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Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2014 21:18:18
Long story short, I lost a very lengthy review because of having a web browser back on my mouse, so I'll summarize:

Digital Tools Box contains what would be two physical boxes. Each contains a lot of interesting content, though Alphaware is far more fleshed out and approaches the size and complexity of the 5th Edition core rulebook, while the Beginner Box is a quick start guide with an attached setting guide and novel excerpt.

The Beginner Box has a lot of stuff that's good. The Quick Start Guide is included here, but it would obviously be in print in a physical box. There's also the Edge of Now introductory setting guide, which is a lot less intimidating but should still give people a pretty good idea of Shadowrun's feel and setting. There's a few pre-made characters, one of whom has a solo adventure to allow you to get acquainted with play (and teach players one-on-one). There's also an excerpt from a Shadowrun novel that is both a great way to have another book on your to-buy list but also serves as an extended immersion in the setting (and covers a run from mostly-start to finish, which could be a great asset to a novice GM).

Alphaware is much more complex, and is essentially the big brother of the Beginner Box. It's also substantially more complex, sometimes in accessible ways (the reference cards could be really useful) and other times in intimidating ways (the adventures included, both solo ones for each character and in the Plots and Paydata booklet, are pretty much frameworks rather than fleshed out adventures, which may overwhelm novice GM's). Still, if you wanted to move up to the big leagues, you could do worse than Alphaware.

My largest gripe with Alphaware is that it's essentially the core rulebook cut up and shortened a little. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, but some of the excisions are pretty crippling. You won't be making any characters using Rules of the Street, though you can at least upgrade the pre-mades. Fortunately, Alphaware may consist of mostly copied page count, but what is new is pretty good for both new and returning Shadowrunners.

Each character (barring Ms. Myth, who had her day in the Beginner Box) has a solo adventure and a play-style guide, which could greatly help with novices who want to learn the game, as well as a more modification-friendly character sheet. Combine this with the reference cards, and players have no excuse for not being able to figure out how to play their character. Rules of the Street is still pretty intimidating, but being in Alphaware instead of the Beginner Box points out that it's really the first step into more advanced Shadowrun rules; rules that leave out technomancers, a good chunk of the spells and gear, and a variety of other things that you wouldn't necessarily notice without having seen the originals but that feel a little painful.

Still, I actually really liked Plots and Paydata; I ran an adventure from it with my street-leve group and they liked it, though they were a little frustrated that they got caught in one of the pre-written plot twists. It's also filled to the brim with great little GM advice snippets, and I'd suggest it for any of my friends who wanted to get into GM'ing Shadowrun.

Alphaware also contains a few maps of locations, as well as a geopolitical map of Shadowrun's North America and a poster for Shadowrun.

In short, the Digital Tools Box, which contains both Alphaware and the Beginner Box for the Shadowrun introductory set is something that does not contain a lot to revisit to veterans of Shadowrun, but for those looking to transition from pre-4th Edition Shadowrun or looking to take up tabletop gaming as a hobby, it's got a lot of appeal and charm. Unfortunately, there are a few decisions to cut things that I don't find agreeable; I find the lack of character creation to be rather stifling, despite the fact that it was probably cut for space constraints.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
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Wreck Age: A Post-Collapse RPG and tabletop game
Publisher: Hyacinth Games
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2014 21:26:11
Wreck Age is a respectable, though not necessarily innovative, Post-Cataclysm roleplaying and tactical tabletop game. While it has a decent level of quality, looks good, and has enough content to stand out, ti suffers a little bit from not committing to one style or the other. Still, it's well above average, and is in many ways a good example of what such a game should be.

Mechanically, Wreck Age uses a system that is pretty reminiscent of the older Shadowrun games, with a flexible target number and multiple dice. I personally like its system, while it's perhaps a little simple for some of the more fleshed out characters. The characters' depth seems to essentially be limited in order to put them into a tabletop wargame setting without a whole lot of changes.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about its communities system. I find it to mesh incredibly well with the setting on one hand, but it seems a little impractical in play. It's definitely a hold-over from the wargaming experience that somewhat detracts from the generic image of a loosely affiliated roving band of intrepid survivors passing through the wastes. It also winds up forcing a large amount of groups into pretty well-defined categories, and while I don't think it was ever intended as a method to stifle the potential for players to belong to groups with a personality of their own it runs a very real risk of usurping the players' perceptions of their groups. Still, it's an interesting touch. I like the resemblance to Outbreak: Undead's systems, which I felt were pretty good at modeling a post-apocalyptic or post-cataclysmic survival group, so I'll give it a thumbs-up.

That's essentially the tone of the game as a whole; there's some moments of brilliance and some moments of average; Wreck Age isn't like one of the big-name games that delivers solid performance throughout; it provides a system that is either very interesting and useful, or barely passes muster. That said, it's certainly competent, and while the setting and system are integrated perhaps more than I'd like, most of the decisions made are pretty solid; indeed, some decisions (for instance, making player characters in narrative play immune to certain morale-related effects) are both gutsy and prudent, and I think that Hyacinth Games did a good job approaching the needs of both the tabletop roleplaying and tabletop wargaming genres.

