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POW!erful Tales: First Team
Publisher: Peryton Publishing
by Ken S. A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/06/2012 11:27:17
I've always loved superheroes and comics, and even though I'm older than dirt, I still read them. Kinda wanted to be a comics writer, but I don't think I have the stamina for it. Writers have to come up with new and better stories all the time, and I only come up with stories a few times a year--maybe once, maybe twice, but the good stories seem pretty far apart.

First Team is a good story, but it's trivial. That's okay. Every story shouldn't be about saving the planet. Some of them should just be the everyday escapades of the characters. That's what this is. A buddy story, and a team-up story, and a fight story. It's the origin story of Captain Scrappy and the Mangod. It's amusing. Told mostly in conversation, the story moves right along. I enjoyed it.

So, why didn't it get a 5 star rating? Two things pulled the story down, imho. There were quite a few typos--as a guy who makes plenty of typos myself I can understand how they might slip through. Spell checkerswoundn't catch them. Secondly, I wanted more art. The one piece on the cover is flat, black and white that any non-artist could do. I'm sure glad this 20 page story was marked down from $15 million dollars to a buck and a half. And Peryton Press didn't bother to make a real book or even magazine out of it. No front and back cover. No title page. Even is my light reading, I'm old and crotchety enough that I like things to conform to the proper Forms. I thought this was a book, but it was only a short story. Small disappointment.

If you like superheroes with a bit of humor thrown in, you'll like Tom's story.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
POW!erful Tales: First Team
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The Tome of Advanced Specialist Mages
Publisher: Eposic
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2012 20:41:33
When I created the 7th edition of Tunnels & Trolls in 1975, i made rolling triples and adding a rule for character creation. It allows players to break out of the bell curve of attribute distribution, and calls for a new class of character--the Specialist. The Specialist class was meant to open up T & T character creation and enable all sorts of strange and more effective character types. However, I gave only a few examples of the new specialist class--Ranger, Leader, Combat Mage. Knowing how creative roleplayers are in general, and T & T players in particular, I thought there would soon be dozens of new specialist types available for players to use. But it didn't happen. There were a few specialists suggested, but only a few.

Now Michael Eidson has given the matter some thought and created 19 new types of specialist wizards. Bravo! I especially liked the Combat Psychic and the Kremm Warrior. The kremm warrior is a mage who functions like a fighter, but his weapons and armor are not enchanted--they are purely magical constructs--solidified magic instead of steel or other physical tools. What a cool idea! The other 18 concepts in this 32 page booklet are equally innovative. I hope that seeing what can be done with the wizard class will inspire others to be equally creative with other character classes incuding warriors, rogues, and citizens. My highest recommendation for this book to all T & T players!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Tome of Advanced Specialist Mages
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TrollsZine 4
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2012 11:20:08
It took about a year and a half to get here, and I'm not sure the work was worth the wait. I'm not a big fan of waiting. I want the next one to come out a lot quicker. I'll drive ten miles to avoid waiting ten minutes in line, but . . . I am certainly happy to see TrollZine 4 available at last! TrollZine is an e-zine full of contents for players and fans of Tunnels and Trolls. For the most part, the contents come from the fertile minds of the international T & T fanclub TROLLHALLA which can be found at http://trollhalla.com. (Trollhalla the internet fan group came long before Trollhalla the board game.) However, outsiders may also contribute--it is open to all who wish to participate. The members of the Trollbridge group are also strongly represented in these pages. TrollZine 4 is 60 pages long, and contains fiction, a solo adventure, adventure hooks for Game Masters, rules extensions, an article about mass combat in T & T, an article about horsemanship, art ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The zine has enough in it to keep the dedicated gamer busy for days, maybe weeks. And like any commercial magazine TrollZine has a few ads in it--just to let the reader know what new products are available. Interestingly enough, I had nothing to do with the creation of this ezine--well, I put an ad in it for a forthcoming production of mne, tut that isn't real content. TrollZine can stand on its own merits. I liked it all, but of course I liked different parts of it better than others. My absolute favorite is Michael Eidson's solo adventure DOWN TIME--the adventure that answers the question what does the player character do between adventures? Mike's solo is as good or better than anything available for T & T solo players, and the illustrations by David Ullery are superb. A close second for me was Patrice Geille's article about how to handle mass combats in T & T. He's talking about armies--not just a big melee between a dozen characters and a bunch of monsters. T & T has always been known for its "buckets of dice" approach to combat, and you would think that mass combat would exacerbate the problem. Well, maybe . . . And I really enjoyed the Two Magicians cartoon also by Mr. Ullery. And there is so much more.

