally Rules of Engagement goes into much more detail about how to play including loads of hints and suggestions about how to play well, using your abilites to best effect.

Mission Briefing opens with the underlying concepts of the setting, on the grounds that to role-play a Colonial Marine well you need to sound like you are familiar with the universe in which your character lives. Different colonies take pride in different things, and many cling to vestiges of Earth culture even though their homeworld is long gone (the reason why being left to the GM, by the way). Some colonies refuse to join the Colonial Dominion, but they are regarded with suspicion at best if not classed outright as rebel scum. The Colonial Dominion is not a centralised government, but a federation of independents. We also hear about communications, space travel and various kinds of human modifications... and 'dupes' (mechanical humaniod duplicates, or androids). There are mecha pilots, psychics and sensitives, too.

Next this section covers everyday tech, the stuff most people know how to use even if they don't know how it works. Holoboards and holoterminals replace computers and telephones, artificial intelligences and artificial gravity, all these and many, many more. Space travel is also covered here, along with stasis pods and other devices.

Moving on, Boot Camp opens with an overview of the rules, so that you can make informed choices when creating your character. It begins while explaining that characters are defined by their Abilities, and that the game itself is made up of Action Scenes and Narrative Scenes. Each scene is made up of Beats - three for a Narrative Scene and as many as the GM sees fit for an Action Scene. In each Beat, a character may do two ability-related things. It sounds a bit mechanical, but it actually flows a lot better than it sounds on paper once the group gets used to it. There are two ways of using Abilities, Active and Passive. Active uses are resolved by rolling 1d6 and adding the relevant Ability statistic, Passive ones by adding +3 during a Narrative Scene or +1 during an Action one, and may only be attempted using an Ability that you've actually put points into. Either way, your total is matched against a Target Number (which can be an opponent's total if it's an opposed action - fighting, or untying a knot someone else tied, whatever) and if you exceed it you gain Success Levels, the more of these the better you do at whatever you were attempting. Of course, there are a whole bunch of modifiers and conditions that may be applied, but that's the core of the system.

Then we get down to the business of creating a character. There are eight Abilities and each covers a broad array of thematically-linked actions. The actions include just about everything you'd expect a soldier to be able to do, although the Ability names themselves are a bit silly - 'Drop and Give Me Fifty' is the Ability covering physical endurance and athleticism, for example. There are also Aspects, which can have various modifying effects, and help you hone a character to the particular image you have in mind. To decide your Ability stats and any Aspects you decide to have, you get twenty points to spend. Abilities range from 0 to 4. There's a huge amount of further detail to explain just what everything is and how it works in game, as well as an armoury-full of gear. Some is part of your standard load-out, other stuff you might need to pay for. There is an array of sample characters to either pick up and play or to use as templates for creating your own. Each is 'named' for the defining nature of that character, you will need to come up with your own name and background if you want to use them. There's more: ranks, physical and mental trauma - and if you like reading tables of horrible outcomes you are in for a treat - and more.

The final section, Rules of Engagement, gets into a lot more detail about how the game actually works in play, starting with social situations and how you can use apposite Abilities to navigate your way through them. Plenty of examples here and throughout, so by the time you've finished you should be conversant with all the things your character can do and how to use them to best effect during play. Want to search a location, or defuse that bomb you just found? This is where you find out how. There are plenty of ideas for combat here too, and you can even pick up some tactics ready for the battlefield. The aim of the game (apart perhaps for survival, but do you really want to live for ever, Marine?) is to achieve glory in some manner. When you do that you earn Glory Points, which are used to develop your character's abilities later on. That doesn't necessarily mean being super-courageous, although that certainly counts (and might earn you a medal as well), it can also be for advancing the plotline, coming up with good ideas or even making the GM laugh!

This book provides an extremely comprehensive introduction to the game and how to play it, essential for anyone wanting to play I Love The Corps... go on, you know you want to have a go at being a Marine!

"Watch those corners..."



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I Love the Corps: Marine Training Manual
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I Love the Corps Quickstart
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 07:44:34

The Introduction begins by letting you know what you are getting into (if it is a bit of a shock to be called a 'maggot' in the opening sentence, be glad you haven't really enlisted!). In this work, there's enough of an overview of the setting and rules to let you play through the scenario provided, and six pregenerated characters with which to do so. It's a good way to find out if you like this particular science-fiction action/horror game before parting with any money.

The setting is familiar to anyone who's watched the Alien movies, especially the second one (Aliens). Characters are members of the Colonial Marine Corps in the year 2450, in a future that saw Earth abandoned in 2200 (for reasons that are left to the GM to determine, but you don't need to worry about that now. Some of the former colonies have banded together to form the Colonial Dominion, of which the Colonial Marines are the military arm. The rest are rebel scum, of course! Only one lot of sentient aliens has been encountered so far, or at least that's what official reports say.

Then Chapter 1: Rules and Setting begins with a collection of terms and concepts, a ready-reference for Corps jargon and current technology, followed by 'Basic Rules and Regs' which summarises enough of the rules to let you play the game. It's all based around Abilities, of which there are eight. They've been given rather silly names but boil down to describing how smart, strong, tough, good with weapons and so on each character is. There are also Aspects, which put an individual spin on things for each character. He also needs a Gear Loadout, the equipment and weapons that enable him to survive.

There are two sorts of scenes: action scenes and narrative scenes. Narrative scenes are descriptive, often covering large periods of time, and there is little or no need for recourse to the game mechanics. Action scenes occur when danger is about, and can get fast and furious... and then it's time to get the dice out. Outcomes are determined by rolling a d6 and adding the appropriate Ability, with - of course - a range of modifiers as appropriate, and comparing what you get with a Target Number - which, if you are fighting, will be what your opponent rolled. Of course there's more: range, weapon effects and such like need to be taken into account. There are some summary charts and tables that come in handy when you actually start to play.