As far as the final quality goes, Wreck Age has a decent amount of art, and it's not shabby. The page borders are actually the most annoying thing for me in the whole book, being this odd grungy background that would have been entirely passable for the first twenty or so pages but then becomes a little repetitive. The font choice for the page numbers also seems a little too dissonant, being a clean sci-fi font while the text is written in a font that is literally a digitization of old printing press letters. While it feels right, it's also not, perhaps, the most legible, though my gripes about fonts delve perhaps into the utmost depths of pedantry. However, while we're in the depths of pedantry, I may as well bring up my gripe with 6”x9” formatting. On a digital canvas, it doesn't help with any image resolution concerns (though Wreck Age doesn't have any glaringly low-resolution images), because the reader will probably just zoom in, and the text column widths feel really short. The editing work in the book is... haphazard. In some places it is very well polished and feels good, but there are many places where even minor edits could make the text flow better, and some grammatical mistakes slipped under the radar.

Still, at the end of the day, Wreck Age is interesting, and I think that's really what matters most. I would give it an unreserved reservation for what it is. However, it is a niche, and I'm not entirely sure that a lot of people really need to worry about both a wargame and a tabletop game, and as such I don't feel quite comfortable giving it five stars as its capacity in either area picks up a few of the detrimental elements from the other.

UPDATE: Wreck Age has been updated, which fixes a lot of my gripes with grammar and typos, as well as adding a glossary at the beginning of the game and hyperlinks to the index to capitalize on the potential of a digital PDF. While my rating remains unchanged, as I\'ve gotten pretty picky about giving out five stars recently, its quality has been greatly increased.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wreck Age: A Post-Collapse RPG and tabletop game
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Sojourner's Quest A Fantasy Role Playing Game
Publisher: Sojourner Games
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/23/2013 09:58:15
I rated Sojourner's Quest lower than it perhaps deserves, but it does have some major issues with it. For one, its editing is, quite frankly, horrible. With a lot of fragmented voice issues and just plain grammatical errors, it's basically not up to snuff when it comes to reading the way it should. It's not horrible, but it often detracts from its own points and becomes confusing to read.

I'm dubious about the 6x9 format. While that works great for print format for a professional production, I would have just stuck with 8.5x11, were I expecting people to print it out. It also means that all the text through the book is split into one awkwardly spaced column, with a lot of white space. The PDF lacks bookmarks or layers, which is okay in certain ways, but in a game with tables to look up and no appendix it's basically required in order to get things done. The note spaces provided would make up for this in print, but in a PDF format game that can't be counted on.

Rules wise, the game is mostly okay, but with some glaring errors that really are not acceptable. It's obtuse in certain ways, but not horrible; I think that there's a few things overlooked throughout, however. I don't see any rules for actually dying, though rules do exist for being knocked unconscious. This is echoed throughout the game in various ways; the rules are patchy enough that as you go through them you'll find holes in places left and right; the sort of thing that's reminiscent of a homebrew game that never got sufficient amounts of testing and editing to actually close all its loopholes. Balance wise there's no real effort to keep the game coherent with levels, and the character creation system means that almost every adventurer will be more or less equal; with simply class and attributes (eight instead of the traditional six, but also taking the place of skills), and no feats, skills, or actual disambiguation, there seems to be very little that would set two thieves apart, and it's confusing as to the exact method of completing certain tasks. A lot of things are "convince your GM" or "the GM decides", at which point you don't really need a rules system.

So, while it has some interesting ideas, Sojourner's Quest doesn't really have what it needs to be recommended to people as a game; it doesn't really do anything beyond what the d20 system already does, and it manages to take a ton of things and cram them into a single package that doesn't make much rhyme or reason of its rules. While it attempts to capitalize and highlight the same things that made early systems so appealing even to this day, it just falls short on presenting cohesive rules and a solid presentation that makes it stand out from any other game.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Sojourner's Quest A Fantasy Role Playing Game
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Publisher Reply:
Kyle, thank you for taking the time to go through the text and offer your opinion; I appreciate the effort. I can assess that you have read the PDF, and understand somewhat of the game offered therein. I shall try to respond to most of your ideas/opinions. Clarity of the writing and editing: I have had other reviews of the text, and they were a little more positive. For example, in Geek Native, it was written: \"Sojourner’s Quest is an easy game to read through. This is in part thanks to Ellis’ writing style but also because it is a straight forward game to master. The RPG feels as if it could be a young gaming group’s first tabletop experience or an old favourite for a team of veteran players.\" What you suggest about the 6\" x 9\" format is interesting. It was intended for the trade paperback. It works quite well there too. I shall consider the time and labor I would have to invest and determine if an 8.5\" x 11\" PDF format would be a wise way to go - after all, not everyone buys PDFs to print. As I have mentioned, there is a trade paperback available. When you write about the rules of the game, you suggest that they are \"mostly okay\". You have spent a lot of time on this paragraph in your review, and deserve something coherent in reply. I could have used some more specific examples of where the rules are \"patchy\". As well, in the beginning of the book, I did write that, \"You can expect from this game: spontaneity, randomness, and imaginative action and great role playing.\" In many respects it is the imagination of the Players that fulfill the balance of the game and offer its co-participant fun. Sojourner\'s Quest is a viable, well structured game that grants Players the ability to follow imagination over rules. It has been play tested in public forums, and in private gaming activities, and the variety that has been observed is a positive blend of creativity and fun. Thanks once again, Kyle! It has been a pleasure to read and respond to your opinions and feedback.
13th Age Core Book
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/18/2013 23:15:13
13th Age isn't super innovative. Let's get that out of the way ahead of time. In terms of mechanics, there's nothing that hasn't been seen before. The setting is good, but not really anything that we haven't seen. Where 13th Age succeeds, however, is in its balance of elements. 13th Age is the sort of thing that I love; it takes a game and tears it down to its basics, then reconstructs it. I'm not sure that the d20 system was the best place to apply that, but it's certainly an interesting take.

