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Tales of Gor: Gorean Roleplaying
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/18/2017 08:49:39

The Introduction, along with recommending that this book is used with its companion World of Gor (which provides more detailed descriptions of the setting and background to the game), confronts the fact that John Norman's Gorean Chronicles are not 'politically correct' head-on, as the author describes how he first encountered the stories and the part they played in his life. Then we hear how the growth of the Internet has ensured the survival, indeed popularity, of this setting in the face of criticism by those who cannot get off their soapboxes and enjoy a piece of fiction for what it is: someplace imaginary. You might not want to live there, but it is fun to visit... and a richer, better-imagined, coherent world it is hard to find.

Next, Scribe of Gor introduces the concepts and themes of the setting and of the game, for the two are intertwined to perfection. It provides the obligatory introduction to role-playing, a particularly good one which is fitting as one of the aims of these books is to introduce the legions of Gor fans to role-playing, as well as to provided existing role-players with a unique and intriguing setting. There are further reminders that this is a fictional setting, pure escapism, rather than a vision of how the world ought to be; and that it's only the 'professionally offended' who complain about what could be seen, if taken out of context of the setting, as rampant racism, imperialist fantasy and misogyny. If even fictional female slaves prized for their skills in the bedroom make you feel uncomfortable, it's quite simple - put this down and find a different game to play. We then are treated to a brief synopsis of the 30-odd novels that make up the Gorean Chronicles. Again, if you don't want to read the books after going through these notes, this is probably not the game for you.

This is followed by Tales of Gor, which provides a quite extensive guide to the setting (although not as detailed as World of Gor it should do for player use). It explains the various power blocs, and details how the views about the role of gender have arisen. Unfortunately, this section needs some proofreading, there are a few typos here. Here we read of Priest-Kings and Kur, and of the Steel Worlds, as well as of Gor itself. 'Civilised' Gor is dominated by city-states and we read of some of the best-known, as well as alliances, nations and other places from trackless deserts to the frozen north. Nomadic tribes and dwellers in deep jungles of the interior are also covered, before the discussion moves on to Gorean society. Here we read of the caste structure, and of clans, families, and slavery.

Now that we have a basic grounding in the setting, the next section - Silver Ship - deals with character creation. The section title refers to the ships used to transport captives from Earth to Gor - perhaps this is a good way to introduce the party to the setting, especially if they don't already know it well. It starts off by explaining the basics of the rules, so that informed choices can be made once you start creating your character. The system is Open D6. Natural abilities are measured in terms of the number of D6s you roll when using them, with any skills you have increasing the number of dice you roll. The list of skills is quite comprehensive. A couple of stand-out ones are Care - to be used when you are taking especial care over what you are doing, e.g. carrying a full vessel - and Pleasure. In a game that has Pleasure Slaves, I think we can guess what that's all about, and it is interesting to see it codified and recognised as a skill both men and women can become adept in. You can further customise your character with one to three Traits, with each conferring both advantages and disadvantages on your character. Template characters, with scope for customisation, are provided, ordered by caste.

The Will of the Priest Kings section then goes into copious details of the rules governing play, and how to use them to effect. There's a lot here but it's all fairly straightforward to grasp and will soon become natural after you've played a few times.

We then reach Game Master territory with a section called Secrets of the Nest. This talks about the different sorts of adventures you can run on Gor, and once you have decided that, there are notes on how to structure your adventure into a compelling plot. Much of this is applicable whatever you're playing. Interestingly there are some remarks about what makes for a poor GM, to help you avoid some common pitfalls particularly if you are new to GMing. There's an extensive bestiary here, too... and notes on sentient adversaries as well.

Finally, Shield and Spear covers a vast range of items, not just weapons and what little armour Goreans use (rarely more than a helmet and a shield). Appendices include more character templates, a short introductory adventure, and notes on playing online and roleplaying sexual encounters. The adventure, The Traitoress, provides some pre-generated characters and is designed to start your adventures off with the hunt for a traitoress escaping Ar after she regained her freedom from Cos (based on events in the later part of the Gorean Chronicles series).

Overall, it is a faithful yet tasteful presentation of the Gorean Chronicles in game form. If you enjoy the stories already, or like detailed and imaginative well-constructed worlds to adventure in, it is well worth a look.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of Gor: Gorean Roleplaying
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All Tomorrow's Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/08/2017 08:44:54

In space nobody can hear you scream... but that doesn't mean that there isn't something to scream about. Although they can arise anytime, anyplace, in some ways zombies are science fiction, with Frankenstein being regarded as the first science fiction novel. This book is the science fiction sourcebook for All Flesh Must Be Eaten, with new rules for creating characters and playing in science fiction settings, five full-blown settings and a whole bunch of other ideas. After explaining this, Chapter 1: Introduction runs through the standard conventions of presentation, and provides an extensive list of books and films to mine for inspiration.

