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Larm
Publisher: Brave Halfling Publishing
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/13/2008 04:39:08
Labyrinth Lord is a retro-style game system similar to OSRIC and harkens back to the days of gaming in the 70s and 80s. This system, freely available through Goblinoid Games, includes a trademark license that allows other publishers to develop products for it, and since its release a number of publishers have done just that. Brave Halfling Publishing is one such publisher, and this product, Larm, presents an old school RPG village suitable for Labyrinth Lord or other similar old school system.

Larm is a 27 page pdf product for the Labyrinth Lord game system, and presents an excellent starting package for budding adventurers or those new to the system or RPGs in general. As a product aimed at the healthy fanbase of old school gaming, the look and styling of the product is similar to the products from the early days of RPG gaming. The product includes a healthy dose of good, even excellent, art by Andy 'Atom' Taylor, and is very well presented with good writing, editing and layout. Maps are clear and concise in the familiar old school 'blue', with minimal detail but a good supporting legend. In fact, if you were to pick this product up as a hardcopy in some bookstore, you'd be hard pressed to say that it was recently published. It mimics the old school style very well, and is a completely presented product that easy to assimilate, read and use.

Naturally when reading through this product I thought about my own experiences with gaming in the 80s, and had a brief comparative look at my own experiences with more modern gaming systems now that I'm older. The conclusion I came to was that you really couldn't compare the two experiences at all, but I did come to a few realisations. Firstly, this product reminded me how much material you can actually put into a small amount of page space. Old school gaming systems like Labyrinth Lord allow for much more detail and information, largely because they don't get bogged down by lengthy stat blocks or overly complicated mechanics. Secondly, the beauty of the product and indeed the system, is in its simplicity. You don't need complicated mechanics covering everything to create a pleasant and enjoyable adventure or gaming system.

Larm contains a complete and detailed village, complete with NPCs with personality, loads of plot hooks, realistic goals and motivations of the village and its inhabitants; and also three short adventures that are ideally suited to starting adventurers or those new to gaming. The adventures are almost designed to be progressive in the sense that each introduces different aspects of RPG gaming and has a slightly different feel and approach. For example, clearing the rats out of an infested mill is a good introduction to gaming, whereas tackling a goblin encampment is a more tactical approach. The quantity of material, and indeed the approach of Larm, aided by the system's simplicity make this a refreshing product with a lot of material to offer in roleplaying and combat gaming.

The product is presented as a starting point for adventurers, and it succeeds very well at presenting a sensical and fleshed-out village that is logical. The village contains the types of buildings one would expect, caters for commerce, creates a good social scene between the villagers, and supports fantasy and adventurers as well. It's one of those villages that you could almost imagine were real, and that touch of reality is always pleasing to see in a product, and indeed appealing to gamers. Larm allows budding adventurers to test their feet, it provides loads of subplots and plots with plenty of avenues for exploration and expansion. Larm also doesn't take a heavy handed approach, meaning that it's very freeform. In other words, the village is not designed for characters as much as it's designed to be a village. Adventurers are almost a second thought, but even so are well catered for.

As mentioned, each of the three short adventures in the product caters to a different style of adventure. The author has done well to make the three adventures different in style, theme and approach, keeping them short and enjoyable but also neatly fitted in with the rest of the village. Throughout the adventures, a lot of new material is included to aid in crafting good adventures with an air of mystery and challenging encounters. The second adventure is perhaps a little heavy on the undead creatures and combat encounters, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Overall, I was really pleased with this product. It does exactly what it says on the packaging, so to speak, and does it well. Questions often arise on the various forums and boards of the internet as to which adventures are good starting adventures - I would heartily recommend this one. Larm provides an excellent, realistic starting village with some enjoyable adventures and plenty of opportunity for roleplaying. You really get a sense of the village atmosphere and village life in general, and the whole village comes to life in this product's page. The three adventures, and indeed the other subplots, are all enjoyable, the NPCs are well presented, and the product presentation is very good. A thoroughly enjoyable and excellent product.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Larm
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Even More Damage Through Alchemistry
Publisher: Tangent Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2008 09:25:08
The core OGL rules provide less than a dozen or so of alchemical items, but despite their minimal numbers, almost every adventuring party has somebody equipped with some form of alchemical item, be it the ever useful tanglefoot bag, thunderstone or alchemist's fire. These items are considered excellent utility items, and on many occasions a well-placed tanglefoot bag can make the difference between victory and survival. Tangent Games' latest offering, Even More Damage Through Alchemistry, is a follow-up product from Better Damage Through Alchemistry and presents 30 new and useful alchemical items for both damage purposes and more utility uses.

Even More Damage Through Alchemistry is a 30 page pdf product for the OGL rules written by Geoff Habinger. The product is well presented, containing an informative and eye-catching cover, a useful brief overview and introduction to alchemy, and a neatly presented layout with good writing and editing. The product contains complete bookmarks to allow you to easily find a particular item, and several tables towards the end of the product summarize the various alchemical items in this product neatly. The style of the cover and indeed the presentation is very similar to all Tangent Games' product, a kind of no-frills/minimalist approach to presentation which generally works.

This product is all about alchemy and alchemical items. As such it starts with a brief overview of alchemy, followed by a presentation and detailed overview of the OGL rules covering the crafting and use of alchemical skills. This product uses the same new rules for alchemy that were introduced in Better Damage Through Alchemy, and these are reprinted and detailed here, covering such topics as ingestion, inhalation and eye contact with various alchemical substances. The mechanics of these rules is generally solid, although can easily be cast away for those interested in using these items without the additional attention to detail.

