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Liberation of the Demon Slayer
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2014 20:00:46
Usually I tend to stay on the mainstream side of RPG reviews, but occasionally I walk on the wild side with a product from Lamentations of the Flame Princess or some other dark supplement with a distinctly mature feel. It’s been a while, but Venger Satanis reached out recently to have a look at Liberation of the Demon Slayer (LotDS).

What did I find? Well, this one is definitely meant more for adults (for art mostly and a few encounters) but there are some very cool ideas within the pages of this old school adventure. Designed to be system neutral but with a solid early edition D&D feel with some intriguing rules variations that might work in other systems as well. Many of the changes would easily work with the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG with very little work, if any. Among my favorite mods are the addition of exploding dice for damage, some guidelines for a more free-form magic system, and a simpler method of level progression.

Once you get through about 12 pages of campaign notes, you dive into the adventure itself. The design hits me as deceptively simple and a bit Machiavellian. A group of zero- or 1st-level PCs are supposed to go into a cave system to retrieve a legendary weapon. But it’s never that easy, is it?

The world reminds me a bit of a cross between the setting of the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game, the realms of the many modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and parts of Conan the Barbarian’s world. Snake men. Sorcery. Demons. Devils. And there’s a consistency to it I all I really appreciate. Devils are lawful. Demons are chaotic. Sorcery is bad for time/space barriers. And when these forces mix, bad things are bound to happen. I feel sorry for the inhabitants of the world for they must live nasty, brutish, and short lives far too often!

The adventure itself feels like a bit of a cross between Carcosa (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and the Temple of Elemental Evil. But even without the mature content, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. There are plenty of twists and turns as well as nasty things waiting in the dark (and a few waiting in the light) ready to take on the PCs. I heartily recommend you have a few characters ready to go should the first set not get too far.

The maps from Dyson Logos are beautiful (as all his maps are), but I have to admit to getting a bit confused while reading some of the text describing map locations. I think I took a left turn and ended up in Albuquerque when I left level 1 instead of arriving at level 2, but I eventually got the car turned around. Even so, there are plenty of creative encounters from top to bottom… from traditional critter encounters and traps to Mata Hari-style meetings, wandering monsters, and environmental issues. Tons of variety to keep things interesting on both sides of the GM screen.

Look-and-feel-wise, LotDS follows a traditional two-column layout with a mix of full, partial, and quarter page images throughout. Art quality varies but was quite good overall from the cover to the interior. My one complaint is the font size for body text. It would have been much easier to read on my tablet if it was a bit bigger, but I’ll blame that on my failing eyes and trifocals.

Though I’ve been playing RPGs for 30 years, I strongly suspect none of my characters would make it to the end of this adventure. It’s seriously deadly (in a DCC RPG funnel kind of way). But would I have fun along the way dying in many horrible ways? You bet!

If you’re looking for a challenging adventure with some adult themes, Liberation of the Demon Slayer should have plenty to keep you happy. I look forward to seeing what Venger has in store for the next adventure if this was just the introduction to his world!

This review originally appeared at Game Knight Reviews: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/10/supplement-review-l-
iberation-of-the-demon-slayer-by-venger-satanis/

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Liberation of the Demon Slayer
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Fantasy maps
Publisher: The Forge Studios
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2014 19:58:26
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a fan of maps. Dungeon maps. World maps. Town maps. Whatever it may be, I’m probably going to go over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for inspiration for a plot, world, or character. Even the smallest maps can offer shiny nuggets to inspire me to go in weird directions.

So recently I saw that artist Maciej Zagorski and The Forge Studios released Fantasy Maps, a collection of 10 different black and white maps. Each map is presented in three different forms: a full-page rendering, a full-page rendering with a grid, and a half-page format with space for notes. The hand-drawn style is gorgeous, with details in all the right places from crops and trees to ships, bluffs, shorelines, and buildings.

I wish there was a bit more detail on each. For instance, a map key would be helpful to show the difference between a road and a river more clearly or whether a particular ridge goes up or down. But beyond that I think each offers plenty of food for thought.

A few of my favorites from the collection include:

* Map #3 (pages 9-11) – The ruins on the island already have me wondering what happened there and the circle of stones at the south end of the map also has possibilities.
* Maps #4 (pages 12-14) and #5 (pages 15-17) – Both of these offer tons of potential with a keep on a hill and villages tending crops. What are the relationships between the highlanders and the lowlanders?
* Map #6 (pages 18-20) – Like with #3, there are two areas that have me wondering about the separations between them. The cemetery at the northwest corner and the structure or giant tree (can’t tell what it is) in the center. How do they relate?
* Map #7 (pages 24-26) – This self-contained little community complete with a dock, crops, and a small keep, offers all sorts of possibilities.
* Map #10 (pages 30-32) – This walled community is a warren of alleys and streets. A small city campaign would be awesome here.

Whether you’re looking for a map for your current campaign or simply looking for ideas, every map in this collection has something to share. And for $4, it’s going to be tough to get this many maps in one place anywhere else.

This review first appeared at Game Knight Reviews: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/10/supplement-review-f-
antasy-maps-by-maciej-zagorski-from-the-forge-studios/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy maps
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Dungeon Dressing: Mundane Chest Contents
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2014 19:56:28
Stocking a dungeon, castle, or other map with all the creature comforts can be tough. After you’ve stocked the main chest with the goodies the PCs will win after defeating the big baddie in an epic battle, all other caches of treasure somehow seem less important. And, probably more important, they seem less inspired. Why? Because it’s tough to think of all the things that an entire mapful of bad guys (or good guys, long vacated) may leave behind.

Thankfully the Dungeon Dressing series from Raging Swan Press takes care of all that. Though these products handle all the big things like traps, doors, pits, and more, I was happy to see that there’s one out there now that focuses on the second string of dungeon chests… Not every chest is going to have gold, jewels, weapons, and magic items! That’s where Dungeon Dressing: Mundane Chest Contents comes in from designer Josh Vogt.

In a collection of five different tables of 50 to 100 items spread across 6 pages of an 11 page PDF, Vogt covers everything from clothes and possessions to specific lists for wizard and cleric chest contents, food, and miscellany. It’s simple to randomly grab a table, roll d100 and take a stab at whatever might show up. It would be easy to pick a room, randomly select some chest contents, and design an entire encounter around whatever came to mind. I found everything from lingerie (rawr!) and rope (not in the same chest, but THAT certainly is suggestive) to anatomical diagrams, religious vestments, fruit pies, and rusted scrap metal.

That said, I think I would have liked to have seen some suggestions on how to address aging chest contents. What happens if the chest is in a ruin hundreds of years old? Many items might simply dissolve into dust and debris, becoming completely unusable. A random table dealing with how to “age” the contents appropriately would be a great addition.