Next, Chapter 2: Starship Shamblers provides specifically science fiction rules to enhance your game, starting off by defining various technology 'types' or broad classifications - biotech, cybertech, space travel, nanotech and the far reaches of space opera - that can be used to categorise your game. It then looks at character creation, noting that standard characters do just fine but you may want cybernetic enhancements or something, ot play a non-human alien sentient. There are rules to accommodate all that, along with new skills, qualities and drawbacks appropriate to a science fiction game. You can even be a robot - at least you won't have a 'brain' for zombies to munch on... and this presents the interesting concept of running a game where it's robots rather than zombies which are on the rampage!

And now on to the full-blown settings. The first is cybertech mixed with Mad Max. Then there is one in which nanotech gone rampant leads to the fall of nations and a resurgence in religious belief, followed by an Aliens style setting in which the party is sent to investigate a colony which has gone silent. Another is purely virtual, taking place in a digital realm... but you cannot escape zombies even there, and finally there is a space opera setting complete with warring empires. Plenty there to choose from - but if that's not enough, there is a selection of other ideas that will need further development but could do nicely for a short-term game even if you don't want to build them into a full campaign.

There's no reason to leave the zombie menace in the past. Encounter them in the future, on other worlds as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
All Tomorrow's Zombies
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Worlds of the Dead: A Collection of Deadworlds
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2017 08:37:19

So, you are ready to run a zombie apocalypse but you're not quite sure where (or even when) those shambling brain-hungry monsters are going to show up? This book presents a full twenty-one concepts which can be run as presented or mined for ideas for a setting of your very own.

The settings are varied and imaginative. What if Von Richthofen, the Red Baron German ace of World War 1 was undead? Or did the Irish potato famine of 1846 give rise to a blight that poisoned the very land and caused those who died of starvation to rise again? Was the Man in the Iron Mask actually a zombie? Each begins with an outline of the situation and background, followed by several scenario ideas and a range of information - such as additional rules, NPCs (zombie or alive) - to help you turn idea into full-blown adventure. There are also suggestions for appropriate modifications to standard character generation, based on the situation. The material includes details of how the zombies came about in the first place, how they function and feed and how new ones arise. Even if you don't like the particular setting, you may choose to use the mechanism elsewhere, or vice versa.

There's plenty of choice. Arabia. France. Japan. Dates run from the Roman Empire to the future (in space, no less) with some fascinating stops along the way. What if Dr Frankenstein kept Queen Victoria going until she was 116? Or is she actually alive at all? What if some luckless archaeologist found that the Knights Templar he was excavating suddenly arose as zombies and chased him round the dig site? Not all the settings have a basis in reality, either. There's a truly strange superhero setting with a novel explanation of how the heroes got their powers. Perhaps McCarthy's UnAmerican Activities Committee was rooting out zombies rather than communists. And just what was in the Kool-Aid? Normal treats like ice cream and a visit to a theme park take on a horrendous twist. Medical experiements gone wrong, zombie hordes taking over... a dark future of ecological catastrophe... and finally an ark ship of cryogentically-frozen travellers who awaken to sheer horror.

All these settings are replete with ideas, and more spawn as you read through them - which is just as well, as each is only outline and suggestions. The work of crafting an adventure lies ahead, but you are provided with the tools, ideas and a core concept to help you prepare your game. Some may run and run, others are more suited to a one-off adventure or a short campaign. There's a lot of thought-provoking material here, so if you want zombies but are not sure when and where to set your game (and don't want the present day, which isn't covered at all) you ought to find something that inspires here.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds of the Dead: A Collection of Deadworlds
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The One Ring - Bree
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2017 08:13:35

The settlement of Bree always conjures up a cosy, welcoming feel... yet there's a feeling of being on the edge of adventure. This supplement matches that feeling well, with plenty of detail on Bree itself and in particular The Prancing Pony Inn, as well as three adventures and a wealth of ideas for things to do in Bree, be you adventuring or in the Fellowship Phase.

The Introduction puts this all in context, pointing out that Bree is to the west of Rivendell, a good stopping-off point for travellers, and with a history of meetings and encounters. Those who fancy playing a hobbit or a man of Bree will find all the details they need to create their character, while Loremasters (for whom this supplement is really intended) will find plenty to bring a new area to life in their game. Suggestions are provided for how to use the adventures: the default is that they should be used with a new party setting out from the area and, run in the order presented, take three or more years to complete in conjuction with Fellowship Phases, but at least the first two adventures may be run as stand-alones or the party may consist of more seasoned characters who have arrived in Bree. Plenty of options there to weave this material into your campaign.

We start off, however, with A History of the Bree-land. Opinions are divided it seems, some say Bree's ancient, settled by descendants of the first men to ever tread these lands, others say different. The Bree-folk themselves aren't too bothered, scholarly pursuits are uncommon amongst them although a hobbit historian has put together an extensive history for those who care to search out a copy and read it. He traces evidence of the existence of Bree back to the reign of the last king of Arnor, in the year 843 of the Third Age. Hobbits arrived somewhat later, around 1300 or so.

Next up is the geography of the area. Bree is a bastion of civilisation, a little island in the middle of the empty wilderness of the North - and the majority of the inhabitants are content to stay there. The East Road and the North Road cross nearby bringing plenty of travellers through (and allowing any locals with itchy feet a way out). There are some irregular patrols by the Rangers of the North, and characters spending a Fellowship Phase in Bree can help out if they're of a mind, and if the Rangers like them. There are plenty of other ideas for activities based in and around Bree too. Plenty of places and people are described, facilitating exploration of the area (particularly for non-local characters). The Prancing Pony gets a whole section to itself, complete with floor plans. This is followed by material covering the empty lands around Bree, and a section about adventuring in Bree.