The product presents a variety of different alchemical items with different functions and purposes, and it was an entertaining read to see some of the uses to which chemistry and alchemy can be put. It combines a realistic with fantastical approach to alchemy and chemistry well to create some useful items that will allow the alchemist a chance to shine in the game, and increase the use of the Craft (alchemy) skill beyond the first few levels of a character's life. Alchemical items include a variety of acids, bases, gases, alchemical metals and other liquid concoctions that not only damage, but can also provide utility purpose.

In general this product provides some useful and balanced material that can easily be brought into any game. Some items are considerably more powerful for their price, and while that may be realistic from a world-view point of view, from a game balance perspective they probably need some tweaking. Pyridine, for example, forces a DC 20 inhalation Fortitude save to prevent unconsciousness, all for only 25 gp. A substance like that is capable of incapacitating even high CR monsters quite easily. As another example, Caesium does 3d6 points of damage to all creatures in a 10 ft. radius for only 50 gp. It's like a mini-fireball in a bottle and certainly a whole lot cheaper. I think on the whole the items have been studiously crafted, but game balance-wise there are one or two anomalies.

Through this product and its predecessor, Better Damage Through Alchemistry, Tangent Games have opened up a whole field of new alchemical items that many characters, particularly quintessential alchemical item users such as halfling rogues and other utility characters, will benefit from immensely. This product is very useful in this regard, and provides a good balance between chemistry and magic to create generally balanced and well-crafted alchemical items. Overall, I enjoyed this product, and can definitely see the use of the substances in game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Even More Damage Through Alchemistry
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Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2008 06:19:23
The core monster manual for the new edition of the 4e GSL game is a bit like marmite - you either love it or you hate it. Some people complain that it doesn't contain enough fluff and background information, others that it leaves out core and staple monsters from previous editions, and yet others that it doesn't contain enough details on the individual races, and too many monsters of a similar kind. On the other hand, many people like this kind of 'streamlined' manual of monsters as it allows them to sculpt the monsters from there onward without being constrained by 'needless' fluff that doesn't fit their tastes. The potential for 'skinning' monsters in the new edition is also high, and the raw monsters can easily be changed from one creature to another. Whatever the flavor of your tastes, the new edition was bound to see new books of monsters come out, covering both old and new ground.

Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs is the first such product from the wonderful partnership between Goodman Games and Blackdirge Publishing. This 17 page products brings you 20 different kinds of bugs and insects for the 4e GSL game. It updates older creatures excluded from the core material, and brings a new flavor of creature to a variety of different species. All these insects are beautifully illustrated by Jesse Mohn, a well-known artist for those familiar with Blackdirge Publishing's products. As you would come to expect from Blackdirge Publishing, the quality of the presentation is high, although one or two editing errors did slip through.

This product presents 20 new insects and bugs, classified into seven different species or groups - ants, beetles, centipedes, crustaceans, mantises, slugs, and wasps. Each species gets a few different creatures or sub-species, providing a good variety of creeping and crawling critters for the 4e GSL game. Ants, for example, include workers, soldiers and queen; Beetles include the butcher beetle and the pincer beetle, while slugs presents the corpse slug, and the giant slug. The creatures all come with complete 4e GSL statistics, and the levels range from 1 to 15, with most roles covered by the different types of insects. A very useful table of levels and roles is provided at the end of the product, complementing the bookmarks already contained in the product.

There's no doubt that this cache of monsters contains a good selection of useful creatures and those almost basic creatures that most games see in their lifetime. The format of the product very closely follows that of the core monster manual, and as such beyond the descriptions and brief lore and tactics descriptions, details on these monsters are fairly sparse. Then again, when you're dealing with mostly mindless insects, there's not a lot to write about them that's particularly relevant to combat gaming. On the same front, when you're dealing with insects, they're not that interesting in most cases either, particularly with the standard fare of abilities including bites, stings, and grabs with mandibles or pincers. In essence, the product's appeal is not so much in its interesting material or good fluff, but rather in its selection of creatures that fill a needed and useful niche of creatures left out from the core 4e GSL.

Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs is a good product that presents several new insects and other creepy crawlies for the 4e GSL game. The creatures are mostly standard fare, with one or two interesting abilities or tactics, but for the most part these are just insects like those contained in previous edition. There's nothing magical about most of these creatures - essentially they're just larger versions of what one would expect in our world. The product is not something you'd really pick up for interesting or exiting creatures, but more something you'd pick up to fill a need for a basic creature. Overall, though, I think the series is off to a good and solid start, and I look forward to the next release containing dinosaurs, and the third which I believe will be animals and beasts.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs
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Dungeon Tiles - Base Set 1
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2008 09:44:15
Empty Room Cardstock Scenes: Dungeon Tiles - Base Set 1 is a 14 page pdf presenting a set of customizable and flexible 2D dungeon tiles suitable for any gaming system. This set offers a base set of dungeon tiles, including rooms, corridors, intersections and other dungeon chambers. One of the key strengths of this product is customization, and for that it utilizes Adobe Acrobat's layer functions to allow maximum customization of the each section of the dungeon. For this reason, this product requires the use of Adobe Acrobat 6 or higher, or other suitable pdf reader.

Dungeon Tiles - Base Set 1 is a very well presented pdf. The cover gives you a good general idea of the style and nature of the tiles contained in the pdf, and there is an excellent overview page which gives useful information on the product and how to use the layers if you're not familiar with them. This product contains 7 pages of customizable tiles using layers, with some pages containing multiple rooms, intersections, corridors or the like. The tiles themselves contain high quality art and look very good when printed. The layers function generally works well, although in some instances removing walls can result in the edges not overlapping properly resulting in a jagged edge to a room. Overall, though, this pdf is very professional and the layers function well to achieve the desired customization.

