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The Alchemist's Eyrie (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2016 10:25:01

This is a brief adventure that ought to last but a single session. It's basically a delve, even if it involves a tower rather than an underground complex. The DM is provided with plenty of background as well as a synopsis and several potent hooks to get the party involved - if you are using this as part of a campaign, read it well before you intend to use it as there are several suggestions for foreshadowing, thus making it seem integral to your plot rather than a side-trip. However it will serve just fine as a side-trip or a one-off if that's what you need.


Although the background does give some indication of the tower's location, the adventure proper starts with the party approaching it. This should make it relatively easy to find an appropriate place in your campaign world to situate it. As well as the current residents and assorted traps left by the original alchemist, one difficulty many characters may find is that the tower was built with dwarves in mind and there's not much headroom - unless of course you are a dwarf or a member of another short race.


It's a neat compact adventure with enough variety, what with the traps and the nature of the opposition, to lift it above a pure dungeon brawl and provide an entertaining session for you and your group.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Alchemist's Eyrie (3.0)
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The Vessel of Stars (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2016 10:16:55

It's an escort job. Take this young queen where she needs to go, that's it. OK, so it's a rather strange place she's going and the opposition are even wierder, but surely it's not too difficult... or is it?


The background for the DM lays out what is happening concisely but clearly, with the observation that although the party won't start the adventure knowing all this, they might do by the end if they pay attention to what's going on around them. There is also a comprehensive synopsis which covers what ought to happen where - because this adventure manages to combine a flight scenario with a site-based one. Basically the party (plus young queen) get chased to her destination, which they can then explore.


Several adventure hooks are provided to get the party involved. Rather neatly, you can use more than one to really get them ensnared! It all starts in a reasonably-sized coastal township called Horvath (or you can substitute an equivalent settlement in your own campaign world if you prefer). Once you've got the party interested, they can ask around for useful information before they set out. It seems the place has been plagued by strange creatures (and lights) in some nearby hills for about ten years now. This is, of course, where the party has to go...


Several maps are supplied. There's one of the general area (which can help you find a suitable location on your own campaign world if you don't just want to run it straight), and several maps of locations encountered during the adventure. Horvath gets some description but no actual map, but there's sufficient in the description to give an idea of its layout and you shouldn't need more than that.


Although what needs to be done is pretty straightforward, there's quite a loose feel about it with plenty of scope to run the trip as you choose, yet plenty of resources - encounters, wandering monsters, etc. - supplied to support you. The end should prove exciting - provided that the little queen is still alive, that is - and there are notes on how to continue, whether she manages to escape or not.


There's quite a lot packed into a few pages here, and it ought to give your group a good session or two adventuring... and includes a neat potential moral dilemma for those parties who like to think about the consequences of what they are doing.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Vessel of Stars (3.0)
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Delta Green: Agent's Handbook
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2016 12:58:50

Opening with an Overview, this is the players' book for the Delta Green RPG. The Overview is interesting, stating that it is a warning... that Delta Green is not about adventure and bug hunts and guns, but about fear. A fear that the things the characters deal with can end not just their lives but the very Earth itself. Once it's calmed down a bit, there's a more reasoned explanation of what Delta Green is and does: a covert operation hidden within the depths of the establishment, with a mission to investigate, contain, and conceal unnatural events. It's a strange organisation with no headquarters or bases, with most agents knowing only a few others and generally working a 'day job' when they are not off on a mission for Delta Green. Agents are recruited carefully and slowly, they need to be certain that they have the right people. There's a run-through of the common features of all the missions undertaken: suspense, horror, violence, moral dilemmas, secrets, mind-bending knowledge, and the personal and professional consequences of being a Delta Green agent. This opening chapter ends with an outline of how the game is played, primarily aimed at those not familiar with role-playing games.


Next, Agents contains all the information you need to create your character. The system is based on Chaosium's Basic Role Playing one with characters described by their Statistics (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Power and Charisma) which can be rolled or determined through a point-buy system. There are some Derived Attributes to work out, then you select a Profession and Skills before adding personal details including the character's bonds to important people (vital for hanging on to your sanity) as well as things like name, appearance, current job and so on. There's masses of detail to help you through the process. If you don't care for the Professions offered here (which provide your main Skills), there are notes on how to invent your own.


Then The Game is a chapter which explains, in great detail, how to play the game, and use the abilities and skills that your character has to effect. The core system is percentage based, with the aim being to roll under the percentage you have in an applicable Statistic or Skill. It's advised that you only get the dice out if the task you wish to undertake is a difficult one, if the situation is unpredictable or when there are consequences to failure... dire ones, that is. There are lots of examples to show you how the system works, but it's pretty intuitive. One nice angle is the Luck Roll - a straight unmodified roll giving you a 50% chance of things going your way: use this when wondering if the car you just stole has a first-aid kit aboard as you need one, or if the neighbours are in when you are busy kicking a door down to break in... There's things like opposed tests and pursuits here as well.


