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Clement Sector
Publisher: Gypsy Knights Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2014 08:00:21
This book presents an 'alternate' Traveller Universe setting, the one in which Gypsy Knights Games's material is set. It's an area of space on the far side of the galaxy from Earth, reached at least initially via a worm hole. The year is 2342, which makes the setting somewhat closer to 2300AD than most conventional Traveller settings. One of the chief differences is that the people you encounter still often feel connections and trace their roots back to a particular part of Earth.

There's a lot to take in, beginning with the history of the Sector starting with the middle of the 21st century and explaining how the peoples of Earth explored first their own solar system and then went further afield, spurred on by the development of the Zimm Drive, which is based on quantum entanglement. In a way this is a primitive 'Jump Drive', taking ships out of normal space for a period of time and reinserting them a considerable distance away, some 2 parsecs, and leading to the colonisation of several relatively local star systems... and eventually to the discovery of the worm hole that led to the worlds of the Clement Sector. Over the next couple of centuries the area began to be explored and colonies established on suitable planets... and then one day the worm hole collapsed. The people in Clement Sector were now on their own.

This then leads into a detailed gazetteer of the entire sector, with charts and descriptions of every system, colonised or not. There's a lot of relatively unexplored real estate out there if exploration and colonisation interests you. For those areas which have been colonised, more copious details are found in the relevant sourcebook in this series, although there are brief notes here.

Next comes a section on character generation. One thing to note is that, apart from one called the Hub Federation, there are no interstellar governments - so anyone wanting to have government employment (including military service) in their background needs to decide which government they worked for! Most of the regular Traveller careers are available in some form, however. It is useful to determine a homeworld, and there are tables to do this if you prefer it to be random rather by choice. Earth is included, as the worm hole did not collapse that long ago! This leads in to the allocation of background skills, including a range of survival skills depending on the sort of world the character grew up on.

For those wishing to enter the service of the Hub Federation there are notes on careers in the Navy (more details of this and other Hub Federation-specific careers are in the relevant sourcebooks), and there is also the option of entering the Cascadia Colonisation Authority. Otherwise, you can use most anything in the main Traveller rulebook. Another option is the Colonist career. Background information is provided to set the scene for these new careers.

Next come sections on technology and equipment, which are naturally somewhat different from standard Traveller although there is plenty of overlap and scope for using regular items in your game. Tech levels are generally around 10-11 with a cap at 12. This leads into starship design along with several specimens you can use, complete with illustrations, game statistics and plans.

Once we have the ships, there follows a section on starship operation, looking at everything from making a landing planetside to travelling across the sector. The discussion is wide-ranging, dealing with matters such as time and currency on the worlds you might visit as well as the nuts and bolts of using the Zimm drive to get around. Refuelling and piracy are also covered.

The next section looks at some of the larger and more significant corporations that may be encountered, names in the news, employers, suppliers, whatever interaction becomes necessary. There are plenty of plot seeds if you read the notes on each one carefully! Several organisations are given similar treatment (including a helpful bunch called the Gypsy Knights with a strangely familiar logo!).

The book ends with discussions on politics, religion and aliens. The politics in particular is expanded upon in other sourcebooks but it is a useful overview, particularly for those of worlds other than the ones you come from or know well. Finally there are suggestions for the type(s) of campaign you may wish to run in the Clement Sector... there's wide scope here for whatever you might have in mind.

This is a beautifully-constructed and fascinating corner of space which is well worth exploring!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Clement Sector
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Glory Days
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2014 08:55:00
This, the last sourcebook published for Brave New World, takes the story back to the Second World War, a time when deltas fought proudly for their nation and were hailed as heroes. It provides a spring-board for running adventures in such exciting times.

Starting, as usual, with an extensive in-character section, there's a change here... presentation is in the style of a news magazine as of course there was no World Wide Web to provide the webpage format of earlier volumes. It's written - as is the entire game - from an American standpoint, and describes the development of the Delta Squadron into which the reader is assumed to have enlisted (or been drafted), being set in 1942 after America has entered the war.

At this time the Delta Squadron is active in three places - the UK, North Africa and the Pacific. There's plenty of material about who is where and what is going on, and - apart from the presence of deltas - it all sticks pretty closely to the real-world version of WW2. They also have a spectacular main base, a flying aircraft carrier.

While the mores of the time meant that female deltas were restricted in the roles they could occupy in Delta Squadron (although they were at least allowed to enlist in it), others preferred to take on other roles such as the Ladies of Liberty - a group of female deltas who maintained law and order on the home front whilst others who'd been vigilantes were away at war. They seem adept at catching spies, too.

Amongst the discourse on what is going on home and abroad, the astute Guide can spot plenty of potential adventures to weave into a campaign wherever it is based. Naturally, the Axis forces have also cottoned on to the concept of recruiting deltas to their cause and so there is some information here about them and what they have been doing. Likewise, the Allies have their own delta organisations - people that the party may wish to work alongside or (especially if your players are not Americans) they may prefer to join.

The out-of-character section begins by detailing how to create deltas suitable for military service, including ten new power packages designed with warfare in mind - although they could equally well be used by contemporary deltas. Each comes with a ready-to-use archetype, who can be played as is or used as inspiration for your own character with that particular power package. Availability and cost of equipment and the military life are covered here as well.