I'm not actually that negative about anything in 13th Age. It's quite possibly the most professional thing I've reviewed this year, with over three hundred pages of well-edited and beautiful content. Yes, I do perhaps put too much weight on the appearance of a game, but 13th Age is great. It has a ton of art, and none of it has any major glaring errors. It's repeated in some cases, but there's a sufficient quantity that it doesn't bother me, and most of the repetition is moving an image previously shown in part into a full frame, so it's even less egregious. 13th Age isn't the most beautiful or flashy, like L5R or Eclipse Phase, but it's got enough visuals that for a game that claims that it doesn't like going into "descriptions about what all the X look like", it does a pretty good job of communicating that because it has a drawing for almost anything.

The setting is pretty conventional. How it's handled mechanically a little less so, but it's still a pretty milquetoast inoffensive generic fantasy, with the occasional epic scene thrown in. It's cool to roleplay in, and definitely above average, but it's also nothing like Eclipse Phase that leaves one thinking for years to come on minutiae of the setting, and it's highly subject to tropes of the fantasy genre. There's not a whole lot that players won't understand; the Lich King is, of course, an undead tyrant. Still, it's worth a read, and there's some really good stuff for actually playing the game.

As far as the actual systems go, I'm a little more skeptical. I like some of the things they did to move the d20 system toward a more narrative feel; some people accuse it of going toward 4e's direction in terms of style, but I think that they're more referring to the fact that 13th Age makes everyone combat effective, rather than the actual combat-focus of the game. Moving away from skills and into backgrounds brings in an "indie game" feel (according to the authors) that is more narrative driven and, in my opinion, more interesting. However, 13th Age sticks with the d20 rules in the exact same ways that give it flaws; it escalates into a modifier fight, and while the game is intentionally designed to accept this it's still a little bit jarring that a system that progressed so well toward the narrative immediately gets driven back by a heavily limiting mechanical system.

Now, with the caveat being that I'm not a huge fan (critically, not in terms of play) of Pathfinder and 3.5, I can safely say that I prefer 13th Age. However, it's not anything that couldn't be houseruled into either of these systems, and while it's certainly got benefits it has just as many idiosyncrasies that will confuse new or transferring players. It lacks some notable features that one would expect; I'm not going to dock it for lacking a "monk" class as I've seen one reviewer do, because, quite frankly, I don't think that the setting really depends on something like that, but there are certainly places where it fell a little short, despite the fact that it's remarkably good in others.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/14/2013 23:40:25
Gun Heaven 3 expands the Shadowrun 5th Edition arsenal, and does so in an interesting manner. It pioneers new territory as far as official content we've seen in Shadowrun, and it's got a lot going for it with regards to expanding the capabilities of combatants in 5th Edition campaigns.

It's a well-done piece, with gorgeous guns throughout. There's even a good old Springfield Model 1855, should one want to go back to black powder weapons, and several other interesting guns. Sporting rifles are added back into 5th Edition, which is, in my opinion, a good thing.

A few weapons in this are archetype breakers, such as the Rain Forest carbine, a solid option for a runner with high Automatics who needs a more solid single shot weapon that hits more like a sniper rifle, and there are interesting historical weapons throughout. It also includes a good glimpse of a civilian weapons catalog, with a chunk of easy to get weapons that would be just as much in place in a homeowner's gun cabinet as in a security guard's hands. Other weapons such as the Monsoon include features and applications that we haven't seen before, even though they were supported in the previous rulesets (it uses six barrels that hold the ammunition, akin to the somewhat famous Metal Storm concept weapon).

For $8, you could go worse than Gun Heaven 3; it's got a lot of new art, the witty banter and fluff with each weapon is good, and it's got a lot of interesting guns. Of course, at the same time, it doesn't really introduce any new rules that are likely to see use in play (unless someone violates the rules of magic and time travels back to the Civil War).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/14/2013 22:42:22
Coyotes is an interesting piece. It's perhaps more for GM's than for players, but it answers the question of border crossings in Shadowrun nicely, while also providing an adventure and some guidelines for how players can get passage between places.

My main gripe with Coyotes is that it doesn't cover "unofficial" border crossings, like those done through tunnels or using thunderbirds, in very much detail. Fortunately, it gives a good idea of what to expect at border crossings, providing a good framework for roleplaying the events and actually turning crossing the border into a component of an engaging session.