Combat, however, gets a chapter to itself. This takes you through brawling in great detail, with all the options available - some of them optional - and how to make the most of the skills, equipment and situation that you have. There's a lot to absorb here, but it's worth reading so that when you do have to fight, you do so to best effect. It can get pretty lethal though - just like the real world - so pick your fights carefully. There's also things like protection, healing and other useful combat-related material here too, as well as other ways to harm or be harmed - poisons, environmental dangers, fire, falls and so on.


Next comes Sanity. In a game about horror and fear, it's quite easy to lose your marbles... so here are the rules for hanging on to your sanity, or losing it big style. All sorts of things can put a Delta Green Agent's sanity at risk, both the things that they see and experience, and the things they find that they have to do. There's a splendid selection of disorders that deranged minds might turn to, and a scant few notes on therapy that may, just may, aid in recovery.


The next chapter is Home. The brief respite of normal everyday life that anchors agents, reminds them of why they do what they do, reminds them of normal life. In this game, short scenes are used - normally between missions - to enable agents to touch base, but also to see how what they have done and seen affects that which they hold most dear. This is also when they can attend theraphy sessions, gain additional skills through training and study... or even face prosecution if the authorities have noticed what they've been up to! It's a neat way of incorporating an air of real life into the game, making things like boosting your skills a part of the game rather than book-keeping.


This is followed by Equipment and Vehicles. This deals with the gear that the agent needs (or would like to have). The expense is handled in an arbitrary manner without tracking every dollar spent. You only have to argue the case for access to high value or hard to obtain items, most of the time it's deemed that agents have access to the things that they need. It depends on the mission, the cover story and the item you want... and a lot is left to the Handler's discretion! There can be consequences for asking for something that the powers-that-be deem inappropriate to what they think you are doing, and there can be an after-action review in which awkward questions can be asked. Or you can try the black market... It's only then that we get down to the actual lists and applicable game mechanics for actual items. Again, it's a neat system which adds realism to the process without bogging it down in masses of accounting and record-keeping.


Next is an extensive chapter of Federal Agencies. All the alphabet soup agencies you've heard of and quite a few that, unless you are obsessive about US government agencies, you probably didn't know existed. It also includes the military, as well as law enforcement, intelligence, diplomats and public safety. The main idea here is that they are potential employers of record for our agents. Each agency is described with notes on whether or not their staff have powers of arrest, do they carry weapons as a matter of course, what funds are available to them and do they have access to more exotic items of equipment. Appropriate professions are listed for each one, and there are notes on how best to play a member of that agency. It's all quite fascinating, and gives a wide range of interesting backgrounds - I once played a Centers for Disease Control doctor, another time I was a CIA consultant and historian scampering around Afghanistan...


Finally, there's a series of appendices covering tradecraft (all those useful tricks of espionage or undercover work), a comprehensive glossary and some recommended reading. And a character sheet.


It's an excellent introduction to the game with loads of useful background to help you create and play an effective Delta Green agent. Good luck... you'll need it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: Agent's Handbook
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Murder in Baldur's Gate (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2016 08:08:07

This is a quite fascinating adventure, as it is far more of a sandbox than many although there's plenty going on to keep the characters busy - indeed they are likely to get swamped and prioritise what needs to be dealt with right now, and what can be done later if at all. You can run it with any Dungeons and Dragons ruleset from 3e to 5e, but it is designed with the aim of introducing - in character - the changes that transferring to D&D 5e would entail, being released prior to the launch of that ruleset.


You get a 32-page adventure guide, a 64-page setting book and a DM screen. The PDF version also includes additional material that was made available as free downloads to purchasers of the 'dead tree' version.


The Campaign Guide consists of a comprehensive gazetteer to the city of Baldur's Gate. Although the settlement has been mentioned in Forgotten Realms material for ages, here is the real low-down on the place, a good chance to really get to know it. With plentiful maps and illustrations and details on everything from municipal leaders to the best inns to frequent, its usefulness will last far beyond this adventure to anytime the party is in town. There are places to go, things to see and lots to do... and reading through it spawns plenty of ideas for adventure, particularly if your taste turns to urban plotliness (as mine does). Most of it is system-neutral so no matter which version of D&D you want to play, it will be a useful book to have to hand.


Turning attention to the adventure itself, Murder in Baldur's Gate, this teeming and prosperous city we have just read about is on the brink of breakdown. Part of this is due to inequality - the city is extremely stratified with the rich separated from the middle classes and them from those in real poverty - who are still expected to pay taxes although they don't get any of the services that the taxes are levied to fund! This is exacerbated by a spate of murders that herald attempts by the deity of assassins, Bhaal himself, to be resurrected with three villains competing to become his Chosen... and they do not care what happens to the city in the process. The delightful sting in the tail is that if the party chooses to solve the problem by removing those three rivals permanently, one of them will find Bhaal tapping on their shoulder instead!