Next comes a chapter on gadgets. There's an almost steam-punk element here, melding 1940s technology with fantastical ideas. The gadgets described range from aerial carriers to communications gear, jetbikes and the 'tank suit' (think mecha), all with a focus on warfare, of course.

Then Chapter 3 looks at new combat rules, designed to accommodate all-out war rather than the one-on-one or small group brawls previously covered in the rules. Vehicle combat (taking the term 'vehicle' loosely - anything from tanks to planes to submarines is included), chases, anti-aircraft fire, torpedoes, and a range of new weapons familiar to the battlefield but less common amongst superheroes are to be found here.

Then the Guide's Handbook section starts with a lot of advice on running a Glory Days campaign. It's quite different from the standard Brave New World one although there are plenty of similarities too. There's scope for a wide range of adventure types and plenty of information to help you make the most of them. There is also some good advice on taking your game forwards from 1942, which bits of real-world history to include, and how to weave in the superpowered elements to form a coherent whole. There are a lot of profiles of regular and superpowered individuals from both sides, and a complete adventure to get you started. It's set in North Africa and would work well as a one-off adventure if you are unsure of whether or not you want to play a full-blown World War Two campaign, or of course it could be used as an exciting start to one...

The Author's Afterword concentrates on two points, his admitted lack of specialist knowledge about WW2 and the need to understand how awful war really is, however much fun it can be to game. This latter point is one your own group needs to be clear on, should you decide to run Glory Days - and some groups may find it a subject not to their liking.

Overall, this is a skillful and exciting blend of fact and fantasy which, provided you don't mind meddling with history and don't think it belittles the true sacrifices made by those who have fought in real wars, should make for a memorable campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Glory Days
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Covenant
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2014 08:49:48
Continuing the detailed analysis of the different factions present in the Brave New World setting, this book looks at The Covenant, the organisation set up by the Catholic Church in response to the delta issue.

As usual the first half of the book is devoted to detailed in-character information delivered in a web-page format (well, as near as you can on paper, anyway!), narrated by a priest who is also a delta. He starts off by introducing himself and tells of how he became first priest and then a delta. He then proceeds to the history of the Covenant and explores the ways in which people become members thereof, before talking about their sacred mission and discussing the structure and organisation under which they work.

Viewing their delta powers as gifts from God, Covenant deltas are saints in the making. You see, to become a saint you need to work miracles and be a virtuous person. Delta powers are pretty miraculous, so all they need to work on is their virtue... and then wait to be dead, the third requirement for sainthood! Those Catholics who are not in holy orders when they become deltas are fast-tracked into being at least a monk or nun when they join the Covenant.

Oh, and we are introduced to vampires who are, you guessed it, another particularly malign form of delta. They show all the classic signs of vampirism, though, and can be dealt with by sunlight, holy symbols, garlic, etc.

One good thing is the way in which theological debate has been woven through the account, the writer of the webpages did say that he'd studied under Jesuit teachers and it comes over well!

The mainstream Covenant works in accord with the American government, members not being required to register and serve in the same way as other deltas - something that causes a deal of resentment amongst deltas of other faiths. There's been a schism, too, within the ranks with some siding (openly or otherwise) with Defiance or at least going their own way... and yet the Covenant itself is covertly in favour of Defiance, or at least opposed to the martial rule and other measures promulgated by President Kennedy... and in time, fell out with the Kennedy administration and became outlawed, their privileges revoked.

The player section looks at what's needed to build a Covenant character. There's an array of special weapons that they can use, and a whistlestop tour of Catholic belief for players who don't know anything about it. There are two orders connected with the Covenant, with different approaches (and styles of dress). And then we come to the power package, which is basically the same for everyone who becomes a Covenant delta and are based around faith and traditions. This section ends with several archetypes.

The Guide's Handbook section, as always, gives the lowdown on what's really happening in the Covenant, and also includes a full adventure called 'For Goodness Sake' as well as some opposition such as the stats for vampires.

The Author's Afterword lets the cat out of the bag: he himself was raised Catholic. This leads to an interesting discussion of the relationship between religion and role-playing. (And here I too confess: I am both Christian and a role-player... not Catholic, though, I'm a Mormon.)

This is an excellent book with plenty of material to spawn ideas for your game. Indeed, when the local group first started playing Brave New World, my character was a 'tent evanglist' whose delta powers involved healing... and he too was convinced that they came from God!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Covenant
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Evil Unlimited
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2014 08:24:32
Evil Unlimited? These unabashed villains are an association of deltas who have chosen to put their powers to use for personal gain... and never mind anyone else. A bunch of criminals in other words, although they claim to be mere service providers, facilitators. Now, that's the sort of 'opposition' that you'd normally expect in a superhero game, but as you'll already have seen in Brave New World things are a little bit different. As a delta you either cooperate with an oppressive government or go 'rogue' in some way, as a dissident with Defiance or as an out-and-out villain... or just keep your head down and pretend you're normal, but there's not much of a game in that!

Presented in the standard format of a wealth of in-character material presented as a series of web pages, this time we have landed on the website of Evil Unlimited. They seem to be a sort of organised crime organisation, with a hierarchy and even the concept of earning a paycheque for your villany... Their stated mission is to perform extralegal services at a premium price. They even claim that they won't do assassinations. Hmmm.

