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The Grimoire #12
The Grimoire #12
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Demon: The Descent
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/24/2014 20:56:10
Among the recent releases for the new World of Darkness, Demon is perhaps unique in the sense that you play a supernatural creature that was never human at any point of their history. The Unchained were formerly Angels, agents of the God-Machine, an ancient and unknowable entity whose true scope, nature and motivations are alien to everyone, even the Angels that serve it.

At a crucial point in their time as Angels, the player characters chose to disobey the God-Machine. Whether from pride, anger, love or pity, these Angels fell from the God-Machine, severing their connection in their first act of true independence. This act of free will is what defines the Unchained, and their new fallen state is something that they bear with pride or shame, and how they react to their new existence forms the basis of their Agenda.

The resulting game is an intriguing game of espionage, as the Demons find ways to subvert or destroy the Infrastructure of the God Machine in order to keep their hard-earned independence, while investigating what makes the God-Machine tick in order to keep one step ahead… or to gain an advantage. The player characters have a host of interesting abilities, from being perfect liars to being able to Spoof detection as being anything but a normal person in the presence of supernatural scrutiny. Demons also have access to a remarkable number of Embeds and Exploits, powers that take advantage of loopholes in reality, allowing them to perform specific tricks that can upstage even Mages, but lack the same kind of flexibility.

Interestingly enough, my experience with Demon has been less about horror and more about supernatural espionage. The Demons excel at being able to get into where they’re not allowed, and their ability to shift Cover makes for intriguing roleplaying opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that the players themselves are somewhat divorced from the horror of their actions. Don’t get me wrong, my players were well aware that their characters were involved in some very monstrous activities, but maybe it was the idea that their characters were never human that dulled the sense of shock at the atrocities that they were committing.

Overall, Demon: the Descent is a great game, featuring a protagonist that is truly capable of being an outright monster while fighting opponents that are far more alien and malevolent than they. The powers and abilities of the game are imaginative and interesting, and there’s a whole slew of antagonists that the Demons can contend with. There’s plenty of opportunities to play up espionage tropes, including stories of trying to maintain dual lives, making deals with the enemy and the possibility of double-agents and betrayal within the team. Demon: the Descent is a worthy addition to the new World of Darkness.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Demon: The Descent
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Yggdrasill - The Nine Worlds
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2014 03:05:16
Yggdrasill is perhaps the best Viking rpg that I know of. Focused on bringing both historical and fantasy elements of the culture to life, the game has earned nothing but praise from me in my earlier review of the corebook.

The Nine Worlds is the first supplement to the game, and expands the setting in a way that many fans have been waiting for. The Nine Worlds contains information on the more magical realms of the Norse setting, discussing each one in turn and giving information on the creatures and challenges that the player characters may encounter there.

The book goes into detail into all of the Nine Worlds: Asgard, Alfheim, Vanaheim, Jotunheim, Nidavellir, Svartalfheim, Muspelheim and Niflheim. The worlds receives a description of it's geography, the dangers found in the world, the occasional important location, and plot hooks and artifacts that the GM could use to spice up their Yggdrasill campaigns.

The book also has new options for player characters, the most compelling of which would have to be the option to play Half-Breeds, those born from inhuman parents. The range from the Half-Jotun, to Half-Alfar. They also special traits that influence their starting abilities.

Special powers are also covered in the book, and can cover the various powers and abilities that can be bestowed to the players via magic items.

The book also contains 3 adventures, Winter's Fall, The Hunter and The Forgotten Oath, all of which can be used as part of an ongoing campaign.

---

Overall The Nine Worlds is a good follow up to Yggdrasill. The book expands the setting but doesn't lose it's touch with the historical feel. Fantasy elements are sufficiently fantastic, but also well grounded in the cultural context of the setting.

If you're looking for more ways to make Yggdrasill even more compelling, then you should definitely pick up a copy of The Nine Worlds.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Yggdrasill - The Nine Worlds
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Warbirds Role Playing Game
Publisher: Outrider Studios
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2014 23:45:40
Warbirds is a splendid piece of work. Outrider Studios comes up with an RPG that does more than emulate Crimson Skies, but stands alongside it with an interesting setting of it’s own. The rules are simple, but very functional, delivering the most fun without the pain of slowing down.