Next, Chapter 2: Personnel Files presents six ready-to-play Marines. As well as their statistics (which have notes about what they mean right there beside them, very useful), there are similarly-annotated gear lists and some background to help you get a feel for the character. Although they have been named, only a first initial has been given so you may choose whether the one you play is a bloke or a bird. Interestingly, all have led troubled lives and messed up somewhere along the line, and have now been drafted into a penal legion... beats gaol time, I suppose!

Finally, the adventure 'Trial by Fire' builds on the fact that all the characters have a criminal record. After basic training, the squad was shipped out in coldsleep for 'advanced training' - an automated facility where they, and others, will be tested. In essence it's a puzzle dungeon designed to test teamwork and reliability - something the Corps wants to know about this squad before sending them into REAL combat. The map is for the GM alone, 'cos it shows all the traps. And the nasty things that might be unleashed...

The system suits fast and furious action, and the GM is supplied with tracking sheets to keep on top of everything. The adventure itself is an artificial situation, but it's intended to be one... and the GM has considerable leeway as to how to use the resources provided against the squad. Keep things moving, this scenario isn't much of a one for character development and interaction: play it for what it is and have a blast!



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I Love the Corps Quickstart
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Chaositech
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2018 08:58:17

With great power comes great responsibility, the saying goes. It's a bit different with chaositech. It confers great power, but carries a high price: that of losing part of your soul to the powers of chaos. There are surprisingly many who are ready to pay that price. It is neither technology nor magic, but a darker thing altogether: corruption and destruction given form. There's nothing quite like it (which is probably just as well!).

The Introduction explains all this and more. Chaositech comes in two varieties. One sort is an item that does a thing, often ornately carved to look organic, or even incorporating organic material along with metal, ceramics, glass or whatever. The other involves deep knowledge and manipulation of living organisms themselves. The consequences of using either form can include physical and mental changes in the individual, and the very forces of darkness that created chaositech in the first place can worm their way in. Most people regard it as being unstable and unreliable, as well as downright nasty... yet there are still those who would use it. The look and feel of chaositech is also... weird. Distorted. Form and function disjointed.

Chapter 1: Chaos covers all the underlying philosophy of chaos as well as dealing with those who worship it, the chaos cults and their priests. There's a bunch of new spells for those who want to bring a bit of chaos into their lives.

Then, Chapter 2: Bones of Steel explores the first variety of chaositech, the actual items that either look organic or incorporate organic material into their design. There are a vast number of items detailed ready for you to incorporate into your game. This is followed by Chapter 3: Betrayal of Flesh which looks at the other sort of chaositech where living organisms are altered or augmented. Here you learn how it is used to alter both body and mind.

Next, Chapter 4: Blessed Mutation looks at what happens when raw chaos has an effect on living creatures directly. Sometimes the results are even beneficial, sadly often they are not. The following chapter, Chapter 5: Chaos Slaves deals with those who want to use or worship chaos. Mechanically, it provides prestige classes and templates to describe this in game terms.

Finally Chapter 6: Masters of Chaos introduces the dark forces behing it all. Hopefully the party will never meet them...

Chaositech features in Monte Cook's epic setting, Ptolus: City by the Spire and if you are using that, you can enhance your game by adding this book to your collection. If you are not, you can use the information herein to add chaositech to your game world... if you dare. Use sparingly and keep it mainly for your NPCs, although you might have fun if one or two items from Chapter 2 turn up amongst the party's loot and they try to figure out what they are and how to use them. Unless your campaign - and your party - are particularly evil, it might be better not to let them have wholesale access. Chaositech ought to be something you try to stamp out, not something to be embraced. But it's your game. Use it as you please... or as you dare!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chaositech
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Dark Tidings
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2018 07:51:56

Ptolus: The City by the Spire has a thriving industry going - adventurers exploring the depths below the city. Not all of them come back. You can even get 'retrieval insurance' from the Delver's Guild, to have a team sent to rescue you. This adventure is the tale of one such rescue.

The Introduction explains enough about Ptolus for this to be run as a stand-alone adventure (of course, it's much enhanced if you DO have the setting!), and it can be set anywhere suitable in your own campaign world - it is a dungeon-delve after all, so it doesn't really matter what is above-ground. For those who do possess the Ptolus sourcebook and the Book of Experimental Might (whose variant magics appear here), this work is thoroughly cross-referenced to matters referred to therein, but enough is made clear so that if you don't have them you can run the adventure anyway (and stick to standard Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 magic if you prefer).

The adventure set-up is simple. Two youngsters whose father was a noted delver have inherited his adventuring gear and a fair bit of cash on his demise - so they hired a few henchmen and set off to try delving under Ptolus for themselves, armed with a commission to capture an exotic beast for a collector and fuelled by a determination to prove themselves every bit as good delvers as was their dear old dad. They've been missing for a couple of weeks, and their mother has appealed to a family friend, a wealthy noble, for help. This noble is in search of adventurers to send to find out what happened to the youngsters. Alternatively, you can have the Delver's Guild hire the party. Either way, they'll get an advance to purchase equipment and supplies and a little research time before they are pointed at the entrance the youngsters used and sent on their way.

Interestingly, there's an option to start the adventure in media res, that is, to start with the first dungeon encounter and then backtrack to explain just why they have just had a brawl with some dragonnes underground. While it may be fun to open a game session by calling for initiative rolls, I much prefer time to progress in a normal manner (unless, of course, time-warping magic is in play). Take your pick.

Three prologue encounters are provided as the party enter the dungeon, then we get on to the encounters proper - with a note that monsters do not sit at their assigned map positions just waiting on the offchance that a party might come by, they have lives of their own to lead and it just happens that they are there when the party enters... or if the party does something really unexpected, they might not be in position and you'll have to improvise! However there are lots of hints and tips to guide you in this, indeed all aspects of running the adventure, so don't panic.

