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Dungeon Crawl Classics #83: The Chained Coffin
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:12:06
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/30/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-83-the-chained-coffin/

After seeing several third party publishers like Brave Halfling run successful crowdfunding campaigns for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system, Goodman Games finally decided to run one of their own. This campaign originally starter out to fund a regular adventure with a workable prop and limited edition cover. It grew to be an entire boxed set including an almanac and an extra adventure. Now, the boxed set isn’t ready yet and hasn’t been released to backers, so we’ll have to wait a few weeks until mine arrives and I can do a feature on it. Instead, today we’ll be looking at the version of The Chained Coffin that you’ll be able to download in PDF format from sites like DriveThruRPG.com or purchase in dead tree format your local brick and mortar gaming store. Don’t think you’re getting the short end of the stick with this version though as it includes several upgrades made possible by the 729 Kickstarter backers who took part, including some random encounter tables, seven mid-boss variants and more. So you are getting a bigger adventure than you normally would have – all thanks to crowdfunding. Hopefully you took part!

The Chained Coffin actually contains two full adventures. We will take a look at each one separately as they are very different. First is the adventure which bears the same name as the collection, The Chained Coffin. This adventure is designed for six LEVEL FIVE characters. Yes, that’s right. That’s pretty high for a published DCC adventure, so expect The Chained Coffin to challenge even the mightiest one time cheesemaker! I should point out magic and especially magic weapons are a must in this adventure, as many opponents have damage reduction or outright immunity to non-magical attacks. Going in without magic will get a character killed- even moreso than normal in a DCC adventure!

You would think from the title that a chained coffin would be central to the plot and it is in fact so. What you may not be expecting is that the inhabitant of the coffin is on the side of law and order. Usually coffins are the purview of chaotic, often undead, creatures. In the case of The Chained Coffin, an ancient and mighty priest of a lawful god has been locked up tight inside thanks to the machinations of an agent of chaos who seeks to become a demigod of sorts. The priest is now trapped in a permanent state of undeath within the coffin. The priest and his god make the coffin known to the PCs in an attempt to stop the servant of chaos who has reared its head once more in another attempt to amass vast quantities of power. The adventure will take through several dungeon crawls, although each of them are rather short. This is fine as you get several different locations instead of one long labyrinth and I’ll take the different scenery over a literal dungeon crawl any day.

Much of the adventure takes place in the Shudder Mountains, which will be give more depth in the boxed set. Here though you still get a pretty nice snapshot of this Ozarkian/Appalachian like area and its inhabitants. Besides random encounters with giants and bears, the regular inhabitants of hollers/hollows like Bent Pines or Bad Lick can be either helpful or send you on wild goose chases that eats up your time. Because you have only X number of days before the servant of chaos reaches a location where they can reign destruction down upon the land, time is of the essence and not something you want to waste on feuding with giants or selling your soul to demons like Ol’ Blackcloak. There are magical fiddles to be dug up, fingernail based fetch quests to win, and ghosts haunted by other ghosts asking for your aid. There is an enormous amounts of ways the adventure can go, along with several potential mid-bosses to face, like the Sin-Eater or Bad Lick Beast.

All of this comes down to finding the Luhsaal Wheel, which is the MacGuffin for the adventure and where the adventure’s final confrontation takes place. To get to it, you must first pass the spinning dial puzzle which trigger the whole crowdfunding for this adventure in the first place. The spinning wheel is a puzzle where you try to align all three rings properly. Do so and you can enter. Get the puzzle wrong and take damage along with a possible fall into a chasm. Unfortunately, there is no way the PCs or their players can figure out the solution to the puzzle. It is literally blind luck. There aren’t any hints and there certainly isn’t any logic to solving the puzzle. This is guess and check at its worst. The piece states that die rolls are not allowed, which is fine, and that player knowledge bleeds into character knowledge with this one, which I’m never okay with. The only real way to solve the puzzle is if someone somehow knows what any of these runes mean and that is very unlikely to happen. This was a massive (and annoying) disappoint to me. I was hoping for an actual puzzle straight out of old school D&D or like you find in point and click adventure video games. To have all this build up around the puzzle and have it simply be little more than a anthropomorphic personification of trolling rather disgusted me. Honestly as good (but not great) as the adventure was up to this point, had I known that the puzzle wasn’t actually a puzzle, I wouldn’t have sprung for the eventual box set and it was this Vince Russo style swerve that has kept me from backing the current DCC Kickstarter, Peril on the Purple Planet because I do not want to be this disappointed again. This part was just terrible.

After you get pass the massive disappointment that is the spinning wheel puzzle, you get your boss fight and everything wraps up happily ever after – as long as your characters live through the adventure, that is. You might even see one of your characters being a temporary demigod, with some big stat boosts of course. That’s always fun.

So that’s The Chained Coffin. Aside from the terrible puzzle that isn’t a puzzle, the adventure is pretty decent. It’s not as good as some other recent first party DCC releases like Bride of the Black Manse, The One Who Watches From Below or Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (all of which would probably have been better choices for the extra content and boxed set bonuses), but it’s a decent adventure, you’re certainly as fun with, even if a lot of you with house rule changes to the spinning wheel puzzle so players can get some kind of hint or tips on the actual solution. At least the physical wheel Kickstarter backers will get won’t be a one trick pony as the back of the book includes five alternative uses for it. That’s something I guess.

The second (and much shorter) bonus adventure in this piece is “The Rat King’s River of Death,” and it is for a party of Level 1 characters, although the text does not designate what size the party should be. Whoops. The adventure is also a direct sequel to the very first Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Idylls of the Rat-King. That great to see a sequel to an old piece like that. Unfortunately, that adventure is for D&D 3.5 rather than the DCC system and it’s been out of print for some time, so the actual people who have played the adventure and/or will get the reference will be quite slim indeed.

In Idylls of the Rat-King the named antagonist is killed by the PCs, but this is not the end of his story. Reborn into a cloned body, the Rat King has now taken a position of power in a small farming fiefdom far from the site of his original defeat. He has begun to poison the local water supply, as well as the crops, with the intent to wipe out human life with some sort of demonic plague. Hey, he’s Skaven – their plans aren’t super well thought out you know…

Now it is up to a new breed of PCs to take down the Rat King and his nefarious scheme. The characters will have to deal with rancid, pestilence inducing water, magic plague rats, a hedge maze full of sentient angry mutant plant life and some rat demons. In the end, “The Rat King’s River of Death” is a fairly standard dungeon crawl where PCs get a small plot hook in order for them to traverse a generic location and do battle with the big bad of the week. Now while the plot if fairly paint by numbers, the creatures and locations really spice the standard formula up and make this piece a lot of fun. The adventure even has some dangling plot thread so you can keep the storyline going if you choose. All in all, a fun short pat little piece, which is all “The Rat King’s River of Death” needed to be.

So, for ten dollars, you get two good adventures, even if neither of them are as good as other DCC adventures released this year. The Chained Coffinis well worth the ten dollars you’ll have to spend to get it (Or seven if you get the PDF), but only time will tell if the Kickstarter boxed set will be worth thirty dollars. Keep checking back as once I have mine, I’ll do a full pictorial feature on what it all contains. Until then, DCC fans should certainly considering picking up The Chained Coffin. There have been better first party DCC releases in 2014, but both adventures contained within this piece are still fun in their own right.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #83: The Chained Coffin
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Age of Cthulhu: Transatlantic Terror
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:10:45
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/23/tabletop-review-age-of--
cthulhu-transatlantic-terror-call-of-cthulhu/

Although currently unavailable to everyone else, Goodman Games released one of the stretch goals from their recent Age of Cthulhu Kickstarter to backers. This very short scenario should only take a day or two to play. It is set in the 1920s and although it comes with pre-generated characters, it can easily be played by your regular Investigators from this era.

Transatlantic Terror has the characters on a nine day cruise from New York City to Belfast, Ireland. Along the journey characters will be living it up as first class passengers and even be allowed to attend an on-board wedding between two of the NPCs. Depending on how observant players are, this could be all that happens to them on this scenic cruise. If the characters are a bit too nosy for their own good however, they could uncover a plot by Serpent People that goes all the way to the White House! Of course, knowing CoC protagonists AND the fact they are trapped on a boat for nine days, the odds are pretty good the players are going to encounter more than just a happy couple celebrating their newfound marital bliss. Transatlantic Terror is a pretty hard adventure to finish in a positive manner though, I’ll warn you that now. Even if you have some pretty top notch players, the chances of them saving the intended victim of the Serpent People is going to be almost impossible. By the time players even get a hint of what is going on, he’s already dead. Still, I love the concept of being trapped on a boat with some Cthulhu Mythos characters as it’s always a fun time. Transatlantic Terror is nowhere as lethal to Investigators as say, The Owglass, but it is one that will test players’ wits and mental resolve as there aren’t a lot of dangling clues out there for them.

The black and white artwork in Transatlantic Terror is pretty terrific. I absolutely love the cover although I have to admit, it reminds me more of Killer Croc from Batman rather than a Serpent Person. That’s okay though, because the cover is as fantastic as it is spoiler-laden. I also love the picture of the R.M.S. Adriatic at night with a strange bulging bundle slowly sinking into the sea. There’s a surprising amount of art for this little twelve page PDF, and all of it is great.

Now, this isn’t to say everything about Transatlantic Terror is great. There are a few stumbles. The Table of Contents for example, is extremely erroneous. It doesn’t match up with the actual adventure itself and it goes up to page 14, while the PDF is only twelve pages long. Whoops. At least it’s not as terrible as the ToC in Horror Stories From the Red Room. Another notable error is that two of the Serpent People Antagonists are listed in the Pre-Generated Investigators section rather than in the Non-Player Character Appendix. Double Whoops. Although, this did get me thinking how much fun and adventure written FOR Serpent People or Ghouls could actually be.

Overall, Transatlantic Terror is a fun addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. I’m not sure how much I would have paid for this on its own, but as a free add-on from the Age of Cthulhu 9 Kickstarter, I’m quite happy with this little bonus. Transatlantic Terror isn’t going to shake up your game by any means, nor is it some monumental adventure you’ll be talking about years after the fact, but it is a fine, short little diversion, putting Investigators and Mythos creatures on a boat out in the middle of the ocean, which is a situation neither will really be comfortable with once the zaniness starts happening. Keep your eye out for Transatlantic Terror if/when it becomes available to the general public.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Age of Cthulhu: Transatlantic Terror
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Age of Cthulhu 8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:09:56
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/01/tabletop-review-age-of--
cthulhu-8-starfall-over-the-plateau-of-leng-call-of-cthulhu/-


Age of Cthulhu 8 was another successful Kickstarter project by Goodman Games. In this case the goal was to fund a hardcover adventure for this Call of Cthulhu line of products. The goal was met and then surpassed, allowing for a few extra bells in whistles in the release, along with some bonus mini-adventures like Transatlantic Terror. It is worth nothing that out of Goodman Games’ six Kickstarters, Age of Cthulhu 9 raised the least amount of money and “only” 341 backers as compared to double that for their Dungeon Crawl Classics Kickstarters. I can only surmise why but I think $25 for a single adventure is a bit hard for some CoC players to take, especially when the $7 tier got you a PDF version AND a free previous Age of Cthulhu release. That tier was such a great deal it probably ended up cannibalizing the sales of the hardcover edition. Anyway, let’s take a look at Age of Cthulhu 8 and if it is worth picking up once it becomes available to the general public. Remember that Age of Cthulhu releases are for Call of Cthulhu Fifth and/or Sixth Edition, so you will have to do some tweaking if you plan to use the adventure with Chaosium’s upcoming 7e core rulebooks.

Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is an adventure that takes place mostly in the Dreamlands. I’ve always found Dreamlands adventures tend to be less popular than “regular” CoC adventures, but I think it’s because this aspect of Lovecraftia gets so little coverage and attention that when a Dreamlands piece comes up it throws both Keepers and players off their game. The whole Dreaming and Dream Lore skills or how reality is someone but not entirely different. Personally I enjoy them but like Cthulhu Invictus, it’s very easy to write a terrible adventure for the setting. Thankfully Age of Cthulhu 8 is not terrible. It’s actually very fun, although this is because it’s a more or less straight forward set of dungeons crawls with branching paths. In fact, one such path lets you bypass the majority of the adventure – but only if players and their Investigators are clever enough to discover that option. In this regard the adventure is really well done.