These pages, aimed at new recruits into Evil Unlimited, cover the history and philosophy of the organisation, the sort of jobs they take on (including examples of recent or current ones) and some of the major players in the group. Fascinating stuff. Many, if not most, of their agents are freelancers, with only a few of the most trusted becoming full-time employees. You may decide to have the characters pick up the occasional job to make ends meet, or to encounter them on one side or another in whatever incident they're engaged in. There's plenty of scope. Even if you've gone the Delta Prime route, Evil Unlimited ranks high on the Primers' most wanted lists.

The out-of-character material presents some new power packages particularly suited to a life on the wrong side of the law, complete with archetype examples for each one. One of them is a werewolf, the others include forgers, smugglers and even a poisoner package.

The Guide's Handbook section reveals what is really going on within Evil Unlimited, as well as providing a wealth of advice about how to sucker the characters into working for them. There are a few bad guys to meet as well.

Next comes an adventure involving Evil Unlimited all ready to be run. "Evil Is As Evil Does" can be used to introduce characters to the organisation or to embroil them more deeply with it, as suits, and ostensibly involves rescuing a newly-found delta from a transport taking him to New Alcatraz. Naturally, there's a little bit more to it than that...

Finally, the Author's Afterword chats about what inspired the Evil Unlimited concept and how to use it to advantage in your game, as well as a few meanderings about what other projects he's engaged in.

Overall, a fun work with ample potential to put a distinctive spin on your game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Evil Unlimited
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Crescent City
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2014 08:17:53
Crescent City, built on the ruins of what we know as Chicago, is the default 'home town' of the Brave New World game setting, and this book sets out to inform characters about the place in which they live through the by-now familiar format of an extensive series of in-character web pages.

If you want to base your game in Crescent City, or at least have the characters visit there, this is a useful resource... even if the authors of the webpages have the exact breezy, chatty tone as the writers of all the other webpages in other books in the series. Must be a style taught in the leading web writing schools across the Brave New World, I guess! Never mind, let's see what they have to say.

It's a lot more than a street map or a gazetteer. In fact there are only a few wide-area maps tucked away in the back of the book, unless you count a plan of New Alcatraz. There's history, starting with the battle that destroyed Chicago (and what brought that about, a quite tragic tale of revenge) and how the city that's there now grew out of the very ashes, built by a single corporation and governed by an appointed mayor (as you might expect given the permanent state of martial rule that exists in America). There's plenty about the deltas who live there now - legally and otherwise - from the Delta Prime HQ to a hotbed of Defiance supporters and even the gaol of New Alcatraz in the middle of the lake that has been specially built to hold criminal deltas.

Next comes an area by area description of the city, with a wealth of background to make it come to life... and, if you're the Guide, to spawn plot ideas just about whatever manner of game you intend to run. Lots of people who might interact with the party, hire them or oppose them, places to visit and so on. Some maps would have been nice, but if you need them and have the time, the descriptions are enough to come up with at least a rough sketch of the lay of the land.

Then comes the player material, with a selection of new power packages. These are all linked in some way to living in Crescent City (although most if not all could be used elsewhere). Each comes with an archetype to use as-is or provide inspiration for your own character taking that power package.

The Guide section, after remarking that the Guide is welcome, indeed encouraged, to stamp their own mark on Crescent City, then as usual lifts the lid on what has gone before and tells it like it is. There are quite a few Crescent City based adversaries to throw at the characters too.

This is followed by 'The Teleterrorists' which is an adventure set in Crescent City ready for you to run. It's designed as an introduction to the City as well, so would suit a party arriving from elsewhere or as the start of a new game. As a result, there's plenty going on and it gives the characters a good chance to get embedded into the place quickly... with the climax occurring at a game of deltaball (American Football for the superpowered).

Finally, the Author's Afterword contains snippets of personal information and explains that since the move to AEG he's not writing every word himself but getting contributions, particularly in the shape of well-defined profiles and stat blocks for NPCs (which he doesn't like writing much!).

Overall a very useful tome if you intend your game to visit or be set in Crescent City, as well as the first actual scenario to play.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crescent City
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Bargainers
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/31/2014 09:17:54
This book sets out to explain a different path, for characters who want power but without becoming a standard delta. They are the bargainers, magic-users of the Brave New World if you like, doing their thing by making pacts, bargains, with spirits. Generally not very nice ones. The process starts pretty much like becoming a delta, surviving a near-death harrowing experience, only the character does not become a delta. They start hearing voices instead...

The first part of the book delivers in-character information in the form of a series of web pages, these ones written by a Mister Twist for beginning Bargainers explaining to them just what their new-found powers might be. Dealing with demons, basically. There's all manner of background material, the long history of how the demons came to be and how they interact with mere mortals, deltas though they might be. It creates a mythology all of its own, which may not sit too well with players who have religious beliefs - just sit back and remember that this is a game, or decide that you won't play a Bargainer or even have them in your game if you feel this is all too offensive to your faith. This cosmology posits a Heaven and a Hell, each with inhabitants, and it is the Demons from Hell that Bargainers associate with.

