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Heavenring Village: Black Gryphon Inn
Publisher: 0one Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/31/2016 12:30:21

Given the natural affinity of adventuring parties for inns (and the tendency for brawls to break out necessitating a change of hostelry!), you can never have too many inn floorplans in your collection. This one is a straightforward village inn, designed as part of the Heavenring Village set), with ample stabling and several nice rooms for those who wish to stay the night as well as a large common room/bar, kitchens and even indoor toilets! Accommodation ranges from multiple occupancy, with stragicially-placed cupboards to give a modicum of privacy, to a spacious suite with its own bathroom. The owner's apartment also features. Detail is excellent, down to an array of bottles on the backbar and a keyboard instrument for budding bards in the corner of the bar which also boasts tables set up for dining and gambling.

The usual technological abilities of 0one Games shine through with their 'Rule the Dungeon' system that allows you to decide precisely what is printed on your floortiles - choice of hex grid, square grid or none at all, presence/absence of doors and furniture and so on.

In a nice design feature, all the residential rooms open to the outside - those in a hurry or wishing to avoid attention do not need to resort to climbing out of windows if they do not care to go through the common room. Indeed it looks a pleasant place to stay... and menu suggestions include giant black potatoes stuffed with cheese and onions, slices of salmon grilled with spices, and the renowned Heavenring caviar with toasted bread and fresh butter. The caviar is harvested from local salmon caught in the river that surrounds the village. Sounds like a nice place for a pub lunch!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Heavenring Village: Black Gryphon Inn
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Bandits of Calhaven
Publisher: Gorgon Breath Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/28/2016 12:27:47

The book opens with some Setting Assumptions which paint broad brushstrokes of background - a mediaeval/fantasy world in which a great empire has declined and fallen leaving a 'Dark Age' behind, with warring races destroying a lengthy time of peace and prosperity. Set against this backdrop, the adventure is designed as a possible campaign-starter, taking a party from 1st to 3rd level, or something that can be woven into your own plots or used stand-alone if preferred. The Adventure Background follows. Taking place in the settlement of Blackhorse, close to the city of Calhaven which has fallen to bandits, it involves a search for the innkeeper's son who has vanished.

The first part of the adventure introduces Blackhorse, before the action moves to Calhaven and the discovery that bandits are the least of the city's woes. Whilst the structure of the adventure is sound, you'll have to do quite a bit of work to flesh it all out - for a start, maps of Blackhorse, Calhaven and the surrounding area would come in useful; and it is not clear how a beginning character is to find enough to do to be third level by the end... perhaps using Blackhorse as a base for running a few other adventures before the party even goes to Calhaven (or at least, before they start hunting for the missing boy) might give them the necessary experience to deal with the Big Bad Guy at the climax of the adventure.

There are quite a few illustrations and a single floorplan - the Imperial Centre, which houses more than one wonder. Monster and NPC stat blocks and information is all at the end, along with random encounter tables for various stages of the adventure. The text, however, makes it plain who is where and what they are doing when the party encounters them and, of course, how they'll respond to the party's likely actions.

Overall, it's a promising start from a new publisher, and has considerable potential for futher development. It just feels a little more like an adventure outline than a full-blown adventure, fine if you enjoy adding flesh to the bones either before you run the game or on the fly... but the bones are sound, which make for a good beginning.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bandits of Calhaven
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the review! We really appreciate the feedback. One point we'll respond to is XP. If you're running Bandits of Calhaven with 5th edition D&D, the adventure has enough XP to reach 3rd level as written. The party hits 2nd level at 300 XP and 3rd at 900 XP, which is only a handful of combat encounters. You'll definitely want additional quests if using another system, but 5e shouldn't give you much trouble on that front. (And even then, one of the playtest groups managed to complete the adventure at Level 2, so...)
Whispers of the Dark Daeva (5th Edition)
Publisher: Ondine Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/27/2016 09:21:59

This adventure is set in an amazing city called Parsantium. Although there's sufficient material within its pages for you to run it, for best effect go and grab a copy of Parsantium: City at the Crossroads - if you like intricate cities you won't regret it.

The first section, Running the Adventure, explains the background to the adventure which involves an ancient evil reaching forth once more and provides a brief introduction to Parsantium and an adventure summary. There's a detailed run-down of the ancient evil in question, and some hooks to help get the party involved in the adventure. There's a major festival soon, and quite understandibly folks would like it to be free of ancient evils.