With an imaginative setting, fun mechanics, excellent layout and neat artwork, Warbirds is definitely a must by for me.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Warbirds Role Playing Game
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The Ninth World Bestiary
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2014 22:42:25
Beautifully illustrated and full of imaginative creatures, The Ninth World Bestiary is an excellent companion product to Numenera, bringing to life the kind of techno-fantastical weirdness that the player characters will be encountering in the setting. Each creature is given a full treatment, including motivations and their basic behavior, notes that are useful to any GM hoping to present players with a unique encounter.

Definitely a must-buy

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ninth World Bestiary
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Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game: Kings, Nations, and Gods
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/02/2014 21:30:58
Kings, Nations and Gods is a welcome addition to the Iron Kingdoms lineup. The writing is detailed without being cumbersome and the new career mechanics serve to add a layer of distinction between characters without having to add an excessive number of professions to the mix. I hope in the coming expansions the writers would disentangle themselves from the approach used in Urban Adventures, which added a truckload of seemingly superfluous professions just for the sake of doing so, and follow this track instead especially when taking up the non-human factions.

---

One thing to note is that $41.99 is a very high price to ask for a PDF product. While I know that the book itself is very well done, this kind of pricing feels a little too steep.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game: Kings, Nations, and Gods
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Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion (2nd Ed)
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2014 00:47:17
I've always had a thing for Supers games. Because of that, when I heard that Savage Worlds was coming out with a new Super Powers Companion for the latest edition of Savage Worlds, I had to check it out.

My experience with superhero systems have ranged from the extremely detailed with the HERO system, to more narrative rulesets like the recent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. Unfortunately with my current state of life as being more busy with work than ever before, getting a rule system that will deliver the kind of granularity I was used to without the time investment necessary for HERO was hard to find.

Thankfully PEG has managed to knock this one right out of the park. The Super Powers companion is a lean volume of less than a hundred pages, but one that manages to stuff nearly everything you need into it.

The Super Powers Companion establishes four different levels of power for a campaign, ranging from Pulp Heroes to Cosmic level, with each of the campaign tiers giving a pool of Power Points which the players can spend to buy their powers. There is a power limit of 1/3rd of the total Power Points per campaign that can be applied to each power.

New Hindrances and Edges are also introduced, covering a wide array of superhero tropes from Alien Form to the ever popular Dependent.

One of the more interesting things introduced is a Defeat Table, where the fate of a fallen hero or villain is randomized in an amusing table that covers a wide range of comic book comebacks (and changes) to the character.

The next section details the various gear available for the super powered sort. Ranging from the ubiquitous grapnel gun to more interesting weapons, there's enough here to keep a game going without it devolving to hours spend shopping for gear.

The Powers Construction System is perhaps the very meat of the book, and details how players can put together their character's powers. The system itself is relatively painless, with picking a base powers and applying various modifiers that will either increase or decrease the power point cost.

The complexity of the powers you can generate are admittedly fairly good, and this powers creation set can easily match Mutants and Masterminds in terms of ease of use.

The last creation section of the book involves the building of HQs, including a few examples that can be used by the GM when he needs something right away.

Nearly a good half of the book is taken up by a large rogues gallery for all of the power levels discussed earlier in the book. The villains all have a full treatment, with a short biography and their statistics and powers listed in an easy to use fashion. Definitely a plus for a busy GM like myself.

---

PEG is one of the few companies that can do no wrong, and their latest offering of the Super Powers Companion lives up to that reputation. Creative, useful and fun, this supplement is a must have for GMs looking for a rules-medium supers game that's easy to get up and running with a minimum of GM prep time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion (2nd Ed)
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Wreck Age: A Post-Collapse RPG and tabletop game
Publisher: Hyacinth Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2014 21:07:28
Wreck Age is a new franchise from Hyacinth Games, and delivers an interesting vision of a post-apocalypse world.



Setting

In the 23rd future, Earth was a pretty screwed up place. A combination of economic and ecological factors forced mankind to flee the planet in a bold effort to colonize other planets to save the race. The plan was to send wave after wave of colonists to settle in the stars, a promise of a great exodus that woudl insure mankind’s survival.

The Exodus, it turns out, was a lie.

After the cream of humanity took to the stars, it became apparent that there was no intention to take anyone else. The rest of humanity had been forced to fend for itself in a planet that was barely holding together. Society crumbled, and humanity bore the worst of natural disasters.

