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Osiris Core Rulebook
Publisher: Epidemic Books
by Stephen J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/20/2013 00:14:13
First, let me declare up front that OSIRIS isn't a game for me. It just doesn't push any of my buttons and doesn't do anything I couldn't do in any of a dozen other systems. That doesn't mean it's a bad game or it wouldn't match the play style that you and your group enjoy. So, keep this caveat in mind while reading this review.

The book itself is a 195 page, full color, watermarked PDF weighing in at 33.7 MB. The artwork is good quality, some pieces much better than others, but all of them do a pretty good job of matching the context they appear in. The pictures of weapons and armor are some of the best and most illustrative of the things being described. The layout looks professional, and I didn't spot any obvious typo's or spelling errors. Overall, OSIRIS gets good marks as a professionally presented game book, though the tone in places is more conversational or even casual.

"Osiris is not geared towards a particular game setting or style of play, but is general enough to work in almost any situation." (pg. 2)

I don't agree with this statement. In my opinion the rules strongly influence a very specific style of play. While there's nothing wrong with that style of play, there's also nothing outrageously different about it either. If you're looking for a game that does things differently, then this may well be your game. If you're looking for a game that does different things, then this is probably not going to scratch that itch.

OSIRIS is presented as a generic RPG, in that it can be used for fantasy or sci-fi and does not have a specific setting attached, but can be adapted to one of your own devising. This is reenforced by having items in the equipment, weapons, armor, and skill lists that draw from many different genre's and could easily be used to inform custom additions by the GM.

The introduction chapter has a lot of information about "What is role-playing?" which leans heavily on the opinion of the author. It also includes (on page 8) "What isn't role-playing?" where the author advocates that table-top RPG's "get away from crunchy numbers" and that it should be more like "improv acting with a bit more focus." Again, that may or may not be how you approach gaming, but in any case, I don't entirely agree that OSIRIS isn't crunchy. As you'll see in the description, there's a lot of detailed rules for many, many situations. There are entirely different sub-systems (such as Combat Skills vs Field Skills vs Trade Skills). There is a non-optional requirement to use hit locations, both in creating characters and in combat. That may not be seen as 'crunchy' by the author, or by you, but it's crunchier than a lot of new style games and certainly would not make many "rules lite" or "low crunch" gaming lists.

Here's a summary of the rules system.

Characters have eight abilities in four categories. The categories are Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. The two physical abilities are Strength and Fitness, the two emotional abilities are Clarity and Depth, the two mental abilities are Intellect and Wit, the two spiritual abilities are Magnetism and Connection. You generate their scores by rolling 5d10 and dropping the lowest die. Assign the remaining four dice to each category. You can move up to two points between categories. Now, assign the category value to each ability in that category. For example, if Physical had a score of 2 then both Strength and Fitness would get scores of 2. Now you're allowed to move up to two points between each ability, within each category. So in the example, you could drop Strength to 1 and boost Fitness to 3 by moving 1 point between them. When you're done with this, you have values in all eight abilities. Now you calculate your three endurance scores: Wound Points, Stamina Points, and Mana Points. These are the sum of two abilities, for example Wound Points are Strength + Fitness.

I find this part of character creation to be needlessly fiddly, but pretty easy to follow. The caveat, is that you won't know what abilities to boost until you know how the rest of the system works and what kind of character you'd like to play. At least some measure of system mastery is rewarded by OSIRIS, and knowing how to get the kind of character you want with the rolled abilities is part of that.

There is also a brief description of how combat affects the endurance scores. Damage is first applied against Stamina until it is exhausted (reduced to zero) and then it's applied against Wounds, representing real damage and scars to the character. If Wounds reach zero, then the character is incapacitated or killed; the rules seem to leave this to the narrative control of the GM. It is possible to score a critical hit on a natural 20, which causes special critical damage to bypass armor and stamina and be applied directly to Wounds. I actually like this idea, and each weapon has a "critical damage die" which is applied when a critical hit happens.

Heroic Powers (covered later in the book) cost Stamina to use while Spells cost Mana to use.

Next Combat Skills are described. There are eight combat skills that are each tracked separately for each character. Their starting values are based on the ability scores, but they are increased independently after character creation. Each combat skill comes as a matched set, an Attack and a Defense: Melee Attack, Melee Defense, Ranged Attack, Ranged Defense, Magical Attack, Magical Defense, Psychic Attack, Psychic Defense.