The first true bargainer, it's said, was Houdini. There's a fair bit of background on him, and then we get down to the nitty-gritty of how to make a deal with a demon and the basic ground rules that you should adhere to for your own safety and sanity. There's also plenty on bargainer society and support, the folks a new bargainer will associate with and learn from. The main means of communication for these quite solitary types is a mailing list and an annual convention.

Bargainers have enemies too, not just the government and Delta Prime, but the Covenant (representing Christian belief) and even devil-worshippers. They can cause quite a nuisance of themselves, even before they manage to make contact with a real demon... and then there's the Heavenly Host, the angels themselves. And other magic-users like shamans and practicioners of voodoo.

Eventually we emerge into game mechanics with a chapter Bargains and Bargainers, which takes all this in-character material and shows you how to make it work in game terms. There are six bargainer archetypes to use as is or as inspiration for your own character, and a wealth of other material as well. Bargainers gain access to some actual magic spells, you see, and these are laid out for you here.

The Guide's Handbook section follows, and as usual promises to reveal the truth of the matter. Along with that, it explains how to take the demon's part in a bargain and presents a host of appropriate adversaries.

Finally, the Author's Afterword explains how Brave New World is by no means a standard superhero game, and reveals a little about how his vision for it hangs together.

Are bargainers optional? They certainly do not need to play a large role, but if they are not there, somewhere in the background, your game will be the poorer for their absence.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bargainers
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Delta Prime
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2014 09:38:48
The first three books for Brave New World have concentrated on those superpowered individuals or 'deltas' who have chosen a path of freedom if not rebellion, refusing to comply with fairly oppressive government regulations regarding superpowers. But what of the law-abiding? This work looks at the other side, those who register and serve in Delta Prime. Of course, if your game is based on Defiance, this will inform you about 'the enemy' instead and provide the Guide (GM) with a never-ending array of well-rounded opponents.

We start, as usual, on an in-character website - but this time it's the official government one, not the DeltaTimes. Oddly, the 'voice' of the writer sounds remarkably similar, although it's supposed to be that of a law-abiding delta called Charge. After giving some personal details, it's on to the history of Delta Prime - the federal law enforcement agency staffed by deltas and designed to deal with rogue ones. Their present mission, joining up and training and more follow, all in an engaging style that is readable as well as informative. Given that it's presented as a public website, this is material that can be accessed by any player, whither or not he intends his character to join Delta Prime.

This is followed by a collection of new power packages, this time aimed at members of Delta Prime. There are also new quirks - the different ranks in the organisation - and notes on Delta Prime equipment. Each new power package comes with a ready-made archetype to use directly or as inspiration for your own character.

Next is something a bit new, a chapter on Gadgets and Gadgeteers. This explores concepts introduced in the core rulebook in more depth, including the introduction of a system for gadget creation as well as a selection of ready-made ones that you might care to try out.

The Guide's Handbook section then, as usual, lifts the curtain and explains what is really happening, as opposed to what has been said in the in-character section at the front of the book. There's a collection of new adversaries and the Author's Afterword as well. In this last, Forbeck talks about moving from Pinnacle Games (the original publisher of the Brave New World line to the Alderac Entertainment Group.

This book offers more options, particularly that of being a law-abiding citizen... yet paints it in such an unattractive light that it's clear that even characters who originally start out that way will end up Defiant in the end! Still, it is good to gain an understanding of what's going on within Delta Prime, and there can always be some crossover with defections and moles if that suits your style.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Prime
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Defiants
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2014 09:23:11
As is becoming established pattern, this book begins with a substantial chunk of in-character pages from the DeltaTimes website. As that's pretty much the mouthpiece for the Defiance organisation, it is extremely relevant in this case!

This time, we're looking at a secure area reserved for those within the Defiance movement, or at least seriously interested in joining it. There's plenty here from history (told with a decidedly anti-establishment slant, of course) to opinion pieces from several leading members of the movement. If your game is, as the original intention seems to be, about deltas who have chosen to stand against the government, it's essential reading. For a start, it is by no means a coherent movement, Defiance is a loose aggregation of deltas linked only by the determination not to register their powers with the government as the law requires. Some are happy to leave it at that, others want to campaign against the way deltas are treated, and there are plenty of other points of view as well. If you'll be playing deltas in Defiance, you'll have to decide what you want to do, choosing one of these paths or carving out your own. If political games intrigue you, you could even base the game around the interplay between various factions within Defiance!

The bulk of the book consists of this in-character material (and fascinating reading it makes, too) but eventually we reach Chapter 1: New Power Packages. Here there are several new power packages, mostly related to different Defiance factions and useful if that's what you are going to play. Archetypes are provided for each one, as usual.

The final section is The Guide's Handbook, intended for the Guide's eyes only. Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter lays out what's really going on behind the in-character stuff presented earlier as well as a lot more detail on the different Defiance factions. Some of them may be as much of a problem for the characters as the government forces are! Indeed, some are presented as adversaries. And there's an even more secret and hidden corner of the DeltaTimes website that reveals a few truths hidden even from most of Defiance. The section ends with the Author's Afterword, which includes errata for the first two books as well as the comment that following books will be even less rules and more about unravelling this Brave New World and helping you to find your character's place within it.