Even so, I can see I’ll be using Mundane Chest Contents soon as I do more dungeon design in the future! After all, I need to find a reason to have a chest with “A hundred eyes, each kept afloat in its own liquid‐filled bottle” bobbing about. It’s too creepy NOT to include somewhere!

This review first appeared at Game Knight Reviews: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/09/supplement-review-d-
ungeon-dressing-mundane-chest-contents-by-josh-vogt-from-rag-
ing-swan-press/

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Dressing: Mundane Chest Contents
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, Brian. I much appreciate it. Good suggestion on the ageing chest contents table. I wish I\'d thought of that!
Toys for the Sandbox 88: The Rift Market
Publisher: Occult Moon
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2014 19:55:05
It’s been a long while since I checked out any of the Toys for the Sandbox series from Occult Moon, so I thought I’d grab a recent release. The lucky PDF in this case was Toys from the Sandbox 88: The Rift Market by Quinn Conklin. This system-agnostic fantasy supplement details an intriguing gateway to other planes tucked away in a corner of Bashful Sister Mountain.

A tear in the fabric of the world lies hidden behind a seriously locked door in a small town on a trade road used to get down the mountain and onto the plains for trade. As such, it’s a perfect place for a town and market to spring up offering all sorts of curious items from other planes of existence. Elementals, demons, and more have come to sell their wares. Wondrous items are available… for a price, if you are willing to pay.

Toys for the Sandbox #88: The Rift Market - Occult MoonIn 18 pages (15 pages of content), Conklin not only introduces us to how this corner of the world came to be, but who and what we might find there. It’s a fascinating example of organically growing a location from a simple idea and the core concept behind it could also be used in other genres of games (urban fantasy and science fiction came to mind immediately). I think the town of the Rift Market could easily exist on a hundred different worlds and wonder if it doesn’t already…

Beyond the description, you get a four key NPCs to play with, from the market guide who can tell you where to find what you seek to the strange dark-skinned woman with an eerie glow beneath her skin trying to convert you to her faith. Each has a bit of history, a description, and an overview of any unique stats and skills they may have. These are the folks who inhabit the area of the market and each has a unique motivation or goal to accomplish with the help of the PCs.

You also get a collection of six plot hooks to help get those PCs involved in what’s going on at the market. Forces are gathering for various purposes not easily discerned, but your characters may quickly find themselves entangled in unique ways they may not always appreciate.

And lastly you get a couple of interesting items, some tables for random encounters or rumors to kick things off, and a collection of references to other Toys in the Sandbox products.

Let me start with what I really like about this product. First, I love the concept, which has a ton of application in just about any fantasy world you might consider. A stable rift offering not only travel to other worlds but access to other-worldly characters for the PCs to interact with in a relatively safe and controlled environment is awesome. Second, I love the layout, which though simple has some nice touches such as the graphical key in the upper right or upper left corner of the page to let you know what section you might be reading at a glance. And the notes area on every page is a terrific idea as well. You never know as GM when you might need to jot something down.

Now let me get to some of the issues I found with this PDF. First of all, it needs at least one more solid editing pass to catch the spelling errors (“discription” made me cringe when I saw it in the table of contents) and there are various grammatical issues scattered throughout. Nothing major, but the spelling errors and typos quickly caught my eye. Second, I wasn’t a big fan of the art, though I did really like the sketched map of the market on the last two pages.

Neither of these issues detracts much from the coolness of the concepts and ideas in the book, so I would encourage you to overlook them. I’m sure that the editing problems will be taken care of in a future revision.

If this is any indication of the cool ideas found in the other 86 issues of Toys from the Sandbox that I’ve missed, I’m sure I will have to grab another few before I’m done!

This review originally appeared at Game Knight Reviews: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/09/supplement-review-t-
oys-for-the-sandbox-88-the-rift-market-by-quinn-conklin-from-
-occult-moon/

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 88: The Rift Market
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Adventures in Awesfur - The Dark Totem pt.1: The Chantry Keep (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rocks Fall Games L.L.C.
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2014 19:53:44
If it’s one thing that can get me going as a gamer, it’s a good story. Couple that with a good setting and the opportunity to change the course of events (or even the perception of being able to change the course of events) and you have my attention as a GM and as a player. Add in some good writing, creativity, and a decent design aesthetic and I’ll probably talk your ear off.

When I started taking a look at The Dark Totem, Part 1: The Chantry Keep from Rocks Fall Games for their Adventures in Awesfur line, I wasn’t sure what to think. The cover sets an interesting tone with an almost “comic book” feel and the next few pages introduce you to the world of Awesfur to set the stage for the adventure itself. And that might be my first issue with the book itself. Out of a 37 page PDF, it wasn’t until page 9 where we get into the details of the adventure. There are 5 pages of setup where I was scratching my head a bit.

We’re introduced to more of Awesfur than we really need to know about in the first five pages. Perhaps it could be boiled down a bit more or a separate gazetteer could be created to detail the world in a “You Are Here” kind of way with a world map or graphically through an illustration rather than detailing it in 6 pages that are basically walls of text. There are a few stat-block-style chunks here and there, but it’s largely just a ton of text in two-column format.

That said, as soon as I got into the adventure itself I was hooked. In a few paragraphs on page 6, I knew The Blind Basilisk in the city of Varatolo is my kind of place. It has flavor, well-designed NPCs, and even a menu with prices for common services and items. And the PCs are immediately presented with an intriguing opportunity. When trouble comes a-knockin’, do they step up to the challenge or let someone else do it? If they do the latter, there are some consequences that may make further adventuring a challenge I think.

It’s that kind of diverging path that makes this sort of plot fun and let me wondering where things will be going in future supplements. That sort of anticipation built that early is a very good thing in my book.

Though parts of the adventure hold to a traditional old school feel with a variety of combat and trap encounters, there were also interactions with NPCs and the opportunity to explore to set the tone early. If you might end up playing in this adventure, I’d encourage you to skip the next few paragraphs…

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

One of the things that I really liked was that though the traditional “good vs. evil” approach was hinted at, the influence of chaos and the corruption of evil has a lot of sway. The idea of having big old baddies behind the world trying to influence their way back to rampaging through the mortal realm really made me smile. A group of knights trying to do the right thing stored items in the hopes that they could be safely contained or destroyed and we all know how that works out. True evil is patient. And Soulshackle, a demon or devil trapped long ago, was definitely patient.

And as we saw in Star Wars, “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded” as Obi-wan says. Soulshackle exerts influence telepathically over others to do his dirty work from beyond the veil in his prison he so desperately wants to escape from. That’s the key to everything. If you hear the voices, there’s a chance you too might be convinced to fall under his evil sway… And if you don’t hear the voices, you may be caught unawares by those who do.