Generations later, whatever was left of mankind clings desperately to life. A new world has emerged and mankind once again forces itself to pick up from the rubble and rebuild.

It’s a stunning (and all too possible) scenario that plays up the idea of mankind’s apathy towards the less fortunate in a way that strikes very close to home. I like that the scenario isn’t a spectactular end like a meteor, but an apocalypse that had happened even before anyone else realized that it was too late.



Factions

Wreck Age has several factions of differing philosophies and levels of technology.

The Stakers are community and family-centric settlers who focus on sustainability and survival who are slow to trust strangers.

Drifters are nomadic barbarian clans who wander and attack stable communities in a throwback to ancient warrior raiding cultures.

Stitchers are gruesome medically trained survivors of an Exodus Ship that crash landed near TooSon. While initially benefactors to their community, the dependence of the ignorant to those with knowledge led to a strange warped sense of entitlement and control their communities with fear and knowledge.

The Order of Reclamation are those who struggle to rebuild from scavenged technology and data. Operating from Data Havens, they are a cult of techophiles that travel the wastes to find lost technology for their own ends.

The ARHK, or the Autonomous Region of Hong Kong are a highly industrialized and technologically capable faction who have forces in Merika in an attempt to scavenge lost technology to support their own society. Following directives from the Board of Directors in the hermetically sealed city of Hong Kong, the ARHK troopers are a strange and terrifying sight in the wastes.

In the midst of an utterly depressing world, The Church of Fun espouses excess and hedonism. The very ethos of “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” the Church of Fun are a drug-crazed group that is a force of chaos in the wastes.

Unicephalon are a conspiracy of hidden operatives who seek to shape humanity towards the concept of Re-Birth, a plan to recreate society to what it should be. Part illuminati and part knights templar the group is perhaps one of the closest to the “Good guys” despite their reliance on espionage and secrecy as their methods.

The Vale are a death cult that hold the belief that mankind has existed past its due date and they exist merely to clean up by destroying what’s left of humanity.

Caravaneers serve the basic need of trade between settlements. They travel the dangerous roads between civilized settlements, braving raiders and dangers to make sure that they make a sale.

The Fringes are not so much a faction as a catch-all term for small crews that have been forced to work together. They are not members of any of the Factions and simply work towards survival. Many Adventurers fall under this category as they are often mercenaries working for one Faction or another as needs dictate.



Mechanics

Wreck Age is designed to be playable as both an RPG and a Tabletop Game. As I am predominantly an RPG player, I’ll focus mainly on the RPG side, but I’ll see if I can throw in a comment or two with regards to the Tabletop side of the equation as well.

Wreck Age mechanics involve rolling a pool of d6′s against a given Target Number. Unlike other Target Number based systems, the TN applies to each die, much like a Difficulty number from the Classic World of Darkness. Therefore rolling against a TN of 4+ means that dice rolling a 4 or greater count as a success. Some tests also require multiple successes.

Rolling a natural 1 is an automatic failure regardless of any bonuses. While rolling more than a single 6 adds a value of 1 to one of the 6′s’ rolled. This took me a bit to understand, but is fairly simple when you get the hang of it. Rolling three 6′s for example, will add +2 to one of the dice, giving an end result of 8, 6, 6



Character Creation

Creating characters start with the group getting together to put together a community. This dictates which Faction (if any) the player characters will be coming from and the Archetypes that they can choose from.

There’s a large list of archetypes, ranging from “generic” ones with no faction affiliation to those belonging to specific factions. These are then customized later by spending points. Interestingly only the Reclaimers, Stakers, Stitchers and Drifters get full archetypes.



Scenarios and Campaigns

Wreck Age finishes up with the standard Tabletop game rules for scenarios and stringing such scenarios together into a campaign as well as a few pages of advanced rules.



Conclusion

Wreck Age is a Post-Apocalypse game that makes a good effort at being both an RPG and a tabletop game. Part of me feels that the RPG part is a little thin, and the way that the mechanics are presented at the same time make it difficult to learn one without having to try and slog through the other. I also found myself going through the rules several times just to get a few mechanics.

The setting and artwork are very evocative, and I’m definitely interested to run and play games in the setting as presented, but learning to run it is going to require a night or two of focused study.