Then the adventure proper begins, for once not in a tavern... it just leads to one later on. Not straightaway, however, the action begins with someone running amok on the docks. As events unfold, the party discovers that this is but the latest incident in a series of bewildering brawls that have involved people not normally known for being violent. Neatly, if the party isn't moved to investigate on its own, they'll be asked to find out what is going on and put a stop to it. Along the way there's an exciting and cinematic chase across a floating village and plenty of interesting people to talk to before they get to that tavern, and there are also opportunities for research as well as for action.

The tavern itself is well-described and there's a neat way in which some characters might pick up on there being something wrong even before they start delving below through the tavern cellar to the terrors that lurk in the sewars beneath. Never mind any ancient evils, the smells and sights of the sewars are bad enough - enjoy the atmospheric descriptions as the party explores...

The finale is suitably climactic, and there are notes to help you deal with the party's success or failure as appropriate. Overall it makes a stirring adventure which gives the party a chance to make a name for themselves at least in this corner of town. It's full of neat tricks to build up atmosphere and add to the realism of the town as well as to provide a suitably creepy feel that grows along with the body count!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Whispers of the Dark Daeva (5th Edition)
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Secret Societies: The Knights of the Rose and Cross (Book 1)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/26/2016 12:02:51

The Knights of the Rose and Cross are one of several secret societies in Théah, societies that cross international borders and pursue their own agendas. The Introduction takes pains to comment that the information about the Knights given here are but one view of the society, and it is up to the GM to determine what is the actual truth in his game. This is what might be discovered by diligent investigation by individuals or the party, but it is unlikely that outsiders, or even regular members, will be able to find out all their secrets. To the casual observer, the Knights appear to be a mere gentlemen's social club, but of course there is much more for the discerning eye to discover...

Chapter 1: The Order makes a start, beginning with a section called The Public Face. The Knights do not hide away after all, and this section covers what most Théans know about them. This information should be available to any character who is interested enough to search it out. The society first came to light in 1613 with the publication of a pamphlet that explained the organisation as being a secret band of gentlemen dedicated to three Vows: to bring justice to the unjust, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and to serve those who wore the sacred seal of the Order. The origins of this pamphlet, and the several that followed it, were unexplained, moreover it said that those who followed the Rose and Cross were invisible. passing unknown through society. The Vaticine Church was not impressed and went to great lengths in their unsuccessful attempts to track down whoever was behind it all. A few high-profile rescues of individuals from danger followed and then one day over one hundred highly-placed men put on badges bearing the rose and cross symbol... and by 1617 the Order was recognised by the Hierophant. Speculation continues, as they are still very secretive: you might know where one of their Chapter Houses is, but unless you are a member you may not enter. Like any such group, it's attracted those who want to publicise their secrets, and the work of one such investigator is presented here. Make of it what you please.

The next section is The Private Agenda, which comes with a warning that it ought not to be read by those whose characters are not members of the Order. It is far more ancient than the first public appearances of 1613, and here is a run-through of its origins and history. The Knights were both warriors and scholars. Students of history will note that the early history of the Knights of the Rose and Cross is similar to that of the real-world Knights Templars, woven through the history of Théah to make it appropriate to this setting, and of course continuing into more modern times, the Knights still being active in 1668. The actual nature and structure of the Order is discussed, along with details of life as a Knight. Ranks, secret codes, legends and more are covered, and this is followed by an entire section on the Order's resources. This includes a listing of chapter houses throughout Théah.

The next chapter is Hero, which contains details of many prominent Knights and other notables connected with the Order. Each comes with background details, stat block and role-playing notes, and there are sketches of most of them too. This is followed by Chapter 3: Drama, which provides apposite new rules material. There's a swordsman school available only to Knights, new advantages and even the game mechanics for establishing a chapter house. Other rules cover the extreme athleticism of the Knights, leaping roof to roof is commonplace - it would seem they enjoy parkour! Here are the rules for epic aerial, or at least rooftop, antics. The chapter finishes with notes on some unusual artefacts in the Order's possession.

Finally, Chapter 4: Knight contains material for Players and for Game Masters. The Player section peeks behind the scenes of the design process that went into the Order of the Rose and Cross, as well as a look at alchemical symbolism and chivalry as it is known in Théah. The GM section includes a brief scenario and other plot ideas, a complete chapter house, and a few secrets only briefly touched upon in the rest of the book. In essence, there's a complete quickstart campaign for those who want to run games in which the Order features large, indeed is central to the party.