Another good read, even if it is a bit frustrating how everything comes out piecemeal. It is good, however, to see such a coherent vision of a game world and to be able to explore it so thoroughly.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Defiants
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Ravaged Planet
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2014 09:15:04
This, the Player's Guide for Brave New World, opens with in-character material from the 'DeltaTimes' underground website, setting the scene for the alternate now in which the characters live. It starts where the comic strip that opened the core rulebook left off: the capture of a delta called Patriot who'd been a leading light in Defiance, the dissident organisation opposed to the current state of affairs in America and especially the policies concerning deltas, as superpowered individuals are known in this game. This is followed by Patriot's autobiography which gives a good flavour of the recent history that leads up to the present day. It's a good tale, well told, and ought to give players enough of a feel to know which side - government, Defiance, the Mob, independent operator - they'd like their characters to be on. The clear implication, though, is that all right-thinking deltas will join Defiance.

Next, and still as pages from an in-character website, Crescent City is described. This is the base setting for the game, a city that arose on the ruins of what was Chicago. It covers the city layout, government, police and other things anyone living there needs to know about... notable buildings, public transportation, even a few locals. A city plan would have helped, though.

If you'd rather go further afield, the next section looks at the United States of America as a whole. This section (and we're still reading web pages!) is very city-oriented, but gives a run-down on the current state of affairs in the major cities that even non-Americans can probably name. It ends with an overview of the general state of the union and the sort of people you'll find there.

Next, we stray - still on that website, DeltaTimes - even further afield into A World of Hurt. Everything's been about America so far, here we can read about how the rest of the world is faring. It's a motley summary of various parts of the world in roughly alphabetical order and again biased towards cities in each country described. Deltas are urban animals it appears.

This flavour text, informative and enjoyable, fills over half the book - so it's a bit of a surprise to find Chapter 1: New Power Packages on page 109 of a 160-page book. A pleasant surprise, however, especially if you are finding yourself a bit limited by the selection of packages provided in the core rulebook. It also introduces the Covenant, a delta organisation run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Schism - renegade Catholics and others, Christian and non-Christian alike - who have shied away from Church teaching regarding deltas and the world as it is today. This of course gives plenty more options for what sort of character you want to play and the adventures he might become embroiled in. There's plenty of detail if fighting the good fight takes your fancy and you want to involve Covenant characters in your game. They have some interesting powers exclusively available to them, based on 'faith' and with interesting names that mean more if you know a little about Christian heritage. If religion's not your thing, though, there are quite a few more general power packages available to any delta. This section ends with some archetypes for the new power packages, and a selection of dramatic artwork illustrating various events and concepts touched upon earlier.

Next, we come to the Guide's Handbook and Chapter 2: The Truth of the Matter. This lifts the curtain on all that has come before, presenting the 'truth' for the game master's eyes only. It is a bit dogmatic about what really happened, but whilst it is open to individual Guides to decide what's true and what's not in their game, it may make the following supplements less easy to incorporate. And there's enough comments about not being ready to reveal certain bits of information just yet to make you - if you like consistent game worlds - want to get hold of them.

Finally there's a Author's Afterword. This talks about the underlying concepts and inspirations for the game, and is again quite interesting especially if you are interested in how a game designer's mind works.

Overall, this is a good 'setting' book that will help everyone in a group get to grips with what the alternate reality that they'll be inhabiting is like.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ravaged Planet
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Brave New World
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2014 08:23:20
The book opens with a comic strip showing a young girl, newly into 'delta' powers, fleeing pursuit and being rescued, a process that rapidly descends into a brawl in which she's by no means sure who is on her side - aptly setting the scene for a game which melds alternate history and comic book superheroics into a fascinating if grim reality in which America is no longer the 'Land of the Free'... at least, not if you have superpowers.

Still in character, this moves on to facsimile web pages of an underground site called DeltaTimes, a place for those superpowered individuals who do not wish to cooperate with a fascist state to hang out. Taking the premise that the readers are newly come into their superpowers and are trying to figure everything out, the articles here give a lowdown (accurate as far as the game goes, if anarchistic in approach) about what it means to be a 'delta' or superpowered individual in this setting. So an excellent and immersive introduction to an alternate history that begins with the first delta arising on the battlefields of the First World War, superheroes flourishing during the interwar years, World War 2 being quite different with superhero involvement from the get-go, McCarthy chasing deltas as avidly as he did Communists, and finally a new twist on the 1963 Kennedy assassination where JFK survived but his wife did not, leading to repressive laws requiring deltas to register and cooperate with government... and worse, as subsequently Kennedy declared martial rule and continued to govern as a dictator to the present day.

Chapter 1: What You Need to Know cracks the fourth wall with the usual information about what a role-playing game is and how you play one. It's written in a casual style that explains the basics without sounding patronising. It also covers the roles of playing and Guide (the Game Master ) and says that only d6s are used... but a whole bunch of them.