Typesetting and graphics wise, I enjoyed Coyotes. There's a little bit of art repetition from prior works (I recognized one piece from SR4's Runner's Companion), but that's not a deal-breaker given the general high quality of previous works. Each page has the same header art, but it's subdued enough not to be too grating and distracting.

My only caution to people who would buy Coyotes is the price; for a short fiction, bit of fluff, and a short adventure you might do better for $8, but it's still a good product all-in-all, and if you're looking for that crucial travel information there's no better place to look.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Covert Ops Role Playing Game
Publisher: DwD Studios
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2013 22:21:49
Covert Ops is a rules-light game of espionage and intrigue that is a great choice for quality and value. In a day and age when basically everything has been released as a supplement, it packs a surprising amount of content, it includes not only a hundred-and-change page core rulebook but a similarly long GM's guide, as well as a bulky portfolio of pre-made characters and a ton of additional goodies, such as printable initiative cards, to round out the deal.Of course, having a lot of content doesn't necessarily make something good. Fortunately, that is of little concern here; while there are some small issues in the game's presentation (for instance, how skills work is a little unclear until well after you've first seen them, which had me scratching my head until all was made clear), it is by and large incredibly solid. While it doesn't necessarily have anything spectacular and unique to earn it the title of being a highly original work, it's still a collection of many features that come together to feel like a good espionage game.

My main caution to people looking at this is that it is rules-light, with all that entails. If you're looking to handle things down to a minute detail, you won't necessarily enjoy this, though its d00 system uses percentile dice and can be easily expanded upon to add more granularity if that's a necessity for you and your group. There's a couple things that are notably lacking; social skills are intended to be resolved by roleplaying (the GM's guide contains an extended ruleset that codifies this), though since skills are so intrinsically linked to the players' attributes this isn't a huge issue, as it's generally going to be sufficient to just use attributes in their place (Will and Logic, as well as the Detective skill, being the obvious stand-ins).

Typesetting wise, there's not a whole lot of innovation, but the book is solid and legible. There's enough art to keep one's eyes from beginning to doze off, but not so much that it becomes distracting, and it's of generally high quality. There's a couple typos (most egregiously "Weinmar Republic"), but these don't detract too much from the quality of the game as a whole and are rare enough to make them pretty negligible in the context of the whole game.

As far as the GM advice goes, Covert Ops includes a lot of contingencies and guides for being a rules-lite game, and includes random generation for basically everything you could need to use; while it's not going to compete with hand-made content, a GM short on time or pressed by a plot twist can pretty readily find whatever they need even if they're suffering from writer's block. The advice to GM's both is great from a general roleplaying perspective (for instance, covering how to keep the table organized and moving forward) and assisting with the espionage/spycraft genre, literary conventions, and other things that will prove invaluable for those who really want to craft a good game with an eye to detail and meaning.

I'd have no problem recommending Covert Ops to anyone. With a lot of content for $10; a great focus on the genre; and a quick, fast, and fulfilling system, Covert Ops is a solid entry in the market, though I'd caution prospective modders and remixers that the CC BY-NC-SA only covers the text (the URL in the book, as of my writing, is wrong, but you can find the full text of the license on the site) and not other parts of the book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Covert Ops Role Playing Game
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Publisher Reply:
Embarrassing! I hate it when typos gets through editing (self-editing, colleague editing, and even a paid editor)! Thanks for pointing out that particularly egregious one. \"Weimar Republic\" will be fixed in any future edits. Thanks for the great review!
Be Awesome At Freelance Game Design
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00
Be Awesome At Freelance Game Design is written by Creighton Broadhurst at Raging Swan Press. It's an interesting look at the art of making content for games. However, one thing to note is that it touches most heavily on three independent aspects: freelancing, the games industry, and then writing. If you're thinking about writing your own stuff you're not really a freelancer, but it's also important to note that the guide is more for adventure, campaign, and setting writing than for actual game design, which, to be fair, is a topic which is colossal in scope.

As far as the freelancing advice goes, Creighton is right on the money. Be Awesome At Freelance Game Design touches on all the important points of the process, including the need for professionalism in marketing yourself and the fact that as a freelancer you're not the one calling the shots but you should still retain some independence in your work, or else you'll get slogged down doing things you're not good at and don't enjoy.

The games industry insight, I feel, is particularly one-sided. Most places tell you what they want to see; Catalyst's put out huge things about the making of acceptable art on their blog, for instance, and I feel that Broadhurst really falls short by assessing pretty much exclusively the Paizo/Wizards of the Coast market and not looking into depth at publishers who have an alternate way of doing things. That's not to say it's bad; most of what you're looking for is still applicable, but you won't see Shadowrun looking for an alternate setting any time soon. Of course, a fair deal of this is because that's still one of the places that is the most prominent in the games industry, but it's also something that overlooks a potential market.

Likewise, much of the writing is exclusively oriented toward the fantasy genre and conventions, feeling like something out of the golden age of Dungeons and Dragons. A lot of this is cross-applicable, but it's annoying to a certain degree to see stuff that could be very well generalized applied to a specific context and concept; the writing's advanced enough that anyone who reads it for its fullest effect will almost certainly be capable of applying general advice to specific cases,

On the other hand, the writing advice is very solid. It reminds me a lot of some of the writing textbooks that I've really loved, but with a more practical look at adventure writing and the process of creating believable and enjoyable environments. It's good advice even for people who aren't going to professionally write for games, but the parts of it feel rushed and crammed; like the goal was to get the writing done within a length limit instead of providing everything there is to know about best practices and going beyond the simple statement of facts into their application.