Wreck Age will be easier to learn if you’re a tabletop player, of course, and the various units and factions are compelling and have a strong visual identity for hobbyists that enjoy the painting aspect of it. From the images of the miniatures in the book, the figures are pretty neat.

Overall, I would definitely recommend giving Wreck Age a shot if you’re a fan of post-apocalypse settings. Tabletop players will find it easier to get into, but rpg players with a taste for tactical combat will find that Wreck Age is right up their alley.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wreck Age: A Post-Collapse RPG and tabletop game
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Covert Ops Role Playing Game
Publisher: DwD Studios
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2014 02:07:11
Once again DwD Studios manages to wow me with the simplicity and elegance of a game. Using the same system from Barebones Fantasy, Covert Ops takes on the espionage genre and delivers maximum fun for minimum complexity.

Covert Ops is an excellent beginner game in the sense that the mechanics are easy enough to understand and teach so that even a new player with no experience with rpgs, but a good handle on the espionage genre can get in on the fun with a minimum of fuss.

One other thing to note is that the Covert Ops product has a whole bunch of pdfs, including a Core Rulebook and a GM Operations Manual and The Usual Suspects, a book on NPCs.



Core Rulebook

Character creation is easy to follow, but surprisingly robust, with a large list of possible backgrounds to support all sorts of characters. Skills function similarly to Barebones Fantasy, where each “skill” functions as a skill group and are used in any situation where that concept is applicable. The Medic skill for example could be used for anything from applying emergency first aid, to studying the nature of a dangrous engineered virus that the bad guys plan to unleash onto the population.

As with all Espionage games, Covert Ops features a neat equipment section that covers everything from equipment packs to cover identities. A neat little trick is that players are also allowed to invent gadgets with GM permission. No complicated accounting here, gadgets are merely costed according to plausibility with modern technlology. Guns and vehicles are also listed here, with respective examples.

Martial Arts is also represented well by Covert Ops, with a large selection of special maneuvers that players can roll for or select from.

Base creation is also covered with a simple point-buy system that is made available to player characters who have reached rank 4. It’s a neat little subsystem that works well for the genre and gives the players an extra sense of ownership over the setting.

The GM guidelines section is very comprehensive, which is a godsend for any espionage GM. There’s plenty of tables to roll for making a mission, getting henchmen and other useful little details especially in a genre where GMs really have to think on their feet.

The last part of the book details SECTOR, a mysterious international paramilitary and counter-espionage organization as a default organization for players to operate in. It’s a neat little hook to have a group of well armed operatives from any nationality able to team up and deal with the evils of the modern world.



GM Operations Manual

This book is an addition 112 pages of alternative rules and guidelines expressly aimed at helping GMs with run Covert Ops. I won’t go into exhaustive detail, but I will say that this is one of the handiest GM handbooks I’ve read in a while.

Each of the options opens up the game to different variants and offers neat ways to customize and tailor fit the game to different gaming groups. The language is accessible and when used properly as options, can go a long way to enhancing the already fun and experience of a Covert Ops game with a cost of a minimal increase in complexity.



The Usual Suspects

The last book in the set is a collection of starting character archetypes and experienced agents for use in a game. The starting archetypes are all rather neat and cover a wide range of character concepts so I’m sure it will be easy for anyone to just grab one and go. The Experienced agents will be handy for a GM to use if they need to put in an experienced agent to work with the player characters as well



Everything Else

Along with the books, the set also contains a Character Sheet, Outfitting Reference Sheet, Enemy Organization Worksheet, Mission Generation Worksheet, an optional Hit Location damage tracking sheet and Development Point checklist for making DP awards easy.



Conclusion

DwD Studios knocks this one right out of the park. Covert Ops delivers an incredible amount of value for its cost and hits all the things I look for in a game: good rules, good art, good layout and options to make the game your own. GMs are supported beyond just a simple chapter at the end, and the game can do anything from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell to G.I. Joe.

Few games can deliver this kind of value for money and yet DwD Studios does it effortlessly. Great job, guys, this one is a definite must buy for me.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Covert Ops Role Playing Game
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Accursed
Publisher: Melior Via
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/07/2014 23:16:35
Accursed has an interesting spin on the traditional dark fantasy formula by making heroes of the monsters. Players take on the role of the Witchmarked, twisted monstrosities and victims of the Witches that serve as the primary bad guys of the setting.