Next comes Chapter 2: What It Takes to be a Hero. This deals with character creation, and takes you through the process in a logical manner, highlighting the need to know who your character is and what makes him tick as he is more than numbers on a page... but those numbers are important so it explains what they all are by reference to the character sheet. Characters are described in game mechanical terms by traits, skills, quirks and powers. Traits are the basic statistics of smarts, speed, spirit and strength. Human average in these is 2, but as you can imagine deltas often exceed that... the number assigned is the number of dice you roll when using that trait. Each trait has a number of skills - things you've actually learned or been trained in - associated with them. Quirks are the little things that bring a character to life, and powers are - as you might imagine - whatever superpowers your character has. OK, all that explained we then get down to the fine detail of how you actually make a character. Two options are presented: use an archetype or build one from scratch. If you are new to the game or in a rush, using an archetype gets you started with a minimum of fuss as all the number-crunching and selections have been done for you. Building one from scratch lets you have a delta that's really yours, even if it takes longer.

If you are building your own character, you start by distributing Trait Points as you please between the four traits. You have 12 to play with, enough to have an above-average 3 in each... or you may wish to boost one or more at the expense of the others. For every point assigned to a trait, you have 3 points to spend on skills associated with that trait. Quirks can be positive or negative: a positive one costs you points you might have spent on skills whilst a negative one gives you extra points... or you may prefer to balance out positive and negative quirks instead. There's a limit of 10 points-worth of negative quirks for playability reasons, but you can have as many positive ones as you are prepared to pay for! Next you pick superpowers which are organised in bundles called packages to give some coherence, rather than just selecting a random assortment of cool powers that do not really fit together. This all explained, there's a two-page quick reference guide to the process. A blank character sheet and a selection of archetypes are followed by several chapters that present skills, quirks, powers and tricks - signature knacks your character has - in great detail.

Next, Chapter 3: The Basic Mechanic, lays out in detail the core game mechanics. Task resolution is based around a single roll, the number of dice used being based on character capabilities, against a target number set by the Guide or an opponent as applicable. The target number gets higher the harder the task is deemed to be to accomplish. It's all quite straightforward, although it places a lot of responsibility on the Guide to set realistic yet achievable targets in order to present sufficient challenge yet keep the story rolling.

The next chapter goes into considerable detail about the skills available, including how to use them and likely target numbers for common uses of each skill. This is followed by a chapter on quirks and how to use them to present a well-rounded character - there's plenty of material here to empower good role-play, although contributions to game mechanics are also signposted clearly.

Then Chapter 6: The Big Throwdown takes a look at combat within the game. It's interesting that this comes before superpowers, but this section looks at the mechanics of brawling - initiatives, combat rounds, actions and so on - rather than every last thing that you might do during a fight, so if you pick a power package that has elements which are useful for brawling (or even designed for doing harm) you will be able to see how and when you will be able to use them within the context of the combat mechanics. Other ways to get hurt and healing are also covered here.

This is followed by Chapter 7: Tricks of the Trade, which explores a wide array of tricks - special things that you can do if you get a LOT of successes on your roll, well in excess of the target number you were aiming at. Here's the opportunity to be spectacular and cinematic. Characters start out knowing three tricks, and can acquire more later on in the game. Most tricks are related to a particular skill, so can only be used when you have that skill and are doing something which utilises it, but there are others which are more general in application as well as ones which, although associated with a particular skill, can be taken and used even if you have not been trained in that skill.

And now at last we get to the really important bit - Chapter 8: What Makes a Delta a Delta. Here superpowers are discussed, and you get to find out what power packages are available. Up til now, everything can be applied equally to a regular human being as to a superpowered one, which is good on two points. Firstly, it shows that deltas are no different from anyone else except as regards their powers, and secondly it ensures that all characters are well-rounded PEOPLE, not a set of powers with a mere glimmering of personality tacked on! It also makes it easy, if you wanted to, to play a regular human - perhaps one which might develop powers later in the game or who works with deltas helping to keep them safe from malign forces in government or elsewhere. There are notes on how to develop your own power packages and the promise that there will be more available in supplements, but the main thrust here is a detailed analysis of the options available.

We're almost ready to go, but Chapter 9: Things Every Hero Needs ensures that characters have all the equipment and other possessions that they need. Costs are based on real-world prices for everything that actually exists, which makes it easy if your character wants something not listed here.

The final part of the player section is Chapter 10: Liberty or Death. This is concerned with the setting and how it relates to characters who are deltas. Scene set, we move on to GM territory, taking the view that people will only ever play or GM this game. Obviously you can only do one at a time, but in many groups people take turns to run the next game so it is difficult to be hard and fast about GM knowledge. This section, however, covers how to organise and run your game rather than revealing any dark secrets, although the next two chapters do reveal things that characters would not know (at least, not when they start out...). The main secret's a biggie... but you'll have to find it out for yourself! There's also some bad guys and other NPCs to round things off.

Overall, it's a fascinating premise repleat with potential, setting and mechanics rolled up into a tidy package that is well suited to those who would like a superhero game with a difference, a core purpose beyond beating up on any passing supervillain.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brave New World
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Book 10: Cosmopolite
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2014 08:16:00
If you choose a military or scout or merchant career for your character you have a wealth of options to choose from... but until now if you have decided that he is (or at least was before taking up adventuring) a Scholar or an 'ordinary' Citizen, you were a bit limited, at least as far as rules went, for what you could use to create your background - and that all-important skill set.