Now that’s not to say it is perfect. Azathoth is not written as the blind idiot god, but as something actively malevolent, which may annoy some purists. As well, ghouls are portrayed as more or less mindless human eaters. While they aren’t the kindest race towards humanity in the real world, Lovecraft wrote ghouls in the Dreamlands as intelligent and even quite willing to talk or even befriend humans. Look at how Pickman and his pack aided Randolph Carter in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath for example. At the same time, Hastur’s machinations come up and this is actually well done. The author does a great job of portraying Hastur and his cultists as less evil than a lot of other Great Old Ones, and you get a very Chambers/Bierce-esque vibe in the writing. This is wonderful compared to a lot of other authors who make the King in Yellow or Hastur some outright black hat wearing evil doer when he was originally written as one of the more benevolent Great Old Ones. The High Priest Not to Be Described revels in the destruction of all reality that is Azathoth’s plan…but he also helps the PCs to prevent it. This is the kind of weirdness that Hastur needs to be portrayed at – machinations that seem contradictory and bizarre to mortal minds. So some portrayals are really off the mark, while others are extremely good. It’s all in an author’s interpretation of the Mythos after all, but just a head’s up that purists or more anal retentive Mythos fans may quibble with some of the core events in this piece.

The adventure itself takes players from Arkham, Ma to Eureka Springs, AR (it’s a real place with supposedly a very nice big cat refuge) and then on to the Dreamlands. The adventure assumes Investigators are either veterans or recent additions to the “International Historical & Archaeology Society,” which is essentially the Age of Cthulhu‘s rendition of SAVE from Chill. It’s an organization dedicated to understand and subduing Mythos related thingies. Again, some people might take issue with this concept or shoehorning characters into an organization for a single adventure, but don’t worry. The adventure gives ways to get around being members of IHAS, as well as pregenerated characters to use if you don’t want to muddy up your regular characters with the organization.

It seems that a young artist on the stipend of the IHAS has been having nightmares growing in frequency and intensity. It’s also showing up in her paintings. Because of this the IHAS has sent her down to a mental health clinic specializing in…let’s say dream analysis…to help her get better. Unfortunately the artist in question has not been heard of in some time. Nor can the IHAS raise the clinic’s owner/director. The Investigators are then hired/chosen to go down to Arkansas and check things out. Once in Eureka Springs, the Investigators discover that they are in way over their head. Not only will they discover a way to enter the Dreamlands, but they will also have to foil a nefarious scheme bent on destroying that plane of reality and our own as well! No pressure here, am I right? From there the adventure is more or less a straightforward trek (also with branching paths, as previously mentioned). It’s simple in form and format, but still highly enjoyable to play. The end scene is especially memorable and will be worth experiencing even if you normally aren’t a fan of dungeon (or in this case Dreamlands) crawling.

The adventure is a lot of fun, and aside from occasionally requiring use of the Dream Lore and Dreaming skills (which most characters won’t have and some players might not even know about!), this would be a great introduction to the Dreamlands as you’ll see a lot of different things without having to get too in-depth. From there, if players liked the Dreamlands, they could move on to something like The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man or something similar.

Anyway, Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is a fine addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. There are several ways a character can meet instant death/insanity, but for the most part the adventure is one of atmosphere and exploration rather than combat. There are a lot of really interesting locations and encounters in this piece and I want to give special attention to the various maps in the adventure, as they were really well done – especially the Plateau of Leng and Eureka Springs maps. Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is another excellent addition to the Age of Cthulhu series and if you’re a fan of Dreamlands based adventures, or have been mildly curious about experience one, Age of Cthulhu 8 is a fine choice indeed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Age of Cthulhu 8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
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W20 Book of the Wyrm
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2014 17:25:19
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/21/tabletop-review-book-of-
-the-wyrm-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/<-
br />
Onyx Path Publishing has come a long way with their Kickstarter efforts. Book of the Wyrm is actually their 11th Kickstarter campaign (The 12th, Deluxe Vampire: The Dark Ages 20th Anniversary Edition is going on now!) and the third for Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition. What makes Book of the Wyrm so interesting is not that the entire book is about the Wyrm, its troops and what it looks to accomplish in bringing about the Apocalypse, but the fact that it came out in October of 2014, three months before the original listed delivery date. This make Book of the Wyrm one of the rare Kickstarter projects to not only come out on time, but beat the delivery date. That’s pretty impressive, and it shows that OPP really has mastered crowdfunding better than any other publisher out there.

Before we get into the Introduction, four chapters and the Appendices, I do want to take a moment to applaud the amazing artwork in this book. Unlike a lot of art we have seen in the 20AE line, the art in Book of the Wyrm is extremely horrific. It’s really well done. I can’t say beautiful, since much of the new art has gore, tentacles and tumours, but it’s really impressive and high quality. At times the art reminds me of something you’d see in Lamentations of the Flame Princess or the old Black Dog label White Wolf used to have for releases like HoL and Clanbook: Tzimisce. This is rather appropriate, as Black Dog Game Factory is actually IN Book of the Wyrm as one of the corporate subsidiaries of Pentex, the main corporate empire of the Wyrm. So the art is not for the faint of heart or young children, but anyone even THINKING of buying Book of the Wyrm is a longtime fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse and will know that going in to this. Still, just a warning for those of you reading this review who are unfamiliar with the brand. Fantastic art, but very creepy and/or squick-y.

“The Wyrm’s Call” is the Introduction for Book of the Wyrm and right off the bat, you should realize this is not going to be newcomer friendly. It references previous W:tA and W20 releases and makes no attempt to explain mechanics or specific game terminology/jargon. Of course, it shouldn’t have to. It’s clearly a sourcebook, not a core rulebook. You will need W20 in order to make sense of Book of the Wyrm if you’re not already familiar with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, so go read (or preferably purchase) the 20AE already. It’s exceptionally well done, and Book of the Wyrm will make a lot more sense after you flip through the hundreds of pages that will explain the Garou, gifts, and mechanics.

“The Wyrm’s Call” makes it clear that this book is all about the evil, chaotic, psychotic and monstrous nature of the Wyrm. This is not a happy book to read. It’s a book about what how the bad guys of Werewolf: the Apoclaypse think, plan, breed and plot. There are a lot of potential triggers in here, from cannibalism to necrophilia. Child abuse? Rape? Extreme violence and gore? Expect that and more from Book of the Wyrm. That’s why the Introduction pretty much is the equivalent of someone jumping up and down with their arms waving saying, “Hey! Don’t come over here unless you have a cast iron stomach.” The OPP team is perhaps the most PC group of writers and developers in the tabletop industry right now, which means as much as they enjoy tackling the sadistic and horrific nature of the Wyrm in extreme detail, they also don’t want their customers to have traumatic flashbacks to something that might have happened to them, or even feel uncomfortable reading their book. Hence the warnings. So now you’re warned by me too. If you are easily offended, grossed out or have things that can really make you feel uncomfortable, know you’re probably not the target audience for Book of the Wyrm. Also, if you are able to enjoy Book of the Wyrm for what it is and want to use it in your Werewolf: The Apocalypse game, don’t be a dick and throw in bits you know your players will be uncomfortable with by using, “Well it’s canon in this book” as an excuse. Don’t drive people away from our hobby. Anyway, kudos to OPP for include some warnings about the book’s material and for using the Introduction to highlight what each chapter of the book will be about.

Chapter One: Lore of the Wyrm gives you an overview of how the conflict between the Wyrm, Weaver and Wyld began. You see how the Wyrm went insane and became the source of corruption, pollution and chaos in our world. Once there was balance between the Triat. Now there is only war. Like Warhammer 40K, if all the Space Marines were Space Wolves. Anyway, Chapter One not only gives you a look at the history of the conflict, but how the Wyrm itself has broken apart and created a twisted hierarchy within its remnants as well as dark mirror version of the Triat. Yes, the book continually uses Triat instead of Triad. It’s a specific W:TA term, not a repeated misspelling, for those new to the game. You’ll learn about the three core pieces of the Wyrm in its new Triat: Beast-of-War, Eater-of-Souls and the Defiler. There’s also a long list of Urge Wyrms (Negative Emotions) and their Avatars, the four Elemental Wyrms (Smog, Toxin, Sludge and Balefire) and how the Wyrm interacts with the Spirit Realm of the Umbra. The chapter ends with an extremely long in-depth look at the pemi-plane of Malfeas, which is the realm which the Wyrm calls home. It’s eleven pages of pure description, showcasing different duchies the land is divided into, along with showcasing how extremely messed up Malfeas is. Definitely worth reading, and it will really give you a great idea of how the Wyrm is actually quite orderly in its chaos and corruption. Well done.

“Chapter Two: Pawns & Puppets” is exactly what you expect it to be. Here you get a look at the corporations, factions, allies, servants and unwitting dupes of the Wyrm. This chapter primarily focuses on Pentex, which is perhaps the most common way that PCs encounter the Wyrm in a game of W:TA. You get a look at Pentex’s structure, how it weathered the recent economic downturn, a whole list of subsidiaries and crazy products they put out and, of course, the people that run the corporation. It’s a fascinating and fun look, because Pentex has always been where OPP (and White Wolf before them) have let their imaginations run wild with dark satiric material. There are looks at the Occupy effort and how the Wyrm corrupted that, how Pentex influences video games, movies, fast food, and even the World of Darkness’ version of Anonymous. Perhaps the most entertaining part is the entry for Black Dog, where OPP mocks its own product line as well as the entire tabletop industry as a whole. World of Darkness products aren’t usually known for being laugh out loud funny, but you’ll definitely do so here. However, once the mirth has died down, you realize what a source of horror and pure eeeeevil (Indeed!) these bits of comedy relief can be when taken seriously in the actual game world. Still, it’s nice to see that the OGL of the 3.0 era is given a wonderful send-up as pure malevolence here.

Besides Black Dog, you’ll also see companies like Endron Oil, Magadon Pharmaceuticals and Sunburst Computers. Really though, a lot of readers, especially Kickstarter backers, will be reading this chapter for a look at the Board of Directors. Part of the crowd funding effort involves nominating and voting for new board members, and here you get to see the result. You’ll learn about the core board members and the specific machinations and goals they have in place. Each one is a work of art, if you consider art a toxic waste dump where your soul once used to reside. Truly, it is a lot of fun to see the Board of Directors given names, backgrounds and history. It helps a Storyteller make better use of them, as well as let them come to life in his or her Chronicle. The look at the new board members and the entire election process is a lot of fun too. More than any other book in the 20AE line for the Classic World of Darkness, you can really see and feel how much fun the authors had putting the Book of the Wyrm together.

Of course, the chapter isn’t ALL Pentex. You also get a list of cults devoted to the Wyrm, along with who is in them and what their particular goals are. These cults range from a twisted take on P.E.T.A. to a small town’s city council. Everything in this chapter highlights how diverse and cutting edge the Wyrm is compared to the Garou, which are small in number and are often more anachronistic than some ancient Kindred. By the time you are done chapter two, you really do see how the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the Garou losing. It might fill you with a bit of sadness and hopelessness… which is exactly what the Wyrm wants you to feel.

“Chapter Three: The Never-Ending Dance” is all about the Black Spiral Dancers. You might want to read this chapter in conjunction with Clanbook: White Howlers just so you can see the complete history of the Wyrm’s werewolves and how they turned into the servants of corruption that they once fought so valiantly against. You see firsthand why the White Howlers went down into the Black Spiral, how they changed and why they now serve the Wyrm willingly. You see the war from the Black Spiral Dancers’ perspective and how they’ve already won. They’re just trying to prove to the Garou (which they really hate) that the war has been over for a long time and that they just refuse to accept their crushing defeat. It’s an interesting read, and it really lets you see the perverse mindset of a tribe that lies to themselves constantly in order to keep the tiniest bit of sanity that still remains within them.

You’ll get a look at the BSD’s twisted version of the Garou litany, see how the tribe treats and raises its Kinfolk and even how packs are organized. There are lists of dens and specific BSD’s of note that you can throw into your Chronicle if you are an enterprising sort of Storyteller. Perhaps most interesting is the section that shows what the Black Spiral Dancers think of each specific tribe – who is the most dangerous, the most easy to corrupt, their greatest enemies and what they feel to be each group’s weaknesses. Even better, there is a piece showcasing how the BSD and Wyrm corrupt Garou from each tribe to get them to fall and dance the Spiral themselves. Great stuff. The chapter concludes with lists of Gifts, Rites and Totems specific to the Black Spiral Dancers.

“Chapter Four: Feeling the Touch” covers everything else. As it takes up a fourth of the book with fifty-plus pages of content and art, you might find this is where you will spend most of your time when using Book of the Wyrm in an actual game. Within this chapter you’ll get a good long look at various breed of Fomori, and even what happens when they try to possess supernatural creatures like vampires, Garou, mages and Changelings. There is also a section on Banes and another on truly bizarre Wyrm spawnings. Perhaps the most interesting section in this chapter are what happens when other Changing Breeds such as Wererats, Werespiders, Weresharks and the like fall to the Wyrm and become its servants. Each Changing Breed gets several pages devoted to their Wyrm counterpart, and each one is extremely twisted. There are also several “Mockery Breeds” which are Pentex’s scientific experiment attempts to create its own wereanimals. There are the War Wolves, Anurana (toads), Samsa (Cockroaches that are all but impossible to kill but also terrified of everything and extremely paranoid) Kersai (Rhinos) and Yeren (great white apes). Each tribe is as screwed up as you can imagine, but the Samsa and Anurana seem like they can be potential converts to Gaia. Perhaps in your campaign they will!