Then, Men of Bree covers the people who live there, including background about them and all the information you need to create your own characters - hobbits as well as men.

The three adventures follow. Old Bones and Skin sends the party on the trail of a monster first encountered in tales told in The Prancing Pony, but grim and real enough... and so naturally enough begins in the inn itself. Of course, there's much more to it, enough to challenge the bravest adventurer and with real risk attached. Then Strange Men, Strange Roads is set set on the Road west of the Forsaken Inn, involving travelling to both the Chetwood and to Bree, and it all starts in the Forsaken Inn when the party is due to meet a Ranger who doesn't show up. Plenty of action and a spot of courtroom drama await. Finally, Holed Up in Staddle involves travelling the roads and entering Bree itself in the pursuit of some evil men.

This is a coherent and evocative supplement, ideally suited to the gentle yet epic feel of The One Ring, and comes recommended highly as another worthy expansion to the known world. There's lots to do in Bree...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - Bree
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Pugmire Core Rulebook
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2017 05:19:57

If dogs played RPGs, is this the one that they would turn to? Pugmire is based around the premise that dogs have evolved: they walk upright, wear clothes, speak, and use tools, their front paws having developed to be able to grip them. Take these anthropomorphic dogs and drop them into a fantasy setting from which human beings vanished ages ago... and you have Pugmire. Set in the far future, with most of what mankind built crumbled to ruins, evolved dogs strive to recreate the world of the past, some revering the long-lost humans as deities, others regarding them of beings of great wisdom from whose relics much is to be learned.

After explaining all this, the Introduction goes on to explore the game's theme or central idea, which boils down to 'Companionship as Salvation'. Following the Code of Man with religious fervour, the first tenet is 'Be a Good Dog' - but what makes a good dog? Opinions vary, and - just as with our own pets - a good dog can rapidly become a bad one with a single silly mistake. Ultimately, the decision is up to one's peers - if the other dogs think you are good, then you are! Dogs in this game work together and strive to be good dogs. Then there's the mood, which is one of mystery. Whatever dogs get up to, there is always the question in the back of their minds: What happened to the humans? The fragments of knowledge that have remained lead the dogs to what will seem to us players quite humerous interpretations of what was going on when humans were around and dogs our faithful pets: but to our dog characters these are profound if sometimes confusing truths, or at least, theories. Above all, though, dogs like to explore... and this game provides plenty of opportunities for that!

There's a short list of inspirations - mostly anthropomorphic fiction, plus Dungeons & Dragons - and the usual explanation of what a role-playing game is. It's a very clear explanation, you could use it to explain what RPGs are about to a young child. It ends by explaining that the book comes in two parts: A Dog's Guide to Adventure (for players) and the Guide's Tome of Mystery, which contains information only the GM needs to know. The usual difficulty with 'all in one' rulebooks that players end up buying a lot of book they won't actually need, the GM having to trust players to stay out of GM areas, and of course the assumption that players never take a go at GMing...

A couple of canine characters - Princess Yosha Pug and Pan Dachshund - pop up throughout the Dog's Guide to Adventure with informative comments from a dog perspective as this section works through chapters explaining the world, how to create a character, how to play the game, and how magic works. The first chapter, The Journal of Yosha Pug, describes the world from his standpoint (with some quite scathing comments from Pan...), all in a 'handwritten' font that's fortunately quite clear to read. It starts off with details of the foundation of the kingdom of Pugmire, then talks about some of the interesting places to visit... and a warning, from Pan, never to trust a cat! Then of course there's the world beyond Pugmire, most of which is not as civilised and safe, where bad dogs (and worse) may be encountered. It's all beautifully-presented with a gentle air that makes this a good game to play with your youngsters, yet not so bowdlerised as to make it difficult to progress to more adult RPGs as your youngsters grow and mature (or of course carry on playing Pugmire if it has taken your fancy).

Next up, Chapter 2: A Good Dog takes you through character creation. Six ready-to-play characters are provided if you are impatient to get going, or as guides to what you should do, and there's a full explanation of the process for those who would rather have their own character. You start with Callings (character class). Artisans study and use magic; Guardians fight; Hunters explore, track and fight; Ratters can be rogues and criminals but are good at finding things and information; and Shepards are the priests of the Church of Man, teaching everyone how to be a Good Dog. And then there are Strays, the outsiders.

Then you have to choose your Breed. There are six of these, based on different types of dog: Companions, Fettles, Herders, Pointers, Runners, and Workers, plus the Mutts. Within each Breed there are various families - now these are what most of us would call 'breeds' like Chihuahua or Dachshund. Each Breed confers various bonuses and abilities to go along with what comes with your Calling. Add a Background, then you are ready to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of Abilities, Skills, and so forth. If you are familiar with any Class/Level game - such as Dungeons & Dragons - you will find yourself on familiar territory albeit the terminology is a little different. Abilities (the usual strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) are assigned by allocation of a series of numbers as you see fit, no die-rolling or even point-buy involved. Then you have Tricks to choose from, the things your character can do. Everything is explained clearly and simply, and are based on Calling and Breed.