First, though, there's the question of education. Before you even start your career proper your character might wish to attend university. This replaces your first term in a career, and like any path you need to roll successfully to get in. If you fail, you have to choose something else or even submit to the draft. Characters who'd like to get some real-world experience first may take a couple of terms in a career before going to university - this could be an opportunity for a career change if you have, say, served a couple of terms in the military, then go to study before embarking on a quite different life thereafter.

Graduation confers a few benefits such as a bonus on entry rolls to certain careers and the option to make a commission roll if entering a military career. There is also the option to attend medical school, which takes another term but sets you up as a qualified medical doctor. Rather disappointingly, there isn't an option here to attend graduate school and 'pile it higher and deeper' to gain a PhD. There are several tables to help you write your character's backstory, the usual 'lifepath' events... and these, of course, crop out throughout the book as each career option is explored.

Next comes a detailed exploration of citizen careers. It covers just about every civilian occupation that isn't a merchant, a noble or an entertainer. Here is the backbone of civilisation, the people who make ordinary everyday things happen. There are three main areas: artisans (who make things), funcionaries (who administrate) and 'pillars of society' - these last include politicians, union leaders, diplomats, activists and more; those who feel that their ideas can make a difference to the common good. Each area subdivides enabling you to create a whole range of backgrounds from day-wage labourer to an architect designing whole cities (or starships) or the next revolutionary computer chip, the individual who runs a city to the fellow who comes to fix the plumbing, a rabble-rousing agitator to a lawyer or diplomat or an elected representative... just about anything you can think of doing can be covered by the rules in this section.

We then move on to the scholar careers. For some strange reason, the assumption is made that scholars study science of some kind... I'm sitting in a university writing this review in my lunch break as it happens, and even if I'm in Computer Science we have all sorts here from fine arts and history and languages through sciences and a large business school; and they'd all regard themselves as scholars! Anyway, there are various options from those who work in laboratories (or libraries) to field researchers who get out into the real world to pursue their studies to the lone genius following his ideas in isolation. Even here, oddly enough, you cannot gain a PhD but if you take the lecturer path far enough you might gain the title of Professor.

Then there's an interesting half-way house between Citizen and Scholar - the Teacher. It's a whole new career path for those whose burning desire is to pass on information to others as guru or instructor. We next come to mustering out benefits, handled in the same way as for any career, although there are some special options depending on which of these careers have been followed.

Next is a discussion of 'Scholar-Travellers' - how to use that scholar character as an adventurer and how to turn a member of another career into a scholar, perhaps later in life when he's ready to reflect on the world around him rather than react to it. This is followed by matters important to any scholar's heart: funding and publishing ('Publish or Perish' as they say in academia!) complete with the necessary rules to make it all happen. Scholars are funded by bodies given the catch-all title of Societies and Fellowships, these can be anything from wealthy companies or individuals to full-blown universities. Some examples are provided to help you get going, use them as is or as templates and inspiration for creating your own.

For those who want to play them out in detail, there's a complete breakdown of the research process complete with the necessary game mechanics - like a lot of Traveller, you can have a lot of fun playing through these on your own creating a rich background for a character who may never see 'play' in the accepted role-playing sense of the world. Again there are examples which could be used as the underpinnings for a game based around scholarly pursuits, or to inspire your own.

There are more options too: special advantages (and disadvantages) of having exception Education or Intelligence scores, rules for gifted amateurs, citizen options, a whole bunch of rules about teaching (and learning), the development of networks - a citizen advantage that helps you build up a network of contacts wherever you go - and more.

A thoroughly fun and detailed work that helps to round out the peoples of your Traveller universe with all sorts of different folk... if nothing else, something for the military to defend and the merchants to sell to!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book 10: Cosmopolite
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Ottolf's Handy Manual of Everyday Magic
Publisher: Land's End Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2014 12:26:08
Herein lies a delightful collection of low-level spells (indeed some are 0th-level cantrips or orisons) that should delight any spelluser who just plain enjoys using magic day-to-day. Leave aside the flash-bang showstopping spells in your repertoire, there are plenty of opportunities in an adventuring career to cast those, and play with some of these instead.

Written in a delightful style, ebullient and a bit verbose, these are the sort of spells that are just plain useful - like the Touch of Proper Musicality that will tune a bard's instrument instantly (or, as this is a 'reversable' spell, a malicious bard could untune a rival's instrument mid-performance!).

Many of the spells are either 'reversable' or 'augmentable', a couple of neat features. A 'reversable' spell can either do what it says or the opposite, the clever bit is that you only need to learn the spell once and decide which way round it will operate when you cast it. The 'augmentable' ones can have greater effects than the standard if you learn them in a higher slot than the regular spell, additional effects are mentioned in the spell description.

Most adventurers probably don't need Ottulf's Tavern Finder, but if they do they'd better remember Homeward Steed, which allows their mounts to find the way home without further direction. Those who have been on the road for a while might like to cast Refreshing Undergarments which render the undergarment of your choice extremely comfortable, keeping your person at the right temperature, soothing rashes, and even emitting a faint floral smell...