To just hit the finer points of the history, a group of powerful Witches attacked the world of Morden with armies of monstrosities, and won at great cost. Humanity had lost to the bad guys. The Witchmarked are the few monsters that have struggled to retain their humanity, and are using their powers to fight back against the rule of the Witches, to protect humans that fear and hate them for what they are.

The Witchmarked come in several forms, including the vampiric Dampir, artificial Golems, patchwork Mongrels, ancient Mummies, deceptive Ophidians, wrathful Revenants, ethereal Shades and animalistic Vargr. Each of these present a host of different abilities that make them well suited to the strategies of the Witches responsible for their creation.

Overall, the Witchbreeds are imaginative and interesting, and I can see how a group of these would come off as a formidable team as opposed to a parody of the Universal Studios monsters. Each Witchbreed has a starting package of abilities and weaknesses, and a further list of Edges that they can choose from.

As with most Savage Worlds games, Accursed shouldn’t be mistaken as a horror game. Sure there are monsters and such, but the way that the Witchbreeds are laid out and the role of the player characters are described, the game will swing towards Dark Fantasy Action than anything else. Kind of like what would happen if Alucard from Castlevania decided to go all Solomon Kane on a fantasy world.

Overall, Accursed presents an exciting and interesting setting with all the hallmarks of Gothic fantasy with enough Pulp sensibilities to make it action-oriented and fun. There’s room for swashbuckling monsters righting wrongs, and I certainly can’t complain about that. The artwork is stunning, and the writing is solid. Definitely looking forward to further releases for this line.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed
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Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/17/2013 07:19:03
Blood & Smoke marks the beginning of a new cycle of World of Darkness supplements from the people of Onyx Path, one that updates their earlier work to the rules as first introduced in The God-Machine Chronicle.

Though labelled as a sourcebook, Blood & Smoke is a stand-alone product that allows Storytellers to run campaigns of Vampire: the Requiem without the need to buy the World of Darkness Corebook or Vampire: the Requiem. This is a good thing, as the last thing I wan tto be doing is to be referencing multiple books when I’m running a game.

I have to admit that I found my initial impressions of Vampire: the Requiem to be a little less than stellar in my first round of Let’s Study articles on the game. The groups felt artificial, and while the Clans were neat, I felt that the game lacked a certain edge, a passion that was present in the classic World of Darkness’ Vampire: the Masquerade.

Because of this, I’m happy to report that Blood & Smoke was an absolute surprise to me. Written in a much more interesting and engaging voice, Blood & Smoke reimagines Vampire: the Requiem and drags the reader along to witness the glory and depravity of the Kindred.

Right from the start, Blood & Smoke wastes no time reintroducing us to the Vampire Clans. The new writeups are much more visceral, and take a stronger show, don’t tell angle that does a great job in relaying the feel of the various Clans. Rather than get caught up in jargon and terminology, each writeup paints a sketch of the Clan by use of examples and a small section of “Why you want to be us” is perfect for cementing the motivations of each Clan.

The Covenants were given a similarly drastic change in tone, with a short bit of fiction to show just how they operate, and again motivations and methodologies are called out and communicated in a way that is best suited to getting players to get a strong grasp of their characters.

The vampiric condition is given a thorough treatment as well, though again the tone of the book is one dedicated to teaching by example rather than the less engaging recital of facts.

The Character Creation rules are similar to that of the God-Machine Chronicle, with the use of Experiences, Aspirations and a few interesting new systems.

Masks and Dirges are similar to the Classic World of Darkness’ Nature and Demeanors, but take over the place of a mortal character’s Virtue and Vice.

Touchstones are persons, places or things that remind a character of her humanity and keeps her grounded. Think of them as a memento or sorts that help anchor a Vampire by reminding him of his time as a human.

I won’t go too much into these mechanics but each one is a bit of genius when it comes to managing life as a vampire. I’ve been in too many games where players end up more callous than their characters ought to be. These systems give the vampires something to care for, and a reason to care for them.

I’m not too familiar with the already existing systems for Disciplines in Vampire: the Requiem, but what I’ve read from Blood & Smoke are promising. The Disciplines themselves are flavorful and some are downright creepy, as they ought to be in a game like this.