It all makes for a good delve, well-constructed with 'monsters' who have reasons for being there, loads of interesting detail, and the opportunity for a successful party to find themselves quite well looked after when they return to the surface. If they're unsuccessful, well, did THEY have retrieval insurance?



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Dark Tidings
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Secrets of the Delver's Guild
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2018 12:13:21

In Ptolus, the Delver's Guild is an organisation that supports adventurers exploring the wonders underneath the city. Whatever your party likes to do in the city, they probably will have at least occasional dealings with the Guild. However, during the development of the Ptolus: City by the Spire sourcebook, The Delver's Guild was also a website where author Monte Cook shared a series of articles designed to fit into the city with those who were interested in the project. This work is a collection of those articles.

The Introduction: Welcome, Delvers covers the actual organisation in Ptolus. It describes their offices and the people the party are likely to meet there - there's even a picture of the sign over the door! The Guild offers membership at various levels, maps and other resources and even 'retrieval insurance' - they employ experienced delvers to rescue people who have got into trouble. Delvers seeking work can do a lot worse than sign up for a retrieval team, too. Throughout the book, everything's cross-referenced with the Ptolus: City by the Spire source book to make it even more useful.

Next, Chapter 1: Deities presents additional information about many of the deities originally listed in the main sourcebook and plenty of other ideas about religion that you may choose to incorporate into your game. Of course, if you've dropped Ptolus into your own campaign world, it's perfectly possible to substitute deities of your own for the Ptolus ones.

Moving on, Chapter 2: Locations provides even more descriptions of places to visit to add to the hundreds in the core book. They are all cross-referenced to make it easy to find where they are to be found in the city. Sketches, coats of arms, and all manner of other snippets help to bring them to life. A couple of halfling cabinetmakers with a hidden sideline in guiding people to secret places for a fee. There are generic shop layouts you can use for anything you need to add, a good boarding stables for adventurers from out of town to board their horses whilst they go delving, taverns and more - even a nice-sounding bar and restaurant catering to wizards! Ideas for adventures involving these locales are included.

Next comes Chapter 3: NPCs with a horde of new folk to populate the city and interact with the party (when not busy about their own affairs, of course). Each comes with statblock, background, often a sketch, and other information - perhaps where they live or work (thus adding another new location as well!). Some can be useful or just plain interesting to meet, others you might hope to never encounter.

Finally, Chapter 4: Tips, Tales and Treasures. Here we find new rules materials, new monsters, new spells... new anything that involves game mechanics. The author explains that everything presented here (and in the equivalent section of the Ptolus sourcebook) has been developed organically, as part of the setting. There are also adventure ideas, hints and tips on running games set in Ptolus. Languages, the city layout - it is NOT flat! - and much, much more. Random tables for stuff you find in various places from chests and bags to dungeon rooms. Treasures that are embedded into the city and its denizens, with coherent backstories that make them far more interesting than their monetary value.

If you like Ptolus, this is a treasure-trove to dip into again and again.



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Secrets of the Delver's Guild
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The Banewarrens
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2018 09:19:01

Billed as a 'mega-adventure' for four sixth-level characters (who will end up about tenth-level if they survive), this was published several years before the Ptolus: City by the Spire sourcebook came out, but was written for that setting, as it's author Monte Cook's home campaign setting anyway. There's a good summary introduction to Ptolus provided here. The underlying premise for the adventure is simple, and very appropriate to an urban setting: what happens if an ancient storehouse of evil artefacts and dangers is discovered near to a populated area? Who will try to access it, who will want it sealed up if not outright destroyed?

The adventure is both location and event based. The location is the repository of all these old evil artefacts, an underground complex in the best traditions of delving - but as well as the party, there are at least four disparate groups who are also taking an interest. The work is made up of chapters that are primarily different locations within the Banewarrens, but each has events linked to them (some in the outside world, some down there) which will take place once the party starts exploring that section. However the adventure is not linear, it's pretty much up to the party as to how they go about their exploring, so you have to use the mix of keyed encounters relating to specific locations on a map and event-based encounters that occur when and where you want to construct the overall adventure in a manner that suits your group.

The adventure starts with the party in the city. Events then happen around them, and they are soon sucked in, with a resultant job offer that provides what little background is known and sends them forth to discover more about the Banewarrens and, if possible, how to seal them up again. There's also another approach, from the local church: one of their paladins has been kidnapped and they want him found and recovered. These seem disparate at the time, but in fact both lead to the same place - so not to worry if the party is not interested in one of the jobs. There are even a few suggestions for dealing with a party disinclined to take up either opportunity. And then we're off... disappearing down a tunnel dug out from someone's wine cellar into the underground complex.

Everything is mapped out clearly, with linked descriptions and plenty of background information to help you bring it all to life. There are even a series of illustrations to show the players at certain points. It's not a continuous dungeon crawl however, at various points - or indeed whenever they want to - the party can come back out of the complex to visit the city for supplies, rest, healing, to consult with employers or to gain information... or even, I suppose, if they feel they've done enough for the day and want to go for a drink! Moreover, the plot actually requires some time spent in the city to follow up on things discovered underground, which takes this beying a pure 'dungeon-delve' although that mode of adventuring is a major part of it.

Even as a delve, this is a good one. It's a good meaningful dungeon, with everything where it is for a reason, building up to a coherent whole. Nothing is there 'just' to give the party a fight or some loot, everything furthers the plot. Likewise, the bits that take the party into the city are also fully integrated into the storyline. With a spot of planar travel thrown in, a series of actions to seal up the complex again (if that's what the party decide to do), and scope for follow-up adventures this is certainly worth a look, particularly if your group likes the more intelligent sort of dungeon delve that goes beyond killing all the monsters and stealing their stuff.