Finally you calculate two "Reaction Skills," Reflex and Will. Like the endurance skills, these start as the sum of two abilities.

Combat is resolved as an opposed roll of the attackers Attack skill + situational modifiers + d20 vs the defenders Defense skill + situational modifiers + d20. If the attack roll is equal to or greater than the defense roll, it's a hit, otherwise a miss. If the attacker hits, then damage is rolled (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, etc.), the defenders armor (if any) is subtracted, and the remainder is applied to Stamina (or if Stamina is zero, applied to Wounds).

This system is pretty easy to understand, and situational modifiers are just simple addition or subtraction for things like footing, cover, etc.

Initiative is a little more convoluted, in that it's a Reflex + d20 and if the resulting roll is high enough the character can act multiple times in each combat round. But, these bonus actions can't do as many things as a regular action. In any case, there's a simple table on page 29 that shows how many attacks per round based on the Reflex roll result.

Proficiencies can be added as characters earn experience, these are combat skills that give a small bonus to very specific combat actions or a single type of weapon.

Chapter 3 is for equipment, which is rated in tech levels from Primitive to Future tech. Page 47 specifically eschews encumbrance, though armor does have a "Bulk Penalty" rating which is applied to the characters Reflex roll in combat (i.e. characters act later in a combat round if they are wearing bulky or heavy armor). Weapons get a Speed rating which either adds to or subtracts from the Reflex roll. This is to reflect the difference in wielding a rapier versus a pole-arm. Weapons also have a Breaking Odds score, which is a d100 roll-under whenever the player rolls a natural 1 on a d20. It's the chance that a weapon will break on a critical failure.

The weapons and armor cover a wide gamut from slings and bows to plasma swords and hand grenades. While there is a description of how to include magic items, such as magic weapons and armor, they are not listed or detailed; this may be covered in a future supplement.

The next type of skills described are "Field Skills" which are meant to literally be skills useful in the field. Examples include Awareness, Climb, and Disguise. The pool of points that can be spent on Field Skills is based on Intellect and the characters age. The base skill check is Field Skill + d20.

Then there are Trade Skills, which are for making things, having special knowledge, or earning a living. Examples include Architect, Armorer, Blacksmith, and Carpenter. These skills are used with a d100 roll under system, unlike any of the others.

OSIRIS also includes Heroic Powers which are something like feats in other systems. They give special bonuses in specific situations, cost Stamina to use, and are not available to starting characters but must be purchased as characters progress. Some of the Heroic Powers have comedic names like "Shazbot!" ("Whatever badass move it was that you just did, this power guarantees that a video of it, no matter how unlikely, will show up on the internet within 24 hours... even if its just some fuzzy security cam footage.") and "Rrrrowwr!" ("You are so hot that when you strut your stuff people sweat.") Obviously they need to be tuned for the particular setting, but they can add a lot of color and uniqueness to a character.

Character advancement is handled in a hybrid point-buy / leveling system. Characters earn Adventure Points during play, and every 20 Adventure Points can "level up." If the player is new to OSIRIS or new to RPG's, then the author encourages them to just choose one of the predefined "leveling templates" which are basically a set way to distribute the 20 points just earned. There are four templates in the book (Warrior, Mage, Priest, and Rogue) but nothing prevents the GM from creating others. If the player is more comfortable with the system, they may skip the template and assign the points piecemeal, as they choose.

Chapter 6 describes character races, and actually does a very good job of describing how to build a racial template with a list of abilities like low-light vision, keen hearing, predatory scent, etc. Then it details a list of "standard character races" which are all playable.
- Human
- Cao ("A cao is essentially a sentient feline roughly the size of a bus, with four ears, four wings, and two tails.")
- Dover ("Dovers are noble canine humanoids with a love for nature.")
- Dwarf
- High Elf
- Woodland Elf
- Frey ("The Frey are a race of upright felines that strongly resemble domestic cats in their
morphology, only with opposable thumbs.")
- Haze ("Haze are stout, heavily-muscled, noble warriors, and are well- renowned for their loyalty, adherence to rules, and their prowess in combat.")
- Nightling (Large, muscular, lizard-like creatures known for being lazy and parasitic.)
- Picker ("Pickers are roguish little reptiles with a strong affinity for collecting and appraising interesting items.")