It’s only after these that the book presents the basic rules of the game, and after the God-Machine rules update, this is pretty much already well ironed out.

The Strix have their own section, talking about what they’re like and their history, but the best part of the section aside from Strix creation rules, are the various sample Strix provided. Each one would make an interesting opponent for the Kindred, with a canny ST being able to maneuver them to become recurring antagonists.

Another remarkable section in the book is the one that deals with the Kindred of other locations from around the world. From Athens to Beijing and Tokyo each one is a mini-setting in itself. Though without the same depth as the treatment of New Orleans in the original Vampire: the Requiem book, there’s more than enough material here to get a long term campaign going.

The book finishes off with an extensive Storytelling chapter, and a list of common conditions to a Vampire campaign.



Blood & Smoke is a beautiful nightmare of a book. It’s taken Vampire: the Requiem and exposed it’s horrifying and alluring nature and made it even more streamlined and accessible with the God-Machine rules update and a re-imagined take on the game itself.

Anyone who has ever felt that Requiem was a less impressive game than Masquerade owes themselves to get a copy of this game. Those who loved Requiem needs to check out the improvements made on it by the new rules.

If this is the new standard of the Chronicle books, then consider me addicted. This has gotten me stoked to actually run a campaign of it and I’m already earmarking funds to pay for the Werewolf and Mage Chonicle books if this is the kind of quality I’ll be getting.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
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Naishou Province - 2013 GENCON RPG
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2013 23:26:50
I’m really THIS close to declaring Legend of the Five Rings, 4th edition to be the RPG that is most supportive to GMs in my entire experience in the hobby.

The recently released Naishou Province supplement is just more proof of it.

I know that many of those who’v read my previous reviews of L5R books have heard it before, but getting the hang of a setting as exotic and different as Rokugan is difficult for new GMs. The Naishou Province presents an entire province of Rokugan, from locations, to NPCs and plot hooks, all ready for a GM to use in their games.

The Naishou Province is not tied to a specific location in Rokugan, allowing GMs to place it wherever they feel most comfortably in.

The book itself is divided into several sections detailing the Provincial Capital, Settlements inside the province, the Geography of Naishou and a sample adventure which the GM can run or mine for ideas.

The Naishou Province book also allows for different kinds of adventures, from political conspiracies to combat and magic. There’s plenty to see and do in the Naishou province, and the book can easily fuel a long-term campaign as the GM can just keep inserting new complications and the interest of the other Great Clans over the unaligned province.

Mechanics-wise, Naishou Province is a little bit underwhelming, but given that it was meant to be more of a setting book I don’t feel that it is at fault. Lion Clan fans will be happy with the inclusion of a new Basic School in the form of the Lion Elite Spearmen, as well as the mechanics of the Magari-Yari, signature weapon of Matsu Gohei, the Butcher.

One thing of note however is that Naishou Province feels rather short, being a companion volume to another upcoming L5R book: Secrets of the Empire, a book that will detail the Ronin, Minor Clans, Imperial Families and the Brotherhood of Shinsei. I have no complaints about it however, and if I was to get a new GM to start an L5R campaign, I’d easily refer The Naishou Province supplement as one of their first books outside of the core.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Naishou Province - 2013 GENCON RPG
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Legend of the Five Rings: Imperial Histories 2
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2013 18:30:46
Among the many excellent books for the 4th Edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, the Imperial Histories series is perhaps the one that I would recommend for busy GMs. Imperial Histories presents several alternative eras for an L5R campaign, each being a very game-able setup with enough hooks and twists to keep things fresh and interesting.

Imperial Histories 2 is divided into the following settings:

The Togashi Dynasty – An alternate Rokugan wherein Togashi defeats Hantei in the tournament to decide who should become Emperor in the dawn of the Empire. The resulting setting is one full of interesting supernatural wonders and a stronger presence of nonhuman races as opposed to the default setting.

The Reign of the Shining Prince – Taking place in the reign of the second Emperor, this setting is an introspective one for the Empire. Having fought the first Day of Thunder, the second Emperor finds himself saddled with the duty of making the Empire worthy of the sacrifices of the Kami. It’s less bombastic than the other settings, but I find that it is the one with more options to explore the foundations that made the Rokugan what it is in the present.