Besides all these potential antagonists and cannon fodder, the chapter ends with a small section on Taints. How one becomes Tainted, the difference between physical and mental Taints, along with information on the Path of Corruption. It’s worth noting that this chapter ends with “Redemption for the Corrupted,” which means the book itself ends with a light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness. It’s this same little gasp of hope that will lead the reader to believe the Wyrm is not as all-powerful and unstoppable as it (and this book) would like to believe, as well as mirrors that bit of hope that keeps the Garou fighting for Gaia, even in the face of certain defeat. Perhaps this wasn’t intentional, but the critic in me likes the analogous poetry in it.

The last few pages of the book are the Appendix. Entitled, “Rotten Baubles,” this is a potpourri of various odds and ends. Fetishes and Equipment? It’s here. Some example Tainted products, like Lycanthrope: The Rapture 17th Anniversary Edition? It’s in here. Some Tainted alcohol or especially evil vehicles? Here you go. After that, it’s THIRTEEN PAGES of Kickstarter backer thank yous and the book is done. Huzzah!

So there you go. Book of the Wyrm is easily the best release for W20 besides the core rulebook so far, and it’s also the best release by Onyx Path Publishing this year. I loved nearly every page of the book and was thoroughly impressed by the time I was done with it. If you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse or the Classic World of Darkness in general, this is a definite must-buy when it becomes available to the general public. It’s fantastic.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Book of the Wyrm
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The Strange (corebook)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2014 09:54:43
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/11/10/tabletop-review-the-str-
ange-core-rulebook/

Back in August of this year, I reviewed The Strange Player’s Guide. I gave it a positive review, which is no surprise considering I liked Numenera so much. At the end of the review, I said I’d have a review of the Core Rulebook up by the end of the month. Nearly three months later I’m finally getting to post my review of the book. What happened? Well, time mainly. I’ve written forty-eight articles since the Player’s Guide review, so The Strange just got bumped because I had already done the PHB. In my mind, I wanted to spread my time amongst some small releases that might otherwise not get attention. It also didn’t help that D&D 5e, Warhammer: The End Times, Robotech RPG Tactics and the digital version of Horror on the Orient Express came out in that time period. So something had to give, and unfortunately, it was that review. Still, I feel a little better noticing most reviews for this game didn’t come out until late October, but I know I’m generally super timely with my reviews so I wanted to explain why this is so late compared to everything else I’ve done over the past few years.

The Strange is a massive tome compared to a lot of core rulebooks these days. Weighing in at 418 pages with eight parts, twenty-three chapters, two appendices and more, it will take you a long time to really go through this book and learn the system. The good news is that if you already have either NumeneraThe Strange, Player’s Guide, you’ll be familiar with a lot of the mechanics and/or concepts in the game. In fact, The Player’s Guide is the first seven chapters of the Core Rulebook, so I suggest reading my review of that to prevent recovering already trod ground. Besides, it’s been three months. Even if you’ve read that review, you’ve probably forgotten it. In a nutshell, Character Creation in The Strange is almost identical to that in Numenera. There are a few term changes like Nano/Jack/Glaive becoming Paradox/Spinner/Vector and that your character Foci will change based on which of the three core realities you are currently in. Essentially creating a character in The Strange is almost the same as in Numenera, but as I mentioned in my review, there are a lot less Foci available in The Strange so it’s a little more limiting in that respect. Otherwise it’s a fantastic character creation system. Heck, I have the Numenera app and sometimes just piddle away creating random characters when bored or waiting in a line. It’s a lot of fun and the same is true with The Strange. Again, read the Player’s Guide review for an in-depth look at these first two parts/ eight chapters of the Core Rulebook. Now let’s tackle the rest.

Part 3 is “Playing the Game” and consists of two chapters. These are “Rules of the Game” and “Rules of Translation.” “Rules of the Game” lays out the mechanics of The Strange which are about 99.99% the same as those in Numenera Both use the same Cypher System after all. When you roll, the difficulty of the task is rate from 0-10. Each step higher on the difficulty ladder adds another 3 points to the target number you are trying to roll. So a Level 1 Task need a 3 on a d20 to be successful, a level 6 Task requires an 18 and a Level 10 requires a roll of 30 or higher. So you’ve probably noticed that levels 7-10 can’t actually be accomplished with a d20 as it only goes so high. Well this is where the stats that came about in character creation come into play. If you are trained in a skill, you can lower a task’s difficulty level by one. If you are specialized in a skill, you can lower it by two steps. So if I’m trying to climb the Murderhorn which is a Level 10 difficulty task, but I’m specialized in mountain climbing, that task is lowered to a level 8 difficulty. As well if I have an asset which in this case could be exceptional climbing gear or maybe something that negates my weight so I am lighter and bouncier, the task can drop another level. Now this Level 10 task has dropped to level 7. Finally, I can apply points from my Effort pool (See character creation; again, read the Player’s Guide review.) Let’s say I spend 5 points of effort to lower this task two steps. Now all of a sudden because I am well prepared and spent effort this impossible level 10 task which needed a 30 on a d20 is now a level 5 and all I need is a 15 or higher to succeed. Sure the odds are still against me, but at least it’s now in the realm of possibility!

Other notes worth mention is that the GM never rolls; only the player. This is a subtle but neat aspect because it means the GM is pure storyteller and arbitrator. He’s not hiding his rolls behind some screen and fudging the dice in one way or another. There’s also the return of GM Intrusion where the GM can handout two experience points to throw a monkey wrench into the story. This could be anything from a weapon breaking in a fight to coughing during a moment where stealth is key. The player can either accept the change and keep the experience points (giving one to another player) or they can reject the intrusion by giving up the experience points bribe and spending one of their own accumulated XP to boot. In this respect, the players and the GM are coming together to tell a story. There’s no GM vs players. It’s simply everyone is involved and invested in telling a good story. It’s just the GM writes most of it and plays the NPCs. It’s a wonderful experience for everyone involved and it prevents players from feeling picked on or like the GM is trying to kill their characters 70s style. The rest of the chapter discusses basic rules, how to get experience points and character advancement. Standard stuff, but well written, easy to follow (especially for Numenera fans), and it’s a lot of fun to read.

“Rules of Translation” talks about what happens when a character travels between recursions. Recursions are the different planes of reality in the game. Some might be a pocket dimension 100 square feet in size, while others might dwarf reality as we know it. It all depends. “Rules of Translation” gives us the mechanics behind transferring your character’s conscious mind from a body in its core reality to a newly made one in the recursion it is entering. This process is called translation as reality tries to make you fit into it. Here you’ll see how long a translation takes, what one has to do in order to make it successful, and how player characters can make the process easier and faster by working together. It’s a pretty short chapter but it’s full of both substance and mechanics so you get a very good idea of how translation works. Since this is a huge part of The Strange, make sure you re-read this chapter enough times that you know the basics by heart.

Part 4 is “The Setting.” It consists of six chapters and is by far the longest part of the book. It is mostly background information as well as a detailed history on recursions and the core three worlds of The Strange: Earth, Ardeyn and Ruk. In fact, each of these four concepts gets their own chapter devoted to it and by the time you are done, you’ll be full of ideas for adventures, characters and what you want to see in your own Strange campaign.

Chapter Ten is “Recursions” and it gives you a basic overview of the concept in addition to teaching you how to craft your own demi-plane (Of Dread?). It’s exceptionally detailed and offers some good advice and an incredible amount of options, so anyone who plans to GM The Strange will be spending a lot of time in this chapter. Chapter Eleven is “Earth” and this might seem like a self-explanatory chapter. At this point in your life, you should be very familiar with Earth after all. What you might not know about are organizations like The Estate which police the planet from The Strange and recursions filled with hostile life forms. “Earth” is all about the Estate and other groups like it. You learn about its objections, sample missions, the type of people it recruits and so on. Most of the other groups only get half a page to a page of detail, where the Estate gets the bulk of the chapter. However, if you want to run a campaign where the PCs are Butterfly Objectors or Recursion Miners, you can! It’s your game after all.

Chapter Twelve is “Ardyen” and it is the base fantasy style world in The Strange. It has dragons and wizards and contains many fantasy tropes you love and/or hate. Ardyen was made by humans and is based off of a (in-game) MMORPG. Although it is relatively recent in terms of coming into existence, the world has thousands of years of history so you can create rich back stories for NPCs and even characters that come from this world. This chapter is exceptionally detailed with maps and in depth looks at locations (both building, region and geographical). There are even several pages of magic items. Hurrah!

Chapter Thirteen is “Ruk,” which is a dark dystopian world filled with mad science. Think Terminator meets Shadowrun for a quick mental image. This chapter is just as detailed as “Ardyen,” but it’s not human-made. Rather some other reality spawned this plane of existence. Perhaps one of the previous worlds if you are using The Strange in the same continuity as Numenera. Perhaps they are aliens from the same universe who had nowhere else to turn but in creating a recursion. Whatever the reason you choose, Ruk is a dark mirror of humanity and its residents don’t care much for us. It’s a much smaller world compared to Earth, but here there is technology and cyberorganisms far different than you would find on our own world. It’s an extremely alien world, but one worth reading about because there is a lot of story potential for adventures and/or campaigns in it. Heck, maybe a player will want their character to be from Ruk.

Chapter Fourteen is “The Strange,” and it gives more of an overview of what is called “The Strange” in-game. It’s not just the name of the franchise after all. In-game, The Strange is dark energy and matter that intersects with our own universe and causes things like recursions. The Strange is also know as the Chaosphere which was constructed billions of years ago by highly advanced aliens to help them in intergalactic travels. Something went wrong though and the Strange became what it is in modern times. Unfortunately, much, if not all, knowledge about these Precursors is lost, so you can’t really ask them. Again, this background information works as a great link to Numenera if you are familiar with that game. In this chapter, you will learn about how the Strange works and can be accessed by those aware of it. There are a whole host of locations to visit listed in this chapter along with some idea of what happens if you spend too much time in The Strange. Exploration has its dark side.

Finally we end Part 4 with Chapter Fifteen, “Other Recursions.” This is exactly what you think – a whole list of several other recursions to explore or perhaps even generate characters from, coupled with some artifacts that can be found there. I was quite amused that one of the recursions is called Innsmouth. Monte Cooke Games really does love to put Lovecraftian references in their games.

Part 5 is “Characters and Creatures.” It consists of two very cut and dry chapters. Chapter Sixteen is “Creatures” and Chapter Seventeen is “Non Player Characters.” You get nearly fifty pages of creatures, many of which are completely unique to this game like Cypher Eaters and Gnathostones, but you also get pretty standard creatures like Dragons and Giants. There are also some takes that straddle both extremes. The Hydra here uses the classic fantasy name but oh man, is it far more horrifying than the kind Hercules fought in Grecian lore. “Non Player Characters” is a similar chapter. You get a whole host of characters from different recursions and our own reality to throw into a game instead of making your own. It’s a much smaller chapter, consisting of only seven pages, but it contains everything from guards and generic Recursors to Professor Moriarity. Very cool.

Part 6 is “Running the Game” and this is where the GM of your group will spend the bulk of his time planning and reading. Chapter Eighteen is “Strange Cyphers” and it is roughly two dozen pages of cyphers (the equivalent of magic or special items in the Cypher System games), along with an explanation of what cyphers are, how they work and how to use them in your game. Chapter Nineteen is “Using the Rules.” Here you’ll find some dos and don’t for how to run a Strange campaign successfully. Right off the bat you are hit with a reminder that story is the most important part and that the rules are there to help you tell the story. They are guidelines, not set in stone facts. So neither The Strange nor Numenera are for ruleslawyers, thank Cthulhu. You’ll also find a discussion on setting task difficulty levels, how to be consistent, what to do when you’ve made a mistake and ways to use GM Intrusions without abusing it. The whole chapter is a great read, even if you are a veteran GM, and it’s worth reading for the advice on damage, mechanics and storytelling in general.