I don't know how "standard" half of those would really be, but it does demonstrate how to put together a racial template and there are good guidelines on page 124 for a GM to construct their own for the kind of game they want to run.

Chapter 9 is about magic, and how it works. In OSIRIS, magic requires five things:
- Natural Gifts; certain minimum ability scores
- Magical Affinity; bloodline, forbidden tome, astrological convergence, etc.
- Mana Points; these are an endurance attribute calculated during character creation
- Spell Books; a school of magic, a particular domain of spells, there are prereq's for obtaining a spell book
- Spells; a specific magical action, powered by Mana Points (Heroic Actions, on the other hand, are powered by Stamina points)

Except that "Spell Books" need not be actual, physical books. They may be schools or domains of magic.

There are a few paragraphs about Psionics, but they are not detailed in this book, with a promise to cover them in a future supplement.

Chapter 10 is about environmental hazards like falling, drowning, pressure, vacuum, fire, heat, cold, storms, etc.

Finally, chapter 11 is titled "Role-Playing 620." I don't know why it's called "Role-Playing 620" and I can't find an explanation for the "620" part; the most likely reference in Urban Dictionary doesn't make a lot of sense in this context. This chapter is the authors personal idea of role-playing, why it's fun, why it's important, and how best to play it. You may or may not agree and in any case, it's probably best that it was at the end of the book.

In conclusion, OSIRIS seems like a fully playable "fantasy heart breaker" in the traditional style of table-top RPG's. I'm a little dubious about how well the system works in non-fantasy settings (despite the expansive equipment section) because magic is integral to the character in the form of two abilities, one endurance score, and two combat skills! I also feel that the detailed combat rules with weapon speed, armor bulk penalty, multiple attacks per round, and required hit location rolls / damage make this system crunchier than I'm comfortable with. But that's me; OSIRIS may be exactly what you're looking for. Many groups want the more detailed combat rules, and OSIRIS does a good job of providing them in an easy to understand format. It's a nicely laid out, and except for no magical items or psionics, a fairly complete core rule book for $10. If it matches your gaming style then it's worth taking a look at.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Osiris Core Rulebook
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SUPERS! The Comic Book RPG
Publisher: HAZARD Studio
by Stephen J. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/24/2012 17:05:43
Growing up, my brother and I didn't learn RPG's through the traditional fantasy route; we played sci-fi and superhero games. That's why I've always had a soft spot for superhero RPG's, why I own many more than I'll ever get to play, and why I wanted to review "Supers! The Comic Book RPG".

As a product, Supers! is a 105 page watermarked PDF file. [I received two files zipped together, but I could not tell the difference. They both appeared to have color art and the same section index.] The artwork and titles are genre appropriate; the single column format and page size (European A5) make it easy to read on-screen. Though I'm using a laptop, I imagine a tablet computer in portrait (vertical) orientation would be ideal.

There are bookmarks in the PDF for each section heading. There is a table of contents in the front, but it does not hyperlink to the chapters or sections it describes. A more significant oversight was that the list of powers, advantages and disadvantages at the end of the document do not hyperlink to the relevant descriptions in the body of the document. The page would be useful to print out and distribute or stuff into a GM screen, but it would have been much more useful if it linked back to each power's description, etc.

On, to the contents ...

Chapter One - For Starters (pg 1)

As anyone who's read comics over the last few decades can attest, they vary wildly in morality and theme. To set the type of comic story that Supers! was written to tell, we have the following quote from page 2, "These heroes are larger-than-life; they have high ideals and they know right from wrong. Their world is black-and-white; they are good and the villains are bad. There are no real grey areas. Their cause is justice, liberty and freedom. They seek to protect the weak and defend the common man." So this isn't a game of ultra-violent antihero's or ethically suspect protagonists in a fallen world of compromise and vice. Instead, the authors have aimed squarely at the four color world of good guys and gals fighting for what they believe in, in a world still worth saving!

The system uses a pool of six sider's (d6). From page 3, "The basics of the rules are very straightforward - roll a few dice and try to beat a number. As long as you remember that, you can't go too far wrong."

The stated philosophy is simplicity of rules, in a supers game (no easy task). Again, from page 3, "... there is plenty of scope for you to come up with new or changed rules, new Aptitudes, Powers, Complications and Boosts, Ads and Disads. So that's great - it's your game and you should do things your way." So while the book covers the majority of cases and powers, the authors realize it's not comprehensive and empower the GM's (or "Judge's" as the book refers to them) to improvise as needed, using what's here as a basis.