Event piles upon event in dizzying complexity. The party won't see or be involved in everything, but it's likely that they will hear about the ones they don't witness - although how credible the reports are is open to question. The DM should study the material thoroughly in advance, after all it won't do for them to get swamped, that's the party's fate. Everything is laid out quite clearly, though, and there's a lot of flexibility to allow the DM to respond to the party's actions yet keep everything on track.


This adventure provides plenty of scope for interaction and intrigue, but violence is never far away so those looking for combat will not be disappointed. It's exciting and engrossing and gives low-level characters an unprecidented opportunity to be involved in momentous events. It all ends in buckets of blood, riots and possibly a big explosion: memorable in the extreme. For me it works well, I love urban intrigue and investigation - but it may be more of a struggle for those players who prefer a good dungeon crawl and conduct interactions at sword-point without the distraction of conversation!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Murder in Baldur's Gate (5e)
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Qin: The Warring States free demo kit
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/25/2016 09:59:17

Originally released in advance of the actual game itself, this is a good opportunity to take a peek at this system before taking the plunge and purchasing a copy.


It starts with a brief introduction to the game and some atmospheric fiction before launching into The History of the Empire and The Warring States, which set the scene in an admirably concise style. There's a page on Magic in Qin, with the reminder that in the mystical China of this game, people regard magic as quite normal and not supernatural... it's just someone who knows how the universe works manipulating it.


Then it's on to game mechanics with an outline of how characters are described in game mechanical terms and an overiew of the rules. Finally, two completely developed characters are presented, complete with character sheets, and it is suggested that you try out the rules by having them brawl with one another.


That's it, quite short and sweet. The background material does give a whistle-stop tour of the setting, and could be used to explain to prospective players the world in which their characters would exist... but there's a lot more to this game than fighting so it's a shame that there is no short scenario to play through as an introduction: just saying 'Here's 2 characters, let them fight' doesn't really give a fair impression of what this mystical game is all about!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Qin: The Warring States free demo kit
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Qin: The Tournament of Scarlet and White
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/24/2016 04:04:51

The Tournament of Scarlet and White is a short scenario that can be run as a one-off or in a convention slot, or as a diversion during a regular campaign. It covers events in a township where, years ago, the provincial governor was overthrown and replaced by the leader of a band of mercenaries. As he's done a good job since, the powers that be have left him alone. Every year the new governor, one Qi Xiang, holds a tournament that is open to all comers, and this year the party has decided to give it a go...


An Introduction sets the scene, covering recent history and outlining Qi Xiang's further ambitions, for of course a minor governorship will not satisfy him for ever. It also introduces some leading members of his mercenary band, deliberately unstatted as this adventure is for low level characters and they are supposed to be far too powerful for them to even consider challenging... my group is not that wise, so I made sure that I had a rough idea of their capabilities before running this! Their nicknames are based on pieces from a xiangqi (a Chinese equivalent of chess) board, for Qi Xiang is said to treat everyone as if they were chess pieces, to be moved about to his advantage.


Next we hear about the tournament itself, with some background on tournaments in general in mystical China. There are quite a lot of different competitions, so it's likely that any party member who wishes to compete will find a suitable one whilst there is plenty for the rest of the party to watch and do even if they don't care to participate in the tournament itself. That's neat, it gives everyone an opportunity to shine. Various options are provided, depending on how 'authentic' you want events to be, with any necessary additional rule mechanics provided. You'll probably want to plan out what will be happening in advance, but you have the tools you need to do so here.


And then we get to the plot itself. You may think that the tournament will provide entertainment enough (indeed it could), but there's a lot more at stake this year and opportunity for the party to get embroiled in events... particularly if they enjoy intrigue, although there's plenty of combat and other adventure as well. There's a detailed outline of events as they'd play out if the characters don't interfere, which you can modify as and when they do get involved - a nice way of letting their actions have real effect whilst creating the impression that life goes on around them regardless.


There are notes on different ways of running the scenario, particularly if you are not constrained by time and can really indulge in the considerable atmosphere - something I'd recommend. There is a lot going on in and around the tournament and various ways to involve the party. Options for expanding the scenario, including prequel events, are included, of particular use if you wish to incorporate it into a campaign. Six pre-generated characters are provided. They make a nice group, so if you are starting out your campaign they are worth considering if your players prefer to use them rather than create their own; and of course if you are running a one-off or convention game, you don't want to spend any of your limited time in character creation!