So, in short, Be Awesome At Freelance Game Design is far from horrible. It's also pretty basic. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of stuff in here that's really useful, but you really need to be the target audience-a traditional Swords and Sorcery adventure writer looking to write adventures, to get the full benefit out of it. Will it help you in other fields, for instance simply as a GM? Quite possibly, though the amount of information pertinent to any of the many hats it presumes the reader will wear is limited to a brief overview of a broader field.

To summarize my summary; good, but more useful for the target audience than for the general public.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Be Awesome At Freelance Game Design
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Prowlers & Paragons Core Rules
Publisher: LakeSide Games
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2013 15:19:15
Prowlers and Paragons is a tabletop game that attempts to make everyone think it's a D&D retro clone but is actually a superhero game with an original, if not terribly innovative, system that is more than worthy of standing on its own merits. As a superhero game, it does a good job of providing a framework for highly-narrative adventures and, while it may not have the boon of a major comics publisher's licensing deal it is, in my opinion, still as good as any of the alternatives, if not better in certain ways.

Prowlers and Paragons is highly narrative in focus, and as such it doesn't go into incredible amounts of mechanical detail, something that I think makes it work a lot better. It's got a loose, at best, structure, but it is also focuses on its subject in such a way that it doesn't really need a whole lot of build-up and arbitrary crunch to do what it does, with a carefully designed set of powers, abilities, and core attributes that adequately emulate both a generic modern setting with only slightly above average protagonists and more powerful cape-wearing adventures.

Mechanically, when I was reading through Prowlers and Paragons it seemed to be most similar to the D6 system, which is seeing a resurgence in popular use, though with successes instead of a sum, something that I think adds greatly to the style of the game, though the method of counting evens as successes as opposed to just using 4-6 is a little bit against the grain. Still, it's a working system that feels like it's mechanically designed to allow for the subject matter.

My two criticisms for the system are that while it's an interesting interpretation, it's not really doing anything that hasn't been done before; it's clearly something capable of standing on its own and it doesn't owe blind allegiance to any particular other system, at least as far as I can tell, but it's also lacking any particularly new or distinct feature that makes it anything beyond what prior games have offered; it also lacks a certain degree of flexibility in characters, and balancing is a bit of a concern-some powers are available with very similar analogues, others have the opportunity to quickly become unchecked if the GM doesn't pay close enough attention to players' characters, something which should happen, but often doesn't with busy GM's, and the system is expansive enough that there are enough potential exploitative builds to slip past an inattentive or poorly practiced GM.

Looking at the writing, Prowlers and Paragons is actually rather manageable; it's got very little fluff, but it has some examples and humor inserted into the text so that it doesn't become too overbearingly difficult. It doesn't really have any major memorable fluff, though, in part because it does a very good job at essentially allowing people to recreate legally distinct but visually similar adventures to those of characters owned by large comic distributors, but it's also not particularly bland or boring; it may not have fun stuff scattered throughout but it enjoys itself enough that it's not bland and can mess around a little.

Artistically, the book actually is pretty satisfying. My only real gripe with it is that there was at least one picture in which aliasing was an issue on the art; it tends to just mirror and repeat its page wrappers, but they change out every chapter so you're not staring at the same thing for the whole prolonged read. It brings back fond memories of comics for me, which is enough to make it successful. There's a couple of typesetting issues throughout, but these are largely inconsequential in light of the fact that it still does a very good job getting the vibe of a superhero adventure down without becoming illegible or cramming it down the reader's throat.

So, in short: Prowlers and Paragons doesn't innovate, but it's also a very solid product that does its job well and doesn't waste time. There's a few minor flaws with it, but for the most part it only loses points on account of the fact that it's just not anything new-it's a technically solid execution of a design that I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone looking for an entry to the genre.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Prowlers & Paragons Core Rules
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Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/31/2013 11:08:24
Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer. It's not bad, but I'm reviewing it harshly. Most of this is because of two major reasons: Catalyst is a really, really, good company most of the time, and The Assassin's Primer just feels average and "meh". It's not that it's bad, but the practical uses are limited at the actual tabletop, and it's not their best work.

First, let's look at the focus of The Assassin's Primer. It boasts "A gun and a handful of new qualities", which is somewhat exciting as it is an early extension to Fifth Edition, but it's not really anything to get too excited over. The gun is the venerable SVD, statted out to be an extreme low-end sniper rifle for the everyman. It feels like it doesn't fill a niche, though, and it seems a little unrealistic were we to actually look at the gun statistics; the SVD may use a standard assault rifle round, but I sincerely doubt that it's going to be doing 10P where a sporting rifle is doing 11P; the sporting rifles are likely the case of inflation here. The qualities are interesting, though two of the five are essentially the same thing, but with religion or nationalism respectively driving an assassin's actions. The other qualities balance certain elements of a character to make them better in certain situations and worse in others.