There's a lot here to take in. It would be easy to dismiss it as derivative, but it is a lot more than that. Those who would adventure at sea have the Brotherhood of the Coast as a framework, the Order supplies similar structure for those who would swash their buckle on land. Knights don't need to search out adventures, they come to them almost automatically - and if there's any paucity of opportunity, a quick word with the Order's hierarchy will soon suggest something worth getting involved with. Indeed it can make a complete campaign with the party all members, perhaps working their way up through the ranks. Well worth including in your game as epic background, even if your players do not wish to become Knights, and if they do... it is the stuff of which 7th Sea adventures are made!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secret Societies: The Knights of the Rose and Cross (Book 1)
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High Guard: Aslan
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/24/2016 11:38:06

This resource supplies Aslan-specific information to supplement and enhance material in the core High Guard book. The Introduction comments that technologically Alsan ships are pretty much like those used by humans (unsurprising given similar size and physiological requirements), but there are of course differences based on culture. In keeping with Aslan traditions, pilots are usually male (and in nominal command) whilst astrogators and engineers are usually female. Control systems also display a gender divide: those used by males are simplistic and show only basic and important information, those for females are complex, often bewilderingly so. Ships are highly decorated, even military ones, and all carry a Shrine to Heroes when crew members can meditate and draw inner strength. A common way of passing the time in space is the telling of stories, a communal event attended by passengers and off-duty crew alike.

After this overview, the remainder of the book contains extensive details of a number of different Aslan vessels. Each comes with full statistics, some background notes, isometric plans and sketches of the exterior (colourful, of course, it is the Aslan way).

Giving some insights into Aslan life in the black, this book presents some fifteen novel vessels, each quite ideosyncratic and definitely Aslan in style to enhance your spaceways. Of particular use if you have Aslan in the party or are venturing into the Hierate, the Aslan get everywhere so one of these colourful vessels may show up wherever the party might happen to be. Hopefully they are in a friendly mood...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
High Guard: Aslan
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Campaign Events: Masquerade Ball
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/23/2016 10:49:55

The idea behind this work is that, whilst the thought of running an encounter (or even an entire scenario) at a masquerade ball might well appeal, especially in a campaign where things like courtly intrigue figure large, the amount of creative input necessary to set it all up might deter you from actually staging one in your game. So here are some resources to make that ball not only happen but come to life!

Jumping straight in, the first d100 table provides an array of mundane masks you can use as you describe the scene. The second table has a similar list, only these are magical masks that sctually do something - tendrils wiggle, maybe they emit smoke or perfume - or are otherwise exotic... I quite like the thought of an illusion that shows the wearer decapitated with the (masked, of course) head tucked under one arm! It's not all masks, the next two tables cover male and female costumes. If even mixing and matching this lot proves too taxing, try the next table which provides thumbnail 'Folks of Interest' for the party to encounter. Maybe Ogden Darrak (N male human expert 2, who is wearing draped, white robes and has his skin is painted white, to resemble the statues of a lost civilization. He answers every question with an appropriate quote from that era's literature) will enliven your evening. Or perhaps an off-duty assassin who is getting annoyed because everybody is avoiding him, or a member of a secret cult in the full regalia of that cult... not to mention the fellow dressed as a farmer who insists he's only here to deliver turnips...

The final table provides some twenty Hooks, Complications and Opportunities. No matter what you have planned as part of your plot, it's worth throwing in a few of these. Some involve the party directly (and may distract them from whatever they came to the party to do), others can be mere background - of course, the party can get involved if they want - any could lead to an entire new adventure or strand in your overall story.

Combine this with one of the fantasy food and drink products out there, and you have everything you need to stage a masquerade ball that your party (and their players) will be talking about for a good while to come. A very useful resource.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Events: Masquerade Ball
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DD1: Fane of the Undying Sleeper
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 09:58:08

Diving straight in, the 'anatomy' of an encounter is explained - this refers to the logical way in which information is presented in the work, the aim being to present it in the order in which the GM will need it when actually running the game (not, of course, that the adventure will not benefit from the GM reading it through in advance and undertaking any other preparatory work they feel necessary!). This is followed by what is in essence a master class on how to read a stat block - very informative, especially for those who are less rules-focussed in their approach to games.

Next comes a brief backstory, about a pretty vile cult (even by sahuagin and skum standards) that used to worship at the adventure site and how it all ended. The adventure itself begins when the party arrives on the wet, seaweed-covered steps to the Fane itself. As an aid to getting them there, several adventure hooks are provided - one has it as pure chance when they are looking for something else or have even been shipwrecked at the right place! If they have gone there on purpose, via one of the other hooks or something else of your own, there are some rumours to hear and information to be gathers, should the party have a mind to do so. A sidebar contains notes about placing the adventure in your own campaign world, and what you'll need to have (or change in the adventure).