Chapter Twenty is “Building a Story” and it focuses primarily on creative a quality narrative, be it a one shot adventure or throughout a long running campaign. Within these pages you’ll learn about teaching the game to others and helping them through their first few gaming sessions as well as StrangeDungeons & Dragons to GUMSHOE. From the play example to a discussion on how to advice on preparing for an upcoming gaming session, this is actually my favorite chapter in the book

The final chapter of Part 6 is “Running a Strange Game.” Chapter Twenty-One continues the same line of thinking and advice as we have seen in the previous ones. The chapter begins with advice on an intro adventure for new PCs and how to ensure that The Strange lives up to its name. This brief chapter is primarily odds and ends that they threw together to finish Part 6. There is a talk about creating new recursions, which was covered earlier in the book, and adventure outline, which better off in Part 7. Things like that. It’s a very disjointed chapter and the weakest in the book to the utter lack of cohesion. Still, there’s stuff in the chapter GMs will want to read.

Part 7 is “Adventures.” Here you get a short thirteen page adventure called “The Curious Case of Tom Mallard” and the next chapter consists of two pages of story hooks and adventure seeds. I won’t spoil the adventure at all, but it is a decent one, especially for an intro adventure. Likewise there isn’t much in Chapter Twenty-Three, but it’s nice to see a bit of story threads for GMs that aren’t ready to homebrew their own adventures yet.

We come to the final part of the book with Part 8, aka “Back Matter.” Here are the odds and ends that don’t belong anywhere else in the book. Appendix A: Resources gives you a list of books, films and TV shows that inspired the creation of The Strange. Appendix B is a six page list of Kickstarter backers. The Glossary and Index are exactly what you suppose they are. The book then ends with a Character Creation Walkthrough and some character sheets. Both of these sections can be found in the Player’s Guide I keep mentioning and as such there is no need to talk about these for a second time. Suffice to say the character creation walkthrough is well done though and will really help out newcomers.

All in all, The Strange is another fantastic release from Monte Cook Games. I’ll admit I prefer Numenera‘s setting but that is 100% subjective. The Strange really is a fantastic game that came out in this summer of consistent top notch products. As such, I’m glad I’m covering it a little later than I normally do, because otherwise it might have been lost in the shuffle of all the big releases that came out around the same time. So if you missed the game in August when it first came out, here’s your chance to add it to your winter holiday of choice wish list and hopefully receive a copy of it in December. In many ways, The Strange reminds me of the old game Lords of Creation mixed with Numenera rules and trust me when I say, that’s a pretty big compliment.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Strange (corebook)
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Tribebook: White Howlers
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2014 15:08:22
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/30/tabletop-review-tribebo-
ok-white-howlers-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-ed-
ition/

Before they were the Black Spiral Dancers, before they were devoted servants of the Wyrm, before they were the arch enemy of the Garou Nation – they were the White Howlers. Although long extinct or transformed by the Labyrinth, the White Howlers were once one of Gaia’s fiercest defenders. Thanks to Kickstarter backers of the Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition, the story of the White Howlers before their fall from grace can finally be told, thanks to this stretch goal. At some point it will be available to all fans of W:TA/W20, but for now this supplement is only available to Kickstarter backers as a freebie thank you for their collective crowdfunding efforts.

If you’ve never read a Tribebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, think of it as a supplement that is 100% focused on a specific sect of Garou. In this case, the White Howlers. Much like the Croaton and the Bunyip, because the Howlers had all died out around 200 BC, they never got their Tribebook, with White Wolf focusing on the surviving Garou tribes. The White Wolf version of Werewolf: The Apocalypse dangled historical remnants of these tribes in our face, but never really fleshed them out. With Tribebook: White Howlers however, you get to see how the White Howlers lived and “died” – and more importantly – WHY. The book basically teaches that even the bravest and most determined Garou can fall to the power and horror of the Wyrm, and that not every story has a happy ending. Moreover, it shows that the Garou Nation is often its own worst enemy – even moreso than the Wyrm and Weaver, which it constantly opposes. By the end of the book you get a really good sense of who the White Howlers were, why they became the Black Spiral Dancers and you even feel a little sorry for them in the end.

The book starts off with an eight page comic strip about the White Howlers. I always love the W:TA comics and this was no exception. It’s a very striking intro to the book and really sets the tone for the entire piece. After that you get an Intro section talking about what the book will contain and a thank you to Kickstarter backers. It’s pretty standard introduction stuff and you can skip it. It’s basically filler.

Chapter One is “History,” and it’s a very unique read. It’s told from the perspective of a White Howler Metis bard named Morag as she puts the lineage and history of the tribe to verse on the very eve of entering the Black Labyrinth. Asked by Lion, the tribe’s totem (who perhaps knew what was coming) to put the tribe’s history to pen (although the Picts didn’t have a recorded written language, which the book makes mention of in Chapter Three, but hey, it’s a game – not a history book). It’s an interesting, albeit a bit dull and dry read as you learn about the Howlers, the Picts, ancient Caledonia and the Ice Age that caused the Howlers to venture forth from their homeland in search of warmth and sustenance. You learn about their encounters with the first Garou tribe they encounter other than their own (Fianna), their war with the Romans, their ongoing conflict with the Wyrm and eventually, their discovery of the Black Pit which would lead to their transformation into the Black Spiral Dancers. It’s an informative read, but the author (or perhaps the character) isn’t a very convincing storyteller (no pun intended). I went into this excited for a really interesting read about a tribe that had such potential storywise and came away a bit bored and disappointed. W:TA fans have been waiting for this book for roughly two decades, and “History” might have been the least interesting read I’ve had from a Classic World of Darkness book in a while. I’m glad they finally made this Tribebook, but I don’t think this was the writer, author or voice for the piece. It just came off a bit flat and “Ben Stein-y” in tone.

Chapter Two is “Culture,” and it continues the trend of Morag talking about the Howlers’ history and way of life. Here you get a look at specific Kinfolk groups, breeds, moon aspects and camps within the Howlers. Again, a great idea and something I’ve been looking forward to for decades, but the end result fell more than a little flat. Again, it wasn’t compelling reading. The writing felt forced and the narrative was really lacking in style. Great direction and ideas, but again, I found myself really bored with this Tribebook, which was a huge disappointment to me as the Tribebooks are my favorite releases for Werewolf: The Apocalypse. It wasn’t for a lack of substance, but rather the way in which it was presented. Maybe it was the voice of the character, or maybe the author needed better direction in how to provide a narrative – I’m not sure. All I do know is I’m glad I got this for free, because the quality in these two chapters just wasn’t there.

Thankfully things really pick up with Chapter Three, “The White Howler’s World.” Here we lose Morag as a narrator and go into a more traditional style RPG book where the author talks to the reader instead of a character to someone else not fully defined. That’s not to say there is something wrong with the usual White Wolf/Onyx Path way of having a character narrate some of the book, but it just didn’t work at all with this Tribebook. Anyway, Chapter Three is the longest chapter in the Tribebook and it’s awesome. Here the book flat out talks about the trouble that comes with writing a book for a tribe and its Kin when both died out about two thousand years ago. This is especially true for the Picts, who left little to no pieces of their culture behind. No written history, a shambles of an oral history and most information that we have about the Picts comes from heavily biased or uninformed Roman commentary. This makes a book about the White Howlers and/or their Kinfolk especially hard to write, so one has to be forgiving of the previous chapters, as any author assigned this topic was in for a pretty big handicap.

This chapter talks about how any use of the White Howlers will most likely take place during the Iron Age, or more specifically between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. (bad author form here using B.C. and A.D.). Most gamers don’t know much about this time period, or Caledonia, so any attempt to do a historical campaign might come off cheesy or fall flat because of this. That’s why this chapter tries to give you all sorts of quasi-historical information about the region and people, so that your Storyteller can make an adventure or campaign around this time period and era feel more realistic and believable. Well, as believable as a game featuring werewolf protagonists can be. The chapter breaks down all sorts of aspects to be used by the Storyteller and players. Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, cooking, metalworking, architecture, clothes, weapons, burial customs and more are all covered in this chapter. By reading Chapter Three thoroughly, a good Storyteller should be able to really flesh out an Iron Age White Howlers adventure.

Of special interest is the section on modern era White Howlers. Sure, it’s technically impossible with how W:TA is written, but it’s your game and you can bend or even outright break the rules if it is to you and your players’ liking, so OPP has given you some ways here. A White Howler could be born to two Kinfolk who have slipped through the cracks somehow. You could also bring them back metaphorically by restoring Lion to full Tribal Totem status. The final example given is by having an alternate history where the Howlers never fell. It was some other Garou tribe that became the Black Spiral Dancers. Perhaps the Dancers are merely a dark reflection of the Garou and have always existed. Some very interesting and fun options are provided here.

The chapter ends with a look at the White Howlers relationship with other tribes, as well as some further historical based reading to help make a game set in the Iron Age and/or Caledonia come alive. This is a really great chapter that more than makes up for the previous two. This is well worth reading, even if you don’t care about the White Howlers, as the Iron Age era information is really helpful. It’s also useful for Roman era oriented games like Weird Wars Rome or Cthulhu Invictus.

The final chapter in Tribebook: White Howlers is “Powers,” and this is where all the mechanics, stats and abilities are kept. There are new Rites, Gifts and Rituals for the White Howlers to be found here. Some are completely brand new, while some are slight variants on versions possessed by other tribes. There are a lot of new Merits and Flaws along with White Howler Fetishes and Talens. There’s a ton of great content here, which any W:TA fan can make use of. The Totems are a lot of fun as well. Of course, Lion is here, but there are some other options like Elk, Kelpie and even Green Dragon!

The book then closes with two Appendices. The first is “Sample Characters,” which gives you five pregenerated White Howlers to use as PCs or NPCs. The second Appendix, “White Howler Legends,” gives you examples of three famous White Howlers from lore, including Morag, who narrated the first two chapters. Morag is also the only White Howler with any stats provided. “Sample Characters” is a lot of fun to read, even if you don’t use it, while “White Howler Legends” is a bit of a disappointment, as there is only one character stated out and the bios are too sparse to be of any real interest.

Overall, Tribebook: White Howlers doesn’t live up to the hype Werewolf: The Apcoalypse fans have made for it over the past two decades of clamoring for it to exist. Of course, after all this waiting, what book really could live up to all the expectations gamers have put on this thing? In the end, you had two chapters that weren’t very good and two that were excellent, so the book is a thumbs in the middle for me. Half of it really needed to be done with a better narrative and/or voice, while the other two chapters were just what the White Howlers needed. I’m glad I got this Tribebook for free as a W20 Kickstarter backer, but I’m not sure how I would react had I actually paid money for this. It would probably come down to the price point OPP eventually saddles this book with. For five bucks or less, definitely get this as a digital copy. Over five bucks, think long and hard about it, as the book is really only worth getting at that price if you’re a completionist or huge Black Spiral Dancer fan.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tribebook: White Howlers
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The Awakening (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2014 15:07:22
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/31/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
ft-the-awakening-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-edition/r />
What better way to say Happy Halloween here at Diehard GameFAN than do review an adventure for what is arguably the best horror-fantasy setting of all time – Ravenloft? Earlier this week Wizards of the Coast released a digital copy of The Awakening on DriveThruRPG and DNDClassics.com. I remember playing/running this adventure back in high school and having a ball with it, so I’m glad to see it being available to the general public once again. Sure the average gamer is preoccupied with FIFTH Edition D&D and 2e AD&D is more of a fond memory (unless you exclusively retrogame), but Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has always been my favorite edition, so I’m glad to see WotC is still supporting it through digital re-releases.

For me The Awakening really represents how creative and user-friendly adventures were back in the mid 90s. Nowadays a lot of fantasy adventures are little more than dungeon crawls save for those put out by Troll Lord Games and LotFP, so I do feel that even if you don’t play RavenloftThe Awakening is well worth picking up just to see how an adventure is done right.

First, let’s talk the size of this adventure. You get 69 pages for only $5. A lot of published adventures from the modern era of game run under thirty pages and cost more than that, so this is a great deal. Besides the adventure itself, you get an Introduction and quick overview of Nova Vassa – the country The Awakening takes place in. The Nova Vassa section is pretty detailed and allows someone to run the adventure without owning the Ravenloft boxed set or Domains of Dread core rulebook that eventually replaced it. You also get a ton of maps, three new monsters, a set of stats for the Darklord of Nova Vassa (even though you probably don’t need them) and a huge section on the core antagonist that details her background, personality, fighting style and more. There’s more back story given to this one shot villain than most adventures these days give to their entire cadre of cannon fodder. Finally, the adventure is long enough that it could easily be turned into a mini-campaign. The core antagonist is a recurring one (in a very unique way to boot) and so it would take little work for a DM to pad this out to run through multiple sessions. The Awakening is an extremely well-written, detailed and flexible piece and re-reading this after so many years really made me miss when the average adventure were given this high of a page count and writers could really go all out.