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The Banewarrens
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The Night of Dissolution
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/05/2018 07:42:26

This adventure, designed to be run in the Ptolus: City by the Spire campaign setting, tells the tale of one of the darkest nights in the city's history, and lands the party right in the thick of the action. There's something for everyone here with investigation, intrigue, action and dungeon exploration all playing their part. It's suggested characters should be at fourth level when they begin, they'll likely reach ninth level if they survive until the end. Hence it makes a good follow-on from the Adventures that come in the Ptolus sourcebook or as a separate PDF, as they take characters from first to fourth level.

Herein there are six linked scenarios, which can be run as a continuous adventure or separately, as best suits your needs. If you intend to use it, some foreshadowing is in order which is outlined in the Introduction. There are also notes of how to interweave events in this plotline with another adventure, The Banewarrens, if you want to create something spectacular by combining the two. For even more complex overlapping adventures, there are other plot hooks within the Ptolus sourcebook that are suggested. Finally, the Introduction addresses a potential pitfall: in finding information about shady goings-on which ought to lead the party to the next stage in the adventure, they might just trundle round to the authorities and hand it over for investigation. The solution is simple: deputise them!

It all begins when the party find a locked magical chest and need to find a key... Several different ways in which they just happen to acquire the chest are given here, any of which can be slotted fairly seamlessly into whatever they are up to at the time. However they end up possessing it, no doubt they will then want to find out what's inside. Inquiries lead to a minor artefact that might do the trick, which is believed to be located in a disused brothel. This is the location of the first part of the adventure.

Events pile upon events. As an investigation-based adventure, it is somewhat linear - although this can be alleviated by the interleaving spoken of earlier - but there is an internal logic that drives the adventure forwards provided the party has got interested enough to want to find the answer to what's going on... once they find out, they're going to want to stop it as it will make things far, far worse for the whole city and as they live there they should have a vested interest! Subsequent adventures include rescuing a young admirer from the clutches of a sinister cult... only to find that he's disappeared and needs rescuing! Once that is accomplished, rumours of dark deeds practised by evil cultists come to light, investigating these leads to an underground temple to clean out and news of another threat to eliminate, and so on to the climax - but it's clear where you can break off to do something else, and even add in reinforcing information if the party isn't paying attention or showing any inclination to engage with the next stage of the plot.

Good maps and room descriptions are suppied along with fully-detailed NPCs and monsters for encounters, and there are clear cross-references to matters touched upon in the Ptolus sourcebook (or, if you've collected your copy that way, to the series of PDFs that cover the content). There are also marginal notes to aid you as a DM to deliver this adventure to best effect and even comments about things that happened in Monte Cook's own campaign upon which all of this is based. It all ends in a pitch of high excitement, with barbarian invaders outside the walls and an evil ritual set to destroy the world being enacted inside... epic stuff, cinematic and giving the party a real feeling of having saved the world... there's even the possibility of sending the barbarians home without bloodshed. The party will be the talk of the town and richly rewarded as well, a fitting end to a memorable adventure.



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The Night of Dissolution
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Ptolus: The Spire
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2018 12:47:47

They call Ptolus 'The City by the Spire' but just what is this Spire? This book, firmly reserved for DMs only, spills the beans. What everyone knows is that it's the most foul and evil place in the entire world of Praemal (if you've located Ptolus in your own campaign world, there may be nastier places, but it is quite unlikely!). This work is to be found in the main Ptolus sourcebook as well as a part of the series of Ptolus PDFs that have been released separately, and is cross-referenced for both for ease of use.

The Spire is home to two fortresses. At least I suppose that's the best term for them. They might be lairs. Or the sort of strongholds a Bond villain might have if he lived in a fantasy world. One is Goth Gulgamel or the 'Castle of Darkness'. It is a place of evil and rather a lot of power, and is rumoured to contain evils so ancient that nobody remembers them any more. The other is Jabel Shammar, right at the top of the Spire, and it's plain nasty... and strangely, is even older than the Spire itself! For each, there's loads of background telling how it came to be and who's there now, and atmospheric material to help you get a feel of what it's like for those crazy or brave (or both) enough to visit... if they can. Apparently you can climb the Spire and will find that the doors of Goth Gulgamel are actually unlocked. However, nobody who did that has ever come back.

Both locations are mapped and described in detail, along with their denizens. There are many 'DM tips' pointing out game mechanics that are applicable and other hints for running any visit to best effect. There is immense power here, most of it malignant (especially for good-aligned folk), quite mind-warping and corrupting if you are not careful. It recommended that Jabel Shammar is used as the ultimate climax to a campaign... for a start, a party needs to be very high level to even contimplate going there. The very forces of evil operate here in vile forms. Don't even think about trying to clean it out - even the Gods themselves could do no more than sequester it from the world, containing the evil within. There are things that can be done by a party powerful and determined enough, however... if they survive.

Make no bones about it, these are two tough dungeons to visit, and it will take powerful, high-level parties to survive. Yet for truly epic and climatic scenes, that's precisely what you need.



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Ptolus: The Spire
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Ptolus: Adventures
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2018 11:46:54

OK, so you have this wonderful city setting, what are you going to actually do there? If you are short of prep time or are bedazzled by the possibilities and aren't quite sure where to start, here are four complete adventures plus 'interludes' that provide a framework for getting the party from first to fourth level. They appear in the Ptolus: City by the Spire sourcebook, and as one in a series of PDFs that present the same material. The adventures are all interlinked and play out on the streets of Ptolus so it's worth picking up the other source material for the city before running them. The adventures involve gangsters, politics and intrigue; and are embedded in the setting. By the end of them the party ought to have met some of the movers and shakers of the city and will likely have made both allies and enemies.