Character sorted, it's on to Chapter 3: Playing the Game. It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however. Each character also has a Fortune Bowl containing points gained for good play and the like, and may expend these points to help with a roll when they really, really want to succeed. Possibly one of the best illustrations in the whole book depicts a dog trying to scrabble a token out of a bowl! There are other uses for Fortunte as well. The final chapter in the player section is all about Magic and how to use it in the game, along with comprehensive spell lists. If you understand Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting, you will be at home here.

The Guide's Tome of Mystery then continues with stuff that players don't need to know, in fact it may spoil enjoyment if they do root around too much here. There's more detailed background on the world of Pugmire, advice for the Guide (i.e. the GM) on how to run their game, a collection of Masterworks (powerful relics believed to have been left behind by humans), and one of enemies, including notes on creating your own. There's a lot to delve into here, some of which - like what dogs look like now - you'll have to explain to your players. There's a city to explore and various organisations to join, interact with or avoid.

On a more practical note, the next chapter provides some excellent advice for running the game, from explaining the many-hatted roles of a Guide as player, referee, storyteller and often host to looking at how to plan coherent campaigns. It also covers the more mechanical side of ensuring that the rules flow smoothly and support, rather than interfere with, the shared story the group is telling. There's a range of magic items of various kinds to use, and (naturally) a host of adversaries to pit against the party.

Finally there's an introductory adventure, The Great Cat Conspiracy, to get your group going. Even though it's for first-level characters, its scope is vast - the very throne of Pugmire may be at stake! It's laid out quite clearly with plenty of advice that should make it straightforward for even a novice GM to run. Of particular note is the way in which options are discussed: clear recognition that players often don't do what the scenario expects them to, so there are alternatives and suggestions for handling whatever they do decide to do. Very neat!

What makes this game stand out is the overall 'nice' feeling. It's wholesome. It's something you could show to a person who thinks all RPGs are the work of the devil with an actual chance of convincing them that at least some are not going to lead all the players into devil-worship. And it makes an excellent entry game for youngsters. Are you a good dog? Come and find out with this anthropomorphic RPG goodness!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pugmire Core Rulebook
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Publisher Reply:
"It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however" Megan, this is nothing new. This has been a rule in 5th edition dungeons and dragons since its release in 2014. Just an FYI. So, this is basically a 5th edition d20 game it looks like?
Conan: Free RPG Day 2017: The Pit of Kutallu - PDF
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2017 07:19:38

Opening with a brief outline of the sort of world Conan inhabits, the first chapter - Welcome to the World of Conan - goes on to explain that this uses a 'cut-down' version of the 2d20 ruleset of Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and that the scenario has been written deliberately to introduce parts of the system as they arise - although there is a rules summary that the GM, at least, really ought to get to grips with before play begins. Pre-generated characters are provided, so the summary focuses on what the entries on the character sheets mean and how they describe the character, and how they are used in play. It makes for a good and well-organised summary, worth keeping to hand even once you're past the demo stage and playing the game on a regular basis (and, of course, particularly useful if new players join the group later on).

The adventure itself, The Pit of Kutallu, is set in the southern coastal jungles of the Black Kingdoms... and starts with the characters having fallen into the clutches of some slavers! If that isn't bad enough, the slavers' ship has been caught in a storm and is about to sink. From then on, it's a desperate struggle to the shore and then through the jungle to recover another slave who'd beguiled the party with offers of a big reward if they'd help her escape. Opposition is varied and challenging - and very much in the spirit of the original Conan stories - with a ruined temple complex inhabited by strange creatures, cultists of the evil persuasion, an otherworldly being worshipped as a deity and the ever-present pounding of jungle drums.

The adventure ends rather abruptly once the cultists are defeated, leaving the GM to determine what happens next and how the party gets out of the jungle and back to civilisation. A plan of the ruined temple would have been a useful addition. Only four pre-generated characters are provided but if your group is larger than that, there are others on the Modiphius website.

With an elegant overview of the game mechanics and an atmospheric if brief and incomplete adventure, this serves as an excellent introduction to the game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Free RPG Day 2017: The Pit of Kutallu - PDF
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Zach Best Family Benefit Bundle [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Thunderegg Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2017 11:30:27

Thank you for organising this: I don't know Zack Best, but if he and his family are in need this is a good way of helping him and I am glad to be able to contribute $10 along with prayers for all those affected by his illness.

As for the actual items, even if you're a hard-nosed gamer out for a bargain and not a soft touch like me, this is still worth a look! There's an engaging mix of old and new materials - including one book I have been trying to get hold of for 10 years! - with a mostly fantasy feel although SF fans will find a couple of Traveller-compatible books from Gypsy Knights Games.