Of course, it’s not perfect. The Awakening constantly makes references to other releases that the author feels you should read (or preferably own) to truly let the adventure reach its maximum potential. Granted they help, but you certainly don’t need any of the mentioned books to actually play The Awakening. So while everything from Van Richten’s Guide to the Ancient Dead, the Tome of Magic and Legends and Lore are mentioned and encouraged to be used in conjunction with The Awakening, it’s not like, say, some Pathfinder adventures, where close to a dozen books are not only referenced but you actually DO need them to get some bit of mechanic or stat block to play the adventure. Bleck.

One of the things that really makes The Awakening fun is how it turns several fantasy tropes on its head. Here the core bad guy is a corrupted undead priest of Bast – an Egyptian goddess that is usually good aligned and known to help humanity out. Heck, even in Call of Cthulhu, Bast is a friendly otherworldly being. Most players familiar with Bast won’t see this twist coming. Even better, guess who is the god that willingly helps the PCs out? SET! That’s right the Egyptian god of darkness and the antediluvian of my favorite Vampire: the Masquerade clan. Because Set is usually portrayed in fantasy games as a god of evil (rather than darkness), he’s perhaps the last one you would expect to help out good-aligned PCs, especially in Ravenloft of all place. So this is another curveball thrown to the PCs. Another nifty aspect of the adventure is that only a small part of it is a dungeon crawl. Back in the days of Basic D&D and even 1e AD&D, a lot of adventures were pretty much dungeon crawl with the monsters or setting acting as mere window dressing. With 2e, people really started getting creative. Sure there would be a dungeon but it would be the climax of the adventure or merely a small part of an overall story. This was especially true with Ravenloft or Planescape where there wasn’t any real way to put a megadungeon in that would make sense. Here about half of the adventure is wandering around Nova Vassa setting up the reason and purpose for entering a large Egyptian style tomb. The good news is for those that like dungeon crawls, the dungeon in The Awakening is a very big diverse one, with rooms of different shapes and sizes…but also traps, pits, threats and monsters to boot. Sure there is a common theme of cats and Egyptian motif, but trust me, the entire adventure is a pretty unique experience that will stick with you long after you have completed it.

The best part of the adventure comes with the recurring main villain. When you first encounter her, she goes down pretty easily. Then she comes back. Each time the PCs strike her down, she arises with even more power, guile and intelligence. Only through putting the pieces of a great puzzle together will you discover the source of the villain’s ability to return from the dead so easily. Of course, since this is Ravenloft, even when you win the battle, darkness still wins. After all, the PCs HAVE to ally with Set to take down the big bad of this piece and that can’t possibly be a good thing, ESPECIALLY in a place that requires Powers Checks, right? Once the adventure is done, you are given ways to extend the adventure via the remaining plot threads, which makes this adventure an even more fantastic deal than it was already. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Whether you want to use The Awakening as a one-time stop in the Domain of Dread, or you want to use it to start a full blown Ravenloft campaign, the adventure is a wonderful piece that highlights how creative adventure writers were really getting in the mid-90s. It’s a fine showcase of how to blend horror and high fantasy into a memorable adventure and the price tag for such a high page count (especially for something long out of print) makes this an adventure I can recommend both easily and quite highly.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Awakening (2e)
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Castles & Crusades Night of the Sprits
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2014 06:32:37
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/30/tabletop-review-night-o-
f-the-spirits-castles-crusades/

Night of the Spirits is a Halloween inspired adventure for Castles & Crusades, one of my favorite OSR style games. Of course, this Halloween is not your usual dressing up in costumes and getting treats or even a survival horror adventure heavily influenced by some Hollywood hack and slash flick. No, this adventure is based on the Celtic version of the holiday Samonios (or Samhain for the Celts amongst you). It lasted three nights and was a time when the worlds of mortals and monsters drew nigh and one could easily cross between them. This particular adventure will pit a team of PCs (Back cover says 4-8 between levels 4-6 but the inside cover says for 3-5 characters between Levels 4-6. There’s a typo somewhere!) against a Dark Druid who seeks to control the Wild Hunt into destroying his enemies. If successful, the Dark Druid will take control of the druidic order in the isles and turn it into something horrible. The players have the three nights of Samonios to uncover the conspiracy and save the village of Henlwyn.

Night of the Spirits can be ran as a direct sequel of To Kill a King which won our “Best Adventure” award in the 2014 Tabletop Gaming Awards. It can also be played as a one shot or shoved into Castles & Crusades campaigns. It’s that versatile. That said, it does have heavy Celtic roots and leanings, so you might want to be familiar with Celtic mythology or own/have read the Codex Celtarum sourcebook for Castles & Crusades. Night of the Spirits is also a VERY linear adventure, but it was purposely designed that way. After all, the adventure takes the characters through three nights of escalating horror and combat. There’s no way this piece could be made in an open world or sandbox style of adventure. Your characters can still totally investigate false leads and go in totally opposite directions as the adventure intends. That will always be true of any adventure. However since each night of the adventure is so fully planned out, the PCs and their players will have very little chance or opportunity to go off rails.

The first night of the adventure is pretty simple. It’s mostly setup, exploring a forest and there is only a single planned encounter with some bandits. The second night escalates things to include random encounters, exploring other villages, searching for missing people, a costume party of sorts, more bandits and some actual monsters. The final night is where things get big as hopefully you will have put together enough clues to figure out who is behind things and initiate the boss battle. Of course it is quite possible for the Dark Druid to succeed if the players aren’t clever enough to solve the mystery and if that occurs, your campaign will be radically altered. It’s a great piece that balances hack and slash combat with really testing the mental mettle of both the players and their characters. Most OSR adventures do revolve around dungeon crawling or straight combat, and that’s probably why I love Castles & Crusades so much – they never fail to create some highly original outside the box adventures for high fantasy.

Night of the Spirits is a pretty straightforward linear adventure that can be played in only one or two sessions. It has a fun thematic story, and it’s the perfect time of year to play or run this adventure. Best of all, it’s currently only ninety-nine cents, which means any gamer, even one that has never played Castles & Crusades should strongly consider picking this up. It’s highly compatible with any other OSR system, including Dungeons & Dragons itself. This means even if you own something like Swords & Wizardry you can convert Night of the Spirits to your preferred high fantasy game with little to no effort. Heck, you could even make this work with something like Dungeon World or Pathfinder. With Night of the Spirits costing less than a dollar, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t pick this up unless you just hate tabletop RPG…and if that is the case, why are you reading this review? This is a great way to get an adventure for extremely cheap AND see why I’m such a big proponent of Castles & Crusades in the first place. It’s a well-balanced piece that exudes a fine Halloween atmosphere without being overly cheesy or hamfisting the theme into an adventure. No, Samhain is pivotal to the adventure and Night of the Spirits makes for an excellent adventure to play or run on Halloween. It’s not especially horrifying or Ravenloft-esque, but it is a fun fantasy affair that showcases what makes Castles & Crusades such a great system.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Night of the Sprits
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There Was A Dark, Dark House (FirstFable)
Publisher: FR Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2014 06:30:33
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/29/tabletop-review-there-w-
as-a-dark-dark-house-firstfable/

It’s Halloween time and usually that would mean reviews for games like Call of Cthulhu, Cryptworld, Ravenloft, Chill, World of Darkness and other horror oriented games. The truth is, I already do that all year long, so instead of touching on the usual horror games we all know and love I thought I’d cover this adventure for FirstFable with its light hearted kid friendly Halloween themes.

FirstFable came out in 2012 and was designed to get young children into tabletop RPGs. The game is designed for kids ages six and up. Now I started gaming at age 8 with TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, so FirstFable does feel a bit…less nuanced that what I learned to game with, but it’s a different time and a different generation and I can’t deny that FF is a lot easier to learn and play that going back and constantly using the cross reference tables for FASERIP on the back of the MSH books for every single roll I made. It’s a very cute, rules-lite game that parents can play with their kids and help them to learn why daddy and mommy love rolling up 5th Level Elven Mages or getting eaten by Deep Ones. Best of all, you can currently pick it up at DriveThruRPG.com for whatever price tag you want to place on it. It’s currently a “Pay What You Want” product and so if this review piques your interest, you can go back and purchase the core rulebook for however much you feel it is worth.

Now there, There Was a Dark, Dark House is a Halloween adventure for your FirstFable gamers. It’s not inherently scary and is actually kind of cute/sweet, but then so was A Garfield Halloween up until the ghost pirates showed up and scared the poop out of many a child who watched it. So you can make There Was a Dark, Dark House spookier and creepier if you want, but remember, it is geared for children first and foremost and most kids don’t like to be scared. Making the monsters less Chaotic Evil and more misunderstood or simply lacking in common sense gets the point across just as well and still lets the kids triumph over the situation. The adventure is written to be more lighthearted ala Mermaid Adventures, so please don’t try and take this adventure and turn it into Silent Hill if you’re running it with tykes and tots. That’s just being a jerk.

In this adventure, a little girl named Jackie has been kidnapped by a wicked witch and trapped within the town’s haunted house. The PCs are monsters who are friends with the children for whatever reason (it’s up to the player!) and set out to save the girl from her intended fate – being turned into a Jack O’Lantern! Once inside the haunted house, the characters must overcome four challenges which will then lead them to a showdown with the Witch Eliza. None of the encounters are especially troublesome (This was written for young children after all) and there certainly isn’t a threat of PC death or a TPK (Total Party Kill). If you’re looking for that sort of game, you probably shouldn’t be playing FirstFable in the first place! The encounters can occur in any order the GM wants, making it a very non-linear experience and none of them really feature combat. There is some goblin catching though. In the end, the PCs should be able to save their friend and perhaps even show the witch the error of her ways. It’s a very cute, short adventure than can be played in a single session over an hour or three. As long as you have kids that don’t need props maps or visuals to have a good time, they should have fun with this Halloween oriented FirstFable adventure. Of course, most kids are pretty good at using their imaginations, so a tabletop RPG should something almost instinctual to them.

Besides the adventure, you also get four new characters classes for FirstFable: Werewolf, Zombie, Vampire and Ghost. Of course these are all sanitized versions for children, so the vampires won’t be sucking blood, zombies won’t be eating brains and werewolves won’t be disemboweling anyone. You don’t even HAVE to play the monster character classes suggested here. The PCs could just be regular kids saving one of their own if that’s what they would before. You get blank character sheets/templates for the kids to fill out along with four pre-generated example characters. Character creation is pretty cut and dry but really young children might need help with some of the concepts or specific jargon for the game. You also get a worksheet at the end for the kids to fill out as a bit of memorabilia for the adventure they finished. That’s a really cool touch and with this, kids can remember their adventure in the Dark, Dark House.

For only $2.99, There Was a Dark, Dark House is a fine adventure for what it is. Little kids should enjoy it while seasoned veteran gamers might roll their eyes at the story and encounters – because they’re not the target audience. As a long time horror gamer myself I love the idea of an adventure in this gaming genre being written specifically for kids. They might not like scares and gore like some adults, but kids do love monsters, Halloween and costumes, so this should really make their day if they’re already starting to showing interesting in role-playing or acting. If you do have single aged children who you’d like to game with in some fashion, picking up FirstFable and There Was a Dark, Dark House might be an excellent way to get the ball rolling. To be fair though, this would have been to simple or condescending for me when I was eight, but again I was playing TSR games and reading Victorian ghost stories at that age. Most tykes will enjoy There Was a Dark, Dark House for what it is and so will the parents that run it for them.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
There Was A Dark, Dark House (FirstFable)
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Murder in Corvis
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/16/2014 06:27:31
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/16/book-review-murder-in-c-
orvis-iron-kingdoms/

I’ll admit something upfront. I’ve never been interested in Iron Kingdoms or Warmachine. Both feel like a steampunk version of Warhammer and I already have enough RPGs and miniature combat games to pick up what feels like a derivative of something else. I’ve got a stack of Bones, Tomb Kings, Robotech RPG Tactics and my old D&D Tactics figures from when that game existed. However, I really do like Richard Lee Byers’ stories. I’m more a non-fiction reader, but I enjoy enough of his writing to know I’ll pick up something of his (especially a review copy) if I run into it. Besides, the last time I picked up a book by him from a RPG universe I wasn’t originally interested in (The Festival at Glenelg), I ended up reviewing three adventures from that game. So who knew? Maybe Murder in Corvis would make me curious enough to try out some of Privateer Press’ games. There was only one way to find out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Murder in Corvis. Would it read like a gritty pulp thriller? Would it be more like one of those cozy mystery series my wife enjoys? Would it simply be a fantasy novella with a murder as the crux of the story? Would it be something else? The only way was to dip into the story and find out. Unfortunately, you don’t get to find out right away. Before Byers’ novel starts you get a very dull and dry four page introduction to the Iron Kingdoms world. Personally, I would have let the author incorporate this information into the story rather than have a preamble that reads like it was written by Ben Stein, but that’s just me. Most of what is in the introduction has no bearing on the story at all and will serve to bore or confuse newcomers to the Iron Kingdoms. As well, there is a six page glossary in the back, which defines specific creatures, jargon and game terminology that the reader will encounter within the novella. I feel Byers describes all of these terms pretty well in the story itself, so a glossary of this size and the verbose descriptions provided for each one comes off with the publisher either not trusting its audience or simply being VERY condescending to them. Both the preamble and the glossary rubbed me the wrong way and definitely gave me a bad first impression of Iron Kingdoms in general. Honestly, if you had to include both of these, I’d have put a much shorter glossary in the front so that readers know it is there (most people I know don’t flip to the back of a book except for people who like endings ruined and even less read the Table of Contents in a fiction book) and I would have put the “introduction” at the end to act as a, “If you liked this story, here’s more about our world (and product line) that you can purchase,” so as not to intimidate younger/casual readers or worse, make a person think that Murder in Corvis will be as poorly written as that four page look at the world of Iron Kingdoms. I can honestly say after reading Murder in Corvis, I’d probably pick up more stories by Byers in this setting…but I’m not at all inclined to touch the game line(s).