Note that these adventures do not involve the 'delving' for which Ptolus is famed amongst the adventuring community - but it's perfectly possible to intersperse the odd underground trip between the events presented here. A few suggestions are made for places to visit and even where to pop them in. However, there is plenty of action in the adventures, and those looking for a fight will not be disappointed.

Everything is cross-referenced to the rest of the book/other PDFs so it easy to look anything up when it appears in the adventure text - places, NPCs, and so on. The core four adventures involve a convoluted tale, a plot that strikes right into the middle of Ptolus affairs at the highest level - heady stuff for a bunch of inexperienced adventurers who may be new to the city or who have hitherto lived normal lives on its streets.

A neat aspect is the foreshadowing that goes on particularly in the first adventure, with references to things that will occur and people that will be encountered later on. They are not blatently obvious, but when the event happens or the individual met, the party should recall them. The plotline is wonderfully convoluted with myriads of people all following their own agendas - very lifelike in that respect, which added to the depth of background really makes the alternate reality come to life. It does mean, however, that careful study of the entire storyline is necessary to run it to best effect - this isn't something you can just pick up and play without preparation.

By the time the party has completed these adventures - including, if you wish, the several side-adventures mentioned throughout the text - they will not only be fourth-level but will be up-and-coming members of the adventuring community, beginning to make a name for themselves in Ptolus, and knowing a wide cross-section of people. Even if reading about the city has given you plenty of ideas for your own adventures, it's well worth considering these as a part of your ongoing campaign.



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Ptolus: Beneath the Streets
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/02/2018 08:13:40

This is part 7 of the PDF part-work version of the Ptolus city sourcebook, and it deals with what's underneath the city - a matter of some importance as it is where all the adventurers drawn to the city go delving for fame and fortune (or their untimely demise). Aimed at the DM, this explains just a little of what awaits the party if they choose to go delving. It's of particular use if your group enjoys a good dungeon delve, but even if their adventuring interests tend more to above-ground intrigue and interactions it is such an integral part of the fabric and life of the city that it is worth knowing about.

Beneath Ptolus, we are told, lie vast chambers, caverns, and tunnels. In fact, there are whole cities of dwarven and dark elven creation below the surface. The reason why is explained, but that really is for the DM alone to know... yet each community or location has its own story, its own reasons for being where it is as well. One part is the Undercity, and it's pretty much another district of Ptolus except for being underground instead of above ground. Much can be accessed via public passages, there's even some measure of official presence - or at least, this is where the Prison is - and there are a market, businesses, even dwellings to be found. Of course there is a lot more, much of it less well known... sewers, caverns, an abandoned dwarf city called Dwarvenhearth and much more. Most of it is interconnected. A side elevation attempts to give an idea, with various elements descending several thousand feet below. Think of Ptolus like an iceberg - there's far more under the surface than visible above!

There is discussion on how to make use of it all. Some groups like their dungeon delves, and there is plenty here to keep them entertained without them even needing to visit the city above. Others may come to Ptolus, as adventurers do, to delve but live above-ground making discrete visits below as their 'day job'. Parties seeking urban adventure may only visit the underground areas occasionally when the plot demands it.

One danger delvers will soon hear about - and encounter! - are Pits of Insanity, which are blobs of pure chaos. Strange things happen near them, the very fabric of reality is warped and as for the effects they have on spellcasting... There is an area called the Banewarrens, which is the subject of a full-blown adventure published separately (The Banewarrens as it happens), and there are loads of other locations which are outlined here. There's plenty of room if you like designing your own underground complexes, though!

The next section, however, looks at the Undercity in detail. The Undercity Market is the place to get adventuring gear, and it's easily reached from the surface via a wide staircase. There's a plan with notes on some of the stalls and what can be purchased. Nearby is the Dark Market where the items traded are more dubious (read: illegal). The Longfingers Guild (as the local thieves guild is known) is down here, there's a slave market, and people selling nasty magic, poisons, and their own services as assassins, amongst other things. The Longfingers Guild is mapped out, although there's a note to say that the first challenge for any would-be member is to actually find the place! There are several ideas for adventures involving the Guild headquaters too. Another place that's mapped out is the Prison. Hopefully the party will never need to go there...

Next is a look at the sewers. These are in surprisingly good condition and as well as serving their intended purpose act as a subterranean thoroughfare. You can get most anywhere from here, either bobbing up to the surface again or delving deeper in search of adventure. However, they are infested with rats, and worse. We then move on to the Caverns, a far more disparate assortment of underground caves many of which at least started out as natural. Plenty of maps and notes here, along with adventure ideas as well as loads of background. That's the neat thing, everything is here for a reason. Even the wandering monsters... Likewise, Dwarvenhearth is laid out for those who would explore.

What lies beneath is part of what makes Ptolus special. If you want to use the adventures associated with the sourcebook, you'll need this, even if you are using Ptolus with your own adventures it gives an added dimension. It may make less sense if used in isolation, even so if, for example, in your world Ptolus is now in ruins, these areas below may still be worthy of investigation.



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Ptolus: Beneath the Streets
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Ptolus: DM's Companion
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/01/2018 09:03:47

The Introduction explains the fascinating mix of contents, from what it's like to live in Ptolus to DM-specific rules material and hints and tips galore. Whilst aimed at users of the Ptolus sourcebook, of which this PDF is an excerpt, there is plenty of use for anyone contemplating an urban-based campaign even if it's elsewhere.

The sections of what it's like to live in Ptolus has, as you might imagine, a focus on what life is like for an adventurer but is much wider, looking at how the 'ordinary' residents live and what they do at work and for entertainment. Adventurers, after all, don't exist in monastic isolation, they mix with the people around them especially when they are not actually engaged in 'adventuring' itself. That, of course, depends a bit on how you classify 'adventuring', but even if you think it means dungeon-delving and monster-bashing, adventurers need some rest and relaxation, time at a bar to brag, and an opportunity to spend their loot! Now you can make all these other activities part of the overall game. There's also material on Imperial law, scientific wonders (including firearms, clocks, printing presses, and more), and chaositech, the evil twin of technology.