So please consider this good cause and get yourself a good read into the bargain!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Zach Best Family Benefit Bundle [BUNDLE]
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The Lash of Malloc
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2017 12:52:45

Somewhere, in a suitable desert in your campaign world, there's an oasis that isn't actually quite as welcoming that it seems. The Player Information on the back cover talks about the odd missing item, mysterious tracks in the sand, and strange noises, ending with a missing child whose parents are wealthy enough to finance a search mission...

Then the DM's Background lifts the lid on what is going on, and believe me, there's quite a lot going on in that desert inn beside the oasis! Malloc, the owner of The Desert Beetle, provides a good service provide you have plenty of gold but there's a whole lot more going on, most of it quite unpleasant (and not all Malloc's doing either although he does his best to get involved, and get a cut of the profits!).

There's an evocative description of the oasis and plenty of detail about The Desert Beetle itself including notes on the inhabitants and room descriptions. There's a small map of the building - a fairly typical caravanserai - and what lies underneath; but this is not player-friendly, you will need to prepare something if your players like to be shown plans of where their characters are. We also get to meet a new lifeform, the desert goblin. Bit like a Jawa from Star Wars, to be honest: I can see plenty of potential in them.

You will have to get the party there on your own, there are no suggestions for why they might be wandering around a desert. Even if you go with the concept of a doting daddy looking for a missing daughter, you will need to provide details for yourself.

However, it's a neat little adventure even if you will have to do some preparatory work (some other patrons for the inn might come in useful too). Oh, and Malloc's lash? That's the new magic item and, no, it's not a whip!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Lash of Malloc
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The Illusionist's Daughter
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2017 11:01:06

The Players Introduction tells the tale of an illusionist who has an exceptionally beautiful daughter (presumably without the help of his spells!). Although they live in a remote village, her fame has spread far and wide and there's no shortage of eager young men heading off to try and win her hand. Only one of them has gone missing, a young nobleman by the name of Cedric. His family is concerned, and ask the party to find out what happened to him.

The DM Background lifts the lid, outlining a tragedy that has left the illusionist unhinged and his erstwhile bodyguard terrorising the surrounding area. Although the initial introduction for the party talks about them being sent in search of the missing Cedric, several other options are provided if that doesn't fit in well with your campaign. There's even a neat idea for using NPC bards to spread a song about this beautiful maiden which the party may hear for weeks before you actually run this adventure.

Getting to the village is apparently an adventure in itself, but that's an adventure you will have to write as what is provided here starts when the party arrives in the village. There is a rather small village map with accompanying descriptions of notable locations and inhabitants, but the main meat of the adventure is the illusionist's home, a three-storey edifice rather optimistically called a tower. Again there's a plan of that - note both maps are not player-friendly - with room descriptions for when the party begins to prowl around. Wandering around the village will provide ample opportunities for interaction with the inhabitants and the gathering of information.

Once in the tower, there are numerous unsettling incidents to highlight the fact that the wizard is deranged - even if he does manage to make reasonable dinner conversation. The weather turns nasty, and the party is invited to stay the night... a good chance to explore. And that's what they will need to do: there is no real way to discover what is going on except by poking about and finding the evidence for themselves. Likely things will end in tears, and a brawl - although the objective of the fight is not clear.

Overall it is a nice little puzzle adventure to toss your party's way, particularly if they enjoy figuring out what is going on.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Illusionist's Daughter
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The Waking Dead
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2017 10:04:02

This contains all you need to have a go at All Flesh Must Be Eaten apart from a few polyhedral dice and some ready-meals for your zombies... er, I mean players. It starts of by explain what is one of the main selling points of this game line: it has no setting! That sounds a bit odd, but what it means is that if you want to play a game about zombies, you can set it anywhere - past, present, future, fantasy, whatever - using these simple rules and maybe one of the array of setting books that are available. The adventure here is set in contemporary America, and it's suggested that for best effect the GM (or Zombie Master as he is known in this game) does not let on that the group is about to play a game about zombies, just hand out the Archetypes provided!

Next comes an outline of the rules - a version of the Eden Studios Unisystem - beginning with the concept of Archetypes, the way in which player-characters are described in the game. There are brief notes on what the character sheet means, then a collection of six - a doctor, an FBI agent, a gang banger, a good ol' boy, a marine and a soccer mom - are provided. A motley lot, perhaps, but the idea is that they are thrown together by circumstance and have to work together to survive. They are followed by some more rules stuff: task resolution, luck, getting scared, and of course combat.

Then comes the adventure itself, 'The Waking Dead'. It starts with our motley crew waking up in hospital after a mysterious disaster of which they seem to be the only survivors... and things go downhill from there. It's well constructed to both provide a thorough introduction to the workings of the game and be quite exciting in its own right! Neatly, it starts off pretty linear and becomes more freeform as it goes on, allowing the Zombie Master to take it in any direction - and use it, if desired, as a campaign starter rather than merely an introduction to the game.

The party awakens without equipment or indeed clothes apart from hospital gowns (the sort that leave your rear end hanging out!), so they will have to scavenge as they explore. There's an added twist that they are having strange dreams which may lead them to safety, but there are decisions to be made here, which sets this above many introductory adventures with a real feeling of accomplishing something, of getting somewhere.