Murder in Corvis is basically the origin story for a motley group of mercenaries that will eventually be called the Black River Irregulars. You have Milo the thief/alchemist, Gardek the Trollkin thief-taker (a trollkin feels like the defacto half-orc for this setting), Elish the arcanist (think techno-mage) forensic detective and Colbie the Mechanik, because changing c’s to k’s is somehow novel or interesting I guess. It’s the typical “one character from different classes to create a balanced party” trope that many fantasy stories have (and probably your own gaming party!), but Byers makes it work in spite of being a cliché (as always). The characters are well defined and nuanced with the cast being treated as an ensemble rather than one starring character and the rest of the team being supporting players. It’s nice to see this, because it’s rare an author treats an entire party as equals. Even in Byers’ previous novels and/or short stories with large casts, there is always a character or two that dominates the “screen time” so to speak. Aoth Fezim, Anton Marivaldi and Erik Nygaard come to mind as examples. I think all fiction authors are guilty of this because you develop a favorite (even if said favorite changes from book to book) and so they get a little more detail and word count devoted to them. Not so with Murder in Corvis. Here each chapter has a different character take center stage even when the other characters still appear in it. It’s a really nice touch that makes the piece stand out. A great example of the balance if I thought Milo was going to be the main character from Chapter One but then it ends with a twist and so I think Gardek is going to now become the main character and the first chapter was just a swerve. With each chapter unfolding though, I realized Byers’ was writing a team story rather than one focused on a single character and I loved the result.

Because Murder in Corvis is an origin story as well as a murder mystery, you get to see how the group forms. Of course, none of them really like each other at first but grow to respect and befriend each other as the story goes on and they have to work together to find the murderer. Each character gets to show off their strengths and how they can complement or protect another teammate. It probably isn’t a spoiler to say the entire team lives, but I was surprised that they lost more fights than they won and that there was a mauling or two along the way. The story flies by pretty quickly even if 126 pages is a bit long for a novella and it left me wanting more adventures with these characters. I still probably wouldn’t be interested in the Iron Kingdoms game, but I’d certainly read another story with these exact characters and author. Of course, I’m not sure if it would be interesting now that they are all chummy-chummy and the interpersonal conflict is gone, but I’d give it a try.

The actual murder mystery itself is worth noting. Apparently there is a serial killer going around. Originally just Gardek the trollkin is hired to find and subdue the killer but after he catches the wrong guy, the four protagonists are forced to team up to find the person behind the slayings. Their quest is a more cerebral one than you might expect from a story based on a fantasy RPG, but there are a few fight scenes here and there. I do like that the book really focused on solving a mystery over hack and slash, even though Byers is quite adept as long detailed fight scenes. By sticking with the detective aspects, the story felt like a murder mystery first and a licensed novelization second. I also liked that the characters didn’t solve the mystery right away, complete with the occasional dead end, false lead and accidental accusation of the wrong being thrown in for good measure. Because of the narrative style, I could give Murder in Corvis to people I know who like murder mysteries but hate gaming fiction and feel they would still enjoy this in spite of its origins.

Overall, I was glad to see that Murder in Corvis is another fine story spawned from the mind of Richard Lee Byers. Unlike some of his other releases, this novella didn’t convince me to pick up the game it was based on and I actually think the weakest points of the release are when the package tries to sell you on Iron Kingdoms instead of allowing you to just read the story, but the novella is an enjoyable murder mystery in a steampunk high fantasy setting. It’s newcomer friendly and the characters will keep you both entertained and interested from beginning to end. If you’ve got five bucks to spare and an afternoon with nothing to do, you could while away the time in worse fashions than reading Murder in Corvis.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Murder in Corvis
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Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2014 15:39:48
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/26/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-monsters-treasure/

Back in June, 685 gamers contributed to the Castles & Crusades Kickstarter, allowing Troll Lord Games to put out a Sixth printing of the Player’s Handbook, along with new printings of Monsters & Treasure and the Castle Keeper’s Guide. For the first time, all three core C&C rulebooks would be released in full colour with glossy pages. For a long time Castles & Crusades gamer who has been there since the beginning, this was a pretty sweet deal and I happily jumped on board.

Now I should point out that this version of Monsters & Treasure is more than a mere reprint with color pages. The previous printing was under 130 pages, while the newest printing is 178. Some of this is because the new printing has a larger, easier to read font size. Some of this is the new artwork made especially for this book, and some of it is slightly altered/edited content. This is NOT a new edition of Monsters & Treasure a la the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual that also comes out this month, but simply a reprinting. This means that if you own a previous printing of Monsters & Treasure, you don’t really need this one. You already pretty much own this book. Now if you WANT to buy a new printing for the new layout, color artwork, glossy pages and/or to support Troll Lord Games for making such an awesome product, then by all means – do so. However, your old version will work just as well. Again – this is NOT a new edition. You can always check out my review of the Player’s Handbook from this printing to see how the first printing, fifth printing and sixth printing all are pretty similar themselves. All that said, if you have to get a copy of Monsters & Treasure, you might as well start with this latest full color printing once it is available to the general public.

Now at 178 pages, Monsters & Treasure is pretty slim compared to some other bestiaries. The 5e Monster Manual is twice the page count at 352 pages, and it’s JUST monsters. Numenera‘s Ninth World Bestiary is about the same size and that game has only been out for a year, so you would think after all these years and printings, that Troll Lord Games would beef up poor old Monsters & Treasure by now. Alas, it is not to be. Of course, Monsters & Treasure is a fraction of the cost of the 5e Monster Manual so the reduced price of the C&C bestiary matches the reduced page count. That said, if you find that Monsters & Treasure doesn’t have all the cannon fodder and antagonists you need it to, you might want to invest in Tome of the Unclean or Classic Monsters. Both are fairly cheap and contain a good deal of monsters to supplement the core Monsters & Treasure book. Monsters & Treasure does have all the big name creatures like dragons, vampires, werewolves, elementals, golems, orcs and more, so you probably should start with this one.

Aesthetically, Monsters & Treasure has never looked better. Sure a lot of the art is reused and is simply in color now, but after years of black and white only books from Troll Lord Games, I can’t express how fantastic this thing is in colour. The inking and colouring jobs make the piece look like they always were in color. It’s gorgeous. I really enjoy a lot of the new art too, especially the cover where that Ranger is about to shoot an arrow down the gullet of a red dragon. Simply beautiful. Of course, as great as the art is, Monsters & Treasure is not a coffee table book to gaze at, but a collection of stat blocks for you to fit into your Castles & Crusades oriented adventures. Of course, mechanics is where Castles & Crusades is terrific and because 99% of the stat blocks are the same as in previous printings (typos and errata have been fixed), you should be able to make use of any of these monsters in any of your OSR/retro-clone games without any trouble. Each monster entry is primary stats and mechanics with only a paragraph of descriptive text for each creature/race. If there is more text, it is generally about specific powers said creature has or an explanation on how the Castle Keeper can use them in combat. So if you are looking for a lot of fluff and prose about the creatures in question, Monsters & Treasure is probably not the book for you. If you are a veteran gamer and don’t need to be told what an orc is or how a vampire comes to be, then you can just absorb the stats, mechanics and strategies each entry contains.

Of course, the book is Monsters and Treasure, so I should probably talk about the loot side of the book as well. Usually magic items and treasure are found in a games Dungeon Master’s Guide equivalent. Not so with Castles & Crusades. I’m not sure why Troll Lord games does it this way, but I have no complaints. Part of the reason PCs kill monster is for their treasure after all, so it makes sense to have them both in a single, easy to reference, tome. The treasure section is only about fifty-five pages of the book, so while it’s not the majority of the content, it is nice to see a significant amount of content on the topic.

In the treasure section of Monsters & Treasure, you are primarily given information on magic items, including how to make them. That’s always helpful. There’s even a handy-dandy chart for the gold cost of items other than scrolls and potions. For those on the other side of things, there’s also a section on how to DESTROY magic items. Several pages are also devoted to sentient items and special abilities they might possess. Something you might not expect to find in the Treasure section is the “Lands and Titles” piece. Here you’ll learn about how each character class gathers followers and what they do with land. It’s an interesting piece for when your characters get mid to high level.

Other than that, the magic item section is pretty standard for the genre. You have lots of tables that are broken down into types of items followed by a list of what the items of that type are. After all the charts are detailed descriptions about each item be it a magical sword or boots of the north. For those that are curious, yes you will see classic D&D items like the Deck of Many Things, Rings of Protection and the Robe of the Archimagi. Remember, Castles & Crusades is an OSR game and uses the OGL.

All in all, Monsters & Treasure is pretty much the same as it has always been, but in a new fantastic all-color package. If you’re brand new to Castles & Crusades, I can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you are a veteran of C&C like myself and already have a Monsters & Treasure book in your possession, you don’t NEED to get this version as it is almost exactly the same as previous printings. Still, if you like the larger font, full color art and the like, you can always pick this up as a spare or even give your older printing to a friend to help get them into the hobby. Again, if you’re looking for a high quality retro-clone fantasy game, Castles & Crusades is one of the best. There’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon then now!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
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13th Age Bestiary
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2014 07:01:48
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/10/tabletop-review-13th-ag-
e-bestiary/

It’s been a great year for tabletop antagonist collections. Troll Lord Games put out their new edition of Monsters & Treasure. Wizards of the Coast put out the extremely well received Monster Manual and so on. Lost in the shuffle however was Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age Bestiary, which sort of surprised me as the core manual was really well received by critics and gamers alike. Since its release, however, it’s been hard to find someone who is playing or talking about the game save for some hardcore pockets of fans on the internet. Take this very Bestiary I’m reviewing today. If you go to DriveThruRPG.com, there aren’t any reviews and even Amazon.com doesn’t have any for you. I noticed something similar at Free RPG Day when the 13th Age adventures were continually passed over for other offerings at the gaming stores I visited. Perhaps in both cases 13th Age products were just getting overshadowed by the other releases that came out around the same time. God knows it has taken me two months to review this due to my own gaming backlog and even now it was mainly because I felt sorry for the book. It’s too good of a release to be ignored.

If you’re unfamiliar with 13th Age, the best way to describe it is as, Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons done right.” Now I know there are some D&D 4e fans out there, even some that prefer it to the other editions of the game, but the majority of gamers really seem to loathe it. There are soon interesting ideas and good concepts, but it ended up being a system I enjoyed the sourcebooks for but really didn’t enjoy playing. 13th Age however takes a lot of the good parts of 4e like healing surges and an emphasis on background and combines it with some of the best parts of 3e D&D. It’s definitely worth picking up the core rulebook, but it is a pretty cost-prohibitive line where the PDFs are a lot more pricey than comparable products from other gaming systems and the physical books are only a tad bit more. If Pelgrane could reduce the electronic prices to something more in line with the rest of the industry, they might be able to rekindle some interest (or generate some new) from casual or less experienced gamers who think the industry is just D&D and Pathfinder.

So let’s talk the 13th Age Bestiary. Although the page count is similar to a lot of other (cheaper) monster collection, there are only about fifty monsters in the book. Now that may disappoint some of you when you read this as you were hoping for at least a hundred or more creatures to kill or throw at your players, but that’s all you get it. Accept it or don’t get it. What you get as a trade off if an exceptionally detailed look at each creature, along with three to eight variants of each monster, giving you a lot more options than you would normally see in a collection like this. The extreme amounts of background information fits the general idea of 13th Age wonderfully. After all, if players get bonuses for detailed background information, why not apply the same level of detail to the cannon fodder, mid-boss and recurring foes? The end result is something that reminds of the best Monstrous Compendiums from the AD&D 2e era, with great art and equal attention paid between stats and informative text about the ecology, personality and background of these creatures. It’s going to be personal opinion on whether quality or quantity is more important, but as a game that strongly prefers role-playing to roll-playing, I think the 13th Age Bestiary is a wonderful example of what makes the product line so popular with its core fanbase and also what would make it a fine fantasy alternative to those who are bored with the Big Two.