We start off with the daily life of an average resident, described in the second person to make it come to life. There are tables showing cost of living and prices of stuff, but for convenience you can abstract to a monthly 'living expenses' fee you subtract from each character's finances rather than make them account for every last copper piece of rent, food, clothing, etc. Magic items, adventuring gear and other specialised stuff are not included and have to be purchased specifically. It's up to the player to decide how much they want to spend per month, based on what sort of lifestyle they want (and can afford), but this should be relatively stable unless a real disaster - or a massive windfall - causes a change. Other aspects of life, from schooling to politics to religion are also covered from the standpoint of a normal resident.

Next is a chapter On Being a Delver. That's the local term for an adventurer. If you are using Ptolus in its default setting, adventurers are mostly frowned upon as lawless ruffians, but in the city itself there's a grudging acceptance even if people are a bit wary. Ptolus is a bit of a boom town for adventurers at the moment. There are notes about how they live, again presented in the second person. Whilst there are no laws about carrying weapons openly (apart from firearms, which need a permit), it is generally frowned upon to go as heavily armed as one would when about to enter a dungeon.

Then there's a look at Crime and the Law. Imperial law is extensive and complicated, so this is an attempt to break it down and make it clear for the DM (who probably isn't a lawyer in real life) so that they can administer it appropriately in the game. Preserving order is probably more important - at least, in the eyes of the City Watch - than solving crimes, although they do act if the chances of catching the perpetrator are high, especially if the victim is an Imperial citizen. Investigation is not their long suit, and responses to complaints vary according to the status of the people involved. Magic is rarely used - the necessary spells are expensive, and the courts have to pay for them. There are freelance investigators that individuals may hire, but they are expensive. Punishments for the guilty (and if a case gets as far as court, the supposition is that the defendant is guilty) are swift and harsh. Death, imprisonment, forced labour or substantial fines are common. Recidivism is treated harshly, with the standard punishment for that offence doubled. There's also information on legal and illegal drugs and other matters here, as well as details on the extensive system of licences and permits, and the taxation system. Taxes are high - and the benefit to the common good from paying them unclear - so there's a fair amount of evasion, smuggling, etc. going on.

The next section covers Technology - but seems to be full of firearms! There is a bit on transportation and other devices large and small, mostly clockwork or steam-driven. There are deities specificially interested in technology, and rules for maintaining items correctly lest they fail (at a critical moment, of course!). This is followed by a whole chapter on Chaositech - the evil twin of technology that is fuelled by pure chaos. Some of the technology is implausible, but this is even more unlikely - even if you are happy with a world where magic works. Its use carries consequences, too, fortunately it's very rare in Ptolus. Still, there's plenty of information here to enable you to cause endless problems for the unwary.

The remainder of the book is more direct DM advice for running an urban campaign in general and one in Ptolus in particular. If the group likes the traditional dungeon delve, there's plenty of opportunity under the city. If they prefer other styles of adventure, there's plenty of action to be found above ground... and of course, the two may be mixed as suits. Perhaps the party will end up combating the rise of chaos, or get involved with organised crime. Ideas whiz by so fast it's quite hard to catch one and turn it into a campaign, there are ideas galore that would fuel years of gaming in the city here. There are themes and concepts which you can elaborate on, developing them in whatever direction seems best - and a selection of ready-made campaign villains to provide the sort of major antagonist the best stories need. There's also a section on Urban Campaigns pointing out how to make the most of the differences between them and more standard games where cities are places you pass through or pause to rest in between adventures. Living in Ptolus can be the adventure in itself, never mind the events that take place... and there are plenty of ideas for those here, too.

Then there are some new monsters to throw into the mix, with notes on how author Monte Cook has used them in his own campaign - remember, Ptolus is his living campaign world, not something just written for sale! New magic spells and new clerical domains are presented, along with some prestige classes you may wish to offer to characters who qualify for them. Many are linked to specific organisations. There are also useful tools like a quick refence index of places, and another of NPCs, as well as random encounters/events and more, and finally some blank documents to oil the wheels of Imperial bureaucracy.

Much of this is useful to anyone running urban campaigns (something I love doing, although I also like inventing cities in which to do so), and doubly so if you want to run one in Ptolus. Definitely worth having!



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Ptolus: Districts of the City, Vol. 2
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2018 12:18:30

This is the second part of the extremely detailed and comprehensive gazetteer of Ptolus - part of the full campaign setting book or available as a separate PDF. The districts covered are the Nobles' Quarter, the North Market, Oldtown, the Rivergate District, the South Market, the Temple District, and the Warrens. There's a big map of Ptolus to help you get oriented as well.

Each district is covered in a standard manner. Firstly, there's flavour text that helps you get under the skin of the district in question. It explains where it is and what place it plays, how you get there... and why you might want to go there. There is a more detailed map showing significant locations, and notes to aid you as DM in running visits - how best to give the general impression of the place, how people behave towards visitors and more. Remember that, like its companion volume, this book is aimed squarely at the DM. Even players whose characters hail from the districts covered here should stay out - there's plenty that even they won't know, as well as plot seeds galore, laid out for the DM to make use of during the game (and more importantly, during the planning of the game!).