Chapter Two - Creating a Super (pg 4)

You begin with a concept, including a background, origin, and costume. It's noted on page 5 that if you don't have a full background you can still proceed with the character because, "If it becomes important during the game, you can fill in these details at that time."

Then you assign dice to your four Resistances: Composure, Fortitude, Reaction and Will. Like the name implies, these are used to resist external effects and also are what damage is applied against during combat. This means that social combat is applied against Composure - not something often seen in superhero games.

After Resistances come Aptitudes (rated in dice), described on page 7 as, "essentially very broad, but mundane, skill packages. Aptitudes represent your character's day job, or what he does when he's not saving the world." Examples include Academia, Investigation, and Vehicles.

Next comes Powers, also rated in dice. These are the sort of meat-and-potato's of any super's game and the list provided in Supers! is more than adequate for nearly all four color stories. Acknowledging that their list is not comprehensive, Judge's are encouraged to use the powers available as a basis for other powers as needed.

I would like to note that the table for how much a super can lift is part of the Super Strength entry on page 20. The table ranges from 1D can lift a large horse, 5D can lift a bus, and 10D can lift a large passenger jet.

You can add a Complication to your power to reduce its cost; things like Delayed Use, Side Effect, and Uncontrollable. You can add Boosts to a power to increase it's effect; things like Area Affect, Split Attack, and Armour Piercing.

You can also use Advantages (Ads) and Disadvantages (Disads) to customize your character. Examples of Ads include Allies or Dumb Luck. Examples of Disads include having a Dependant or Enemy.

Chapter Three - Playing the Game (pg 34)

Conflict resolution is divided into opposed and unopposed rolls. Opposed rolls are against another character or NPC; both roll their d6's and the higher value wins. Unopposed rolls are made against a static threshold number assigned by the GM. This is all pretty standard stuff, except that there is a limitation on non-Super Resistances and Aptitudes. Basically, unless it's specifically noted as super, you only get 3D. If you have a specialty that applies, you can roll 4D and keep the highest 3 dice. In order to sum more than 3D you need to be Super, which usually means a Power.

Character advancement is handled by the Judge awarding dice for the players to assign to Resistances, Aptitudes, or Powers. This works just like XP in other games.

Chapter Four - Fighting (pg 38)

It should be pointed out that henchmen and mooks just get a static number that represents their effectiveness as well as their resistance. Tougher henchmen may get a single power or ability as well as their henchmen rating. Only full NPC's get all four Resistances and their own set of Powers. Among other things, this makes fights between one or two superhero's and a group of henchmen, very easy to run while still being challenging - but never getting bogged down in endless accounting.

Combat order is determined by Reaction (or the Rating of henchmen and mooks). Characters can delay actions or even interrupt the action of a villain who goes after them in the turn order.

You choose a Power or Aptitude to attack with and the defender gets to choose a Power or Resistance to defend with. The Judge can determine if the chosen Power/Aptitude/Resistance makes sense within context of the scene. Basically whoever rolled higher (or beat the Rating in the case of henchmen and mooks) wins. If the attacker wins, damage is done to the defender, otherwise not.

The number of multiples higher the attacker's roll is than the defenders determines how much damage was done; with a minimum of 1. So, if the attacker rolled a 5 and the defender rolled 3, then the attacker succeeded and damaged the defender. 5 is greater than 3 but less than 2x greater - so 1 damage is applied to the defender. If the attacker had rolled 6, 7, or 8 then 2 damage would have been done. If the attacker had rolled 9, 10, or 11 then 3 damage, etc. etc. etc. This has me a little concerned for ease of use at the table; long division never being anyones favorite. But it's not hard to understand and makes sense within the context.

I guess I'd just have to see how easily this plays with real players, perhaps after a couple of hours when everyone begins to wind down for the night.

There is a for-color-only knock-back rule on page 44; every point of damage applied to Fortitude knocks the target back 5 feet. There is no mechanical advantage or subsequent damage, but it's a good way for moving or removing a foe!

Chapter Five - NPC Types (pg 47)

A nice description is given of Bystanders, Mooks, Henchmen, & Villains. Including low-level villains, (regular?) villains, and mega-villains. The brief descriptions are supplemented with guidelines for how many dice to assign or where to place their Ratings.