The Iron Empire – Again another intriguing setting, this one discusses Rokugan if samurai were slowly being displaced by technological progress? By adopting foreign technologies, Rokugan finds itself evolving differently, and along interesting branches of development. Steam engines, guns, and other technologies transform Rokugan into something similar but also teeming with tension as traditionalists try to cling to old glories in the face of innovation.

Heresy of the Five Rings – This setting offers a different angle, as it deals with what happens when change in Rokugan happens from a Religious angle. This is especially useful for games centered around the more spiritual clans such as the Dragon and the Phoenix.

The Reign of the Steel Chrysanthemum – One of the most hated villains in Rokugan’s canon history is the Hantei XVI, the Steel Chrysanthemum. A cruel and vicious tyrant, his reign was considered to be one of the darkest in Rokugani history, which is saying something in a setting that is constantly beset by assaults from Ancient Evil Gods. That said this is great for the rebels and freedom fighter types.

The Eighth Century Crises – Perhaps one of the settings in the book that amuses me due to how closely it resembles standard RPG campaigns, this setting is a gauntlet of existential threats thrown at Rokugan one after the other. From the Maw to the Dark Oracles and the Bloodspeakers it’s a veritable buffet of evil for the heroes of Rokugan to confront (and hopefully defeat.)

The Return of the Unicorn – Perhaps it’s because I’ve been running a Unicorn Campaign, but this setting deals with a major turning point in the history of the Empire. It surprises me that it took this long for it to actually get the spotlight. The return of the former Ki-Rin Clan is a wake up call of sorts to the Empire to understand that the world does not revolve solely around them and that there are other places exotic and dangerous outside their borders.

The Shattered Empire – An alternate setting meant to take place after the Second Day of Thunder. This setting assumes that it was Togashi Hitomi to survive the confict against Fu Leng, and does not assume the throne, as Toturi did. This power vaccuum leaves the Clans working on recovering fast enough to put their candidate upon the empty throne.

The Four Winds Era – Detailing the age where the Four Winds were making their various bids for the throne, this is considered to be one of the better eras of the canon storyline. Interesting characters, plenty of opportunities for glory in both combat and in court and a spiritual hook in the form of Toturi Sezaru makes for well-rounded opportunities for any group of samurai.

The Shadowed Throne – In an interesting counterpoint to the Four Winds Era, the Shadowed Throne assumes that Toturi Tsudao survives to become Empress. With all Four Winds taking their places in the empire, Rokugan still proves to be a fragile setting as the various Clans react to what turns out to be Tsudao’s insufficient skill at keeping the Clans placated.

The Destroyer War – Another canon setting, The Destroyer War discusses the time when Kali-Ma marches towards Rokugan with the intent of claiming it for her own. Fans of the more recent events in the setting will find good use of this setting as it presents important details of that era as well as the necessary NPCs and mechanics of the era

Age of Exploration – This setting works very well with the Second City Boxed set, as it presents the time when the Empire goes forth to explore (and claim) the lands of the Ivory Kingdoms as it’s own.

Empire of Emerald Stars – Of all the settings in the book, this one is perhaps the most divergent. Empire of Emerald Stars takes the L5R setting and spins it off as a Space Opera, set in the far future, with interesting takes on what spacefaring and technology would look like if filtered through Rokugan’s unique lens. I have to admit that I’m very amused with this particular setting and a part of me wishes that it had a bigger page count. For those wondering about how different an L5R game can get, this is well worth checking out.



Imperial Histories 2 is full of interesting worlds, both canon and alternate, and has the mechanics to back it up. Fans of the setting will find nothing to complain about in the book as it lives up to the incredible reputation of being another excellent supplement to the 4th Edition line.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legend of the Five Rings: Imperial Histories 2
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Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3 rulebook
Publisher: Spectrum Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2013 07:55:49
Cartoon Action Hour takes all my Nostalgia and condenses it into a single book. What's better is that they do it with style. I've heard of CAH before, but it's only now that I've had a chance to go over the book. The systems are clever and genre-appropriate, and there's plenty of room to get creative while retaining the feel of a good 80's cartoon. While the art could still have been improved, I feel that the pieces that were commissioned for the book convey the mood and tone of the era well enough, and I found the formatting of the character sheets to be a nice touch.