I did wonder if the PCs should be making saves vs. some sort of mental domination as soon as they could potentially hear the demon’s telepathic messages… Maybe just those of chaotic or evil tendencies. But that’s just a thought.

Ultimately the area descriptions won me over time and time again. Little things like the description of the Abbot’s office hinting at his simple tastes and pure intentions towards helping the poor really made those areas come to life. And the description of the haunted forge was amazing. The use of such a simple mechanic for a location should inspire many other GMs to come up some cool one-off encounters that can keep the PCs (and players) guessing for a time.

** END SPOIILERS **

The 37 page PDF is arranged in a simple two-column layout with clear headings and read-aloud text. I’m not a big fan of the color red for the read-aloud text because my eyes kept trying to skip it as I was reading through, but it works visually to set it apart from the rest of the description. I also found the font a bit difficult to read with all the serifs, but again that’s largely a matter of personal preference.

The writing was excellent and the cover was great, but the rest of the book lacked any art beyond the crude maps done for the adventure. Though I wished there was a bit more art, I found the combat encounters to be well constructed, with stats, strategy, and potential reactions to whatever the PCs choose to do. Having that extra level of difficulty as far as NPC or monster behavior really helps a GM get what the designers were after.

Unfortunately I found the full color map on page 10 to be difficult to read. Everything kind of blends together with all that stone tile. And without a legend, I was a bit confused as to the size of each square and what some of the items were beyond the occasional table or bed. But a bit more work on the map would have helped clarify those issues.

Even if those few nitpicks, I think this is a great adventure for Pathfinder that should keep a group of 3rd-level characters busy for a while. Perhaps the PCs will be able to do what needs to be done and keep the town happy at the same time! I look forward to reading more from Rocks Fall Games in the near future.

This review first appeared at Game Knight Reviews: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/09/supplement-review-a-
dventures-in-awesfur-the-dark-totem-part-1-the-chantry-keep--
pfrpg-by-charles-t-marleau-and-kristofer-konkel-of-rocks-fal-
l-games-l-l-c/

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures in Awesfur - The Dark Totem pt.1: The Chantry Keep (PFRPG)
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Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom (4E D&D Adventure)
Publisher: Nevermet Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:16:37
Though I feel I’ve become a bit jaded over the years as I’ve seen story after story, plot after plot, character after character repeated over and over in popular fiction, television, movies, and game materials, it’s nice to occasionally find something that is refreshingly unique and thought provoking.

No, I’m not talking about AMC’s The Walking Dead (though I have been enjoying the first short season).

Instead, I’m talking about Brother Ptolemy and his quest to free the people of the world from “the pain and suffering of a living existence by ushering them into the freedom of sentient undeath.” Just ponder that statement for a minute. We’re not talking about mindless zombies or magical liches. We’re not talking about Frankenstein’s monster or vampires stalking their next meal. This is a man who has achieved a form of immortality at the ultimate cost of his sanity.

That’s the premise behind Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom from the creative minds of Nevermet Press. BP&THK is an adventure setting for 5th level characters using the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons from Wizards of the Coast. I would hesitate to say that the book was meant for players 16 and older and not for anyone under the age of 14. But as with all settings and game materials, your mileage may vary.

In the first chapter, you are introduced to Brother Ptolemy and his rise to power as the leader of The Hidden Kingdom – an organization bound and determined to ease suffering one city at a time. And Ptolemy, once the rich Duke Gerhardt von Brandt, holds power over all the members of his dominion. Gathering wealth and power, Ptolemy and his “red” monks (named so for their red robes) of The Hidden Kingdom are gaining sway over more and more cities. Though they may be responsible for many charitable works, their ultimate aims are like those of the Borg of title="Star Trek: The Next Generation" rel="imdb" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092455/">Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Resistance is futile.”

Brother Ptolemy makes one heck of a scary villain in my book. Not only is he powerful, but he’s also anonymous – one Red Monk looks like every other Red Monk and nobody knows who or where he may actually be. Plus, how do you kill something that’s already dead? Add to that his high-ranking officials scattered throughout The Hidden Kingdom and you have a plague you must somehow stop at its source.

As a gamemaster (GM), there is more than enough in BP&THK to gradually introduce the monks and their nefarious ends to an existing campaign. Each chapter introduces tools and techniques for getting the player characters (PCs) involved and trying to get to the bottom of the mystery and misery as it unfolds.

“The Red Harvest” in chapter 2 starts things off with a disease. That leads to Corwyn in chapter 3 where the Red Monks where you get the sense that the gorgeous, crime-free city of Corwyn, is hiding a rotten core. And in chapter 4, you have a full blown adventure that pits the PCs against the hidden goals of the charitable and magnanimous Red Monks who may be holding a young woman against her will.

Now, I have to admit to not being familiar with any of the materials for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, but I have to say that this adventure is extremely well laid out with enough flexibility to allow the PCs a chance to get into and out of many scrapes, close calls, and mob scenes. Want combat? It’s in there. Want some great roleplaying opportunities? They’re in there too. It seems to have a great balance.

The remaining chapters flesh out items, feats, rituals, and adventure hooks. My favorite item is a very low-magic item – the Beggar’s Coin. This doesn’t grant the owner any huge magical benefit, but with today’s economy in our own world, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would want one. “When one of these coins is pressed tight into the palm of a hungry man, the hunger slips away; when these coins are dropped into the cup of a cold man, warmth slips over him.” Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

The backstory is what grabbed me – the concept of someone who through his own vanity finds a form of immortality and wants to share that with his fellow man. He thinks he’s doing the right thing. But the question remains – even though you’re giving up everything to live forever, is it really worth it? These “things” his disciples become are truly the walking dead and yet retain their mental faculties. So can you lose your life essence and still retain your humanity?

BP&THK presents a unique story in a way that should provide twists and turns to GMs and players alike. If you’re a GM looking for some inspiration, definitely check out Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom from Nevermet Press. Paul King, Jonathan Jacobs, Dennis “Wyatt Salazar” Santana, Sean Holland, Christian Martinez, Steven Schutt, Stephen Dewey, Matthew Cicci, Liz Courts, Rob Torno, Matt Lichtenwalner, Matt Meyer, and Kenya Ferrand put together a heck of a book!

(This review originally appeared here: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-brother-ptolemy-the/)

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom (4E D&D Adventure)
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Martial Flavor
Publisher: Chaotic Shiny Productions
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:14:17
When you look up the word “martial” in the dictionary, most definitions tend towards the use of a few key adjectives – warrior, warlike, or military. So I’d be lying if I said that the Martial Flavors book from Chaotic Shiny Productions focuses on mostly peaceful people. Most of these cultures could be described as mercenaries, raiders, or warriors whether they believe in the chain of command or the power of the strongest sword.