There's plenty more, all described delightfully (often with little snippets about their creators) and clear evidence of people who relish magic as something to improve everyday life.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ottolf's Handy Manual of Everyday Magic
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Firefly Echoes of War: Wedding Planners Cortex Plus
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2014 07:59:39
Designed to introduce players to the Firefly RPG as well as to give them a cracking good adventure, this work opens with an overview of how the game is played including an introduction to the Cortex ruleset. If you understand all this already, you can skip it, however it does make a good introduction if someone new to role-playing or to Cortex joins an existing group.

The adventure proper begins with full character sheets for several notable major NPCs including the would-be bride and groom. The assumption is that the players will be taking on the roles of at least some of the Serenity crew, but the adventure would work equally well with characters of their own creation if you happen to have the necessary rules. A neat trick is gamemaster hints scattered throughout the adventure, showing you how to maximise the fun.

The plot is simplicity itself. The party is hired to transport a young lady to her wedding. What could be difficult about that? Naturally there's more - far more - than meets the eye, with a fair few sub-plots and other twists along the way. Everything is laid out very clearly for the GM, indeed the whole thing is designed with a novice GM in mind, as well as being presented in such a way as to make it accessible for new players.

There are plenty of opportunities to use skills other than combat. The early stages, in particular, show the benefits of doing a spot of research on the people you'll be meeting and the places you'll be going to; with various snippets being available based on questions asked and how good your die roll is. Interactions are detailed well, with likely responses from the NPCs presented to whatever the party may say or do, often complete with a typical quote that you can use to make them come to life. There's a lot going on and nobody should get bored - at least, not if they are prepared to role-play. Opportunities for combat are limited during the opening stages... but as events unfold there is soon plenty of opportunity for heroics, with a boarding action to contend with before the Serenity reaches his destination, a rendezvous with a luxury liner.

Here the party will have to put on some good behaviour, but there still are plenty of opportunities for getting into trouble. There are lots of things that can happen, even alternate sequences of events based on what has happened so far or even what the GM prefers, plenty of scope to make this adventure your own. And shall we say that not all the guests at the wedding have peaceful celebrations of wedded bliss in mind? This is a wedding day that nobody will forget.

It's a nice adventure, well-rounded with plenty of opportunities to interact, investigate and scheme as well as occasions when violence is the best solution. Presentation is excellent, I only found one typo ('captures' instead of 'cameras' when the press turn up at an inopportune moment, but its easy to figure out what was intended!), and the layout is conductive to easy running. Good in its intended role as an introduction to the Firefly game, or indeed it would make a good adventure to add into an on-going campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Wedding Planners Cortex Plus
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101 Swamp Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2014 07:15:39
If ever your party takes it into its head to visit a swamp, you can make life very... ah, interesting for them if your swamp denizens have access to the spells herein. A spellcasting character who lives in a swampy area or came from/studied there might also wish to incorporate at least some of them into his spellbook, although many are not of much use if you are not in a swamp at the time.

Others however - like a huge array of fog effects - will come in handy wherever you are. Fancy a boiling or freezing fog, or one which has soporific effects on characters trapped in it? Or maybe you'd like to be able to relocate yourself from point to point within a fog bank... all these and more are here.

One of the most useful is a 0th-level Druid spell, Stepping Stone. This brings a solid foothold into existence just where and when you need it by causing a stone to emerge under your feet to give you somewhere to stand. There have been times when poking around in swamps when I would have found that useful!

Most of the spells will be splendid if you are running a swamp-based adventure, all manner of effects to throw at the party that both fit their surroundings and which will be totally new to them. It's almost worth writing a swamp adventure to try them out!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 Swamp Spells (PFRPG)
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Town Backdrop: Deksport
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2014 12:01:33
The most hardy pirate has to come ashore occasionally - even the Flying Dutchman got ashore once every ten years! - and here's a suitably scruffy and dangerous place for them to visit. Most parties should feel right at home!

The work starts with a description of the town's location: in a valley on the shore of a big bay, with a good deep anchorage and harbour protected by a rather ramshackle breakwater. The population is mostly human, but there is a sizable minority of orc and goblin residents.

Town lore and notable locations come next with a clear map - hand-drawn sketch in style - that shows where everything is. There's a thriving marketplace, with items useful to pirate or adventurer alike, and loads of rumours.... complete with a note that it's up to the GM which of them is true and which a complete fabrication! Many, if you decide there is a grain of truth in them, might spawn a side-adventure or even a complete plotline of their own.

A description of the hinterland around the town follows, for those who wish to venture further afield, and then we move on to the history of the place. Everyday life is covered in some detail, with little in the way of festivals - unless you count public executions - and a typically brutal approach to justice that means that unless you annoy a powerful pirate it's actually quite a safe town to visit! There's a table of sights and sounds to use to create atmosphere, and a collection of events that again could spawn a whole adventure if you wish (and the party takes an interest).

Then we get to more detail on the buildings and businesses of the town, plenty for those who just have to know what's going on where. Thirsty visitors will relish several well-detailed taverns, and there are other places to visit and in which to do various business.

This section is followed by an extensive one on the people you'll find there - from individuals to various generics, all with detailed stat blocks. Plenty here to put the teeth into any action....

This may not be the best place for that summer week in the sun, but it should prove interesting to visit.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Town Backdrop: Deksport
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, Megan. As always, I appreciate the time and effort involved! It\'s jolly decent of you!
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