When you first look at the contents of the Bestiary, you might be a bit puzzled as to what made it in and what didn’t. For example you’ll see Black, Red and White dragons, but not Blue or Green. Why? Hey, it’s their book. Maybe they couldn’t think of enough Green and Blue variants. It’s also interesting to see what B-Lister (or lower) creatures were included and elevated in this collection. Redcaps, Mycanoid, Intellect Devourers, Sahuagin and the Chuul are given more love, respect and detail than I’ve ever seen. The Chuul has always held a special place in my heart so it was fantastic to see this recreation of the creature in terms of motivation, personality and worldview. It’s discussing these “lesser” creatures with the same care and attention to detail that the Drow, Tarrasque and Ghouls get. The game even pays attention to the dog vs dragon Kobold argument that has been going on since Wizards took over the D&D line from TSR. I love the little things like this.

There are also some new creatures that the game can call its own (unless I’ve somehow missed these are d20/OGL releases somewhere else). You have something like the Warbanner, which is a living magical flag. It almost feels like an homage to Warhammer. You have the Whispering Prophet which appears to be a demon who tempts the desperate. There are Wibbles which seem like a version of Ioun Stones that someone came up with after a few too many hits of LSD. So on and so forth. There are some really neat new original creatures here which shows that 13th Age is NOT just another game expecting the OGL to do all the work for them.

So what’s bad about the 13th Age Bestiary, Well, we have already covered that it’s a bit overpriced for what you get and there are far less creatures in this collection than in ones for other comparable games. It’s also perhaps worth noting that the narrative style might put off a good portion of gamers, especially those who prefer older OSR style games. While I think the writing is witty, intelligent and fun, even I can’t deny there is a level of pomposity and arrogance to it which will leave a bad taste in the mouth of some gamers. The writers definitely comes off saying, “Our game is best. We know fun. You don’t. If you have a different opinion, you are WRONG.” I don’t think this is intentional, but I also know I’m not the only person who has flipped through this and come away saying, “Wow, did an editor not warn them how bad the tone of this piece can be?” Take for example the Rust Monster article. It starts off by badmouthing the DM vs Players attitude of some of the oldest versions of RPGs. Which I agree with, but that’s not really something to do in a Monster Manual type book. That’s for blogs and editorials. Then it says things like, “The shoutback is an angry curse against an irritating monster that threatens fun.” No, no monster does that. That’s bad writing and BAD thinking. A monster, an adventure and even a game is only as good as the DM running it. You would think authors who gave such depth to the Bullette would know that. It’s a bad DM that threatens fun. A good DM can make any monster work and certainly not as “just” a punishment tool. It gets worse with phrasing like, “We’re not sure if the rust monster is particularly fun but we can see that it has a place in some campaigns, or perhaps only in some sessions.” That is a terrible attitude to take. “SOME Campaigns” reads like “THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE.” Which is a massive faux pas. Things like “Rust monsters are such a hateful element of the fantastic ecology” that you have to wonder why they included the creature in the Bestiary at all, save to run down gamers who like to play a different style of game. I don’t honestly believe that the authors of the 13th Age Bestiary are that elitist or arrogant, but OSR fans are already going to be on the defensive after that paragraph denouncing the Gygaxian way of gaming and that is just coming to come across as “We took your money but we don’t want you to play our game. Screw you.” That’s how bad word of mouth spreads. Although I like 13th Age, things like this make me not want to play the game even though I agree somewhat with the intended meaning of the poorly phrased soapbox rant. The whole thing comes across as tacky and classless. A better editor or publisher could have prevented this from going out with such an unfortunate tone. Alas.

Overall, the 13th Age Bestiary is a fun but flawed piece. It’s a bit lacking in creatures, is certainly overpriced and the authors have the occasional attitude problem, but each entry is exceptionally in-depth, well written and it’s a fantastic addition to a one of the best new lines from 2013. It’s certainly a must have if you’re already a fan of the line, but at the same time, you will need the core rulebook or the entire Bestiary will come off like gobblygook with mechanics and writing that assumes you already know everything about the setting and world. My advice is to hold off on the 13th Age Bestiary until you’ve purchased the core rulebook and/or played a few games in the system. If you like what you see, then yes, you’re going to want to run right out and purchase this. It’s very well done. It’s not perfect, but it’s very well done.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary
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Ripples From Carcosa
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2014 06:20:36
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/23/tabletop-review-ripples-
-from-carcosa-call-of-cthulhu/

Ripples From Carcosa originally started life as a Monograph, which is a Call of Cthulhu piece usually done by a single person. The art is minimal, the editing and layout are done by the author and they are generally barebones pieces that cost a lot less compared to full-fledged releases, but quality on these things varies. Something about Ripples From Carcosa convinced Chaosium to re-release it with new art, edited and added content and a snazzy new full color cover. Now this isn’t the first time a monograph has been given an upgrade so to speak. Cthulhu Invictus, for example, started off as a simple Monograph and now it is a full-fledged setting! I actually own the original Ripples From Carcosa monograph and while I enjoyed it for what it was, I wasn’t really sure what they were going to do to it. Well, the fact the new version has twenty pages more content, new art, some editing and retolling, in addition to the new PDF being HALF the cost of the original Monograph – well, why wouldn’t I throw money at this thing???

Well actually, before we get to the positive side of the review (which admittedly sounds like a commercial for this piece), there are three minor reasons why you might not want to pick this up. Let’s get those out of the way in case they are dealbreakers for you. The first is that this new version of Ripples From Carcosa is done with Seventh Edition rules and Mechanics. Now, 7e isn’t out yet, which may make you want to wait to purchase this as. As well 7e has some very mixed reactions from the CoC fanbase, which happens with any game whenever a new edition comes out. So if you are interested in Ripples From Carcosa but don’t want to put the time into using the conversion guide in the back of this release, or you have no interest in moving on to Seventh Edition, considering getting the Monograph version. The second reason is that Ripples From Carcosa takes in three different settings: Cthulhu Invictus, Cthulhu Dark Ages and End Time. Because of these three different setting, you might feel like you need to buy all three books to play Ripples From Carcosa. You don’t, but as some publishers do like to do that passive aggressive hard sell of their other products in that fashion (Paizo, I’m looking at you), you might read this as a hard sell of these other books, which drives up the cost of Ripples From Carcosa a LOT. Thankfully, the book tries to alleviate this feeling by giving advice, tips and setting information about all three time periods. This helps, but not as much as if you were say, a Keeper that owned the three books Ripples From Carcosa references and are experienced with all three. You can still run Ripples From Carcosa just fine and you don’t need the three other sourcebooks to make it work, but I can’t deny you will get more out of the adventure with a keeper who has done his or her homework and is somewhat familiar with both Invictus and Dark Ages to make the imagery of the pieces come more alive.

Finally, anal retentive Mythos pursists might have a problem with the way Hastur and the King in Yellow are portrayed in this collection. Here you’ll find the Great Old One as extremely malevolent, cruel and downright evil. We’re talking supervillain or tying a damsel to a railroad track evil. Obviously this is quite different from how the original authors Ambrose Bierce and Robert Chambers presented these characters. It’s even very different from Lovecraft’s take on Hastur, which was different from the original authors of these characters, which is my point. This is one author’s interpretation of the characters and while it is very different from the creators, that doesn’t make it inherently bad. The adventures are still extremely fun and well designed. I mean, I’m a pretty diehard Chambers fan and I have enjoyed both versions of Ripples From Carcosa in spite of this interpretation of these characters because it’s a GAME. It’s not as if this version will somehow erase the original (correct) versions of these characters from the collective unconsciousness. Sure, this version of Hastur is similar to what Derleth did with the character but in the exact opposite direction (Derleth made Hastur kind of the “Good” Great Old One), but you know what, as diehard a Hastur/KiY fan as I am, I enjoyed Derleth’s very different interpretation of the GOO and I enjoyed Ripples From Carcosa even if the Hastur here is as far from the more benign god both Bierce and Derleth saw him as. If the thought of Hastur as sort of a mustache twirling Nyah-ha-ha’ing “I can’t pay the Rent/You must pay the rent!” evil-doer makes you angry enough to want to go to some message board and start venting with copious amounts of profanity, then man, just don’t buy this. Also, learn to take games less seriously.

So let’s talk Ripples From Carcosa. This collection features three adventures, each from a very different time period, roughly 1,100 years apart each time. The collection is designed to be a short campaign, although there is no real reason why you can’t play these adventures as stand alones if only one or two calls out to you. Each stage of Ripples From Carcosa features pre-generated characters. You don’t have to use them, but segments of each adventure were written with these characters in mind, so if you run different characters than the ones included, the Keeper has a bit of work to do to ensure things run smoothly. As well, all three adventures are interconnected with each time period using reincarnations of the previous characters. At certain points in the adventure, the characters can receive Cthulhu Mythos and Hastur Lore points earned from their previous incarnations. This is really neat and helps to make the campaign stand out as something really unique. Each adventure is very different from the last, so it’s not like you’ll be replaying the same thing three different times with only the backdrop changing. The end result is a very memorable campaign where even if your characters die horribly or go totally insane in one adventure, you’ll get another shot at stopping Hastur’s machinations down the road. Unlike a normal campaign where you are probably pulped by tentacles, locked away in an asylum or take your own life.

The first adventure, “Adventis Regis” takes us to the time of the Roman Empire. The Investigators are having a lovely time at a resort town, where they and their families are relaxing, playing and seeing the sites. One of the highlights of the trip will be a performance of a new play by Livius Carbo, who has been a bit of an eccentric shut-in as of late. If you’re a fan of Call of Cthulhu at all, you can probably connect the dots here. Anyway, as the date of the play’s first public performance draws closer, things start to get a bit creepy and people seem to be a bit out of sorts. No matter, you’re on vacation, right? Well, when the PCs get back from a scenic cruise, everything has gone to hell. An entire town has gone insane. Whoops. Can the Investigators survive long enough to discover what has happened and if there is a way to stem the tide of madness?

This is a really fun adventure that in some ways reminds me of a survival horror video game. It’s less terror oriented and more action-packed that most CoC pieces, and players will really have to be on their toes here. Stealth skills are VERY helpful here, but only one or two of the pregens has it at a decent enough level. Oddly enough the slave character has a higher Stealth than the professional Thief. Anyway, “Adventis Regis” isn’t necessarily a hard battle, but it is different enough from a lot of Call of Cthulhu adventures that the usual tropes of Library use and the like won’t be of much help here. The piece is creepy like a modern horror movie rather than filled with a sense of alien dread, and that’s okay as “Adventis Regis” is a fine way to start off this collection and helps set the stage for the two adventures to come, along with the eons-long grudge the Investigators will have with Hastur.

The second adventure, “Herald of the Yellow King” is our Dark Ages piece and it is somewhat similar to a few other King in Yellow adventures out there in that the players have to stop a local town (their own in this case) from melding with Carcosa. This is a pretty long adventure as character will be travelling all over the countryside to several small villages trying to piece together the strange occurrences in the fiefdom. It’s a very creepy piece and is by far the most traditional Call of Cthulhu adventure in the collection. The different villages and what befalls them are a great part of the fun and really helped to make this my favorite adventure of the three. There’s a lot of weird happenings, a mystery to solve and at the core of things, a truly tragic tale where all of this horror could have been prevented had people not been well…the kind of thoughtless jerks people usually are.

Although combat is a big part of the adventure, and there is a good chance the Investigators will thrown down with the King in Yellow itself, words and writing will actually win the day here (as opposed to the previous adventure) which really helps to showcase how different each piece in this collection is, even while they as so inter-connected. I also loved how the adventure has six different endings. Now that’s well thought out! This adventure also has the best artwork in the collection. There are some amazing KiY images here.

If you are only going to play a single adventure out of Ripples From Carcosa, this will probably be the one you pick. It’s also the easiest adventure to adapt to another system. I found this converts very easily to Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess for example. It’s the right time period and it’s sufficiently weird enough that fans of those games would never know they were actually playing something steeped in BRP mechanics.

Finally we come to “Heir to Carcosa,” which will be the piece people will either really like or really hate. It’s set in the middle of the 22nd century in a reality where Earth has been taken over by Great Old Ones. The time was right, R’lyeh rose and things went quickly to hell. The Investigators are now part of a colony amongst the asteroids along with some Elder Things, a few Yithians and some occasional M-Go that act as trading partners. It’s an interesting concept but one that is more Derleth than Chambers, Bierce or Lovecraft so some people might dislike it on that grounds.