And you can't beat the price--FREE. The contributors to TrollZine don't let the zine be free because it isn't any good. They do it because they love role-playing and they want to offer gifts to other roleplayers--passing it forward, so to speak. Now, I'm biased. Tunnels and Trolls is my game, and these contributors are my friends and fans, but I think I can still be pretty objective here. Parts of TrollZine 4 are better than other parts--that's true of every large creative endeavor. On the whole, it is very good. I prefer to praise the excellent, rather than knock the not-quite-so-good. YMMV. I rate TZ4 a good pickup for roleplayers in general--even players of That Other Game, and an excellent acquisition for Tunnels & Trolls players of all ages. And if you just enjoy fantasy art, you're going to get both chuckles and appreciation out of it. 5 stars!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
TrollsZine 4
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The Tavern by the Sea
Publisher: Tavernmaster Games
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2011 20:51:34
I created the Tavern by the Sea, and decided to share it with my pal Andy Holmes. Damned if the didn't make it even better than I thought it could be. This is a short solo adventure for Tunnels and Trolls. I meant it to be both complete in itself, and a jumping off place for other adventures. Andy went ahead and jumped off into another adventure, and gave it to you as part of the product. You really get two solos in one. The original American version has some colorful and evocative art by David Ullery, a member of Trollhalla. Andy's British edition has even more amazing art by Trollhalla member Jeff Freels. No other solo adventure has so many bizarre characters--from Big Burp the Trollish bouncer to Miraxus the Pirate Vampire and many another rogue you can insert into your own adventures. And then there is the bar brawl to end all bar brawls--you gotta love it!
One more thing--Andy Holmes is a man with a lot of heart. He's donating the entire proceeds from his version of Tavern by the Sea to Jeff Freels' transplant fund. Yes, the artist needs an organ transplant, and we've been trying to raise money for it at Trollhalla, but this is an unusually selfless gesture by Mr. Holmes, and the artist is the man who needs the transplant. As you can see, he is working to help himself while entertaining us gamers. Get a copy--and maybe help save a talented life.

In a year of unusually good T & T gaming releases, this version of Tavern by the Sea gets my vote for best release of the year. I'm proud to be associated with it, but in all honesty, it's the additional writing by Andy Holmes and the great humorous art of Jeff Freels that lift this product above the rest.
--Ken St. Andre

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Tavern by the Sea
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Tunnels & Trolls v7 Survival Kit
Publisher: Alligator
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2011 16:36:45
Tunnels and Trolls doesn't have a lot of tables and charts. What few it has are gathered on this 2-page pdf file. Having these facts close at hand will save you from trying to look up such things as what attributes count toward levels for the different character types, or how many adventure points it takes to increase an attribute from one number to another. (That is actually a pretty cool table, and I wish I had put it in the T & T rules. No art. Not much discussion. 2 pages of quick charts and rules for getting the numbers right when playing T & T. Indeed, it is a handy reference for anyone playing T & T, and especially so if you are demoing the game somewhere.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tunnels & Trolls v7 Survival Kit
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the review Ken, I've been a fan of the game for 20 years, and it's great to get this review from you. I have also published a mini-solo Hecatombe which I hope you enjoy, and am working on a much longer solo which I hope to finish one day . . . . Al (UK)
Elder Tunnels: Spring 2011 [Tunnels & Trolls]
Publisher: Peryton Publishing
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2011 01:00:34
Elder Tunnels 3 takes Tunnels & Trolls 7.5 where it has seldom gone before--into the science-fictional future of Trollworld. This 42 page zine contains 3 lengthy adventure, and a gag random treasure table--the gag being that you don't get any loot, just the results of your last date.
Brian Penn offers a 15 page solitaire adventure dealing with genetic manipulation. Tom Loney explores magical time travel with Wellsian ramifications. And Michael Eidson demonstrates that the life of an inventor's test subjects are never very easy. All three adventures are written with keen intelligence and elevate role-playing well above the common hack and slash gaming so dear to my heart. Very good stuff indeed!

Disclaimer: I received a free reviewer's copy of the pdf of Elder Tunnels 3, and as the creator of Tunnels & Trolls, I am predisposed to like such material. However, the content of this publication is intellectually far above your general dungeon delving. My only real criticism of the work is that the front cover of Elder Tunnels seems totally irrelevant to the contents.