At a mere 55 pages, Martial Flavor has to be one of the most colorful supplements I’ve seen in a while. Color, art, fonts, and text boxes are used to provide a layout that’s easy on the eyes and convey details on multiple levels.

The use of color works well to denote different sections, such as green for the titles, introduction, and table of contents, and a red/green pattern for The Daikort Pack, a green/brown pattern for The Elessim, etc. And each section is laid out consistently from group to group – starting with a vignette, an overview, appearance, hierarchy, rituals, races, sample characters, powers, and feats.

The full color and black and white artwork used on the front and back covers and inside provides not only a great way to break up the text, but provide a feel for each culture’s dress and appearance as well as what’s important. For example, for The Daikort Pack, we see a full color picture of an fair-haired elven maid wearing leather and a plate breastplate, which tends to indicate she’s more ready for a fight than to go frolicking in the woods in which she’s standing. But for The Elessim, there are three horses in the picture on a broad grassy plain and one rider. Something tells me the horses are important!

The black and white art was also quite striking, as with the appearance of a female Elessim with her long hair “in dreadlocks, knotted full of meaningful patterns. Many also fill their hair with beads and braided ribbons, highlighting the knot patterns with bright colors.” If the image had provided a bit more color to some of the beads, I don’t think I would have needed the text to help me figure out what was in her hair as much. But that’s a minor nit.

The book covers five separate cultures in detail:

The Daikort Pack – A group of mercenaries skilled for any terrain and any mission, the Pack is not to be trifled with from within or without. As mercs, they have accomplished an amazing array of tasks over the last few years, including slaying dragons, capturing outlaws, rescuing innocents, and even negotiating treaties.

The Elessim – A nomadic group of horse breeders happy to find fair trades or fight to protect what is theirs.

The Ikanoi – Tattooed warriors from the lands of ice and snow, these are fierce people who are prepared to survive anything and keep their tribes and traditions together for the ages.

The Legions of Arytis – The Legions protect their people and their city with a distinct focus. Each member of the Legions must serve in the city military for five years and will defend their way of life from all threats.

The Sijara – These nomads can be found anywhere – cities, wilds, oceans, deserts – wherever their paths lead them. They wander freely through the world and pity outsiders or “bound people”
who cannot go when and where they want.

The content in the book is tailored for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition, but I think the cultures themselves could easily be used in other games. I especially liked the concepts of The Ikanoi, which would be at home in the icy wastes of just about any world or system.

Though I love the concepts, I did run across a few nits. For example, as I hinted at in the first paragraph the word “martial” is in the title, but never defined anywhere. I think that a glossary of terms or even working the definition into the introduction would solve that problem easily. And when Powers are described for the various cultures, I was trying to figure out why some of the boxes had a red title box and others had black or green boxes. It might be good to have a key of some sort indicating the purpose for each color in that context. (It may just be that it’s a 4e thing that I don’t get, as I haven’t played with it yet.)

If you’re looking for some interesting crunch for your world, I’d definitely recommend that you take a look at Martial Flavor from Chaotic Shiny Productions.

(This review originally appeared here: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2010/10/book-review-martial-
-flavor-chaotic-shiny-productions/)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Martial Flavor
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Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 2
Publisher: Nevermet Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:12:01
When I reviewed Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 1 back in October 2009, I felt it was a monumental and worthwhile compilation of game material from around the blogosphere. Jonathan Jacobs somehow managed to do everything from curating the articles to having the book printed and available. The result was a book that managed to provide players and gamemasters, both new and old, more inspiration than you could shake a stick at.

With Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 2 (OGTv2), Jacobs managed to get much more help with nearly every part of the process – from nominating material to editing, art, and so on. He even managed to get sponsors to help foot the bill to pay for part of the publishing effort so it wasn’t all out of his wallet.

To avoid any misconceptions, I helped with a couple of parts of the process of OGTv2. I worked as a peer reviewer and contributed some funds to help get the book printed. But even with my help and the help of many other folks, I suspect Jonathan put in the lion’s share of the work on this book.

That said, this book is simply astounding from the description of the daily gaming convention on the web in the foreward from RPG industry veteran Justin Achili to Trent Colwell’s hilarious article – “The Tale of Jacques: A Study in Ignominious RPG Death” – in which poor Jack’s character drowns in spectacular fashion teaching everyone to make sure the rope is tied off before you jump into a torrential river of death… I think there’s something for everyone stuffed into this 158 page volume.

Just to provide some context, I’ll provide a bit of information about a few articles…

Jeremy Jones’ article “The More Fantastical It Can Be: Map Talk with Jonathan Roberts” (http://www.koboldquarterly.com) provides a bit of background on how Roberts’ cartography skills developed to make him one of the more sought-after map artists in the industry. He started out developing maps for virtual tabletop (VTT) programs like Maptool and eventually shifted to using Gimp, a free image editor that provides a ton of functionality for free (unlike Photoshop). By using a graphics tablet, he captures the freeform approach of hand-drawn maps and expands on them digitally. The work I’ve seen of his in Kobold Quarterly is just stunning, managing to not only provide a functional resource but one with a character of its own. Great interviews like this provide insights budding cartographers can use to enhance their own game maps.

The entire section on “New Players, New Games” provides many great articles for inspiration on how to bring new people into the hobby we all know and love already. The article “A System for Playing D&D With My Kid” from Enrique Bertran (http://newbiedm.com) describes a new, simple rules system for the preschool and elementary school players that may be lurking at your house. I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting my 5 and 9 year old girls involved, because they love to use their imaginations already. RPGKids fits that niche perfectly and is something I hope to explore soon. Teaching tactics, using basic math skills, and using their brains should be great practice for the real world – let alone future sessions of D&D!

And “Campaign Success & Failure” also had some great food for thought, including an article that really got my brain going a bit… “The Short Campaign Manifesto” by Yacine Merzouk (http://www.dungeonmastering.com) provides a list of 15 demands for a simple set of rules for a short (2-3 hour) campaign in a session. I have a bit of experience with fighting scheduling issues for groups as of late, so the idea of a shorter story that gets wrapped up in one sitting has some serious appeal. As Merzouk says, “How often can we realistically tell an epic tale? Not often.” I know when I was a GM, I felt compelled to create bigger, better, more epic adventures for my groups. Maybe now I need to rethink that and go back to the drawing board.

And that’s just the first third of the book. That doesn’t even get you to the “Campaign Design Choices,” “Of Sandboxes & Railroads,” or “The RPG Toolbox” sections which come later…

Once again, Jacobs has helmed an excellent resource for gamers of all levels and types. If all of the projects from his Nevermeet Press do as well as the Open Game Table series, he’s got many years of success ahead of him.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 2 as a PDF or hardcopy today!