Most people who enjoy using props and 2D tiles at the gaming table have probably at some point wished for a 'tile creation' computer program that was perfectly customizable and where you could create a room, drag the objects onto it that you want, and press print. While I've not yet seen anything even remotely capable of such versatility, many RPG publishers are striving for something similar using pdf technology rather than computer programming. This product is a big step in that direction, using pdf layers to allow one to customize the one-inch scale tiles the way you want them. So, for example, you can remove a well from an image, or add some barrels, or remove a deceased body. You can even re-arrange some of the chamber walls to alter the overall size of the exits or the size of the chamber itself. I have to admit that I was impressed by the depth of customization that this product allows.

The seven pages of customizable corridors, hallways, rooms and objects allow you to create a good quantity of different configurations. Naturally there are some configurations that one would perhaps want to add, but for the most part this caters to the more standard configurations and allows you to place objects to add more flavor to corridors and rooms. Want a pit trap in the corridor? One click away. Want to make the corridor a dead end? One click away. Using pdf technology gives this product a lot more versatility. And coupled with the excellent artwork and general look of the dungeon features and objects, this is a very useful product for anybody interested in 2D tiles and gaming props.

The latter part of the pdf contains a sample dungeon, a Smuggler's Lair, created with these tiles, and also includes a player handout. This sets you going on the road to adventure, and provides a sneak peak of the possibilities that you can achieve with this set. Overall, this is one of the best sets of 2D tiles out there, not so much in the quality of the art, but in the vast customization that this set allows for. It's by no means all encompassing in its scope, but with only seven pages of material, you can provide quite a wide range of dungeon configurations with added features. Overall, this set combines good use of the layer technology to enable versatility with great art, and good design on the variety of dungeon features contained in this pdf. Very good product.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Tiles - Base Set 1
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Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves: Battlemaps 3
Publisher: The Fantasy Cartographic
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2008 10:44:08
Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves: Battlemaps 3 is the latest set of battlemaps from The Fantasy Cartographic. This product is the third set of cavern and cave battlemaps released in this product line, and features 5 complete maps of different subterranean locations, including one-inch scale versions of each of the maps. The large-scale maps are taken directly from TFC's product Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves: Vol 2, although that product is not required to use this one. This product is suitable for any gaming system where one-inch scale battlemaps are required.

The product comes as a single 109 page pdf file. The product is organised by presenting a large-scale map (DM's map), followed by a sectioned large-scale map indicating the locations of each one-inch scale section, and lastly the one-inch scale map sections. This pattern repeats for the five different locations presented in this product. A brief outline of the product is provided to allow you to jump right in and start printing these maps. All maps are black and white, which assists in saving ink on printing, but at the same time naturally doesn't look as impressive on the gaming table. One useful feature for such a large pdf that's been left out is bookmarks - to find, for example, the third of the five maps, you have to actually scan through the pdf using the table of contents for a page number. Bookmarks would've made this a lot easier.

The battlemaps presented in this product are fairly generic and old-school, the latter in the sense of them being simply caverns with no distinguishing features or other details of note. In fact, these maps are simply grids with caverns carved into them to form a larger battlemap. This kind of approach has both its advantages and its disadvantages, the latter being that they don't look that great, while for the former you're allowed maximum customization. I think both approaches have their merits, and although I haven't seen the product these maps were drawn from, I can only image that they will have more use if used with that product and any adventure hooks or plot details. Each map contains about 20 sections with each section being 9 by 7 inches. Sections between different maps cannot really be joined together to form new maps.

The cavern and cave maps each contain up to about ten possible locations that can be fleshed out to fill with encounters or possible key areas. Having looked through the maps there's plenty of scope to be creative, and I think any DM interested in these maps should be aware that using them will require extra work since they are generic in the most basic sense. I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to simply create a set of tiles that can actually be joined together to create any kind of map rather than only the ones presented here. While these are certainly unique, a little added versatility would've been really useful. I think in the long run one-inch scale generic cavern tiles that can be used to create hundreds of different caverns go a lot further than those that can only be used to create 5 maps.

I think this is a useful but fairly average product. It offers a lot in the area of customization and allows one full scope for creativity, but at the other doesn't offer much in terms of versatility or presentability of the individual tiles. Essentially this product is a quick and dirty way of creating a battlemap with no frills attached.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves: Battlemaps 3
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OBE: Races of the Shroud for D&D 4E: The Apelord
Publisher: Highmoon Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2008 09:54:38
October has finally arrived, and as the 4e GSL goes live the first of the 3rd party support products for the new 4e GSL have started to appear on the market. As can be expected both old and new publishers are signing up to the 4e GSL, and one such new publisher is One Bad Egg. Their first product is called Races of the Shroud: The Apelord, and presents a new PC race, several racial feats for said race, new monsters based on this race, and several adventure and campaign ideas related to the race and the Shroud, a mysterious mutating fog that covers the land.

The product comes as two pdf files - one detailing the Shroud and giving a brief campaign idea involving it, and the second presenting the apelord race, racial feats and monsters. I have to admit that things have come a long way in the industry since the OGL was released years back, and the quality of presentation and material on offer from new publishers is on another level compared to the early OGL offerings. This product is very well presented and formatted, with a clear layout, good and imaginative writing, and some wonderful pieces of full color art. The product looks good and professional, and I hope that this style of presentation continues despite the natural rush to get products on the market. One Bad Egg have delivered on a good presentation.