Chapter Six - Disasters (pg 51)

This chapter covers earthquakes, floods, landslides, storms, volcanoes, and fires. It was very refreshing to see a superhero game address this aspect of classic comic books. Not every threat is a villain, and therefore not every problem can be solved by a punch to the face!

Chapter Seven - Supersville (pg 57)

This is the included setting, but it's only meant to be a "blank slate" for the Judge to locate within their own world. This section can act as a skeleton covering things like different sections of the city (from the wealthy of Brightside to the poor and unwelcome of Burnside), as well as organizations, buildings, and potential story seeds.

Honestly, I wouldn't even use the name "Supersville" because it's too corny, but the chapter will help a Judge cover the basics needed in describing whatever city they have planned for their intrepid hero's to inhabit. If you're familiar with comics, you probably already have plenty of ideas to fill it out.

Chapter Eight - Adventure (pg 65)

This is the introductory adventure to get the hero's going. As such, I'm not entirely sure it would have been my first choice. It has to do with dopplegangers damaging the hero's reputation and the hero's efforts to find the source of the doppelgangers and clear their names. This seems like it would work better after the hero's have had a chance to build a reputation in Supersville.

In any case, the adventure highlights the super-science, two-fisted action story that's perfect for these types of hero's. Whether you choose to use it as the first adventure for your hero's or not, it should definitely serve to inspire an equally large, grandiose feel that four color comics often had.

Chapter Nine - NPC Collection (pg 71)

This is a set of 27 hero's, villains, and NPC's that can be used right out of the gate. These include a sample set of hero's appropriate for a starting game (Dragster, Gemini, Megalith), as well as examples of more powerful hero's similar to those in certain popular comic books (Guardian, Galaxian).

My personal favorite is Apebot, the mega villain. He's a skull and brain in a glass tank, bolted atop a power-armoured gorilla. What's not to love!

After the NPC section is a blank character sheet. It's one sheet with plenty of white-space and a generous box for drawing your character in.

The book ends with a "Cheat Sheet Of Powers, Boosts & Complications, Ads & Disads" on the last page.

=-=-=-=

I believe the book meets the authors stated goal of keeping the rules simple, but not losing the four color feel they were aiming for. There should be enough crunch with the Powers, Complications and Boosts to keep the munchkins happy (at least for a while) and the resolution system is so simple that it can probably be explained in less than 10 minutes. I think I'm going to use Supers! for a convention game, with pre-made PC's. But, with the character advancement rules I believe that it can successfully be used for longer campaigns.

Among other things, I hope to see more releases of Supers! - perhaps with better hyperlinking, but hopefully with more NPC's and another scenario.

If you already have a favorite superhero game, I'm not convinced that Supers! will replace it. But if you're looking for an easy to learn, easy to teach game that exemplifies the simpler ethics of four color comics - than this would make a good addition to your library.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SUPERS! The Comic Book RPG
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Torture
Publisher: Felbrigg Herriot
by Stephen J. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/04/2012 17:38:58
Cost: $2.99
Page count: 25
Full title: Torture, a story telling game and toolkit © 2012
"human depravity knows no bounds"

The book's dedication:
"I dedicate this to all the hard working podcasters on the "Fear the Boot" show, who are probably horrified to find themselves mentioned in the dedication of a tome such as this."

My Summary:
This is a mini-game with its own system. It can be added as a feature of any other game in place of opposed will rolls or the like. It takes place in five (5) rounds, with three phases each. Each round is progressively worse for the victim (giving the torturer a greater die bonus). There are a set of bonuses that both the victim and torturer can choose to add to their roll, but each bonus can only be chosen once per game and only one can be chosen per round.

The most interesting idea is that three (3) secrets are decided upon (or written in secret), before the mini-game begins. The first is of minor importance, but would give the torturer something. The second is of greater importance, and if this is all the torturer gets, they'd feel it a success. The third is of utmost importance and represents the victim being totally broken and revealing whatever would give the other side a definitive victory (like the secret launch codes or the exact nature of an invasion plan).

The mechanics of the mini-game is just a series of opposed rolls, with the additional modifiers based on what round it is and what chosen bonuses (if any) each player pulls in. When the final round is complete, the victim 'wins' if they have not given up the third secret and the torturer 'wins' if the victim has.