We then move on to the adventure proper, with the entrance to the Fane complete with dramatic description and all manner of window-dressing to make it even more interesting. Once the party gains access, the detail continues, with attempts to involve all the senses (sounds and smells are described along with descriptions of what is to be seen). There's plenty to keep the party absorbed and busy, with a good multiplicity of ways to accomplish things (like getting in - there's a list of ways in which they might get the door open in the first place). They may be in for a few surprises, and there are naturally opportunities for a fight.

The conclusion leaves plenty of options, and there are a couple of suggestions for further adventures. Just remember to keep an eye on the tide... This is a neat, well-constructed concise delve for any group that enjoys exploration.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DD1: Fane of the Undying Sleeper
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the lovely review, Megan. Much appreciated.
Waves of Blood
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:05:35

Now I don't play card games at all, but apparently there was a collectable card game (CCG) based on the same world as the 7th Sea RPG, and this book is a 'cross-over' intended to facilitate sharing of ideas between the RPG and the CCG. The Introduction explains that much of it was intended to enable CCG players to make use of role-playing material, but that role-players may also find ideas and information to use on the table-top.

The first chapter, History, presents the storyline as used in the CCG. This involves a long and dangerous search for a mysterious island called Cabora that had long lain hidden beneath the sea, by the machinations of the mysterious Syrenth. Just about every nation and faction you can imagine got involved in this search. Plenty of swashbuckling and skirmishes, particularly at sea, ensued as all these rivals searched for a series of 'switches' that would eventually cause Cabora to arise. It all makes for an exciting and epic story and - if your party are not avid card players - could quite easily be turned into an excellent role-playing campaign. (I must confess I'm quite baffled as to how you tell such a story with a card game, though! I think it served more as background to combats between CCG players.) If you are planning such a thing, the timeline in the back of the book will be invaluable.

Then the next chapter, Factions and Places, is about turning features from the CCG into resources for your game, with detailed descriptions of the various factions used in the CCG. Each faction - and there are quite a few! - has its history, structure, tactics and notes on their crews laid out. We also hear about legendary ships and notable locations that have featured in the CCG. Plenty of scope to gather background flavour for your role-playing game here.

Chapter 3: GM's Section looks at adventures at sea and at faction-based adventures. These only work if everyone at the table belongs to the same faction, of course... unless you want a real brawl on your hands. There's also a list of all the artefacts that have turned up in the CCG complete with descriptions of their powers and abilities, a discussion of their current whereabouts, and adventure hooks that are mostly quests to retrieve the item in question. There is also all you might need to bring the horrifying legend of the Black Freighter to your table, as well as plenty of the secrets of the lost isle of Cabora itself. This includes some devilish traps which might come in handy.

Finally, Chapter 4: Rules enables you to convert personalities from the CCG into characters for the role-playing game, and to create cards for your favourite player-characters if you'd like to do that. There are some new bits and pieces for role-playing characters based on stuff in the CCG, and a swordsman school - it's the Rogers one from the Pirate Nations sourcebook - that's appropriate for characters originating from the CCG. New backgrounds, skills and items follow, along with some advanced sailing rules and ones for nautical battles. The book rounds off with two appendices, the first covering locations and a timeline for the CCG (invaluable if you want to reuse that storyline in your role-playing campaign), and the second containing full stat blocks and background information for many of the CCG's most prominent figures.

So, is this useful? It certainly is if you think that the plotline of the CCG would make a good role-playing campaign - and if your tastes lean towards derring-do on the high seas with a strong flavour of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it probably will - provided your players are not CCG fanatics who already know it, of course. It's certainly good to see all the hard work and imagination that went into the CCG presented in a useful form for role-players.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Waves of Blood
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Nations of Théah: The Pirate Nations (Book 1)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2016 07:44:41

In a cinematic game where swordfighting is an art form, what better way to swash your buckle than become a pirate? Yet the Introduction takes a more philosophical tone, describing how real-world priates of the 17th century operated an egalitation democracy that it took landlubbers a couple more centuries to develop (if indeed they've even managed it yet). The pirates of Théah are similar, seeing themselves almost as another nation, with a common bond forged by their lifestyle and the way in which each ship-load organises itself.