This product presents a new PC race, the apelord, a race of intelligent apes that have been changed by the mysterious power of the Shroud. Much like one would expect, this race is good at climbing, good a falling down from trees and other heights, and good at using its fist to batter things into submission. Basically, if you want a very playable PC race that's, well, an intelligent gorilla, then this is exactly what you need. The product provides plenty of information on the apelord race, from descriptions to habits to community and other social aspects. In addition, some useful details on a few apelord adventurers are provided (without statistics) and applicable names and general naming conventions. I thought this was a well done race which catches the flavor of the race well in the mechanics and implements a sound and playable race that can make for an interesting change. It's not the most novel or even interesting race I've ever seen, but it's been well implemented and detailed.

For me at least, and most likely for the DMs and not the players, this product doesn't shine so much with the race but more with the new monsters based on the apelord race. There are some really useful and interesting new monsters, particularly the bunch of corrupted undead apelords and the apelord speaker. The minor apelords are mostly standard fare, but for the higher level creatures (creatures range from levels 4 to 9) the product does an impressive job of coming up with unique and interesting abilities for the monsters to use. The apelord speaker, for example, has an ability to call a spirit to assist it, and this is clever and versatile at the same time as flavorful. The monsters are generally creative and well done, and worth challenging your players with.

For those interested in reskinning monsters, these monster abilities can be used for a variety of other concepts and creatures. I have to wonder how long it's going to take for the first generic monster book to come out, that only contains flavor and descriptions along with special abilities and no actual normal combat statistics to create a paradise for those interested in modifying monsters. The product concludes with some creative adventure ideas and hooks which tie all the material in the pdf together nicely.

Overall I thought this was a very good product. It contains some very useful new material, good flavor and good implementation of mechanics and concepts. Players and DMs who don't like animal/human hybrids can still find plenty of use in this product through the monsters provided and the details of the Shroud along with its associated campaign ideas and adventure hooks. The monsters in particular are enjoyable with some innovative new ideas and attacks developed for these creatures. While this material is applicable to any campaign setting, something African would likely fit very well with the concepts and the ideas presented. A good little pdf.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
OBE: Races of the Shroud for D&D 4E: The Apelord
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Master Dungeons M1: Dragora's Dungeon
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2008 09:17:17
Master Dungeons M1: Dragora's Dungeon is a 50 page pdf adventure for the new 4e GSL game. This adventure is the first in Goodman Games' Master Dungeons series, a series of adventures for more experienced players where the characters get to face epic challenges and become legends themselves. This first adventure is for 1st level characters, and sees the characters explore the realm of the long-lost sorcerer-kings of Parhok to save their kingdom from an ancient magic.

This adventure comes as a single pdf file. Like all of Goodman Games' products, the presentation is very professional and well done, with high quality art, layout, writing and general presentation and direction in the product. The front cover has an excellent Larry Elmore look to it (and is perhaps slightly suggestive for younger readers), and the product organisation and structure make it easy to navigate and obtain everything needed to run the adventure. Details on scaling the adventure and plot hooks are provided to get the DM started quickly and easily, while the background details provided allow the DM to always have the adventure story fresh in his mind. An excellent presentation all round.

The premise behind the Master Dungeons series is to create adventures that are grand and epic, the kind of adventures that if succeeded will create heroes and legends from the characters. This is an exciting prospect as the adventures will most likely be grand in scope and vision allowing a high fantasy series of adventures where characters achieve something epic and meaningful on a campaign scale. Whether this premise is suitable to 1st level characters is up for debate, though. If your opinion is that it isn't then this adventure will most likely fall flat at the first hurdle during the introduction, but if you're a fan of high fantasy and epic battles and adventures, then this is an adventure that will create heroes from 1st level PCs (or at least more hero-like than the 4e GSL rules envisage 1st level PCs to be like).

The adventure starts with an assassination attempt that the PCs manage to hopefully thwart, and at the same time uncover powerful magic at work in their kingdom. From there the PCs have to track the assassin, and so plunge themselves into the heart of the lost kingdom of the sorcerer-kings - Parhok. There they delve into the ruins of an ancient land, and uncover a forgotten race of ape-like beings, the zain-kin. Through careful and devious interaction with the zain-kin, and very clever thinking, the PCs can uncover the true masters of the plot to unleash an army into the kingdom, and hopefully they have the power to foil it.

Like most of Goodman Games previous offering for the d20 OGL edition of the game, large parts of this adventure are an elaborate and intricate dungeon crawl. What sets this adventure, and indeed this dungeon crawl, apart from its predecessors, though, is the cleverness of the encounters, and the way in which each encounter is designed to make sure the characters and players think. Players that are not on their toes will not survive, particularly when it comes to finding the city of the zain-kin and the interactions between the three factions of the zain-kin.

The zain-kin are probably the meat of the adventure, and allow PCs to get embroidered in a complex setup of three zain-kin factions, their gods, religion and their beliefs. Careless PCs will easily get themselves killed by simply being outnumbered by the zain-kin, and careful deliberation, subterfuge, deceit and diplomacy will be required. This will make for an interesting adventure for players and their characters. For the DM the adventure will most likely require a little more work. While the dungeon aspects are fairly straightforward, the interaction with the zain-kin will require a little more preparation and work. Each faction's beliefs and motives are spelt out, but to make those work within the overall scope of the adventure and without getting the PCs killed fairly easily will take some careful thought and planning.

This is a good adventure from Goodman Games. There's a little bit of everything in the product, and a good combination of roleplaying and combat. The encounters are more tactical in nature, and there's plenty of room for innovation and creative action. There is a lot of combat, though, in places, which can grow a little tedious, and the encounters with the zain-kin in their city need to be handled carefully while not giving the PCs the impression that an escape route is available should they need it. Make no mistake, this adventure can kill, and quickly, and only the clever PCs will survive. This fits in nicely with the premise behind the Master Adventures, though I wouldn't be averse to allowing 2nd level rather than 1st level PCs to pass through Dragora's dungeon. Another good offering from the masters of adventures.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master Dungeons M1: Dragora's Dungeon
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Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1
Publisher: Fiery Dragon
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2008 05:39:47
4th Edition has been around for several months now, and one could almost say that the new edition wouldn't be complete without some artwork and counters from artist Claudio Pozas and Fiery Dragon Productions. Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1 presents hundreds of counters for the Heroic tier of the 4th edition GSL game from the talented mind of Claudio Pozas.