(This review first appeared here: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-open-game-table/)

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 2
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Kobold Quarterly Magazine 14
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:09:35
Yahoo! The Summer 2010 issue of Kobold Quarterly is overflowing with chewy gaming goodness. And if you’re just in the mood for some amazing art, cover to cover is full of spectacular full color and black and white art, starting with “The Paladin’s Treasure” on the front cover. We all knew Paladins were adventuring for something other than the mythical dragon hoard… but don’t tell that to the dragon!

Just in time for Gen Con this summer, the Kobolds were busy bringing theory and practice together to provide inspiration for gamemasters and players alike. But if you’re looking for loot, there’s plenty of that too. As Wolfgang Baur, Kobold-in-Chief, explains in his Editorial – generosity is not an optional quality for good leaders. Viking jarls knew better than to not treat their berserker hordes to good meals, handfuls of gold, and public recognition for great deeds. Wolfgang and his own talented horde do that in each issue of Kobold Quarterly, so I doubt his audience will turn on him any time soon…

I was intrigued in this issue by the wide array of articles – from a detailed description of how to play an Aasimar (angel avatars used to fight evil in mortal realms) from Kolja Raven Liquette to an intriguing ecology article from R. William Thomposon about the Tengu I had no idea were as civilized as they seem to be. The Tengu have intrigued me ever since college when we ran into a few in a session, but now I might have to play one as an NPC!

Also in this issue was the concept of beefing up the ability of “Lay on Hands” for healing. Remember that paladin from the front cover? Laying on hands is one of his abilities that can take a bit of the pressure off the party MASH unit cleric. Though we recently were playing through one of the Pathfinder modules, we were playing in D&D 3.5e and not the Pathfinder revised system, but the more I see of how they’ve tweaked this and that the more I think we should have tried it out. Giving a paladin the ability to remove the effect of a Charm spell, Confusion, Dazzle, or even recent Death would seriously make me look twice at having both a paladin and a cleric in my party.

And one last article I’ll mention here is “Hoard Magic” from Michael Furlanetto. Dragons love their treasure hoards. We all know it. So why shouldn’t they be able to get a bit of power from that wealth? Combat powers based on the size of the dragon’s treasure pile might make a particular critter that much more difficult to kill. If you were defending your pile of gold, wouldn’t you want to have an edge in protecting it? And then, if the PCs are wise enough to take advantage of similar effects, wouldn’t that make a player think twice before leaving his home to go on another adventure?

Issue 14 managed to capture my attention with articles on characters, design, DMing, treasure, and the usual columns (don’t miss the interview with Rob Heinsoo!)… Doesn’t it deserve some of your love as well? Though I (once again) was unable to attend Gen Con this year, Kobold Quarterly gives me a taste of that glory a few times a year, so I think I’ll survive. Just barely though!

If you’re interested in fantasy roleplaying and all the amazing topics that surround it, check out the summer issue of Kobold Quarterly and all the other issues as well. We have to keep those kobolds busy and out of trouble before they come invading our own campaigns… Instead of the “Trouble with Tribbles” it’s the “Kinks with Kobolds”…

(This review first appeared here: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2010/09/magazine-review-kob-
old-quarterly-summer-2010-issue-14/)

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kobold Quarterly Magazine 14
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Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:07:50
Have you ever found a sandwich that’s so big, juicy, messy, and full of sandwichy goodness that you can’t figure out where to start eating it? That’s kind of what happened when I grabbed a copy of Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots To Inspire Game Masters by the authors of GnomeStew.com. This book should be like crack to not only roleplayers in general and gamemasters (GMs) in specific, but should also provide infinite ideas for novelists and short story writers seeking inspiration for their own works.

For those of you who aren’t gamers or roleplayers, there’s a huge and growing population of people who play tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs) who also write articles throughout the blogosphere. Gnome Stew (GnomeStew.com) is one of the more focused, schizophrenic (i.e. multiple-writer), and excellent gaming resources on the web today. I typically peruse the Gnome Stew RSS feed at least once a week to get an idea for what’s going on in gaming and stealget ideas for my own gaming blog (the Moebius Adventures blog).

The amazing folks at Gnome Stew evidently had their “eureka” moment in June 2009 and it took twelve months from that point to create this huge storehouse of ideas and inspiration for the community. As Martin Ralya, the owner of Gnome Stew, points out in his introduction – “To call Eureka a labor of love would be an understatement.” And the love shows.

Before launching into the plot descriptions themselves, the authors chose to provide a chapter about how to use the book. That takes up less than 20 pages of the 300+ the book fills. But without that information, it would be much more difficult to hunt for ideas on a particular topic. They have provided four different ways to find the perfect plot – by theme, primary genre, sub-genres, and tags.

The themes they use are the 36 Dramatic Situations written by Georges Polti in 1917. The book poses that there are only 36 basic plots used in all the dramatic works ever created or that ever will be created. It’s quite an idea and it’s still in use today by drama students, authors, playwrights, and many more. You can read the book in the public domain here. In terms of RPG plots, this helps by boiling down the initial idea succinctly and then building on it in the text of the plot description.

Genres are broken into four general categories. In this case, a genre is just a set of criteria for a setting that also lends itself to describing the overall tone or assumptions for stories fitting those criteria. In this case, they use three main categories – Fantasy, Sci-fi, and Horror – and add a catch-all “Other” category for any plots that don’t fit in the first three.

And when you get to tags, that’s where the real fun comes in. It’s obvious the editors and authors thought long and hard about how to make this book useful for readers. Like genres, tags in this case are just additional descriptive words to categorize a particular plot. These tags describe things like the type of Challenge involved in the plot, what Creatures and Enemies will be encountered, what kinds of Non-player Characters (NPCs) and Relationships are central to the plot, the Play Style, and the Setting. Beyond that, there’s also a broader “Features” general category for elements that don’t fit anywhere else.

Each of these descriptive methods is used to create a detailed index (four indexes are included – by theme, primary genre, sub-genres, and tag) so that you can simply peruse any of the indices for a particular idea or term. That certainly helps when you’re faced with the sheer volume of work presented in this book. Your other approach is simply to start at the beginning and read until inspiration strikes or you find what you are looking for. My problem with that is that I have hardly dented the Fantasy plots, which come first, so who knows if I’ll ever make it all the way to the Horror section!

There’s no way to do justice to the myriad plots described in the book, so I’ll just talk about one to provide an example of what you can look forward to.

“Vengeance Taken for Kindred upon Kindred” has a long title, but immediately I knew it was describing what I call the “Hatfields vs. the McCoys” problem. It’s a family feud at its heart. And in the fantasy version described in Eureka, it’s a tribe of orcs that’s split down the middle after a chieftan dies and his twin sons want to take the tribe in different directions. Stuck in the middle is a local town. With a war coming between these two factions, the player characters (PCs) must figure out how to save the town.