If you are new to All Flesh Must Be Eaten this makes an excellent introduction. Likewise, if you want to kick off a contemporary zombie game in great style, this will serve very well - just add in whatever you need to steer the action in the right direction!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Waking Dead
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Deep Magic: Elven High Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/14/2017 07:20:05

This work opens by defining elven high magic as an ancient and rare art capable of approaching the powers of the deities themselves, shaping cities, even worlds to their will. It's said that a practitioner can accomplish literally anything, given long enough. Of course it's very hard to master, taking literally centuries of dedicated work, so it is not just the innate arrogance of elven-king that means only elves ever get to study it, it's sheer practicality: short-lived races cannot manage to learn enough to be worthwhile.

Presented as a new school of magic, there are level-based abilities that include being able to bind ritual magic to a location and make it permanent, copy ritual magic into your spellbook irrespective of source and more. Rituals feature large in this style of spellcasting.

There are some seventeen new spells, most of which can be boosted in potency if a ritual focus is used. Perhaps you have wondered why elven bread is so nourishing. There's a spell that lifts the lid on its secrets. Or if someone has really annoyed you, perhaps you'd like to curse not just him but his descendents as well. There's a neat spell called Celebration, an area effect in which everyone who enters the area joins in the party. There's a lot to play with here.

This provides an interesting insight into elf magic, and perhaps even the elven approach to life. Maybe there is a small enclave of elves, deep in a forest somewhere in your campaign world, that is the last bastion of elven high magic. What might cause your party to visit? Or perhaps some calamity has caused them to venture forth into the world... It's a neat way to encapsulate different attitudes and approaches to magic, to make being an elf about more than the pointy ears.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Elven High Magic for 5th Edition
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Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2017 07:56:37

People have always been afraid of the dark, of shadows. Shadow magic, at least in your game world, may be one of the reasons why. Perhaps it's a sinister NPC, or even a player-character with dark edges to his spells...

Various ways of tapping into this darkness are provided. The first (and fairly obvious one) is a sorcerous bloodline. Maybe you prefer the idea of a warlock whose pact is with a being from the Plane of Shadows, or maybe it's a rogue who has taken his kind's natural affinity with shadows just a little too far. Each is provided with appropriate class abilities to embue them with a touch of shadow.

Next, there's a spell list. Some little gems here, like Dark Dementing - "A dark shadow creeps across the target's mind and leaves a small bit of shadow essence behind, triggering a profound fear of the dark" - how's that for something really nasty to do to your enemies? You can also summon creatures or effects from shadowy realms, hurl shadows around and extinguish lights.

A neat selection of shadow-based abilities to add a little shiver of darkness. Probably better for NPCs unless you are running an evil campaign, though. If your party isn't scared of the dark now, they will be soon enough...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
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Deep Magic: Ring Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2017 07:25:05

Most of us know "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" even if we cannot recite the entire verse... but have you ever stopped to contemplate magic rings within your game? In this work, it's suggested that magic ring manufacture is a dwarf thing. Now dwarves as a whole don't tend to be into magic much, their creative outlet is in making and shaping physical items but in forging rings and embuing them with power they reach a fusion of physical and magic creativity like none other.

Geometrically, the ring is an unusual shape for a dwarf: they tend to prefer angles and straight lines over curves, never mind a smooth circle with no beginning or end. Yet they make fine ones, often inscribed with runes and encrusted with jewels, perfect for the storing and wielding of magical power. Opening with quite a bit of fascinating background linking dwarves with this specific magic item, we then move on to a couple of feats related to ring magic as a whole before meeting the new arcane tradition of the Ring Warden. Rare outside of dwarven strongholds, they are recognisable by their staves bound with multiple rings.

The Ring Warden's magic is based on transmutation, blending dwarven craftsmanship with the magic that they use to empower the rings that they make. There's a sidebar linking Ring Wardens to the Midgard campaign setting, but if you're not using that, it's quite straightforward to find suitable locations and background for them in your own campaign world.

There are a selection of spells mostly aimed at enchanting rings and other ring-related effects (some of the links being fairly tenuous, like Reverberate where the only connection is that the material component is a metal ring with which you strike the ground to cause it to shake and your opponents to lose their balance!), and a slew of magic items most of which are, of course, rings. There is a rather wonderful molten fire forge, which anyone who wants to make magic armour, weapons or indeed rings would really want to get their hands on, a full-blown artefact - a sentient ring left by one of the founding Ring Wardens - and a new monster, the ring servant. This is a construct of metal plates around a core of glowing energy.

If you've ever wondered where those magic rings come from, here's your answer. The Ring Warden is probably best as an NPC, it seems a bit limited to play, but the entire concept provides background and depth to the whole idea of magic rings in your game... and maybe more. What if a rival group started making rings? A different race, even? Would the rings be identifiable as to source? Might trade wars break out? It would be quite easy to build a whole campaign around this...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Ring Magic for 5th Edition
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Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2017 14:52:46

Visually, the entire book is laid out as if you were viewing an LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) screen in the ST-NG era... quite beautiful and distinctive to look at but I always find white text on a dark backround a bit tiring on the eyes for any length of time. It's worth persevering though, the content has been put together by people who clearly love the Star Trek universe and want to bring it to life in the shared alternate reality that is your game.