Second, let's look at how useful it actually will be. While it provides an interesting in-setting glimpse, this isn't the sort of thing that I care to get a supplement for, especially since there's a lot of Shadowrun literature available and this doesn't really touch on any important changes in the timeline. In this sense, it's a little redundant, but a good introductory piece and probably something worth taking a look at. However, it explicitly states that one of the good approaches to an assassin may be to treat him like a mage or hacker and just give him separate tasks that pertain to the mission, something that taxes an already GM-intensive system further. Most of the advice that pertains to a hitman is just the general Shadowrunner rules of the road applied with twice as much rigor, which isn't too unexpected nor is it particularly enlightening.

Finally, the production value is actually what brought this down from a four-star rating to a three-star one in my mind. Shadowrun's always been one of those games with a really solid feel, so imagine my dismay when the first thing I see is Arial. I don't have anything against the font, but it's just not Shadowrun. To be fair, this is an easy fix, and could simply come from having been transferred to a machine that didn't have the proper font installed, and most people probably won't care about it, but it just put me off from the very get-go. The same page-topper is used on every page (which would probably bother people more in print than in digital, but it's the sort of thing I look for), so facing pages would have an identical and highly distinctive appearance, which really devalues the feel of the work and art.

So, in short; it's perhaps misdirected, doesn't offer anything new, and has some major issues, but for a newcomer to Shadowrun it might provide a valuable insight to the setting, and it does provide a couple new list entries, even if they're not meaningfully different from other things.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Assassin's Primer
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
Publisher: Tobiah Panshin
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 00:37:18
Tobiah Q. Panshin's The Game Master is an interesting book from front to back, one which is both wonderful and cringe-worthy at the same time. Of all things, perhaps its worst is its inconsistency; verging from academic-styled formal writing to wonderfully light informal prose, it does few things explicitly wrong but doesn't seem to know where it is. Nonetheless, it's something that I would recommend, with a caveat.

The Game Master, for instance, is aimed at novices, and while it's not terribly difficult to read and does a decent job at explaining its terminology (sometimes after using it nonchalantly), it has some things that are both not terribly applicable to a new player or GM, and can potentially cause more harm than good. While it's generally thoughtful, there are several instances of hyperbole (for instance, the statement that a freshly created vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade can shrug off machine gun fire) and it tends to do an odd mix of advanced theoretical work and some really weak practical examples.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole book is its dissertations on narrative; while not a focus of the piece it has some things that would have helped many of the novice GM's I know incredibly. Is it the best source for this? I'm not entirely sure. The book does a good job of discussing the role of group narrative but often leaves bits and pieces that I'd like to see out, something that doesn't do too much harm to the general point of the book as an introduction to gaming but hinders it in its value. Still, the sections on narrative are well-made and I'd recommend them to anyone either as a refresher or an eye-opener. Unfortunately, some of the more game-related things do not fall into the category of being so wholly beneficial. While it's clear that Tobiah has a great understanding of roleplaying as a hobby and a great conceptualization of various games within the context of the whole canon of gaming, the writing within has the unfortunate effect of transferring very little of it to the reader. There are footnotes that are assertively unhelpful (one, for instance, points out the meaning of the term "min-max" the page after a prior footnote uses it), and a lot of blanket assessments that are just not accurate, though they may be true in a handful of cases. The actual game advice is much less helpful than the deconstruction of narrative forms that create a satisfying table experience. A lot of this may be my own personal opinion, of course, since as Panshin recognizes much of gaming revolves around having fun, and different people will have different definitions and sources of fun.

All-in-all, The Game Master is not a conclusive resource for advice on running a game, nor is it the first thing I'd hand a prospective player or game master and tell them to read through it and gain some sort of inviolate knowledge of gaming. Of course, such a thing will probably never be written-such is the nuanced nature of gaming. I'd place it in the mid-range; something for someone who's run a few games and formed their own opinions on how things work, or who already has a basic knowledge of how things work-it's a wonderful contribution to the theory of gaming and play but not necessarily a solution to the ills of a novice.

It's available on a pay-what-you-want basis, and despite my harsh criticisms and the general fluctuating quality, I'd give The Game Master a 4/5, and actually recommend that anyone reads it, at least a little, because there are valuable perspectives to be had here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying
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The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
Publisher: Tobiah Panshin
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 00:36:40
Tobiah Q. Panshin's The Game Master is an interesting book from front to back, one which is both wonderful and cringe-worthy at the same time. Of all things, perhaps its worst is its inconsistency; verging from academic-styled formal writing to wonderfully light informal prose, it does few things explicitly wrong but doesn't seem to know where it is. Nonetheless, it's something that I would recommend, with a caveat.