First up, though, is Chapter 1: Ports of Call. Even pirates set foot on dry land sometimes, so here are some places where they might feel at home. Summon up the visual images from The Pirates of the Caribbean, and visit the Straits of Blood. Several taverns and houses of ill-repute can be found here, and there's plenty of atmosphere and background stories to help you make it all come alive. If this very traditional pirate refuge doesn't suit, try La Bucca - a settlement built on the remains of a failed experiment in creating a self-regulating prison community on a remote island. Now it's home to a community that, although on land, lives by pirate rules like a ship. Or maybe Caguine, a nest of smugglers and scoundrels languishing under a Sidhe course takes your fancy. There are sketchmaps of each place, but it's a bit harder to determine where they actually are on Théah. Some pirate legends to beguile the party are also provided (the GM can decide if there's any truth to them, of course) to round out this chapter.

Next, Chapter 2: Pirate presents details of six of the best-known pirate bands infesting the seas of Théah. Find out their stories, organisation, tactics and more... will these be the party's enemies, allies or bosom companions? Leading NPCs are detailed here too, so you know with whom you are dealing - a horde of fellows you'd probably not want to meet in a dark alley, at least, not without your sword to hand!

Then, Chapter 3: Drama contains a bunch of game mechanics aimed at bringing pirate goodness into your game. Here, for the first time, the Destiny Spread aid to character creation is explained (most of the other Nations sourcebooks have a variant on it suited to that particular region). Best done with a Tarot deck if you have one, but there's an alternate method mostly using die rolls if you don't. There's a new swordsman school that teaches what are in effect cinematic piratical tricks, new advantages and backgrounds, new rules to handle languages in a polyglot crew, new skills and even new items... If that's not enough, learn to duel pirate style and even find rules for holding your liquour (or not, as the case might be). More rules cover sailing and naval battles, and there's a discussion about when - and if - a GM should ever deprive a hero of one of his advantages.

This is followed by Chapter 4: Sailor Sourcebook. Herein is a discussion about running a pirate-centric campaign, advancing the idea that choosing one doesn't necessarily mean that trips ashore are no more than opportunities for drinking and wenching. This discussion is divided into a Player section and a GM one, but it's probably worth everyone reading both... even the adventure ideas in the GM section are broad enough that it doesn't matter if the players have read them. There's also a piece about navigation. Without reliable timepieces, navigation at sea is a bit of a bear. You are left with dead reckoning, celestial navigation (which requires excellent mathematics even if you can see the stars), and a rutter - records of the voyages made by a previous captain. So, to pass the time whilst your ship is lost, there are a few gambling games to play here too; and a rundown of the stores and supplies your ship is likely to carry. Finally, there are some nice sketches of pirate ships.

When I first encountered the 7th Sea RPG back in 2000, my first thought was 'pirates'... then I ran a series of land-based adventures. Cinematic in the extreme, but this book rekindles the urge to put the 'sea' back into the game, it captures the essence of what it all ought to be about!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: The Pirate Nations (Book 1)
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Deep Magic: Battle Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2016 03:54:06

The introduction - which must have been written by a mage! - makes great claims for the use of battlefield magic, giving it the pivotal importance that most would attribute to a mastery of strategy and tactics. A good strategist in a world with magic is going to use it to as good effect as he does every other weapon and tactic in his arsenal. However, the good point is made that effective battle magic is a lot more than raining down arcane destruction on the foe. Craft and guile, augmentation of defences through magic and more, also have their part to play.

That's about it for theory: we then move on to feats. These can be used by a battle mage to enhance his own effectiveness or that of his allies. Eight feats are presented, all with some interesting thoughts as to how they can effect the course of a fight on a large or small scale (although the one called Arms Booster somehow changes name to Arcane Infusion in the last line of its notes!). Effect you can create include being able to fight with a weapon whilst spell-casting, directing energy into healing, inspiring your allies, and leaving lingering traces of elemental forces to trap the unwary...

There are also twenty-five new spells at various levels. What's not to like about being able to conjure up some boiling oil? Although it would be even neater if you could create it above the enemy rather than as a pool on the ground in front of them. Maybe you'd rather curse the enemy with incompetence or magically hobble their mounts mid-brawl. You could cause an eathquake with fault line, or create instant fortifications (or siege engines)... there's a lot to play with here. You can even reposition yourself and allies via a limited form of teleportation, or create a walking wall of swinging axe blades that moves at your direction.

Most of these spells and feats are aimed at the battlefield proper rather than small-scale skirmishes, but if you engage in combat at anything more than your party against the next bunch of monsters or the Big Bad Guy's bodyguards there's probably something here worthy of consideration. Perhaps a little specialised but plenty of scope given the right circumstances.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Battle Magic for 5th Edition
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Nations of Théah: Vendel & Vesten (Book 8)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/15/2016 08:23:53

One nation, two names. Two completely different outlooks. Will you honour the traditions of Vestenmannavjnar or favour the new ideas of Vendel? Vestenmannavjnar is a primitive, barbaric land of sagas and communal life, Vendel a burgeoning economic powerhouse. Yet they share common bonds: strength and pride... and therein lies the tragedy of potential missed as the two outlooks war instead of working together.