Overall this is an enchanting adventure, full of atmosphere and with considerable depth, something that will enhance any campaign or provide an excellent diversion - perhaps even get your group hooked on Qin: The Warring States and demanding more. The only flaw is considerable reference to a subsequent adventure (The Song of Bamboo Tears) which at the time of writing, some four years after this was published, still has not appeared!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Qin: The Tournament of Scarlet and White
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Qin: The Art of War
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/23/2016 12:01:57

There's a lot of warfare going on in this game, it isn't called Qin: The Warring States for nothing! As the seven states squabble there is plenty of opportunity - perhaps the party wish to become mercenaries or they may see their attempts at diplomacy (or spying) fail, they may become involved in a border skirmish or a siege... whether it's a small scuffle or all-out war, this is a good time and place to display your martial prowess. This supplement gives you all the tools you need, from comprehensive descriptions of the forces maintained by each state to rules for fighting out any scale of brawl right up to epic battles, and several scenarios and ready-to-play characters to thrust your party headlong into the action. Or you may wish to play out battles to form a backdrop to the characters' exploits...


First up is The Armies of the Zhongguo. Drawing on the work of the real-world Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, here called Sun Zi, there is a discussion of how - and why - war is waged in the Zhongguo. War may be the last resort in dispute resolution, but for many it seems to be the first resort... so there is an impressive list of past battles to study and learn from, as well as plenty of 'modern' tactical thought. Fiction is interspersed with information about recruitment and training, the structure of the armed forces and even warlike artefacts that have power within the game. There are scenario seeds, new items of equipment (and new skills to use them), details of mercenary groups and weapons, tactics for the battlefield and even notes on military intelligence gathering and battlefield communication. There is a wealth of information to help you wage war, mystical China style.


Next is The Armies of the Warring States, which takes a detailed look at military provision in each of the seven states. Naturally, some are more warlike than others, but all need to be prepared to defend themselves at least. There's a wealth of detail here that can be used as background if one of your characters has seen service, or if the party interacts with the military somewhere; or if you are so inclined, to provide information for more wargame style combat. Individual commanders and other notables are presented with complete stat blocks, so they can take their place amongst your NPCs as required. Each state has its own style, quite distinctive in composition of their forces and in the way they are deployed, which makes for interesting reading. And if you wish to stray beyond the borders, there are notes - less detailed but of use nonetheless - about the armed forces of nearby lands.


Then Battles in the Warring States presents a mass combat system for when you want to stage a really big war. It is simple and flexible, designed to weave around your role-play rather than serve as a full-blown skirmish wargame, with the aim of allowing you to determine the outcome of any battle that may take place. The party may see a combat, participate in it or perhaps even rise to become Generals and lead it, and this system provides a non-arbitrary way of resolving it. It begins with each commander issuing orders and making dispositions for his troops and then making a Battle Test which determines which side has the advantage. Then it operates with a series of turns in which orders are given and acted upon, and allows for the intervention of Heroes (i.e. the party, should they be actively involved). It is reasonably straightforward and logical and works best when a player controls each army - or if the party controls one army and the GM the other. Handled well, it provides an exciting backdrop to character actions.


Finally, Running Military Battles provides advice on how to incorporate warfare into your game with lots of suggestions as to how to get the party involved, and how to run campaigns (in the military rather than the role-playing sense) to effect. This ends with two complete scenarios - A Conspiracy in the Desert and The Battle of the Reeds and Willows - which use the mass combat system and place the party in command of a small force. They are both exciting and add a new dimension to the steady fare of adventure.


For many, this adds the exciting new dimension of larger-scale warfare to the game, yet handles it in such a way that it supports and enhances character-based role-play rather than swamping it. For others, who prefer battles to stay in the background, the mass combat system will be overkill: but even they might find the other information herein of use.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Qin: The Art of War
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Doctor Who - The Silurian Age
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/22/2016 12:24:37

The Introduction sets the scene: this book is a resource for adventures where the Doctor goes back in time rather than forwards, in particular when he goes way, way back to times when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. It also, slightly incongruosly, has a complete set of rules for spaceships including combat and chases, and an impressive array of ones you might encouter in your travels. Top that off with material on the Silurians themselves and an adventure, and there's plenty to get your teeth into.


The first chapter, History Repeating Itself, looks at what happens when your time travels take you back before human beings even existed. It talks about finding out precisely when you are, about how to survive and live off the land if for some reason you end up stuck there without your TARDIS. There's a sweep through different epochs of time with notes on how to distinguish them with a knowing glance at the fauna and flora, as well as details of possible adventures. Here having the various Doctor Sourcebooks comes in handy, as events are cross-referenced to where they were mentioned under the appropriate Doctor's adventures along with other ideas for you to develop for yourself if you fancy them. Information on extinction events and low-tech companions provide added material... and that's before you get to a whole bunch of story hooks and plot seeds! This section also includes ideas for when dinosaurs travel forwards in time and invade the present day. There's also a bestiary of dinosaurs, complete with stat blocks, so when dinosaurs do turn up, you'll know how they work. Illustrations include a very life-like triceratops, although the other dinosaur images are rather disappointing.