Another interesting aspect of the mini-game is the repeated calls for shared, collaborative narration. While the two players are technically competing, they are both encouraged to add details to the story, including the other's memories or flashback's, to expand the scene. Interestingly enough, the nature of the torture is not specified at all. So, if you wanted to have the entire 'torture' scene play out mechanically with "mystical forces, prying open your mind" or with "the galactic emperor's mind probe rooting through your memories!" then you totally could, it wouldn't change the nature of the game at all.

The only really disturbing thing in the game (to me, anyway) was that the possible scenario's listed included a serial killer torturing a victim, like a college co-ed. This is a common trope in exploitive horror movies, but what didn't feel right is that the goal in those stories is not for information or to 'break' the character but to terrify, humiliate, and ultimately kill the victim. Trying to use these rules with the three secrets and progressively more extreme attempts to extract the secrets - to a situation in which the torturer doesn't really care about secrets, but wants to torment their victim for its own sake, is a cognitive stretch.

Finally, there is a "safety valve" of sorts described at the very end of the book:
"All torture is abhorrent and some people will find elements of it make them uncomfortable. If any player feels uncomfortable, they must speak up and stop the game. In this case fall back on using the mechanics and avoid the narration."

Weaknesses:
This book doesn't address several problematic situations which are actually intrinsic to torture.

1) What if the victim doesn't know? This mini-game assumes the victim does, and there are three secrets to pry from them. But, in real life, that may not be the case. This mini-game does not deal with the issue of a wrongfully accused victim being interrogated for information they don't posses.

2) What if the victim lies? Depending on the nature of the information, verifying it may take too long or be impossible. If the lie leads the torturer (or those they represent) on a wild goose chase, then the real threat plays out without any benefit of the information. (Such as revealing the wrong location for a bomb, or identifying the wrong target of an assassination.)

3) What if the point of torture was to get the victim to admit to a crime or conspiracy? Now we return to the "what if they're innocent?" or "what if they lie?" If the victim is innocent and they are tortured enough, then they may be compelled to admit guilt. But, the real threat is still out there, because this victim was innocent. Or, what if they are collaborators with the intended target and decide to lie and admit to being the rebel leader or the famous terrorist or the captured general, to protect the real one? In both of these cases 'winning' as a torturer is actually a significant set-back for the greater narrative.

4) The issue of going too far and killing the victim is not addressed. Is that one of the possible victory conditions, for the victim? "You don't give up your third secret, because the torturer went too far, you've succumbed to your injuries." If that's a possibility, then shouldn't this mini-game have some "push your luck" mechanic to represent that risk?

5) It doesn't address the many traditional motivations for torture outside of information gathering. Torture has, historically, been used for extreme punishment, to terrorize and demoralize a population, to terrorize an enemy (by torturing those captured), and to prop up brutal regimes. In these cases, getting information or revealing secrets is moot.

Conclusion:
If your group is /really/ interested in playing out a torture scene, as either the one tortured or the one doing the torturing, then this mini-game is better and more detailed than the standard "opposed will check" method. But, it only deals with a narrow set of situations and it opens the possibility of your group crossing a narrative boundary that may make some or all of the players very uncomfortable. With care and judicious use of narrative "veils and curtains" (to keep the narration from taking a turn to the obscene) this mini-game can be a useful tool for any GM. Personally, I'd be very uncomfortable with encouraging players to really get into the narration of an abhorrent act, such as torture, and where that narration can go. So, Caveat Emptor!

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Torture
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The Monstrous Sum of Particulars
Publisher: Septagon Studios Inc
by Stephen J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/02/2012 12:09:13
This is a book of art, not a story ... but each picture fired up my imagination and implied a story or a character or a scenario or even a world to set a story within. The art is wonderful! I only wish I could get larger prints or desktop wallpaper's, confining such fine work to a single PDF is a crime.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Monstrous Sum of Particulars
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Mask of the Other
Publisher: Greg Stolze
by Stephen J. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2012 23:34:34
I, literally, just finished reading "Mask of the Other" by Greg Stolze. I wanted to write this review while the ending was still ringing through my head.

Connecting three pieces of mythos, two I'm familiar with via the classic HPL literature (Shoggoth's and Deep Ones), the third being either something Greg invented or pulled from a source I'm not familiar with. While no knowledge of HPL is necessary, it certainly tickles a certain fancy to recognize the form and danger of what the protagonists are _really_ dealing with. But, this isn't your grand fathers mythos! The story is told in very immediate scenes, with brutal detail that adds to the horror of the event while not spoiling the mystery or the creeping sense that the human protagonists are way over their head and all of the weaponry, gear, and planning will serve them little better than any of the other 'victims.'