Chapter 1: Vendel-Vesten reviews the sweep of history, or tries to - the rich oral tradition of Vestenmannavjnar isn't too strong on things like dates! Not to mention the mixing of legend and fact, and each skald putting his own spin on things... The first 'hard' date is the year 818, when Gunnaf the Ravenhaired managed to unite the islands in common cause, with one jarl per island and all working together under a single High King, all under the watchful eye of their deity, Grumfather. That's when the raiding began. By 1510, however, some elements of society tired of a life filled solely with raiding and hunting - and even more of a leadership interested in nothing else. Thus, the carls (middle class freemen, merchants, traders, farmers and craftsmen) came together and began the first steps of what is now 'Vendel'. They began to travel, not to raid but to trade, and soon they prospered and the Vendel League was formed. Recently they came up with the concept of paper money, backed by faith in the government issuing it, and their trading reaches ever new heights.

This chapter also contains details of the different tribes who make up the people of Vestenmannavjnar, and discusses culture, laws, naming customs, religion, and everyday life. Here we find the sharpest divides between Vestenmannavjnar and Vendel, so much so that the two are covered in separate sections that address these aspects for each group. Vendel revolves around a guild structure, and they have abandoned the pagan ways of their ancestors, most embracing Objectionism. Here too are descriptions of the islands that make up this nation (a map would have been nice...).

Next, Chapter 2: Hero presents an array of NPCs, Vestenmannavjnar and Vendal alike. This is followed by Chapter 3: Drama, which - as usual with the 'Nation' sourcebooks - contains assorted new options and rules mechanics to aid in presenting this nation within your game. There is a Rune Drawing system (in place of the Destiny Deck) and also horoscopes (favoured by the Vendel), along with new backgrounds, new skills, new knacks, new swordsman schools (used loosely, one fights with harpoons, one axes, and another with pistols, as well as more conventional places that teach you to wave a sword around) and more magical rules as well. Advantages, equipment and a collection of new rules finish this off.

Finally, Chapter 4: Riven presents material for both players and (mostly) GMs. The player portion explores the dichotomy inherent in the people and how to use it to effect in your role-playing. The GM part looks at rune magic and the Living Runes. There are also secrets and stat blocks for all the NPCs in Chapter 2 (and a few more), plus a monster, 3 templates for your own NPCs or even player-characters, and a sheet depicting all the runes.

It's all quite fascinating, and the concept of a nation busy reinventing itself is quite unique and rather fun to play with. The place and people really come to life, so whether your party will come from here or just visit, there is loads of useful material in this book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Vendel & Vesten (Book 8)
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Swordsman's Guild
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2016 07:25:47

Do you take swordplay seriously? On Théah, that's probably the only way to take your swordsmanship... so here is an elite organisation that anyone who has waved a sword around ought to be aspiring to join. It's possibly the most 'international' organisation on Théah: it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, you are welcome if your swordplay is good enough and you agree to abide by their rules (which are not onerous). Some say it exists to regulate and control duelling, but perhaps it has a deeper function, maintaining standards amongst those who live - and die - by the sword, and this is how it is presented here. Indeed in many countries where duelling is permitted, oversight has been delegated to the Swordsman's Guild.

In the first chapter, Advance, covers the history of the Guild from its establishment in 1644 to the present day. There is a wealth of detail on how the Guild is organised, the way it ordains that duelling should be conducted, and how to join up - basically, if you study at an accredited Sword School, you are automatically enrolled. There are other routes in for those who do not learn the sword in this way. Note that any bladed weapon used in hand-to-hand combat counts, axemen and the like are also welcomed. It also looks at the state of the sword in the different nations of Théah, how duelling is conducted there, major sword schools, and so on.

Next, Chapter 2: Fleche contains notes on major NPCs in the Guild and from the swordfighting world. Then Chapter 3: Riposte looks at the necessary game mechanics you'll need including new backgrounds, advantages, advanced knacks, and details of the 'sanctioned' schools that have already been published in other books... and, of course, several new ones. An interesting introduction is that of Grand Mastery. Slightly artificially, it doesn't matter how many sword school styles you know, you can only fight using the skills learned in one of them at a time... unless, as a master of several styles, you become a Grand Master. Then you can mix and match styles mid-fight, using anything you know as the opportunity presents itself. The mechanics for achieving Grand Mastery are explained, and for those who aim high indeed, there is also a section on establishing your own School or Fighting Style. Another section details weapon types along with notes on customisation.