Whilst there is loads of background detail to absorb, there are also things of more immediate use. A sample 'man in the street' the party can accost. Rumours that they can pick up. Many snippets will spawn adventure ideas just as you read through. Then we move on to detailed location-by-location information about notable places that the party may see or have occasion to visit. Residences, businesses, places where you can get food and drink, and more. There's still space for you to add your own as need arises, though. The people to be encountered are also described, with everything from notes on what interests them to full stat blocks and often a sketch. Everything's awash with hints and tips for using whatever you're reading about and, of course, even more plot hooks and ideas. Major buildings have descriptions and floorplans, too. There is plentiful cross-referencing, based around the full Ptolus sourcebook, but also to the separate PDFs if that is how you are working.

Particularly fascinating are the sidebar notes 'From my campaign to yours' - this is not an exercise in world-building, a snapshot in time, but the carefully-crafted campaign of a master DM that has actually been running for many years and has developed a history of its own over and above the timelines presented elsewhere in this series. You may choose to pick up on these ideas - what a power-hungry fellow did to try to cement his position, for example - or perhaps take them in a different direction. Many of these almost throw-away comments could build an entire campaign, never mind a side-adventure or two.

There's just so much here! Whether you want to use Ptolus as is, in its own world, or find a suitable location in your own campaign world, there is just so much going on that you could run entire campaigns without setting foot outside the city walls - especially if your group enjoys interaction and intrigue as much as they enjoy swordplay and spell casting.



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Ptolus: Districts of the City, Vol. 1
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/30/2018 08:50:54

This is the first part of a massive gazetteer of the city of Ptolus (also to be found in the full sourcebook as well as this PDF release). It begins with an overview of the city, then looks in more detail at the Docks, the Guidsman District, Midtown and the Necropolis. There are eleven districts in total, the rest are to be found in the companion volume Districts of the City Volume 2. This is intended as a resource for the DM, players - however familiar with the city their character might be - should stay away, as there are loads of secrets and plot ideas best found via play!

The Overview begins by saying that Ptolus is over three hundred and fifty years old and home to some 75,000 souls. That's big, certainly by the cod-mediaeval standards of fantasy worlds (London had a population of 20,000 in the 14th century!). In this chapter the races, climate, layout, economy, and official institutions are covered. Everyone seems to have a different view of what the place is like, its essence... den of thieves or bastion of nobility? A hub of magical knowledge and the home to Princes of the Church. All these and more, and of course, evil lurks beneath. It's a good place for adventurers, particularly if you are using the default setting as the Empire doesn't really like adventurers very much but tolerates them here in Ptolus!

The population is diverse. 70% are human but the rest are just about any race you can imagine including the ones that are rare in the rest of the world. The distribution varies based on district but by and large people are tolerant apart from when it comes to those races perceived as being 'evil' - orcs, lizardfolk, goblins and the like.

As part of the Empire, the city is ruled by a Commissar, although as the Empire crumbles many feel it would be more appropriate that Ptolus become an independent city-state in its own right. The current Commissar is well-liked. Coming from a military background he has troops ready to defend the city and an impressive array of advisors drawn from the more martially-minded residents. He also pays attention to the City Council, having elevated its importance in the scheme of things. Law and order are maintained by a City Watch, who have a mission to keep the peace. There's plenty of detail on both governance and law enforcement, useful if your adventuring tastes run to intrigue or criminal activities. The city also boasts a fire brigade and other groups who gather information and keep the peace.

Next, the city's economy is discussed. There's an Imperial currency that everyone is supposed to use, but Ptolus is renowed for accepting all manner of coinage, and there is also a system of letters of credit in operation. Finally, there's a detailed explanation of how the city is laid out, filled with useful tips on how best to describe it to your group. Oh, and the climate. Apparently it's either raining, or is about to rain, or has just stopped raining. (Now I know why Monte Cook included 'Seattle weather' in the Acknowledgements!)

On to the Districts, where there is a common structure beginning with a section on the overall 'flavour' of the district being discussed. This is followed by a section on running the district with plenty of suggestions as how to best present it to the players and what the party might do there. Some typical NPCs are provided, useful when someone says they are going to start asking around... and of course there are plenty of rumours for them to hear when they do. Then it gets down to detail with notable locations described in turn... but there's always room to add some more as you need them. Just keep notes unless that particular inn is actually SUPPOSED to move around the city under its own power! There are price and quality ratings for all purveyors of goods and services, and even more NPCs.

Just reading through all this material suggests plotline after plotline. Side adventures or full-blown campaign ideas abound... and there's this solid underpinning to base it all on, this ultra-detailed city environment. A real classic of how to create a fantasy city that really works!



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Ptolus: Organizations
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2018 07:40:00

This PDF, a part of the entire Ptolus city-sourcebook, looks at the people of the city and the associations they form, or at least some of the most interesting ones. The Introduction explains where this chunk fits into the whole, and provides advice on how you can make use of it depending on what you intend to do: run Ptolus as is, put the city somewhere in your own campaign world, or just mine this book for ideas to apply to your own cities. Whatever you decide to do, here are dozens of organisations in (and below) Ptolus. Perhaps one or more party members will want to join up, perhaps they are mortal enemies diametrically opposed to the party's ethos and beliefs... or maybe they are in search of information, some help or a job.

We start off with the ten noble families who claim - in the face of the Empire's lack of recognition for them - a special status due to their ancestry. Each has a hereditary seat on the Assembly of the Ptolus City Council. There are two classes of involvement - those who are of the house blood and those associated with the house in some way - but all are refered to as members of the house in question. There's plenty of detail (and even the coat of arms) of each house, with notes on leading members and snippets of information to throw around... or to create plots from, for those with a bent for political intrigue. Even if what's here doesn't spawn ideas for you (it does for me...) there are some noble house plot hooks provided to get you going, as well as a table showing who's enemies with whom - quarrelsome lot, these nobles!