The next chapter is The Silurians and here we get the lowdown on this fascinating species. Strictly speaking they are not aliens. They lived on Earth - and sought refuge in hibernation when they thought it was going to be destroyed - long before humans were around. People going far enough back in time might meet them, and the hibernating ones wake up every so often too. There's loads of information about them here, starting off with the fact that there's no such thing as 'a Silurian' - there are two related species, quite distinct one from another... and each with several sub-species. There's information on their government and politics, how they lived in their hey-day and what happens when hibernating ones awaken. Notes cover the Doctor's previous encounters with Silurians, and there's a sample Silurian city should you fancy awakening some of them yourself. There are also sample Silurians and details of Silurian space arks and other technology. The chapter ends with some plot hooks and story seeds and notable Silurian individuals who've turned up before... and if one if the group fancies playing a Silurian, the information you'll need is here too.


Then comes a chapter titled Spaceships, which presents rules for spacehips and their operation, and for combat and chases involving them. There's also a veritable spotter's guide to just some of the myriad hordes of ships owned and operated by various spacefaring species. There are plenty of adventure seeds to get you going as well.


Finally, Asteroid Day is an adventure that involves loads of time travel, backwards and forwards, with Silurians attempting to survive a massive asteroid impact any way they can, UNIT worrying about some time travellers who have gone missing, and the Doctor and his companions stuck in the middle trying to sort it all out as problems pile upon problems. High stakes, high jinks, and all jolly good fun!


Overall, a fascinating if disjointed book - it's as if several ideas collided and got stuffed between the same set of covers. Yet it's all good material and provides serveal ways to enhance your game in interesting and novel directions. After all, spaceships and dinosaurs?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who - The Silurian Age
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Qin Bestiary
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/21/2016 08:42:58

Every game needs opposition for the characters to fight against, and Qin: The Warring States is no different. This book concentrates on the mystical side, being filled with supernatural creatures, tragic ghosts, terrifying demons, corpses hungry for human flesh, animals wiser than most men, and, of course, dragons... for if you are in the slightest bit familiar with Chinese myths and legends, you'll know that these are constant companions and challenges to any hero.


Every creature is provided in a standard format for ease of use. Firstly the scene is set with a paragraph or so of fiction, there are ideas for the GM on how to use that particular creature, myths and legends revolving about it and the necessary game mechanics and statistics to use it effectively. Throughout, new spells, martial techniques, weapons and powers are introduced - you can, of course, lift these out to use elsewhere in your game. If your game is to be fantastical in nature, head for the fabulous creatures, if you are after a spot of horror, well, Chinese ghosts can be pretty terrifying. Perhaps in the legends you are creating, the boundaries are blurred and nobody's quite sure which creatures are natural and which are not...


We start off with Fabulous Creatures and Terrifying Monsters, which is subdivided into ghosts, revenants, and the living dead, demons; monsters and marvels, and celestial and fabulous beings. Throughout, the way they are presented maintains the mystical and lyrical style of ancient China making it easy to bring it out in your game.


Next are the Yao, animals which have transcended their original animal nature and become almost human... and often wiser than the average human being at least in certain areas. Sometimes they are feared or mocked, other times they are revered. Whatever, they provide for unforgettable encounters and help promote that uniquely Chinese legendary feeling. There's a lot of detail about where they are to be found, what they are likely to be doing and how they fit in to society; and then the discussion gets down to specifics with different types of yao classed by original animal. Plenty of examples and stories to get you started.


If your fancy has been taken by any individual (as opposed to the 'monsters') mentioned in the text, a delight is a collection of full details for several of them, complete with stat block, which may be used as NPCs in your game.


Then there are three scenarios to run. One involves a series of killings in a township during a festival (involving vengeful spirits), another works best if the main NPC is the first yao the party has met, and the last provides a mystery for the party to solve. All are atmospheric and entertaining, providing you and your group with a glimpse into legendary China.


Finally - and we hope your party will not be needing them - there is a section on Funeral Rites, including the ritual for an important person's death and information about tombs. Perhaps the party will be tasked with overseeing the funeral of an important patron?