Finally, Chapter 4: Coup de Gras lifts the lid a bit, beginning with the 'Great Secret' that underlies the Guild. There are some notes for players on why it is worth being part of the Guild, but the majority of this chapter is for the GM's eyes only. There's an explanation of how (indeed if) you can use the Guild to effect in your game, extra background on the NPCs met earlier on and a few additional NPCs.

That's it, really. In some ways, as presented, the Swordsman's Guild is a bit artificial and you may decide that you'd rather leave it out of your game altogether. But what if you decide to make something more of it? An organisation dedicated to advancing the art - or is it science? - of swordsmanship, that knows no boundaries, perhaps. Or maybe much more of a fraternity, a bond between those who live by the sword that transcends nationality or other allegiencies? These aspects might have been explored, and you may decide to consider them for your own implementation of the Swordsman's Guild.



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Swordsman's Guild
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The Montaigne Revolution
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/12/2016 08:09:40

As originally published, the entire 7th Sea setting was presented as it was in the year 1668. A couple of years later, this 'update' book was produced advancing the timeline about 18 months... and of course running into the problem that, if your party pulled off enough epic stunts, things might have gone in a radically different direction! Those beginning a campaign have the option of starting their game in 1668 or using this material and starting in late 1669 instead; those with an ongoing game can consider what's in here in relation to what's happened in their game and adjust accordingly. The intention was to publish a series of these updates, advancing the common timeline a year or so at a time, but for various reasons this didn't happen.

OK, so assuming you want to watch history advance around the ears of the party - and it is an excellent way to remind them of the 'reality' of the world in which the game is being played and even let them get embroiled in world-shaking events if they and you want - what's been going on? It's a time of great change and the title is a bit of a give-away: there is a revolution taking place in Montaigne. This is one of the major events to be discussed with an eye to letting the party participate in events, plenty of opportunity here! Chapter 1: The Fallen Sun deals with it in great detail. Pick the point at which you want to get involved, or if the party is busy elsewhere, the news will catch up with them sooner or later.

The background to the revolution involves a downtrodden peasantry ground down by the wars Montaigne is fighting, the backlash from the Emperor when his daughter fails to present him with the heir he was hoping for and the general poverty and oppression from the 'noble' class. The flashpoint came when a peasant soldier, returned from war, killed a noble who was abusing his wife, a lady the soldier had known and loved before he'd enlisted... and was condemned to death for his crime. A riot erupted and... the rest is, or shall become, history. As things spiral downhill, there are plenty of opportunities for you to weave your own plots around events - perhaps the party will influence them, change them, or perhaps they will merely be witnesses to these momentous events as they go about their own affairs. Left to develop, the revolution results in the overthrow of the Emperor and the establishment of a parliament but all is not as rosey as it might be, power corrupts, as they say and not everyone is content with what is going on. This chapter ends with a 'state of the nation' review which allows you to set adventures in Revolutionary Montaigne, and also lays out the involvement of the various secret societies - perhaps characters who are members were involved in these?

Next, Chapter 2: Vodacce and the New Age details the other momentous event of the year: the discovery and opening up of a strange barrier that apparently was the cause of all ships exploring westward never coming home again. There's a whole lot of background detailing the machinations (the Vodaccian Great Game at play, as always) that led to the discovery, and the reactions to it. Just about every nation and society has its own opinion (although they are a bit distracted in Montaigne as you can imagine) and ideas for exploiting the new opportunities. Fundamentally, though, there's somewhere new to explore...

Then, Chapter 3: Elsewhere is a run-through of what has been taking place in the other nations of Théah. No matter where your party's adventures take them, there are events of which you can take advantage, weaving them into your ongoing plots or letting them serve as a backdrop to whatever is going on.

Chapter 4: Adventures and Campaigns is intended for GMs only (assuming that whoever GMs your group's 7th Sea games is but a single person). It contains secrets underlying the recent history that has just been recounted, and possibly the biggest secret of all: what is the 7th Sea anyway? There are notes on creating your own secret society, and a short adventure - 'The Lady's Fate' - to demonstrate how this all works as one is set up during the course of the adventure. There is a fistful of adventure hooks based around the events described in earlier chapters (just in case reading them didn't give you enough ideas). Finally, an appendix provides a wealth of new NPCs.