After a beautiful star chart Chapter 1: Introduction welcomes you to the Star Trek universe and explains what the game involves. It explains that the default setting is 2371 (or perhaps we should say Stardates 48000-48999), but that it's quite possible to run games in other eras, be your favourite captain Kirk or Archer: all you need do is adjust technology and surroundings to suit. Advice is to be found in the Gamemaster material and in promised future supplements. There's mention of the dice and other materials that you will need, and an example of play that should get the idea across for anyone new to roleplaying.

Chapter 2: The United Federation of Planets serves as a detailed introduction to the universe, with particular attention paid to its history. The default is that the Dominion has just been discovered in the Gamma Quadrant, the Maquis are getting frisky in the Cardassian Demilitarised Zone and it's thought likely that the Borg will come back for a second attempt at assmiliating, well, everybody, but of course you can call a pause in the timeline whenever you want to adventure. We read of the major power blocs, complete with atmospheric 'intelligence reports' and other snippets such as diary entries, history lessons from Starfleet Academy professors and more which make it all come to life - and everything's written in a style that makes it suitable for in-character use. It's a neat way to tell the history of the universe.

Next, Chapter 3: Your Continuing Mission provides extensive details about Starfleet itself - organisation, the Prime Directive, the Academy, the sort of duties members undertake and what away teams do. Sidebars include a neat rationale about why uniform colours changed from command wearing gold and operations red in the time of Captain Kirk to the other way around in later years... it was actually due to the implied stigma of a 'red shirt' being most likely to die on an away misson or other dangerous circumstance! The explanation of the different sorts of duties and missions is fascinating and should help inform character creation and indeed adventure design.

Chapter 4: Operations follows. This explains the rules and game mechanics which govern play. As well as d20s and d6s, the system involves a special 'Challenge Die' which bears a special symbol (a sort of 'Starfleet arrow' based on the original series badge). There's an explanation of how to use an ordinary d6 instead - or you can buy Challenge Dice from the publisher Modiphius. We learn about the different things that can occur during play and about a system of Traits - short phrases or single words that describe a thing, a place or a person - which serve to convey what is and is not possible. Traits can be advantages or complications. A Task is a roll to determine the success (or otherwise) of an attempt to do something, and the character brings their innate Attributes and learned Disciplines to bear on the task, with their scores being used to determine the target number for the task (it might have made more sense if characters had been covered first rather than in the next chapter, but it's quite straightforward really). The GM then sets the Difficulty of the task, which tells you how many successes you need to roll to do whatever you are trying to do. A success occurs when you roll equal to or less than the target number. Then you get the dice out - at least 2d20 but you can roll more by use of various additional rules. It may sound a bit complex written out but it's slick in play once you have tried it a couple of times. The chapter goes on to explain various details like having appropriate equipment and other factors that can help or hinder you, how to deal with opposed tasks and so on. If you do exceptionally well in the die roll, you gain Momentum, a mechanic that gives you advantages at the time and/or later on, depending on how you choose to use the points. The GM has a complementary system called Threats. Things called Values and Directives may also come into play. Described properly in the next chapter, Values are statements about a person's attitude and drives, Directives apply to the mission - and hence to the entire party engaged in it.

On then to Chapter 5: Reporting for Duty. This covers a whole lot more than character creation, although that's the main gist of it, using as examples characters from the TV show - hopefully most readers will be familiar with them! Each character has six Attributes (Control, Daring, Fitness, Insight, Presence, and Reason), innate abilities that define them, and then get training in six Disciplines. While a character will specialise in one or more (and so have more points in it), Starfleet expects its officers to know at least something about everything. The Disciplines are Command, Conn, Engineering, Security, Science, and Medicine. Then it gets fun with a Lifepath Creation system that builds the character and his backstory at the same time, showing how, when and where he acquired his knowledge and skills. It does help if you have some idea of where you want to end up before you start, though! There's loads of detail to help you make all the choices required, starting with race and going through environment (the one you grew up in), upbringing, attending Starfleet Academy and subsequent career in Starfleet. All this results in a rounded character who has lived a full life even before play begins. The main focus is on Starfleet officers, but there are notes on created an enlisted character if that's what you prefer. There is also a novel alternate method of creating a character during play, where you part-create a few simple details and add the rest as the game proceeds. Different, but I think I prefer the Lifepath method.

Then Chapter 6: The Final Frontier talks about the universe itself, covering planets, alien encounters, stellar phenomena and scientific discoveries and developments. This is an overview, talking about characteristics and dangers, rather than detailing specific planets or aliens that can be encountered. It includes a delightful article entitled 'Zen and the Art of Warp Core Maintenance' which discusses how the science of Star Trek is either real or has been at least considered to be theoretically possible, and also shows how in-character research can be conducted.

This fascinating chapter is followed by Chapter 7: Conflict. This deals with a lot more than brawling (although combat is in there), covering any occasion in which two parties have different ideas about, well, anything and how the matter may be resolved. It provides a nuanced way to navigate through social conflict using a mix of role-play and die rolls. Naturally, there is extensive coverage of how to deal with situations in which combat breaks out, concentrating on melee (individual against individual). This is followed by Chapter 8: Technology and Equipment, which talks about what is available and how to use it. Should you wish to venture outside the mid-24the century default, this is the area in which the greatest changes will occur. It also covers details like how much people can carry as well as how to develop new items of equipment as and when they are required.