The Game Master, for instance, is aimed at novices, and while it's not terribly difficult to read and does a decent job at explaining its terminology (sometimes after using it nonchalantly), it has some things that are both not terribly applicable to a new player or GM, and can potentially cause more harm than good. While it's generally thoughtful, there are several instances of hyperbole (for instance, the statement that a freshly created vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade can shrug off machine gun fire) and it tends to do an odd mix of advanced theoretical work and some really weak practical examples.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole book is its dissertations on narrative; while not a focus of the piece it has some things that would have helped many of the novice GM's I know incredibly. Is it the best source for this? I'm not entirely sure. The book does a good job of discussing the role of group narrative but often leaves bits and pieces that I'd like to see out, something that doesn't do too much harm to the general point of the book as an introduction to gaming but hinders it in its value. Still, the sections on narrative are well-made and I'd recommend them to anyone either as a refresher or an eye-opener. Unfortunately, some of the more game-related things do not fall into the category of being so wholly beneficial. While it's clear that Tobiah has a great understanding of roleplaying as a hobby and a great conceptualization of various games within the context of the whole canon of gaming, the writing within has the unfortunate effect of transferring very little of it to the reader. There are footnotes that are assertively unhelpful (one, for instance, points out the meaning of the term "min-max" the page after a prior footnote uses it), and a lot of blanket assessments that are just not accurate, though they may be true in a handful of cases. The actual game advice is much less helpful than the deconstruction of narrative forms that create a satisfying table experience. A lot of this may be my own personal opinion, of course, since as Panshin recognizes much of gaming revolves around having fun, and different people will have different definitions and sources of fun.

All-in-all, The Game Master is not a conclusive resource for advice on running a game, nor is it the first thing I'd hand a prospective player or game master and tell them to read through it and gain some sort of inviolate knowledge of gaming. Of course, such a thing will probably never be written-such is the nuanced nature of gaming. I'd place it in the mid-range; something for someone who's run a few games and formed their own opinions on how things work, or who already has a basic knowledge of how things work-it's a wonderful contribution to the theory of gaming and play but not necessarily a solution to the ills of a novice.

It's available on a pay-what-you-want basis, and despite my harsh criticisms and the general fluctuating quality, I'd give The Game Master a 4/5, and actually recommend that anyone reads it, at least a little, because there are valuable perspectives to be had here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Game Master: A Guide to the Art and Theory of Roleplaying - Print Edition
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Eclipse Phase: Transhuman
Publisher: Posthuman Studios LLC
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2013 15:28:37
Eclipse Phase is one of my favorite games, but I'm not beyond admitting that it has its faults, some of them pretty serious. For one thing, although there was a great range of morphs and the game really felt like it vibrantly embraced the question of not only transhumanism but the practicality of a diverse and exotic range of morphs, it didn't really feel like the rules did. Transhuman, which could best be described as their player's guide, does a great job of fixing a lot of those issues, and introduces a lot of new content.

The first thing I should emphasize is that unlike Rimward, Panopticon, Sunward, or Gatecrasher, Transhuman does not introduce new setting elements; it tends to expound on prior content, by providing deeper psychological and sociological background for certain things, such as the general perception of uplifts or the differences between different types of AGI. It generally adds a lot more depth to the setting, further refining a lot of the psychological things that can go on and clarifying the legal structures of the solar system in the years after the Fall.


Mind you, that's not to say that there's not new content in Eclipse Phase. There are tons of new things, from new morphs to rules diversifications, it's a very meaty book, containing everything from practical adjustments to combat to reflect the fact that a space whale functions very differently than a microbot in battle; Eclipse Phase's core system is such that it's not really possible to achieve a perfect granularity without explicitly relegating certain things to a different scale, but Transhuman does a pretty good job of modeling the differences between a novacrab and a neotenic, and while there will still be some things that fall outside the realms of plausible mechanics there is a lot more stuff here that really adds to the experience.

Looking at the book a little more objectively, it's about 240 pages of well-written content, and unlike Eclipse Phase's usual style a surprisingly large chunk of that is directly number driven, from the life path and package buy character creation systems and the new combat rules, as well as enhanced rules for swarms and other exotic morphs (including Flexbots), not to mention a variety of other non-combat rules for helping keep the game on track. Additional sleights for the asyncs also take up a portion of the book, though asyncs are covered mostly on the fluff side. One important note, though, is that the life paths are not meant to be balanced; as the note beforehand says, some characters will be lucky, some unlucky, so it's perfectly possible to roll a character who dies multiple times before the game even begins while another gets lucky and starts with everything going perfectly, something that GM's may wish to look out for if they maintain strict player balance in their campaigns.

I really did enjoy the book; the typesetting is Eclipse Phase's usual, which still remains fresh after well over a thousand pages, with plenty of color and vibrancy without causing any difficulty with legibility. The art is for the most part good though a couple of the faces caused an uncanny valley response; the majority of the art is of really good quality and really engages the setting well (though with a mite too much action for Firewall agents who want to get out alive).

If you play Eclipse Phase, Transhuman will make a great addition; it doesn't solve all the problems with the system, but it transforms the mechanics into something much greater than they were before while including plenty of new options to customize your game, and generally is a direct improvement, even if it does mean a little more complexity.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eclipse Phase: Transhuman
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The Void Core PDF
Publisher: WildFire
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/04/2013 00:18:55
I've had a lot of family issues going on and I've been reading in the downtime between stuff going on, so I've just been voraciously going at anything that I can get my hands on that looks interesting. The Void looked pretty interesting to me when I first saw it, and it wasn't disappointing. The fact that it's Creative Commons licensed and available as pay-what-you want was particularly interesting, as I've always been a fan of open licensing, and even though in the past such games as Eclipse Phase have done major releases in CC they haven't made themselves widely available for free.