Anyway, the Investigators in this time period are happily living on the colonies when their Mi-Go trading partners let them know about a ship from Earth in the general vicinity. The colony orders you to intercept the vessel and prevent it from returning home, lest they reveal their whereabouts of the colony and risk it being conquered in the same manner as Earth. From there you get all sorts of craziness. You find out the earth ship is as insane as its crew members (almost HAL style), you get an unexpected and interesting tie-in with the first adventure in the collection. You get a slight flashback to our own current era (kind of) and you even get to encounter the daughter of Hastur and perhaps even kill her! This does not make pappy too happy by the way. “Heir to Carcosa is a bit of on-rails adventure compared to the previous two as it is very straight-forward without a lot of room for deviation. It’s perhaps the least satisfying as it just kind of peters out in the climax without any real resolution (run until Hastur gets bored or eats you), although you do get a schmaltzy end to the story and campaign as a while. The idea of all these races working together in space to avoid GOO detection was a fun concept and the adventure itself where you’re exploring a creepy lunatic spaceship, playing psychoanalyst to a computer via virtual reality and trying to take out the daughter of Hastur is all very outside the usual things you encounter with Call of Cthulhu adventures. Although it’s not something I’d want to play regularly, as a one-time end to a campaign or for a change of pace, this was a lot of fun.

So Ripples From Carcosa still remains as enjoyable as it ever was. I remember when it first came out I described it to people as, Hellraiser: Bloodlines with Mythos creatures instead of Cenobites and without Alan Smithee.” With an eleven dollar price tag for the PDF, this is a real steal. Sure it is VERY different from the usual CoC campaigns and adventures, but that’s kind of the point. There’s only so many times you can play the same old Deep One or Shaggai related adventures without things getting humdrum. Ripples From Carcosa takes a chance by doing something very different: allowing players to experience three different time periods in one mini-campagin and being different enough from the usual Call of Cthulhu pieces that it stands out as a truly memorable experience. Aside from the four potential dealbreakers I mentioned at the beginning of the review, this is a great way to not only test out Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition but also three other available settings besides the usual Gaslight/1920s/Now options we all tend to cling to.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ripples From Carcosa
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B20: For Rent, Lease, or Conquest
Publisher: AAW Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2014 06:26:38
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/08/tabletop-review-for-ren-
t-lease-or-conquest-pathfinder/

With third party releases for Pathfinder, the bad tends to outweigh the good. Because so many companies just throw out things for Pathfinder without any sense of balance or quality control, the really good third party releases can get lost in the shuffle. This is doubly true for release with a sense of humour. They’re rare enough as it is, but to find a comedic adventure for Pathfinder that is also exceptionally well done, well, the old “needle in a haystack” cliché is more than apropos. That what makes me so glad I found and picked up “For Rent, Lease or Conquest.” The adventure is a lot of fun, it is as funny to play as it is to read through and it really shows that there is still originality and cleverness left in the Pathfinder market instead of a bunch of adventures that are little more than derivative dungeon crawls. For Rent, Lease or Conquest isn’t just one of the best Pathfinder adventures I’ve experienced this year, but it is one of the best adventures, regardless of system.

For Rent, Lease or Conquest is for four to five Level 7 characters. It is also compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and a few other OGL systems and as such it contains stats for both primary variants. The adventure is a direct sequel to a previous release from AAW Games entitled, Death & Taxes. I have neither read nor played that one so I can’t comment on its quality but I can say that For Rent, Lease, or Conquest is perfectly standalone and you do not need the previous adventure to make it work. The adventure contains multiple maps and all the antagonist/monster stats you will need to run the adventure, making it a rare Pathfinder product where you are not prompted to look through or purchase three or more other books besides the core rulebook(s). I love this. It’s a nod to how expensive and overwhelming Pathfinder can be and also keeping costs low for the potential purchaser of this adventure. Because this piece doesn’t require more than the core rulebook and the adventure itself, it’s a wonderful way for newcomers to experience Pathfinder. They get to play a mid-level character and see that not every adventure is “enter a dungeon, kill things for loot and repeat until dead or the mission is over.” This is exactly the type of piece I would use to introduce someone to Pathfinder, especially if their previous RPG experience was with a more thinking/less hack and slashy system.

For Rent, Lease or Conquest is a lot of things rolled up into one fantastic adventure. First it covers the issue of a guildhall or place for the adventurers to rest their feet. I remember when I was a kid, the biggest challenge in AD&D 2e was not playing the game, but what to do when you character leveled up enough to have followers and/or a keep to maintain. Sure it’s cool your Ranger attracted a Basilisk ally, but where will you guys stay when you’re not murdering dungeon inhabitants. You can’t live in hotels forever! In the case of this adventure players are given a simple hook. There is a large and impressive looking house in town that may be haunted. The local real estate agent wants it off her books for tax purposes. She can’t sell the thing, so she offers the PCs a deal – clear it out and it is theirs for free! Everyone wins. Of course the adventure won’t be that simple…

The second aspect of the adventure is that much of the piece mirrors the typical “haunted house” style dungeon crawl. These tend to work better in games like Ravenloft, Chill or Call of Cthulhu but that’s because those houses tend to actually be haunted with something. In the case of For Rent, Lease or Conquest, the house isn’t actually haunted. It’s filled with some unusual squatters and it was built by an eccentric sorcerer so it’s understandable by the local peasants assume something spooky dwells within the manor. Half the fun of the adventure is the house and its different denizens. What I really liked it that the focus isn’t on the usual hack and slash rigmarole that turns too many OGL adventures into generic trash. Sure combat is potentially plentiful, but the adventure is more about exploring and encounters. Most of the encounters can be solved by talking or using one’s wits instead of a blade. This is absolutely fantastic and a wonderful alternative that more adventures should offer. After all, the Bard’s gift of gab and the Paladin who put on their skill points into Diplomacy and other talking based skills are just going to waste otherwise! The inhabitants of the house are amusing, charming and memorable and are a wonderful example that not all sentient races look or think alike. The end result should be one that has players wistfully remembering this piece for months or years to come.

The third part of the adventure that I absolute love is the climax. After the PCs have solved the problem, some thugs have come to claim the house for themselves. After all, it’s worth a lot of money and property always goes up in value, especially when it is built by a famous architect. After all, you never know what inflation is going to do to those electrum pieces you’ve been storing under your bed AND there isn’t much of a concept of interest banking in fantasy RPGs. Now the roles reverse as the players can use the magic nature of the house (and its inhabitants) that once stymied them against the GM. Indeed, the roles of the PCs and GM switch at this point with the PCs configuring the layout of the house and its abilities to stop the invaders while the GM acts as the adventuring party, guiding the ne’er do wells through the house until they meet a gruesome or comedic end. This is such a wonderful breath of fresh air with this piece and it will surely be a highlight for everyone who plays it.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I can’t say enough good things about For Rent, Lease or Conquest. It’s original, innovative, imaginative and most of all – a lot of fun. This adventure shows you can have a good dose of comedy in a piece and yet still have it be something the players and their characters can take seriously. It’s smart, self-aware and is a perfect response to all the usual reasons people say they don’t enjoy Pathfinder. I can’t recommend this highly enough and it really is the best Pathfinder adventure of the year. Every third party company (and even Paizo to a degree) should consider this required reading on how to write an adventure that captivates rather than relying on standard tropes and generic dungeon crawls. Definitely a must have for any fan of the system.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B20: For Rent, Lease, or Conquest
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Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2014 07:27:01
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/09/23/tabletop-review-alterna-
te-dungeons-haunted-house-pathfinderd20/

Unless characters are very low level, it’s pretty hard to pull off a proper haunted house in Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. After all, Paladins, Clerics and Necromancers all have special abilities versus the undead, and typical denizens of a haunted house (Ghosts, Spectres, and Poltergeists) are a bit too much for someone at Level 1 or 2. Even Ravenloft, the gothic horror campaign setting for AD&D 2e, didn’t really do so much with haunted houses, as it would be a dungeon crawl in a sprawling manor or castle. This is why haunted houses tend to be better left to games like Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Shadows of Esteren or Hunter: The Reckoning. Of course, this doesn’t mean a good haunted house is impossible with a d20 system – just that it’s very hard to make a high quality one that espouses feelings of horror and terror. This is where Raging Swan Press’ new supplement comes in handy. Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is a short, twelve page PDF that breaks down into five distinct categories to better help an enterprising DM come up with a haunted house that is scary, yet fits into a system where a starting level character can make zombies run in fear of their holy power.

Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is a short piece, but you do get two versions of the PDF when you purchase it. The first is optimized for printing, while the other is optimized for screens, such as your desktop, laptop or e-reader. Visually, there isn’t really a difference between the two, but the print one is a larger file, due to higher resolution images. Both are bundled together, but the only time you should open the print version is when you’re planning to well, print a copy of this off.

The first section is “An Alternate Dungeon,” and it gives details on what a haunted house is in high fantasy terms along with how to run one like a dungeon. I do strongly feel that if you run a haunted house in a manner similar to a dungeon crawl, you’re very much missing the point of one, but Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House does things far more to my liking that most attempts at horror in a d20 system. This is because the piece tries to obscure the fact that one of its haunted houses is still a dungeon crawl, while still helping a d20 oriented GM run a spooky manor or long abandoned castle with the terminology and jargon they are used to. This means the overall experience is definitely less of one that you would get from a system or game that is geared for horror/terror, but it’s also leaps and bounds above anything of the sort I’ve seen released for Pathfinder so far. It’s not a knock on Pathfinder as a system – just that horror is harder to pull off than say, Call of Cthulhu, because it’s not expressly designed for it, whereas CoC IS.

Also in “An Alternate Dungeon” are examples of how to spruce up the location with special powers to circumvent typical PC actions. Cursed mirrors, penalties to divination and Detect Magic spells. Even animated objects and weakened floorboards make it in here. There is a really nice list of atmospheric options coupled with mechanics to help a Pathfinder GM make a spooky house. Unfortunately, some obvious options, like penalties to turning undead or other ways of nerfing clerical/necromantic magic are missing here, which is a significant oversight. This section ends with a list of lootable goods that one would normally find in a haunted house. It’s a decent list, but again, incomplete. No mention of any ancient grimoires, spellbooks or cursed objects for example. So this could have been fleshed out more, and longtime horror gamers will spot these flaws outright, but what’s here is still really good, especially for those new or inexperienced at running a haunted house based adventure.

“Dressing” gives you a list of ways haunted houses come to be, such as curses, murder, suicide or other tragic events that may have occurred within the home’s walls. This section also includes a d100 chart of haunts. It’s a well-made and versatile list that should serve newcomers well, although veterans of horror gaming will probably want to pick and choose to create a more cohesive piece.

“Denizens” is a list of eight possible creatures that would be inhabiting a haunted house. The CRs range from 2 to 9, with an interesting mix of options. Some are fairly obvious, like the ghosts and wraiths. Some are less obvious, like vampires, witchfire and shadow demons. Again, this should really be helpful to a newcomer who is plotting their first haunted house adventure out.

“Traps and Hazards” are just what you might expect, but with a haunted house motif. Bleeding walls, collapsing floors and pit traps are just some examples of what await you in this section. I’m kind of surprised things like falling chandeliers, shattering mirrors and secret wall based traps didn’t make it into this section. There are three new haunted house oriented haunts that appear here: anguish, dancing décor and slamming doors. I would be honestly surprised if these hadn’t been done already in some other d20 supplement for horror gaming, but I can’t think of one, so it’s great to see these haunting tropes given d20 mechanics.

Finally, we have “Adventure Hooks,” which give you three short synopsis that a GM can flesh out and turn into full fledged adventures. Obviously, these will take a bit more work than purchasing an already written adventure, but for those of you who are suffering from writer’s block or are taking the first steps into homebrewing adventures, what’s here are some basic elementary ideas that should get your creative juices flowing. I personally like The Seaside Massacre best, but if you find one that leaps out at you, you should definitely use it!

Overall, Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is one of the best horror minded supplements I’ve seen for Pathfinder in many years. It really tries to hide the flaws that come about when you try to do horror with the d20 system while also accentuating the system’s strengths. Veterans of classic horror systems won’t find much here to use except some specific d20 mechanics, while newer, less experienced or more casual horror gamers are the perfect target audience for this piece. Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House can really help make a spooky old mansion become more than just a generic dungeon crawl with a new coat of paint slapped on it. Just in time for the Halloween season, no less!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the comprehensive review, Alexader. I much appreciate it and I\'m delighted you enjoyed Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House!
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