This isn't just about the mythos, though. The protagonists Greg created feel real. They are flawed, and extraordinary and have complex interrelationships. They feel real because they are so reminiscent of people we know or have met before. They feel real because they are securely anchored in a setting caste with the same history as our own, with the same geopolitical conflicts and stresses and dark alleys, as our own. The difference, is that their reality has been touched by a malignant darkness from out of time and space.

What I'm trying to describe is that this isn't a novel of the 1920's and a gentleman adventurer stumbling onto a horror out of the past and then fainting. This is a story about modern soldiers in a very real, very gritty battlefield that come across something that doesn't make sense and in their continuing efforts to make sense of it, and to deal with the aftermath of their encounter with it, have their lives altered along a trajectory as unpredictable as it is ultimately tragic. The battle scenes felt honest and chaotic. The political, bureaucratic, and corporate machinations felt completely plausible. All of this verisimilitude came together to form the perfect milieu for a tale of other worldly wonder and menace.

Finally, like the plot of "Clash of the Titans," this story was about using one maddening piece of the mythos to fight the others. To try and tame the chaos and terror that's been uncovered, by using a terrible, alien, weapon. And like all power and knowledge within the mythos, the weapon carries a terrible price along with it's gifts.

As much as I loved this book, it did tend to be a bit slow to start, with a lot of back-and-forth across different years and locations. But, very rapidly it becomes clear why this was necessary and how this lays the foundation for a story that unfolds over decades to come to a sudden confluence in the second half of the book. It's worth the effort to stick with it, even if the initial chapters seem unconnected to one another. The pattern emerges soon enough, and then you see the strands Greg is pulling together to form the backbone for the story proper.

In summary, I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves military action, international intrigue, and cosmic horror. The price (currently $5) is negligible and the product wonderful; it's well worth your time to read!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mask of the Other
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Queen Of Crows
Publisher: FR Press
by Stephen J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/19/2010 21:41:45
Excellent story, great art, and I absolutely loved the idea of the "DVD Extra's" like bonus features. This just screams "fearless author" to me, someone who's not afraid to say "here's my story, here's my inspiration, here's some character notes, and here's an early draft so you can see how far it's come."

Absolutely intrigues me with the authors Violet Wars world setting and her other works of fiction. Well worth the price; would highly recommend.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Queen Of Crows
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Loom
Publisher: Silver Branch Games
by Stephen J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/19/2010 20:18:58
First, I actually used this system for a test-run of a one shot game. Something I'm going to be polishing and bringing to a convention soon. So, I not only know how it reads, but how it plays. And, to my delight - it's very playable!

You have to have some experience with narrativist style game systems. My players and I did, so the process of negotiating stakes before drawing cards and resolving conflicts was not as confusing as it may be to other groups new to these concepts. On the other hand, the "Consequences" mechanic rarely ever came up so something else (like negotiating damage as part of the resolution) may be needed for action / combat scene resolution.

Also, the GM needs to have the flexibility to know when to use one card draw resolve a scene and when to stretch things out to two or three card draws. When done correctly, this really emphasized dramatic peaks and underplayed those less important, but common, "mook / henchmen" combats that occur.

The real gem in this system is how easy it was to wrap a custom setting with custom trait categories into this rule set. You could literally watch a movie or read a book and have a workable Loom version ready for play in just an hour or less. Character creation took less then thirty minutes, and the players had no real numbers or math to worry about - just describing usable traits in the categories I had established.

Finally, the highest praise I can give any system, especially an under tested, new, or experimental one ... is that it was fun! We played for about four hours, we had a blast, the players were well satisfied with the results, and they are open to using Loom for further gaming sessions.

I'm only giving this a three (3) star review, because it's a scant little thing that relies on a lot of external experience with these types of games and the paradigm's they employ to take Loom to it's full potential. But, this is a well respected designer / author and if Loom gets filled out a little with more guidelines and special case adaptations, I think it's value will increase dramatically. Especially for one-shot or convention game scenario designers.

At this price you have nothing to lose and a great new tool for your con-GM's toolbox and I recommend you do just that

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Loom
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