This 19 page pdf product presents one inch square counters for every 4e GSL creature from levels 1 to 10, and includes both new artwork, older artwork that's been updated, and several pieces of work from previous counter collections. The counter total in the product is a staggering 656 counters, of which there are 223 unique images. This product does not contain digital copies of the counters - digital images will be released later this year in the announced Counter Collection Digital v3.0.

This product comes as a single pdf file, in which 17 of the products 19 pages are devoted to the artwork and counters. Counters are organised by level, starting with level 1 creatures and ending with level 10 creatures. Each page contains a header indicating the level, and the names of the creatures on the page are provided in text at the bottom of the page.

This is probably not the best way to identify the counters, since you'd need to count the counters while scanning the text below to check the name of a creature counter contained in the middle of the sheet, which is somewhat time consuming and clumsy. However, I understand that this is likely required to ensure the maximum number of counters per page for easy printing. It would also be useful to have improved spacing between the counters to make then easier to cut out without blotching the line between the counters. The product contains no bookmarks. Overall, a well presented product, though I have very minor reservations about the organisation.

As far as the content and artwork is concerned, this product cannot be faulted, really. The artist presents some vivid and richly detailed images of the various GSL heroic creatures, and some that are truly stunning. Colours are vibrant and vivid, giving the counters impact when placed on the gaming table. There's such a huge selection of counters in this product, that most counters can double for all sorts of other creatures that your characters will face while adventuring. This product offers excellent utility, providing a way to create as many counters of any type of heroic creature you want to. The counters themselves are square - some might prefer to have round counters, but I think the square ones are fine.

There's a lot to like about this product - high quality artwork, excellent variety, good quantities of counters, attention to detail and great overall utility. The product also offers good value for money. My only minor reservation is about the organisation, with something like a table of contents and bookmarks would've improved. Even something as simple as a numbered grid would help to more easily identify creatures in the middle of a sheet. I think this is an extremely useful product, and almost a must-have for any gaming group that uses battlemaps. Excellent product, great artwork, and great utility.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Counter Collection 4th Edition Heroic 1
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The Deft Fighter
Publisher: Thomas W. Simpson
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2008 10:15:58
A lot has been said through the years about the fighter class of the revised OGL core rules. One of the complaints trumpeted by many is that the higher level fighter, and indeed to a certain extent the lower level fighter, spends most of his time locked in rather mundane and boring attack actions swinging his or her weapon. Many attempts have been made to correct for this, mostly focused on trying to spice up the fighter's options and tactical abilities in combat. In most cases, this has cantered around the use of the fighter class' bread and butter - feats. The Deft Fighter is Thomas W. Simpson's effort to create a more interesting combat and tactical fighter using a new feat, the Deft Fighter feat, and a large number of fighter tricks.

The Deft Fighter is a 24 page pdf and indeed the first product from new OGL publisher, Thomas W. Simpson. This product comes as a single pdf file, and is a well presented document with good single column layout, clear writing, attention to detail, and some good illustrations from artist William McAusland. There are no bookmarks in the product. The Deft Fighter is a presentable product from this new publisher.

The concept behind the product is the Deft Fighter feat which allows you to specialise in a number of fighter tricks and abilities that create a more interesting combat fighter. The concept has been attempted in numerous different ways by other publishers, so is generally nothing new, but this take provides a flexible option to expand the list of new fighter tricks, and even the associated additional feats for the deft fighter. Fighter tricks are special actions or manuevers that are performed in conjunction with a normal attack, and resolved using opposed skill checks. It's fairly easy to expand on the list of fighter tricks, making this a flexible system for the martial warrior.

There are 24 fighter tricks in this product, all of them non-magical tricks or abilities rather than supernatural or other magical abilities. Examples include Nowhere to Run, which allows the fighter to prevent an enemy escaping; Dastardly Dancer which allows the fighter to weave out of combat with skill, and Death from Below, a Gimli kind of manuever from The Two Towers. The naming of the various feats leaves something to be desired, but mostly these achieve what they set out to achieve - if you succeed at the skill check, you gain some additional advantage, whereas if you fail, you are unable to pull the manuever off, and suffer a penalty.

While this is an interesting idea and certainly opens up the possibilities for combat, the underlying mechanics are probably not as robust as ithey seem. Take the Heart Attack trick as an example. This trick is a Balance vs. Sense Motive skill check, success which paralyzes your opponent for 1d4 rounds. Firstly, not many fighters, let alone monsters, have any decent ranks in the Sense Motive skill, whereas a fair many characters use the Balance skill. It's fairly easy to envisage a character that specialises in Balance, thereby succeeding at this trick frequently, rendering pretty much any opponent helpless and hence open to easy coup de graces. The balance of the power is just not there in all instances, particularly where monsters are concerned. In addition, rogue/fighters are far more likely to excel at these tricks than pure fighters are due to improved skill points.