If you've ever had an urge to run an 80's cartoon game, then this is definitely on your must-buy list.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3 rulebook
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The Book of Fire
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/24/2013 21:11:33
The Book of Fire is perhaps one of the most sought after of the Element Books as it focuses on the Element most related to doing damage (though the book goes on to show that there’s more to fire than just burning and destruction.) As with the previous books, the Book of Fire is divided into several chapters that focuses on different facets of Rokugan as seen through the lens of the Element of fire. These facets are: War, Magic, Peace, Enlightenment and the Setting. The book is capped off with new Mechanics, as well as a mini-setting that could be used to run a campaign.

Kenjustu gets top billing in the Book of Fire’s section on War, and as a GM, I’m grateful for the amount of detail spent on expanding the culture of Kenjutsu in the setting, with the kind of intimate detail in the other Element books. Each Clan’s philosophy and approach to Kenjutsu is detailed with enough information to lend even more “realism” to how GMs can portray them in-game, which I personally find to be priceless when running a game so focused on a culture as different and unique as Rokugan.

Of course, there’s also the Martial Art of fire, Hitsu-Do, which focuses on a very offensive stance, with little focus on defensive methods. Again this is an Art open to all the Clans, though not all the Clans use it. The Crane Clan in particular tend to not care about it, but certain individuals might find it appropriate for themselves.

The Chapter on Magic focuses on the nature of the Fire Kami, and the schools of the Clans that have a close affinity to the Element. My favorie section here is a little portion that talks about the Notable uses of Creative Fire Spells, a section that is of much use to any Shugenja player.

The Fires of Peace is incredibly informative to me, as a Courtier fan. This takes the concept of Fire as Illumination, and focuses on the Phoenix and Lion Clan’s love of knowledge as a source of wisdom. I find it very important to have this chapter as many players often find the librarian / lorekeeper concept to be particularly boring.

The Book of Fire also contains some very interesting gems on Glassmaking, Poetry, Swordmaking (and the notes on the Celestial Swords and Bloodswords!) The final chapter, the Hundred STances Dogo, presents a unique setting where Kenjutsu is a big focus, lending itself well to games involving a lot of Bushi, though Courtiers and Shugenja can also find a lot to do given the Dojo’s political worth and how various schools find their way to it.

Among the new mechanics involved in the book are a few new paths for various clans, and mechanics fo the Taryu-Jiai, duelling between Shugenja. These resemble Iaijutsu Duels but are pretty spectacular displays of elemental magics that can make for an interesting climax of a session where Shugenja characters are at odds.

The Book of Fire is a remarkable addition to an already phenomenal line. The Elemental Books are a valuable addition to any L5R Collection, expanding the setting with the kind of detail that makes Rokugan unique while making it accessible to those who aren’t entirely familiar with the nuances of the setting.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Fire
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13th Age Core Book
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2013 00:42:39
13th Age takes the OGL d20 foundations and turns it to it's most photogenic angle and gave it proper lighting. All the things you expect from it are there, but they look and feel better.

13th Age is presented very well, and puts down into writing tricks that many GMs have implemented in their own games. The result of this is that new GMs, or GMs who feel very closely bound by the rules find a new kind of freedom in the story-focused mechanics that were absent from other d20 fantasy games. In some cases, I get the feeling that there are GMs that really feel the need for these things to be found in the Rules As Written in order for it to be valid as to destroy any doubt as to the source of their decision to improvise as opposed to "houseruling" the same ideas.

This doesn't mean that 13th Age doesn't bring anything new to the table. There are a few interesting mechanics, such as the Escalation Die, which could be an extra thing to look forward to in combat as a bonus to represent combat momentum is a neat idea.

Given this, it's impossible to give 13th Age poor marks, but the challenge for it is how it can innovate beyond introducing story elements into d20. The metagame reasons for its design are sound, and the Icons are a great idea for helping GMs, but after applying lessons that have been in general circulation in non-d20 games for years I'm having a little bit of trouble finding how else it can come off as better.

That said if you like d20, and are looking to bring in more story elements into your game, then 13th Age is a no brainer. Get it study it and use what you can get out of it. Old hands at story games on the other hand might find 13th Age to be a little bit underwhelming as it feels like a "My First Storygame" manual for D20 fans.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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