First things first, The Void is Lovecraftian in many senses of the word. If one got really technical on The Void, it tends to be more action-oriented than Lovecraftian tales, and while some of the in-game fiction is both creepy in the perfect survival-horrror way and manages to pull off the Lovecraftian elements well, you'll be looking at less true-to-Lovecraft and more Lovecraft-inspired, though that's true of most of the things that build upon his works. However, while it's not true to Lovecraft's original vision because the entities can be categorized and studied, it's still relatively truthful to Lovecraft's thematics and the universe builds heavily upon his lore. That said, it feels really a lot more like a late Resident Evil series game than Lovecraft; nasty slimy things wanting to lay eggs within/psychically traumatize/eat the characters is a major theme, which doesn't necessarily mesh so well with Lovecraft's more abstract visions of the genre, but still works very well for horror.

As far as the game goes, it uses a d6 pool system that won't feel strange to people who have played Shadowrun or World of Darkness games; roll above a certain number to get successes, then continue as you would. It's got a lot of good design decisions, and it's both fluid but steers clear of issues that come from, say, percentile based systems where success is too predictable/numerical, since every roll feels like a chance to either succeed wonderfully or fail miserably, reinforcing the genre feel. It's not hyper-lethal (though an unarmored fighter will go down pretty quick), as far as rulesets go, but it's certainly not something that treats combat lightly.

As far as the PDF goes, the text feels oddly large (it's something like 12.5 pt, I think, which isn't bad but sure feels kinda large), but it's pretty and there's lots of art; it may be available as a pay-what-you-want title, but the production values are very good; the art's all in color and pretty lovely. Length-wise it's not the longest, nor does it go into very much detail on any given thing, but it's certainly got a coherent direction and it covers everything that it needs to, plus the fiction's pretty good, though there are some bumps in quality between each of the individual opening stories. At one point there's a repeated part with the planet outlines, which I think are meant to just be handouts but it's still deja vu when you go back and recognize the exact same text as you saw in the beginning of the book at the end.

All-in-all, it's got its flaws that keep it from getting a perfect rating, but The Void really accomplishes what it sets out to do; it's a terrifying Lovecraftian space adventure game with slick and polished rules. It's definitely worth a look, especially since you can check it out for free, and I think it's going to get a place in my collection of things to keep on hand for a rainy day and some unsuspecting players.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Void Core PDF
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BattleTech: Alpha Strike
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Kyle W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2013 16:08:39
I'm a long-time fan of BattleTech, in part because I grew up playing the MechWarrior video games and quickly fell in love with the wargame as soon as I discovered it. Alpha Strike is a bit of an oddity; on one hand, it attempts to include all the features and complications in BattleTech, but do so in a way that minimizes bookkeeping and allows for a faster form of play.

The game comes with Introductory, Standard, and Advanced rules, including another little section for aerospace, all of which are significantly faster than those of traditional BattleTech. It's immediately clear that faster does not equal easier; the game isn't dumbed down (though the Introductory ruleset is good for beginners), so if you were just hoping for a game to play with a couple buddies who hadn't played before, you'll be best off sticking to the Introductory rules. That said, you'll have to do a lot less bookkeeping with Alpha Strike, so even if the rules are more or less as difficult as normal BattleTech, you'll still be able to enjoy an interesting ruleset without having to track how much damage a 'Mech's arm has taken and each of the weapons individually, which does make the game a lot easier for novices to understand. In addition, the fact that you're working on smaller scales than normal BattleTech (i.e. unit versus limb for 'Mechs) means that you'll have to worry a little less about certain rules and weapon functions, and the move to consolidate as much stuff as possible into a one-size-fits all category (for instance, how all 'Mechs all use the same ranges, though some can't attack at Long range) means that there is less worrying about checking record sheets and more play.

As far as the game goes, it's more or less what can be expected-it's not exactly revolutionizing wargaming because BattleTech's already a huge influence in the market and taking this approach has been done before. Fortunately, since part of those expectations include high quality, it's worth noting that you can have a ridiculous amount of complexity going on-Alpha Strike simplifies the record keeping more than the rules themselves, so you can still enjoy advanced features such as C3 or artillery without having to worry about what the new system does to them. Everything's scaled down pretty much mathematically, so you can expect similar results in Alpha Strike as you would in normal BattleTech, with the slight loss of precision that comes from the fact that there are smaller numbers and the like doing little to the expected outcomes of conflicts-a Gunslinger can blow away a Jackal in one turn just as it could when you track all the guns and parts individually using traditional BattleTech rules.

From a production perspective, Alpha Strike is as you expect. There weren't any major errors, but there were a couple typos in there-for the most part, however, the typesetting was spot on without any errors, and the art, which is the traditional "take pictures of a set up scenario on the table" is fine and accompanied by useful diagrams that help drive home the point of things. Toss in some examples, and the nice added touch of all the tables being compiled at the end of the PDF, and Alpha Strike shapes up to be a very well put-together book.

So, in short, Alpha Strike is exactly what it says on the tin, a "fast-playing form of BattleTech" that emphasizes quick results that perhaps lack some of the nuance of its more complex cousin but that still provides a plethora of tactical options.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BattleTech: Alpha Strike
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