Overall, I think this idea has merit and there are several interesting ideas and concepts in the product. I think the implementation, though, in some cases requires a little more thought, particularly where the underlying mechanics are concerned. If you are planning to adopt material from this product, then most likely you'll need to bear it in mind when throwing enemies at your party, since you'll need to boost certain skills in most enemies. The Deft Fighter feat and its tricks is certainly useful though, placing more emphasis on skills for fighters, and adding some useful options for tactical combat to the table.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Deft Fighter
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the review! Remember with the "heart attack", it is anatomy dependent, and in many cases would likely suffer a DC increase in accordance to the opponents armor (with a discerning GM!). While I won't claim the underlying mechanic is perfect (none are, IMO), I think with a little play some of your worries may vanish. During play testing, one thing showed up all the time: unpredictability. Two EXTREME examples: a 4th level Fighter/2nd Level Rogue got his @ss handed to him by CR 1 kobolds because he failed a Trick THREE times when he was at a +12 and the kobolds were at a +0! Then at the OTHER end of the spectrum, a sixth level Fighter successfully staved off a Leonine Demon (Creature Collection II) until the party could catch up to him and help (without the Tricks, he'd have been toast). These are of course not the most common happenings, but I was pleased with the contrast. Sometimes its all about how the d20 rolls! I hope you enjoy it in your games! Thanks for the review, I really appreciate Staff reviews because I know a lot of customers take them pretty seriously. I hope you give my future products the same consideration!
Wizards of Shadowfell
Publisher: Skortched Urf' Studios
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2008 15:56:59
I suspect that I, like others who first saw this product, were drawn to it because of the use of the word 'Shadowfell'. And I suspect as well that this intentional or unintentional 'marketing' has done its job, even though the product in question has little to do with anything related to Shadowfell or the newly released GSL game. In fact, Wizards of Shadowfell is a 14 page base class for the revised OGL rules, and provides an alternative to the standard wizard built along the lines of the wizards of literature like Gandalf or Merlin.

This pdf is presented in the familiar style of Skorched Urf' Studios, and consists of a neat cover with good art, good layout and some excellent pieces of art scattered throughout the pdf. The writing and editing is good, and the product contains some solid mechanics that's well designed without being clumsy. I was generally impressed by the effort on the presentation side of things, and Skortched Urf Studios have done a grand job of producing a very presentable product.

Wizards of Shadowfell presents a new 20 level base class, the Wizard of Shadowfell. This wizard is modeled after the powerful wizards of literature, and as such is both strong in magic but also handy when wielding a blade or in battle. The pdf provides an excellent introduction to the class, with some useful information on the concept behind the class, how it fits into a campaign world, the roleplaying opportunities and a brief comparison to the standard wizard. The pdf readily admits that the Wizard of Shadowfell is more powerful than the standard wizard, which does raise a few eyebrows since the high level standard wizard is already the most powerful class in the game.

Nevertheless, this pdf does bring some interesting and refreshing new ideas to the game table, particularly the new mechanics of the class. Unlike the standard wizard, this Wizard of Shadowfell gains a new ability at each level, and these include a new spellcasting progression system, Lessons of the Arcane. This allows the wizard to cast lower level spells at will, while progressing largely the same at higher level. The at-will abilities are thankfully restricted by the wizard's rank in the Spellcraft skill. Other useful new mechanics include a wizard mount, various abilities that enhance the wizard's senses, improved BAB and hp, the ability to sense the use of magic, powerful summoning, various roleplaying restrictions, immortality, and the ultimate ability to cast spells with lightning speed.

As can be seen from the list of impressive abilities, this makes for a very powerful class, and while the new mechanics is the product's strength, it is also its weakness. But given the design considerations and the aim of the project, that's probably what the product set out to do. Wizards of literature were insanely powerful, and this product has demonstrated that in spades. How well that concept works in game play over a table is another matter, but one that could work if handled carefully.

Wizards of Shadowfell closes by providing a starting package and an epic level progression for the character class, rounding off a very complete, interesting, and generally well designed class barring the large power boost. I found this product interesting to read with a concept that would appeal to many. Handled carefully or modified to tone down the power, this would make a strong concept in a campaign world, both as PC and NPC. A solid product, with great presentation, good mechanics, and a strongly designed class.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wizards of Shadowfell
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Monsters II Set
Publisher: Arion Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2008 07:35:34
It's been a while since I've reviewed one of Arion Games' paper miniatures products, and I have to admit that through the years they've mostly kept their quality spot on. And this product, Monsters II Set is no disappointment. If the numbers on the product are anything to go by, this is their 75th paper miniature product, and it's quite an achievement to have released that many quality products onto the market. Their variety as well is impressive, although I'm personally glad to see them come back to the staple of most fantasy games with this set of monsters.

Monsters II Set is a 9 page pdf product that features 20 useful paper miniatures for your fantasy or other genre roleplaying games. The miniatures can be folded as flat, a-frame of a pseudo 3D triagonal with views from three sides. Instructions for folding can be found on Arion Games' website, although it's not difficult to figure out yourself and fairly easy to fold to create some good-looking miniatures. This set contains a series of 20 monsters, and some rather useful ones too in a variety of different sizes, something which is easy to appreciate. Most of these monsters are suitable to fantasy games, although other genres can be catered for quite easily with this set as well.

This set contains a good mix of creatures, all generated using computers to give them a professional look of quality. The miniatures in this set include: blood demon, dragon ogre, bugbirn, chaos snake, chimera, cocytus, demon tree, eyebat, flyman, frog demon, giant fire beetle, greater gargoyle, greater lamia, greater werewolf, harpy, jabberwock, lesser demon, mind eater, scorpion dog and scourge. Naturally many of these images could probably be used to portray quite a larger variety of creature than their name would suggest, increasing the versatility of the product. The artwork is very well done, with good attention to detail. It's often more difficult to do monsters than clothed creatures with computer generated graphics, and this product has done very well in that. Shading, coloration, and posture are all very well done, creating realistic looking creatures.