Star Trek is all about travelling the stars, exploration accompanies nearly all missions even if they have another goal, and so Chapter 9: A Home in the Stars looks at where the party might find themselves - primarily starships of course, but starbases and colonies are also examined. There's plenty of detail on starship operation and day-to-day life to help create a believable background. A note on planet-based games helps show how you can make life on a colony just as much an adventure as one based on a starship or starbase. This chapter also includes rules for starship combat and presents an array of Starfleet ships as well as some alien vessels. Combat between ships, as well as the more obvious concepts of manoeuvering and shooting at each other, also includes the management of power aboard ship, an added dimension... and of course there are the perils of warp core breaches and even abandoning ship.

We then move on to material of most use to the GM, beginning with Chapter 10: Gamemastering. Herein is a wealth of advice about running the game, staying on top of the rules and ensuring that the players' characters develop and grow over time. Some is general advice, useful whatever you're planning to run, but much of course is aimed specifically at Star Trek Adventures. There are ideas for adventure, guidance in managing character creation and notes on how to make the rules work to best effect. There's an interesting discussion on how Star Trek Adventures has a slightly different approach from many games, in this universe cooperation rather than conquest is the aim and while fights do break out, Starfleet prefers to obtain its objectives by more peaceful means. Belonging to a large - and hierarchical - organisation is also covered: the characters cannot become pawns following orders... but then, no-one would accuse Kirk or Picard of being a pawn! There's lots on the mix of creativity and mechanics that go into creating scenes, encounters, sub-plots and everything else that's going on, on pacing, and on creating missions, NPCs and the locations in which the action will take place (including a system for designing planets). A thoroughly useful chapter!

Then Chapter 11: Aliens and Adversaries takes you through the various opposing entities - the Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire, Borg Collective, Ferengi Alliance, Cadassian Union and the Dominion - as well as alien artefacts and all manner of beasties. There are example NPCs for each group (and for the United Federation of Planets), and there are nots on how to handle a player desperate to play a Klingon or a Ferengi... as well as details of what happens to those unlucky enough to be assimilated by the Borg!

Finally, Chapter 12: The Rescue at Xerxes IV provides a ready-made adventure to get you started. It's actually the first adventure from the massive 'living playtest' that was part of the game development process, and would make a good campaign starter or a one-off to introduce players to the game. It all starts with the characters in a runabout travelling to their new assignments...

Overall, this is a magnificent beginning to what has the potential to be a fine re-telling of the Star Trek story in game form. Your mission is, of course, to boldly go where no-one has gone before, and these rules will aid you in not only getting there but coming back to tell the tale!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook
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Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2017 09:17:26

There are many diverse theories, we are told, as to where 'magic' actually comes from. No doubt scholars will argue furiously for their preferred source, but the truth is, it has multiple sources, those listed here (ley lines, other dimensions, bloodlines...) and probably quite a few more. One fairly undisputed source of magic, however, is the dragon. An ancient and wise race, innately magical and capable of studying to develop their knowledge, dragons themselves are excellent at magic, and also pass it on, through bloodlines, to those descended from dragons as well. Because of their lineage, dragons were amongst the first to master magic, so they have been practising and refining their skills longer than most.

This leads on to a discussion of the particular forms of magic practised by so-called Dragon Magi. They walk a line of balance between wizards who pull power out of the air to mould as they wish and sorcerers who draw on internal chaotic power to drive their magics, a mix of order and chaoes. This new arcane tradition, mechanically speaking, uses spell slots not just for actual spells but for powering magical abilities, an interesting approach which has great potential for developing your own personal style in magic-use.

Dragon magi can call upon various aspects of the dragon - head, heart, tail, and so on - which have a visible manifestation and in-game effects. Calling them costs a spell slot, but once you get to grips with the potency of the abilities granted, it is worth it. Several feats are also presented, many of which are available to anyone not just dragon magi. Perhaps you might care to be a Dragonrider, a feat that grants the ability to climb onto an opponent much larger than yourself and 'ride' it in combat - despite the beautiful illustration of a sword-wielding elf seated comfortably on a barded dragon (who looks quite happy about his mount), the text suggests that this feat is for use against a hostile beastie that has no intention of permitting itself to be ridden!

A range of Dragon Magic spells are also presented, which any spell-user may acquire and cast in the usual manner... provided they can get access to the necessary information. There are many intriguing dweomers here, all linked in some manner with dragons - maybe you want to make a lot of noise with Dragon Roar (it's basically a sonic attack) or seek out precious metals and gems with Enhance Greed. Or maybe you'd like to make like a dragon yourself and use Dragon Breath to give you a one-off breath weapon.

Taking the theme of dragon magic and stretching it in several directions, this provides some interesting ideas to expand the scope of the magic available in your game. Magical theorists will enjoy the way these new powers are embedded into the alternate reality of the game, whilst more muscular magic-users will enjoy trying them out!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
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