The plot goes on to describe the problems at hand, including the fact that they can’t face down all the orcs by themselves and what happens when the town mayor tries to make a pact with one camp for protection from the other… There’s just enough information to provide a framework for an enterprising GM to roll an adventure around it.

And at the end of the plot description, there’s a section describing what other genres it can easily be adapted to, including Action Horror, Cyberpunk, Grim and Gritty Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Sci-fi, Traditional Fantasy, and Western. The section also describes all the various tags associated with the plot idea – alliance, deadline, innocent, isolated area, mass combat, sandbox, tactical planning, and villain.

As a GM, I think I could take this idea and spin it at least three ways right off the bat, which is awesome. It’s this kind of inspiration with crunchy details that really sets my brain on fire.

So if you’re a GM, a player, a writer of any sort, or just like noodling about story ideas, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots To Inspire Game Masters by the authors of GnomeStew.com should provide you literally hours and hours of gaming fun. One review I saw mentioned that with 501 plots at your disposal, that’s more than a year’s worth of adventuring time for even the most aggressive gaming group!

(This review first appeared here: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-eureka-501-adventure/-
)

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters
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City Map Folio
Publisher: Kenzer & Company
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2014 16:05:49
As a GM, it’s nearly impossible to get by without a few maps. Sure, you can come up with a village on the fly, or maybe a 5-room dungeon, but cities are sometimes tough to design at the drop of a hat. Not only are there landscape concerns, but population, location, general disposition (friendly or un-), and so on.

Thankfully, there are many creative, artistic people who have created maps for us already. The Kingdoms of Kalamar: City Map Folio from Kenzer and Company provides more than 30 detailed maps to use for inspiration or in a Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign. From the full color map of Kalamar presenting the region where all these cities are located to the gorgeous interior black and white maps, there’s plenty here to salivate over from cartographers Craig Zipse and Clayton Van Sickle III.

What impressed me the most was the little details. Though the maps themselves have few labels or legends, anyone familiar with maps appearing in RPG adventures or books over the last 30+ years will instantly understand what they’re looking at… from rivers and roads to walls, buildings, forests and plains. Seeing how buildings flow around obstacles such as major roads, rivers, and docks can provide fodder for the most inquisitive player to explore…

And each map provides a small summary of pertinent details such as the city size, longitude and latitude, type of government, as well as major alignments, races, and size of the population. Also included is the name of the ruler (or rulers) of the city – such as with Baneta… “ruled by wizard Lakaran the Twisted under figurehead Lord B’Pareso.”

I did find it very difficult (impossible in some cases) to find a particular city on the full color map at the beginning of the book. It would have been nice to perhaps broken the bigger map into smaller regional maps to simplify finding them in the larger context. I also found it interesting that every single map in this collection has a wall or other defensive structure completely surrounding the heart of the population. Though I can see having walls around some portions of a city, I can’t imagine that building one around a population of 20,000 people can be cheap or easy to maintain.

That said, the Kingdoms of Kalamar: City Map Folio (first published in 2004) offers GMs tons of inspiration for their own campaigns and worlds. Who knows what dangers may lurk in these literally thousands of city streets ripe for the picking? Definitely worth the $6.99 as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.com.

(This review first appeared here: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2010/07/rpg-review-kingdoms-
-of-kalamar-city-map-folio/)

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
City Map Folio
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KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 3: Tools & Techniques
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2013 11:40:01
The kobolds are back with another amazing collection of twelve thought-provoking and informative essays from some of the best designers and writers creating roleplaying game material today. The essays cover everything from the simple question of “What is Design?” and work through contentious topics of creativity, craft, and how to recover when things don’t go well. Anyone who’s tried to write professionally understands the power of the blank page, rejection, and the unforgiving and untapped potential of any great idea you can’t quite find the words to express, but it’s a rare treat to get advice from some of the stars of the roleplaying game industry to address those problems. It’s nice to know the kobolds care.

As someone who aspires to be a game designer and writer, I find that rules are hard for me and settings are relatively easy. So as I perused the pages of the guide, I found myself trolling for tips and tricks to simplify my rules process and make finishing projects more of a reality than a wish. With that in mind, I will avoid talking about each essay in depth and instead focus on a couple that I found particularly helpful.

Wolfgang Baur has worked on some of my favorite gaming projects over the years, from the original Planescape line at TSR to adventures for Alternity, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, and a whole lot of D&D. He’s edited the Kobold Quarterly, Dragon, and Dungeon magazines and is the publisher and founder of Open Design – a collaborative game design company. Oh, and in his spare time he publishes the Kobold Guide to Game Design series.

Baur’s essay “What is Design?” tries to define a term that doesn’t lend itself well to a definition unless you have context on your side. In this context, he defines it as “its own discipline, but it always borrows and builds on other modes of creative work.” What does that mean in terms of roleplaying games (RPGs)? It means there has to be a balance between rules and setting. When they are out of balance, you can end up with a less than fun experience for your gamemaster (GM) and his or her players, which may cost you fans or customers. Rules must be focused on the setting and the setting must keep the rules in mind at all times. It’s a balance I know I’ve not yet achieved in my own games.

The other essays build on Baur’s beginning, covering the similarities between designing RPGs for the computer and for the tabletop; the basics of combat systems; the power of a good design, hook and dastardly plot; and the fun and heartbreak inherent in collaboration and any creative enterprise. Each essay is lovingly crafted by a master in RPGs today who knows what they’re talking about.

The other essay that really got my attention was “Basic Combat Systems for Tabletop Games” by Colin McComb. As I said earlier, system design is my Achilles’ heel. McComb manages to explain, in a Q&A-type of format, what you need to know about attack systems, who attacks and when, how things like area of effect attacks affect a group of targets, how to measure the consequences of combat through permanent or temporary damage, and so on. He then lays out a sample system using his own rules (minus stringent playtesting) to show how the questions can help you come up with a working system. The practical aspect of the article provides a ton of hints and help to avoid the common problems that plague beginning system designers (like myself).

Colin McComb was involved in 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, but helped create one of my favorite settings for that edition – Planescape – and even helped with two of my favorite computer games of all time – Planescape: Torment and Fallout 2.

Rob Heinsoo has been involved with the 4th Edition of D&D and seems to have written half the sourcebooks that have been published so far. He’s the force behind the D&D Miniatures game and its first nine expansion sets. And if that’s not enough, he’s worked at Daedalus Entertainment, Chaosium, and A-Sharp in the 1990s.

Ed Greenwood is simply a legend in the gaming industry. Not only is he the author behind the Elminster Series, including Elminster: The Making of a Mage and Elminster’s Daughter, but he’s written hundreds of articles about gaming and continues to GM his own campaign. Where does he find the time when he’s typically writing three novels at a time?