While the a-frame or flat miniatures are great, the triagonal miniatures really create life-like creatures that can compete with plastic or metal miniatures for look on the game table. Printed out these miniatures look good, and can easily be combined or used with many other similar products out there and 3D terrain or structure models from paper or cardstock. The resolution of the miniatures is excellent, meaning they'll look good no matter what size you want to print them at. Another quality product from Arion Games.

Monsters Set II is a great set of paper miniatures from Arion Games. It provides high quality computer generated images of a variety of interesting and useful creatures for your roleplaying game at good value for money. The graphics is excellent, particularly figures like the dragon ogre and the lesser demon. Come to think of it, there really isn't a weak figure in the set, which is always an added bonus. Great product!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monsters II Set
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Two Bit Tables: Ancient Battlefield Encounters
Publisher: Healing Fireball
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2008 06:56:37
One of the good things about RPGs is that they're multi-faceted and offer a variety of different ways to stimulate the differing tastes of the gaming populations. Some gamers prefer more combat-orientated games, other immersive roleplaying, and yet others enjoy it for the creative aspects and world building. Two Bit Tables: Ancient Battlefield encounters is a short 3 page pdf product that caters mainly to the latter gamers - those that like creating interesting encounters or locations, and those that like to add spice to their game world. This product is part of a large and continually expanding series of Two Bit Tables products, each offering a small set of tables with which to create something more interesting for your game world.

The presentation of this short pdf is nicely done, with good use of pdf presentation skills to create something that looks good. The editing and writing is fair, and the tables usefully presented, although the shade of gray used in the tables looks too dark when the product is printed and could be done in a lighter shade. Overall, this pdf pretty much gets the ticks as far as short pdf presentation goes.

Two Bit Tables: Ancient Battlefield Encounters provides you with a series of useful tables for generating descriptive and interesting battlefield encounters. The focus here is on what one would expect to see in an ancient battlefield, although plenty of advice is provided on how to adjust the tables for more recent battlefields where the bodies haven't quite decomposed yet. In addition to providing one with useful random encounters on these sites, there are three other tables that form the meat of the product. These tables allow one to generate objects found or seen on a battlefield from a list of over 100, and certainly you can create far more combinations of these items. Battlefields can contain anything from a rusty sword to a fallen encampment to a cemetery or an arrow head stuck in a tree. It's a good product for generating a few ideas when trying to describe the scene of an important or pivotal battle in your campaign world.

For the most part this is a good little pdf with some useful information and good value for money. I found, however, that the information was lacking in being creative and seemed a bit repetitive in trying to generate the material from the tables. It's not particularly fantastical either, being more of a medieval flavor rather than one where magic would reign supreme and the elements of which would be found on the battlefield. The table and the details there-in just appear far too normal. There's nothing wrong with that, but even the normal could be a little more descriptive, and perhaps contain something more than just variations on broken weapons, skeletons, fortifications, and other battle miscellany.

I think this product, and indeed this series, can be a very useful addition to any world builder's arsenal, but I think it needs to think outside the box and be a little more creative to add a little spice to the material, particularly as far as fantastical elements are concerned. Most fantasy campaigns offer tremendous richness which is largely lacking here apart from the odd reference here and there. A good product, and useful, but could've done a little more on the creative side.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Two Bit Tables: Ancient Battlefield Encounters
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Venture 4th: Ice River Battle
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2008 11:00:57
Venture 4th: Ice River Battle is a 12 page pdf product and the first in a new series of products from Adamant Entertainment. The Venture 4th series of products provides both game tiles and adventures in support of the 4e ruleset, although it can be used for the revised d20 core rules as well. This first game tile product in the series presents a unique and exciting setting for fantasy combat - a battle on a icy river containing dangerous and slippery blocks of ice.

Ice River Battle presents a good mix between new rules for the scenario setup, and game tiles that allow you to make the setup or encounter come to life. The product is well presented and well written, with clear rules, good editing, and a useful variety of game tiles. There is some good art inside the product, and the front cover is professionally done. Overall, a well presented pdf as one would expect from Adamant Entertainment.

Many companies produce game tiles these days, and this product is Adamant Entertainment's first foray into such tiles. They've gone the extra mile by not only presenting game tiles, but by also tying them to both a specific location or terrain and providing specific mechanical game rules. This means that the game tiles themselves are more than just props that look pretty, but are also functional parts of the adventure or scenario itself. I quite like this take on presenting game tiles.

The pdf starts by giving the brief rules for using the various ice blocks on the river. These include moving across the ice, jumping from block to block, the effect of heat on the blocks, the result of falling into the water, and various rules for the scenario itself including static and flowing ice blocks in the river. The rules are fairly simple and straightforward, though I can imagine that running a flowing scenario can be quite tricky as the position of each block needs to be adjusted every game turn. The rules presented are fairly generic, but provide enough information that you can easily use it with the d20 or 4e game systems.

The game tiles provide a small selection of river and river bank tiles, and a larger selection of tiles for the ice blocks in various different sizes. Sizes vary from single square blocks to larger blocks that could easily host a small skirmish. The river and bank tiles are good, although I wasn't that pleased with the ice blocks, which appear rather jagged as if they'd been cut from paper with a scissors. Nevertheless, for the purposes of creating an exciting scenario, the props and rules are all you need to give your PCs an encounter they will never forget.