This is a lot more than a mere Bestiary. It's jam-packed with flavourful material... and does not neglect game mechanics either. Any GM should be adding this to his collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Qin Bestiary
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Qin Legends
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/19/2016 09:27:45

Opening with an almost lyrical description of a combat between three adventurers and a couple of ball-and-chain wielding giants, this book contains details of higher-level abilities in Taos, Martial Arts and Magic, as well as magical items and an adventure. This material will help characters rise to even more legendary heights, all in keeping with the style of the game.
Firstly, The Power of the Taos looks at taking a character's power beyond the four levels described in the core rulebook. Legendary indeed will be the things that a character can do. Next comes The High Levels of the Martial Arts which offers new combat techniques that will indeed have their practitioners talked about in epic accounts, perhaps compared to the gods themselves, with additional lower level ones as well as probing the heights of level five and six. Plenty here to enable each character to define and perfect their distinctive style and to give those minstrels and story-tellers something to write about!
This section also covers the costs (in experience) of taking any skill to Legendary or God-Like levels, not just combat ones. There is also a wealth of information about the combat styles honed over generations by the leading martial families - perhaps out of favour at court these days, but if fighting is your thing, potent indeed and redolent with cultural richness. To learn a particular technique, a character must already be skilled in the associated martial art. Many such techniques and styles are well-known and a connoisseur can recognise them from the distinctive stance and movements of the practitioner. Of course, to learn these, the character has to find a master and persuade him to teach... not as easy as looking up a local dojo and paying for training!
Each style is introduced with its history and the mechanics of actually using it in play. Then the different techniques incorporated in that style are described in detail, flavour and game mechanics wrapped together in an elegant and logical package. This approach makes it easy for players to describe what their characters are doing as well as to handle the mechanics of the combat. They are all dressed up with colourful names too, after all, practising the Style of the Mortal Kiss of the Metal Butterfly sounds a lot more legendary than saying you are pretty handy with a dagger!
Next, The Magic of the Gods provides the same service for magic as the preceding chapters have for Taos and Martial Arts, taking it to the next level. There are many higher-level (legendary and godlike) spells and techniques for the aspiring magic-wielder to study and master. Then Treasure of Men, Gifts of the Gods introduces a method for creating legendary items and presents a selection of example items to get you started. Whole adventures could be written around such items, and it’s easy to see how those who possess them can themselves gain legendary status. They do not just have a list of abilities or effects, each has its story that tells of its origins, describes its appearance, and makes it into a true artefact to be quested for or treasured. If that wasn’t enough, we also have Celestial Objects which are crafted, it is said, by the gods themselves and bestowed on mortals who have gained favour in their eyes.
Finally there is a scenario called The Treacherous Prince, which is intended to follow on from the scenario in the core rulebook and forms the opening of the “Tiàn Xia” campaign. Or of course you can use it in your own campaign as you see fit. It deals admirably with character growth, starting with the ostensibly simple task of escorting a bride to her new home… then finding themselves embroiled in growing tensions between townsfolk and barbarian tribes that lead to demands that very important heads should roll or all-out war might result! It presents plenty of atmosphere, the sense of being at the centre of affairs and, of course, opportunities to start forging your own legends.
The additional rules material is well-nigh invaluable and the scenario exciting – what more could you want?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Qin Legends
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Qin: The Warring States
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/18/2016 08:48:23

Opening with a short but atmospheric piece of fiction that tells of a young girl who survives a bandit raid on her village but flees straight into a dragon's lair, this is a game set in a semi-historical China, mysterious and exotic. If you enjoy shows like Monkey and The Water Margin you will feel right at home here (and if you fancy the game but don't know these shows, try to track them down!). There is a brief outline of the concept and an even briefer one of 'what is role-playing?', and that's the Introduction.


Next comes The History of Heaven and Earth. This is written in a gentle lyrical style, true in nature to the way such myths are told in ancient Chinese literature. These are the stories that children might grow up with, learning of the formation of the world and everything that is in it. Everyone should read this, it will help players get into the right frame of mind as well as providing background that would be familiar to their characters. Sweeping through dynasties, explaining religious belief and more, this sets the scene and the tone.


Mood set, next come a selection of pre-generated characters. Use them as exemplars or leap in and play them if you want to try the game out before getting to grips with character creation. A swordsman, a soldier, an exorcist, a taoist, a renegade, a spy, and a highwayman await your pleasure, each with a backstory, full stats and an illustration.


This is followed by Characters, which explains how to create your own from the ground up. Even if you want to use the pre-gens, read though this to get an idea of how they work from a game-mechanical standpoint. Starting with a concept - a brief pen-picture of what you have in mind - you distribute 14 points between the Aspects (Metal, Water, Fire, Wood and Earth), select a Gift and a Weakness and purchase Skills with a further 15 points. Then you have yet another 15 points to assign to Combat Techniques, Taos and Magic. Then you can make up his background, what got him to where he is. Bear in mind that your character is intended to be a hero from the outset, with luck he should become a veritable legend.