The nobles are followed by a crime family, the Balacazar, who have at least as much influence and probably more wealth than a noble house. Even the Town Guard are afraid of them... certainly they are not going to try arresting even a lowly-ranked associate without cast-iron proof of wrong-doing. Other groups follow in speedy succession: the Brides of Magic (female sorcerers devoted to their craft), the Brotherhood of Redemption (fanatic monks who believe the killing of evil beings is a terrible waste, they'd much rather 'save' them from their sins), and many more. For each, there's background, sample members, often a group logo or badge, all providing a good starting-point for using them within your campaign as allies, enemies, employers or whatever you need them to be.

Parties who like exploring may be attracted by the Delver's Guild, dedicated to exploring what lies beneath Ptolus. There are levels of membership based on experience and what level of support from the Guild is required - this can extend even to having a 'retrieval team' poised to get your body back and even resurrect it should you die down there. Being on a retrieval team can be quite lucrative too! There are fortune-tellers, a group with an unhealthy interest in dead and undeath, and of course a plethora of trade guilds. And of course there's a wealthy and powerful bunch of mages, the Inverted Pyramid - who do not get along with Church or Empire, of course. Assorted knightly orders provide opportunities for sword-swingers and protection for those less able in combat, and the Longfingers Guild takes care of thieves.

Some of these organisations and their activities are common knowledge, some are barely even heard of, some you know the name but may be hazy on what they actually get up to. There's a table of suggested difficulties for those who want to find out... remember that even asking may have adverse consequences! A chart of relationships shows how the various organisations get along with each other (or don't), again those who like lots of intrigue will find this helpful. Finally there are some ideas for using organisations in your game.

All this activity makes the city come to life, with the impression that they'll all carry on doing their thing irrespective of what the party is doing or even interested in at the time. I've always liked inventing organisations for my worlds, here are some excellent ones to inspire or indeed be used directly.



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Ptolus: The World of Praemal
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2018 12:59:06

Even if your setting is a magnificent city, you still need to have some idea of the world on which that city stands and this book (also part of the massive Ptolus book, but also available separately) is designed to supply the necessary background. As the Introduction states, you need to see the city in context. Of course, if you have decided to locate Ptolus in your own campaign world, what's herein may well not apply. But if you're happy to have Ptolus in its own setting, here you'll find information about the world of Praemal: the lands around Ptolus, the languages spoken there, the races who visit, even the creation of the world and its relationship to other worlds and planes, as well as about the various gods including the most popular, the god Lothian. There's also the history of the world and the events which shaped it. Not all of this may be known by the characters originally, the DM needs to decide how much they know and what they will learn as the campaign progresses.

First, we have The World. This introduces Praemal. It's just a little smaller than Earth and a bit colder but still temperate enough to be confortable for life as we know it. Four-fifths of the world is covered with water and there are a couple of continents - although the other one, on the far side of the world from Ptolus, is more a thing of legend and as yet unexplored. There are two moons, but there used to be three - one vanished some ten thousand years ago, and as it was the moon of magic its disappearance heralded a change in the way magic works. The Empire of Tarsis rules most of the known world, or at least the continent that Ptolus is on, but it is an empire in decline. There then follows a gazetteer of the known world. There's a map to refer to as you read through it as well as marginal notes galore to add extra colour and cross-refer to other material in the Ptolus line. This and the section on languages that follows could come in useful for those who want to play characters from out of town, who arrive in Ptolus for the purposes of the campaign - my preferred style, then players and characters alike can have the pleasure of exploring the place!

Next the Races that are to be found on Praemal are introduced. Whilst it is up to individual DMs to decide which races they'll allow, here the core races are given a distinctive spin and a few new ones are offered for consideration. So dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, half-elves, half-orcs and humans are to be found along with centaurs, cherubim elves (who have wings and fly), harrow elves (who are subterranean), litorians (somewhat cat-like plains dwellers) and lizardfolk also occur, as do aasimar, dark elves, minotaurs, orcs and tieflings - these last five being regarded as NPC races rather than playable ones. The necessary details for making player-characters are provided for the non-core races.

We then move on to Cosmology and Religion. A god known to most simply as the Creator, but more specifically to some as Praemus, created the world and everything in it, but it's likely that most people don't know that, let alone the reason why he did so. This is something the DM will likely want to keep to himself for the time being, but it is all laid out here. The children of Praemus are the elder gods, and once they realised what was going on they fought bitterly with their father. These elder gods are rarely remembered, let alone worshipped, today. Most people worship at the Church of Lothian, which is based on a martyred saint called Lothian who arose from the grave and ascended into heaven. The Empire has embraced this faith and indeed tried to outlaw other beliefs. The Church of Lothian has a complex hierarchy, saints of its own, a long history and various organisations to spread the word and serve the community... or defend it. There are also the new gods, a plethora of other faiths with varying numbers of devotees and most are represented in the Temple District of Ptolus. There are also some rather unpleasant 'cults of chaos' around.

Next is a chapter of History. This is a magnificent sweep of events from the creation 10,000 years ago forwards in time right to the present. It's recommended that the DM become familiar with this history, at least in outline, as it could provide some intriging adventure ideas. Or an archaeologically-minded party might decide to investigate an ancient site further... Again, there are plenty of marginal notes and cross-references to aid and inspire you. The Empire, it seems, stands at a bit of a cross-roads. Perhaps the resolution of this will become part of your campaign.

Finally there's an assortment of maps and calendars to help you become rooted in this place. Nothing like knowing that next week is the Festival of the Cold Moons when everyone bar the elves gets solomn, remembering the dead and practising rituals to ward off evil. Elves see it as a time of rejuvenation and rebirth, and get quite joyful. Even that could be a point of conflict, if the group's elven members want to celebrate while everyone else is quiet and somber. There are also some blank documents (don't you love bureaucracy!) - things like a certificate of Imperial citizenship, identification papers and even a firearms licence!

In these pages are the seeds for an entire world of adventure, never mind a setting in which Ptolus can flourish.



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