And Monte Cook… What can I say about Monte? When 3rd Edition D&D and the d20 system came out, he was one of the three principle designers behind the efforts. And since then, with his own design studio Malhavoc Press, he’s managed to create several award-winning products such as Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved, Ptolus, and the Books of Eldrich Might. In my opinion, he has one of the most unique voices among the game designers of today.

If you’re a GM, a game designer, or a RPG player interested in getting into the design side of how to create your own games – you can’t find a better introduction than The Kobold Guide to Game Design – Volume III: Tools & Techniques. These 96 pages will provide infinite food for thought and hopefully save you some pain and suffering along the way. I certainly have a lot to think about now…

As a final note, I think that kobold on the inside cover is up to something… don’t you?

Article first published as here on Blogcritics.org: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-the-kobold-guide/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 3: Tools & Techniques
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Sunken Empires
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2013 11:38:22
Ever since college when I actually started having the extra money to do so, I’ve been drawn to game stores and hunting for unique supplements. Adventures, gazettes, simple collections of maps – each has its own attraction for me. As such, I have ended up with a wide variety of books, pamphlets, and PDFs that each holds a particular fascination.

Open Design’s recent release of Sunken Empires: Treasures and Terrors of the Deep encompasses the perfect storm of history, art, and implementation that makes a supplement not only a useful tool for gamemasters to terrorize their players from time to time but a great read as well. From the forward by David “Zeb” Cook to the chapters on dealing with the deep and its denizens held my attention to the very end, which is a rarity in any supplement.

Beginning with Cook’s introduction – “A History of the Aboleth” – I felt I was being let into a tomb of previously unknown horrors. I honestly can’t recall if I’d heard of the Aboleth as a creature prior to reading Sunken Empires, but now I know it has a place in the occasional nightmare realms players may find born of my own freakishly random firing neurons. The story of how the creature came about provided crucial clues to crafting hooks and monsters without filling in absolutely all the details – leaving the rest to the players encountering such vile critters.

And Brandon Hodge takes things from there, weaving a storyteller’s spell upon the reader and introducing them to the aspects of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu from tales both ancient (Plato’s tales of at Atlantis) and relatively recent (H.P. Lovecraft adapting Mu into the Cthulhu mythos). Hodge then takes it a step further to create the lost city of Ankeshel and the modern cities of Upper and Lower Cassadega now exploring the submerged ruins and learning a few of Ankeshel’s mysteries.

After that, he provides all an enterprising GM would need to torture entertain his or her players with hints of powerful artifacts and spells from the distant past just waiting to be discovered by an enterprising band of adventurers. We have the half-merfolk Maerean peoples working both above and below the waters as well as new paths for other races and classes… I was particularly fascinated by the description of how Monks are entranced by undersea ruins – “drawn by the promise of lost knowledge and paths of enlightenment cultivated by ancient civilizations.” I’d not considered monks in that light before and yet I may start doing so…

Chapter 3 provides not only equipment for adventures daring to explore the sunken ruins, but by what they may find. The lure of lost technology provides not only interesting magic items, but the almost Steampunk-influenced weapons of a much more advanced race. And the weapons don’t disappoint… rifles that fire magically-created ice slivers, methods of crowd control, and even a magical/mechanical method of duplicating a Dispel Magic spell. Very creative items indeed.

Spellcasters aren’t forgotten either, with new spells provided for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, Wizards, and even Rangers. The Druid spells provide water-related magical effects such as Barnacle Armor, Wall of Water, and Calm the Waves. I was a bit disappointed by the small number of Ranger spells (there are only two) and wondered if as a GM I might consider creating additional powers for those adventurers used to prowling the underwater wilderness. Of course the Sorcerer/Wizard list was the most impressive, including more than 30 new spells for those classes.

The list of new magic items was definitely fun to peruse… Though I felt like I needed a much bigger bankroll to be wandering the aisles for many of the items costing 10,000 gold pieces or more. Even so, as a fighter who wouldn’t want a heavy steel shield shaped as a writhing squid that 3x a day could try to disarm your enemies!

If you plan on running any adventures in the split city of Cassadega, Chapter 5 is a must read. It provides much needed guidance on how to handle different levels of parties adventuring in or near the sunken ruins. Though that discussion is little more than a page, it provides answers to many of the problems parties may encounter if they are outmatched by the environment they find themselves in. Hodge goes so far as to provide random encounter tables for the coast and the underdeep that would scare the heck out of me as a player. Everything from plant life trying to kill you to a shoggoth waiting to devour you and your party as an hors d’oeuvre.

Lastly, Chapter 6 provides a description of the many critters you may encounter above or below the waves in these areas. Everything from a Bone Crab to a Wharfling Swarm (described as a huge number of hairless underwater raccoons with needle-like teeth) and aquatic variants of other creatures such as a Needlefish Swarm (a variant of Bat Swarm), a Slick (a Black Pudding variant), or a Giant Trilobite (variant of a Giant Centipede). And then of course there’s the Aboleth… I certainly wouldn’t want to encounter one in a dark, submerged alley.

Honestly, I was very impressed by Sunken Empires. It provides enough “crunch” for an enterprising GM to take it and merge it into his or her own game world quite easily. And if done right, a GM would have potentially years of gaming to explore all the dark corners of the Ankeshel ruins. I did find a few typos here and there, but nothing earth shattering that prevented my understanding of the content. And the artwork for the book was amazing from Malcolm McClinton (awesome cover art), Thomas Cole, Hodge himself, Pat Loboyko, and Hugo Solis.

If you’re looking for a new supplement and you think you want your players to get wet, scared, or both – I’d encourage you to check out Sunken Empires from Open Design and Brandon Hodge. Look for it at Paizo Publishing, RPGNow, and Kobold Quarterly!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here: http://blogcritics.org/rpg-book-review-sunken-empires-by/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sunken Empires
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Kobold Quarterly Magazine 13
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2013 11:36:32
The good people at Kobold Quarterly are at it again, producing another fine issue of their roleplaying games (RPG) magazine. However, I have to warn you – perhaps this issue should have come in a paper wrapper because of the cover. The cover art features a scene right out of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a forest clearing teeming with fae-looking folk, satyrs, unicorns, and other critters all getting ready to party. Now, there are some carefully placed shadows, hair, and arms, but it’s tough to ignore that a good number attending the revelry are stark naked.

Before anyone gets up in arms, I’m not a prude. But my concern would be for those game stores who carry KQ on their shelves and the pre-teen and teenage gamers who shop there. If we want our industry to be taken seriously, it’s tough if one of our best magazines (who have taken over for the once great Dragon and Dungeon publications from TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Paizo Publishing) is presenting Boris Vallejo-style pictures without properly warning folks first.