There are plenty of notes to explain what all these terms mean and guidelines to aid you in picking the right ones to suit the concept that you have in mind. It's all quite straightforward and easy to understand, but couched in the style of mystic China, making it easy to slip into character. Once he is ready for play the next chapter, The Rules, puts all this detail into context showing how to use your character's abilities to effect. However, there's a note recommended that in some ways the rules should be a last resort, to be turned to only when it is not clear what the outcome of an action might be. They make use of the Ying-Yang Die, which is actually two D10s of different colours rolled together, subtracting the lower result from the higher to get your result, which needs to exceed a 'success threshold' based on the difficulty of whatever you are trying to do. You add Aspects and Skills to your roll as well. That's pretty much it, but there is further explanation and examples to set you up for play.


Next come chapters on The Taos, Martial Arts and Magic. These give the game its unique flavour, particularly the Taos. The Taos are the decrees of Heaven that govern the operation of the universe, and particularly the world of men. Some exceptional people - like your characters of course - are able to bend the Taos to their will. It seems a bit complex and daunting at first glance, but persevere - it's well worth it! You may think of them as feats which verge on the supernatural - leaps that appear to defy gravity, for example. Martial Arts deal with all manner of combat. It is the norm for people to tend to specialise in a single weapon, but to strive to become exceptionally good with it.


We then move on to understand the world in which the game is set, with The Warring States describing recent history, governance, justice, geography and the like; then Life in the Warring States discussing what it is actually like to be there - family life, morality, social conventions, clothing, food and so on. We then learn of Jiang Hu: The World of Martial Arts, a semi-mystical world on the margins of society where people can get a second chance and where martial arts reiqn supreme. Other chapters look at The Hundred Schools of Thought (prevalent philosophies), Religions and Superstitions, and finally Living in the Warring States, which covers weapons and equipment, and other costs. This concludes the 'player' section of the book.


We then enter Game Master territory. It's always a bit puzzling when everything is packed into one volume - are players expected to buy a book and not read half of it? How many people only play a game and never GM it anyway? Every group I've been in, there was generally almost a fight over the GM's chair. Anyway, here we find The Bestiary - a fine collection of monsters from fact and fable with which to beset your party, The Powers Behind The Throne (which deals with Gods and dragons...), notes on handling experience and renown and on setting the scene for your players. Plenty of useful information and advice here. Finally there is an introductory scenario, Towards a World of Forests and Lakes, This serves as an introduction to your campaign, with the characters coming of age and beginning their adult careers... and of course nothing quite goes to plan, with ghosts from the past and portents of a troubled future threatening to disrupt their chosen lives almost before they have begun. Pains are taken throughout to show how the rules work to effect, thus providing an introduction to game play as well.


Altogether this is a fascinating embodiment of legendary China, a place that never was but could well have been... and remember, do not despise the serpent for having no horns, for who is to say that he will not grow into a dragon!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Qin: The Warring States
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Mindjammer – Dominion – FREE QUICKSTART
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2016 10:07:18

The book opens with a brief overview of what Mindjammer is all about and an excellent concise summary of how the Fate ruleset works. Even if you do not intend to play Mindjammer, this is almost worth picking up for the Fate overview alone - excellent for introducing new players to the game mechanics. However for those who will be playing Mindjammer, comments relating to the game are woven through it, so again even if you don't need the introductory adventure, your players might find it a useful quick reference to the rules.


Next, four pre-generated characters are provided to enable you to jump right in and play - the rules summary doesn't explain how characters are created, it concentrates on how to actually play the game. They are carefully interwoven to create a coherent group with reasons to be together at this time and place, a nice example of how to create a party for this game... although they may or may not want to form a longterm relationship, as two of them are fugitives who have been captured by one of the others! One is a sentient ship, complete with a synthetic human analogue avatar for those occasions when being a starship in inconvenient.


Finally, there's the introductory adventure, which takes the party to Yand, a rediscovered world on the edge of the New Commonality of Humankind's sphere of influence. It is hotly contested by both the Commonality and a neighbouring (and hostile) bunch called the Venu. There's a lot of background about the planet itself and its current situation crammed in here. It's a fascinating and well-developed system. The adventure itself revolves around retrieving a kidnapped agent of the Commonality, and spreads over eight scenes - although you don't need to play all of them. For example if you only have a short playing time, like a convention slot or a single evening, you could get by with three scenes. There's a detailed timeline to help you stay on track. The adventure is exciting, and also demonstrates how the Commonality operates which - as it is all-pervading - is a good guide as to whether you and your players are going to enjoy playing Mindscape. There's a lot going on, a lot to keep track of, and the GM should study the adventure thoroughly before play begins to be able to stay on top of it. If the party is successful, other published adventures make for good follow-ons, assuming the party stays together, giving you the beginnings of a campaign as agents of the Commonality.