Venture 4th - Ice River Battle combines good rules with good game tiles to create an exciting scenario for an encounter setting. I was generally pleased with the product; the only negative being the look of the ice block tiles. Adamant Entertainment have made a good start to this Game Tile line in the Venture 4th series, and I'm looking forward to seeing some quality products in this line in the future.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Venture 4th: Ice River Battle
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Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds!
Publisher: Myth Merchant Press
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2008 09:35:31
When the first sneak peaks of the new 4e ruleset started to appear shortly after the announcement of the new edition, people in various forums on the net started hammering the revised d20 rules as more information about 4e got released. In particular many were complaining that the 3.5e rules were too strict and cumbersome when creating monsters, and that the 4e system somehow liberated people into designing more creative monsters outside of the supposed constraints of the 3.5e system. It is true that the 4e system has shown good and exciting design in monsters, but I don't agree with the sentiment that 3.5e's system was too constrained to achieve was 4e has done. And this product seems to agree with me on that front.

Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds is a short 15 page pdf product that presents kobolds like you've not seen them before. This product is the first in the Fantasy Fiends series of products from Myth Merchant Press and is fully compatible with the revised d20 core rules (3.5e). The product presents 6 new and unique kobolds, using the standard 3.5e rules with some new variations to create exiting and interesting kobolds that can challenge even higher level parties.

Myth Merchant Press is a relatively new pdf publisher, having released their first product, a fantastic adventure called Trouble in Tallreed Waters, less than two months ago. And if they continue the way they are with the two products they've released so far, then I suspect they'll do rather well, providing top class presentation and material for the d20 market. This product looks great, contains fantastic art, reads easily, is well organised, and very well formatted. I was impressed by the effort of presentation that went into the product - it's a top notch effort.

Kobolds in the revised d20 game (3.5e) are fairly standard fare for most PCs. As are most humanoids in fact. And one of the things I constantly hear is that the various humanoid races don't do enough to distinguish between them. This product is a big step towards making the distinction clearer as it presents a set of kobolds (in a style similar to the new edition) using the 3.5e rules that truly feel like kobolds in their mechanics. There are 6 new kobold types presented here - the kobold footman, the kobold grunt, the kobold thrower, the kobold wyrmward, the kobold dragonmouth and the kobold matron. All of them are based on the standard d20 kobold with various PC and NPC classes added, but have added extraordinary abilities, bonus feats and supernatural abilities to make them stand out as more unique creatures and more unique humanoids. These aren't just smaller goblins or orcs - these are kobolds.

Examples of the abilities of these kobolds include a mob mentality that grants bonuses in large numbers of kobolds, the ability to dart around in combat, and the neat ability to gang up on a larger enemy and overpower them. I truly enjoyed what Myth Merchant Press have done with these kobolds and what they've presented in this product. Not only are the new kobolds and new abilities, but the product also briefly details kobold society and ecology, battle tactics, typical encounter groups, new kobold traps and even some very useful kobold counters. I will admit that some of the mechanical changes haven't been done in the smoothest way possible (using spell-like abilities for some things instead of supernatural abilities or feats), but the product does a good job of showing that the d20 ruleset is not in any way constraining on your ability to design good and useful monsters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this product. It's a well presented, well conceived product, and I'm really looking forward to the next releases in the Fantasy Fiends series. The kobolds in these pages will provide good challenges for parties over a wide range of levels, really surprise the players and provide more tactical options than your standard kobold would typically allow. This is a great product, good value for money, and well worth a look at.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds!
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The Shady Forest Part2 - Abandoned Tracks
Publisher: The Forge Studios
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/27/2008 08:54:05
The Shady Forest Part 2 - Abandoned Tracks is a 44 page pdf product and the second part of the Shady Forest set of 2D terrain tiles. The Forge Studios are well known for their fantastic art work, and their work has recently continued into the area of 1" scale, 2D tiles with quite a prolific release rate for their products. The Shady Forest is one of 3 current sets of 2D terrain tiles, each so far consisting of 2 parts, and all released within about a month. If you're a fan of 2D terrain tiles, and love building great scenery for your RPG games, then this is a welcome and excellent addition to your arsenal.

This product includes 40 full-colour 1" scale tiles, each tile being 6 by 6 squares in size. The product includes useful covers, a brief list of credits, and then a very useful sample map illustrating the use of the tiles and how they can be assembled together. I find this feature extremely useful, and I wish other publishers of similar products would do the same. It gives one the opportunity to get a feel for all the tiles involved, how they can be assembled, etc. without needing to actually print all of them at once to experiment and play with. It also gives you a good impression of the capabilities of the set, which is really useful.

As the product tile suggests, the 2D terrain tiles in the product take you off the beaten path into the more abandoned routes and places. The set includes various worn cart tracks, various trees and forest bits, rivers with bridges (broken and in tact), various carts with horses, and numerous more generic tiles for grass, embankments, shrubs and the like. There's a very good variety to the product, and all the tiles look very useful. Two bonus tiles are includes that have no connection with this set, but are still useful in general.

The Forge Studios have done a great job of providing a variety on interesting, high quality and useful tiles, all done with good artwork and thought. Looking at the overview map, I wish there were a few more tiles that could be used to build larger forests or larger clumps of shrubs and trees. As is, it's easy to build a rather repetitive looking map, simply because most of the tiles are individual tiles and not meant to be used as part of a group. Allowing groups of tiles means you generally get more unique looking structures since you have more tile configurations at your disposal. Using individual tiles gets the same job done, but on the overall picture doesn't look as good and generally appears 'pixelated' rather than flowing terrain. That doesn't take away from what is a great set of mixed tiles that can be used in pretty much any RPG game without any trouble.

The Forge Studios have done a grand job with this product, and with their whole new line of 2D terrain tiles in general. With a new product in the series coming out almost every week, there's a lot to look forward to. Shady Forest: Abandoned Tracks is a very useful, high quality set of tiles, and while there are some minor issues with repetitiveness, I think at the price and the quantity of tiles, this is a set well worth looking at.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Shady Forest Part2 - Abandoned Tracks
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