On picking this up I was a bit dubious, I've never been a fan of a steadily-advancing timeline within a setting. If you are going to do one, however, this is the way to do it! It's detailed yet open-ended, designed with adventure in mind and of course, it's all optional. Pick the bits you want, and write the history of your own version of Théah!



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Pirates of Drinax: The Torpol Cluster
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2016 11:19:06

Three worlds... yet of strategic importance to both the Aslan Hierate and the old Sindalian Empire, a nodal point in trade routes through the Tlaiowaha subsector linking the Wildeman Cluster and the Sindalian Main. This small cluster of worlds Jump-1 apart receives many visitors, from the Imperium and other places.

The Introduction provides background information on the cluster and its history. There's a note that these three worlds may be located somewhere else in your universe, but it seems better to leave them as intended, as they are well-embedded into their surroundings. There is a partial map of the Sindal and Tlaiowaha subsectors showing the cluster's location within the Trojan Reach sector and in relation to other nearby worlds, followed by detailed notes on each of the three worlds: Torpol, Clarke and Blue.

Torpol is possibly the pivotal world, as both Marduk (and thence the Sindalian Main), Asim and Drinax (linking to the Aslan Hierate) are but Jump-2 away from the Torpol system. A map shows the main trade routes linking through the cluster. Torpol is the only habitable world, with free water, in the system, but there are nine other rocky planets, a couple of asteroid belts and four gas giants in orbit around the sun. Both asteroid belts are home to miners and one of the rocky worlds - although cold and airless - is also inhabited. This planet, Traefar, has a fairly basic starport but an extensive settlement popular with spacers and it's reckoned to be a good place to find crew - or indeed, to find a berth if you are a spacer looking for work... although it is the sort of place that the Imperium raids every so often looking for criminals. Torpol itself is a waterworld but with a sophisticated (and expensive) highport, when no nonsense is tolerated. Down on the planetary surface there are plenty of places where a tourist and his money can be parted in reasonable safety.

The next system to be discussed is Clarke. It's a rather gloomy place, home to a strange religion. The system has two asteroid belts, seven rocky planets and a remote companion star that generally gets ignored. The Clarke Highport is as well-equipped as Torpol's, but has a more functional air. The religion is concerned with death and the guidance of dead souls, their bodies being encased in carbon blocks which are used as building materials.

Finally, the Blue system has twelve rocky planets and two gas giants - and a bunch of Imperium ships hanging around, nobody's quite sure why... it may have something to do with Aslan settlements on a few of the planets or the Bulhai Freeport, in orbit around one of the gas giants (also called Bulhai). This Freeport is run as a legitimate place of business, not a pirate haven, but it's certainly possible to get things you cannot get elsewhere. The people of Blue itself are interested in art and religion, topics they will debate endlessly.

This work presents three interesting systems to visit in your travels, with atmospheric descriptions that help to paint the picture of what the party will find there.



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Pirates of Drinax: The Torpol Cluster
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7th Sea Adventures: Tangled Strands
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2016 07:28:51

How to describe this? A series of encounters, a mini-campaign, an ongoing plotline... basically this book provides four 'episodes' that can be interwoven with whatever else is going on in your game. They concern the ongoing relationships between a Hero, a Scoundrel and a Villain - and at times read like the best quality melodrama! The Hero and the Scoundrel are in love, the Scoundrel did gaol time with the Villain (and they do not like each other)... you begin to get the picture?

Each Episode should be treated as a separate adventure, with concomitent award of experience. The first two can be run back-to-back, but other adventures should come between the following episodes. Unlike many of the published adventures for 7th Sea these ones are quite combat-heavy, and are intended as a breath of fresh air and a bit of exercise for Heroes spending too much time on intrigue and politics.

It all starts with a nice lunch in a good Castillian restaurant, but soon sweeps the party into a tale of remorse and love and a brawl with some bandits. Neatly, whatever the party decides to do with the initial set-up, all options lead to the same place... and matters proceed from there. The NPCs are well-constructed with complex natures and backstories, designed to be woven seamlessly into the world you are creating... and suck the party into the next episode of this adventure, taking them to Montaigne-occupied territory and as far afield as Vodacce and a surprising revelation!

It's all very nicely put together, the sort of low-key long running plot arc that makes the world seem very real. These NPCs have lives of their own when the party isn't around, but remember what has gone before and involve the party as appropriate. Each episode will involve a brawl, but there are still opportunities for those who prefer more peaceful methods to practise those as well. Ideas for further character-driven adventures involving many of the key NPCs are included at the end.

Overall, a very pleasant and entertaining sequence of events to blend in with whatever else is going on in your campaign. Well worth a look!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: Tangled Strands
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