This is an excellent introduction to this game which makes the most of its particular character and should give your group a good idea if this is a system they'd like to play longterm.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mindjammer – Dominion – FREE QUICKSTART
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00Games Presents: Wondrous Stash Volume 01
Publisher: 00Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/15/2016 07:29:20

There's no beating about the bush here, this product just jumps in with both feet and opens with the listing for the first wonderous item - an aberrant mask. That's pretty wierd, so I think I'll move on swiftly to the next, which is rather neat: animated caltrops. You all know what caltrops are, right? Four spikes so arranged that one is always pointing upwards - very bad for horses' hooves or anyone going around barefoot. These ones come in a box and by use of various command words they will distribute themselves according to your desires and even tidy themselves away back into the box afterwards.


With each item there's a description of what it does, often an illustration, and three novel things: optional quirks, optional flaws and a quote that sums the item up quite neatly. So for the aforementioned caltrops, the quirk is that the user tends to expect everyday objects to do what they're told and the flaw is that some of the command words are tricky to pronounce and you may have to repeat them a few times before the little beggars respond to you. Not nice if someone is chasing you...


It's all about providing something a bit out of the usual. Perhaps it is a passing huckster who tries to sell the item to the party, or something they see someone else using or something to make a stash of loot more interesting. There are some neat and flavourful ideas here, and many could spawn an interesting backstory that the party could research or may even become objects of desire that they might hear about and seek out, to the level of being the focus of an adventure.


Used sparingly, these can enhance your game and make the party think about the things that they find. Don't over-use them, though, or they will think that they are exploring a joke shop not a dungeon.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
00Games Presents: Wondrous Stash Volume 01
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Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2016 07:50:12

This adventure is aimed at beginning PLAYERS as well as at first-level characters starting out on a adventuring career. Thus, as the author explains in his foreword, some of the encounters may seem a bit simplistic to more experienced role-players. It's also quite low on role-playing, presumably on the grounds that it's all that die-rolling stuff that's novel and needs practising - anyone can talk after all, even when imagining that they are someone else! There is a cut-down version of the usual Raging Swan 'masterclass' on the anatomy of an encounter along with notes on reading stat blocks, so I guess that it's expected that the GM will know what he is doing, even if his players are learning the game.


There's a map which shows the area in which the adventure takes place. Interestingly it is depicted as over the sea to the southwest of the Lonely Coast, Raging Swan's default setting. The overall concept of the adventure is that there is a valley that the locals won't go near, many believing it is haunted, and for some reason - perhaps sheer bravado, perhaps one of the hooks provided - the party decides to go there and take a look around. As the adventure begins in the town of Dulwich, there are opportunities to gather information before setting out for the five-mile journey to the south, partly through thick forest, to reach the valley. There is no direct path, they'll have to go cross-country. Some minor events are provided to enliven the trip, but a major brawl is unlikely...


Once there, the above-ground part of the adventure is sand-box in style with a list of locations which the party may investigate as they please, and a few encounters to throw in as the need arises to maintain interest. There's also an optional encounter to use if your players seem to like the role-playing aspects of the game - but be warned, if they go in looking for a fight things are likely to end badly for them.


The below-ground part of the adventure is provided by the three tombs situated in the valley. Two are sealed and appear undisturbed, the third is a creature's lair and actually seems to be a natural cave formation rather than a tomb. Each 'mini-delve' is well-constructed and coherent, with traps and monsters to deal with and items to loot... all the thrills of being an adventurer encapsulated!


Everything is quite open-ended, the party will be able to come and go as they please, but the whole gives the impression that life is going on as normal whatever they decide to do. For follow-up adventures, one suggestion is that the Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands adventure from the same publisher (and author!) could be located nearby. This is an excellent introduction to classic adventuring and should give new players a fair impression of a hobby that hopefully will give them years of fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs
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Base of Operations (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2016 11:11:10

Set near a 'frontier' town, this adventure is perfect if you have a low level party (say around 5th-level) who have begun muttering that maybe they ought to establish a home base for themselves. You see, said local town knows of a keep nearby that they are willing to give to a party if only they'd just clear out the unsavoury folks who are squatting there!


There's a fair bit of background, some of which the party might be able to find out in advance... and one item they won't discover until long afterwards but which ought to put a smile on their faces! The adventure itself falls into three phases: the township, the road to the keep and the keep itself.


A few hooks are supplied to get the party involved, and there are some basic details about the town. You might want to flesh this out a bit if the party does decide to settle in the neighbourhood. The road is dealt with briefly, but if you want to throw in any enounters along the way you will need to come up with them for yourself.


Finally the keep itself, which is built part-way up a cliff into which a mine has been dug. There's a basic plan of the place and descriptions, along with notes about who is where and what they'll do when their home is invaded by the party. It's likely that most of the inhabitants will want to fight (and, for that matter, that the sight of them will make the party want to fight too), but they are quite an interesting and varied bunch and the fights should prove entertaining. In the event of party success, a couple of follow-on options are provided.


It makes for an interesting if straightforward adventure, with the possibility of providing the party with a new home. What's not to like?



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Base of Operations (3.0)
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