Yes, this issue does deal with sex and romance in RPGs, but you could warn a fella first. It’s funny, because I don’t typically object to magazine covers. Many of the KQ covers have been suggestive, but not objectionable. I guess it’s the pure… nakedness… that bugged me here.

That said, the articles inside this issue are the typical top-rate variety that you expect from KQ. And alongside the articles about sex and romance, there are articles about gnomish flying machines, magic weapons, and some darker material about creatures like the Shoggoth and using Lovecraftian Gods in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Again, the mix of content is amazing and thought provoking as always.

Who knew the ecology and psychology of Shoggoths was a topic that needed exploration? These are vile creatures from H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos who can now be injected into your own RPG campaigns to add some additional “ick” factor if you need it. “Ecology of the Shoggoth” by Phillip Larwood describes shoggoths as an intelligent ooze that consume living tissue or material and add it to their bulk. But just because they’re intelligent doesn’t mean you can have a conversation with one if you see it sliming down the street. These grotesque creatures embody chaos itself and leave a path of destruction and insanity in their wake. Larwood introduces the concept of cults to these strange creatures who actually feed and worship them… not the kind of folks you want to take home to eat meet your mother.

And if that wasn’t enough to scare your players, Aeryn Rudel describes the properties of some of the Cthulhu elder god and some of the qualities of their worshippers in his article “Lovecraftian Gods”. These gods cover everything from chaos to true evil and I wouldn’t want to run into them in a dark alley. No goody-two-shoes gods here. I do wonder a bit at the game balance qualities of some of the powers the faithful get from these divinities. Things like the Veil of ‘Umr at-Tawil would drive me nuts as a GM or a player for example (a blue silk veil that gives the ability to see all possible actions an enemy may take and then interrupt them), but it’s nice to have additional options.

As a game designer contemplating a Steampunk setting, David Mallon’s article for Pathfinder – “The Arquebusier” – was intriguing. Introducing a class proficient with early firearms such as the Musket and Blunderbuss would certainly add numerous options to a game world. And some of the new feats included, such as Double Tap and Bulletcrafting make this class much more well rounded – giving such a character the ability to not only create such weapons and ammunition, but have proficiency in using them in combat.

By far my favorite article in the issue was Monte Cook‘s “The Thrill of the Unknown” – which cuts to the heart of game setting design, which is one of my favorite things to do. Cook suggests that instead of illuminating all the corners of every dark place in the world, the element of the unknown needs to remain ever present. As he says – “Remember… that the power of the truly unknown is that, because it is entirely undefined, we can never grow accustomed to it.” When you know what’s coming, you can prepare for it. And that’s fine most of the time, but leave a bit of mystery where you and your players can explore it together.

If you’re looking for inspiration as a player or a GM, look no further than an issue of Kobold Quarterly, past or present. Every time I crack open a copy I learn something new or find a new way to look at things… Be sure to pick up your copy of Kobold Quarterly, Spring 2010, Issue 13 at a gaming store near you or online at KoboldQuarterly.com. Even with the questionable cover of this issue, you’re bound to find something fascinating!

This review originally appeared: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2010/04/magazine-review-kob-
old-quarterly-spring-2010-issue-13/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kobold Quarterly Magazine 13
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The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill 2.0
Publisher: Mike Myler
by Brian F. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2013 12:11:21
Fantasy worlds often overlook the little people. Elves, humans, and the bigger races always seem to get the spotlight. Dwarves occasionally get attention, but often gnomes and halflings are left on the outskirts panhandling for loose change.

Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill - Mike MylerIn The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill, designer Mike Myler takes care of that by giving you a quaint little world complete with a Steampunk/It’s-A-Small-World feel that has a political twist. Oh, and there’s a bit of interplay between intelligent species. Gnomes made a deal with a local tribe for a key ingredient to their mechanized magic and when supplies dwindle and the suppliers get a bit stabby, they need some help to solve their problem. That’s where the PCs come in. But any group of 4 or 5 4th level Pathfinder characters has their work cut out for them.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. From the quaint painting of town on the cover to the narrative-heavy layout, I was intrigued but a bit lost at first. As I got my footing a bit, I figured out Myler’s writing lends itself nicely to telling an intriguing story that involves combat, roleplaying, and diplomatic challenges to the players across a few landscapes.

The opening caught my attention right away, turning the traditional “you meet in a bar” adventure intro into more of a sales pitch for a traveling bard. The bard plies the PCs with beer, wine, and a story of why the town of Brandlehill really needs their help. It’s a matter of supply and demand really… The demand is high for the gnomish clockwork creations, but the supply of a strange substance from the bogs nearby needed by their creators has stopped coming. And the grippli, a tribe living in the Zeranoth swamps, aren’t being very kind to the gnomes seeking more of the stuff. They seem to be afflicted by some strange condition rendering them unable to rationally discuss anything and wishing bodily harm on their gnomish neighbors.

As the adventure progresses, the PCs get to tour Brandlehill, talk to the mayor, and try to figure out why all this is happening to the small folk. They’ll be reimbursed handsomely of course…

Really it’s a fun adventure that I think would be cool to play either as the GM or the players. But I have a few issues with the way it’s executed.

First, the narrative approach muddled things quite a bit for me. Though the adventure is broken into several sections of 2-4 pages (in the 37 page PDF), those sections just run on and on with only italicized text and the occasional column line or illustration to break it up. I think the addition of a few more headings would clear it up for me, but I had a hard time delineating between the encounters in each section.

Second, though there are maps and NPC descriptions with stats at the back of the book, I became very lost trying to find them. The TOC labels each of the maps, but they’re not labeled on any of the map pages themselves, so it was unclear flipping through the book what encounters they belonged to. I would have liked to have seen a small version of the map at the beginning of each section it was used for in the text itself, along with a link to the full page map later on. The same holds true for the NPCs described. I didn’t even know they were at the back of the book until I flipped back there.

Beyond that, the mix of single and double-column layouts worked well throughout, offering a pleasant border pattern and enough white space to make it fairly simple to read. I have to admit I found the print-friendly version a bit easier on the eyes than the colored version, but that’s probably just my own failing eyesight. It’s nice to have the options however.

And I love many of the breakout boxes throughout the text. Each offers great advice for a GM running the adventure, from using exaggerated facial expressions for the many froggish characters in the story to finding a looping background track of chirping crickets as the party explores the swamp. Little flavored ideas like those go a long way to making a more memorable session at the game table for everyone.

Overall a fun adventure and I look forward to seeing where things go in the next installment – The Mysterious Peaks of Baranthar!

(This review was originally posted at Game Knight Reviews here: http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2013/10/adventure-review-th-
e-clockwork-won ders-of-brandlehill-by-mike-myler/)

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill 2.0
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