--Ken St. Andre

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Elder Tunnels: Spring 2011 [Tunnels & Trolls]
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Khara Khang's Random Rainbow Maze
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/15/2010 14:08:27
I wrote this module, so I'm prejudiced. It is a short and simple adventure for new players or beginning characters. You play a warrior who must make his way through a short maze staffed with some monsters and foes. There are some new monsters, like the froglin, and some old favorites like the ferocious forest troll. You will have the chance to fight for your life a few times before you get through it, but if you succeed, you will have a chance to join the Guard of the Death Goddess herself. Nothing complicated--just hack and slash and saving rolls. Some of my offbeat humor, and some outstanding illustrations by fantasy artist David Ullery. Try it if you like Tunnels and Trolls and want to see how their solitaire system works.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Khara Khang's Random Rainbow Maze
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BEAN! The D2 RPG
Publisher: Fabled Worlds
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2010 13:19:02
I thought Tunnels and Trolls was a good game, but Bean has it whupped. Faster to read, easier to learn, funnier in concept, Bean is great for fantasy or any other type of role-playing adventure. Bean is the quintessence of role-playing. My only question is where am I going to get all the beans I'll need to actually play the game? The brown ones that I usually eat with hot dogs are way too slimy to be rolling about on a table.
--Ken St. Andre

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BEAN! The D2 RPG
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Warrior, Rogue & Mage
Publisher: Stargazer Games
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/23/2010 01:30:57
Open mouth, insert foot--that's a capsule history of my life. I made an offer on Twitter to review any game that came back to me from the Essen international Game and Toy show, and Michael Wolf, who is European in spite of his incredibly American-sounding name, took me up on it, rightly pointing out that he made his game, Warrior, Rogue & Mage, free right from the beginning and that I could have it by simply wanting it. In fact, I did download it when it first came out, and had simply never done anything with it, but now I'm reviewing it.

We need to get a few things out in the open right from the beginning including such things as designer's bias. It is my considered belief that any game can be an excellent game if the game master is skillful and the players have fun. Heck, I've even had fun playing Dungeons and Dragons once or twice. (And I have been bored out of my skull a few times with it--I lay it all on the GM.) I am biased against games that are overly complicated, and I consider every form of Dungeons and Dragons to be prime examples of overly complicated games. For those of you who have long experience with D & D, those of you who don't consider it to be complicated at all, I will seem like a simple-minded buffoon. Well, perhaps I am. Remember, that what I say is my opinion, and it's colored by my own experience as a game designer and player.

I warn you right now, that though I like Warrior, Rogue & Mage, I intend to criticize this game.

Before I go any further, let me say that Michael Wolf set out to design an epic fantasy role-playing game that would be simpler and lighter than other games in the field. He did an excellent job, and his basic concept for a classless rpg is brilliant and innovative. He got rid of the bell curve model of character design, and he made a game where the player truly creates the character he wants to play. Every character is defined by three components: a warrior component, a rogue component, and a wizard component. The player has 10 points to spread among the three areas. One could put all 10 points in warrior and have a peerless fighter, but be totally helpless in the other two aspects of life. Or one could put it all into Mage. Or, a wiser player who wants to be able to cope with all situations might choose a 4, 3, 3 spread for balance with the 4 points determining the character's overall tendencies. Be as balanced or unbalanced as you wish. That is a brilliant conception for character creation.

Except that Michael didn't do that. He waffled and stated that no attribute could start with more than 6 points assigned to it. Damn! There goes the idea of pure warriors or pure wizards. He came up with a brilliant system based on three archtypes of fantasy, and then immediately shot it down by putting his own ideas of play balance on it as restrictions. While it could be argued that there aren't many pure archtypes in fantasy fiction, i have to say why not?

After stating that he was going to keep the game simple, he can't keep from creating unnecessary complications. All characters have Hit Points, Fate, and Mana. From three numerical attributes, he's gone to six. Six isn't a lot, but he makes some arbitrary decisions that introduce complexity. Hit points are equal to 6 plus the Warrior attribute. Fate points are equal to the Rogue attribute. Mana points equals the Mage attribute times 2. If Fate points would be zero, the character still gets 1, but if mana points would be zero, it gets zero. Three different systems and as unbalanced as possible, giving maximum advantage to warriors and wizards. Why, Michael? You have the same mechanic in play for assigning the three basic components of character--why not have the same mechanic in play for the three secondary characterisitics ? Hit points could be Warrior plus 1D6; Fate points could be Rogue plus 1D6; Mana could be Mage plus 1D6. No exceptions needed. I guess that's my first house rule. Simple, elegant, consistent, but not what he did.

There are also Skills and Talents. Each player starts with 3 Skills and 1 Talent. There are fairly short lists of both Skills and Talents in the rules, but Michael did say that players and G.M.s could make up new ones if they wanted to. Skills and Talents aren't quantified by level. Either the player has the knowledge/ability or she doesn't. Those Skills and Talents add modifiers to the Conflict resolution rolls, usually a straight plus 2. Turn to the Appendix to see what the possible Skills and Talents could be. I have a feeling that the game might bog down with the Skills and Talents with desperate players arguing that their Basket-weaving skill really pertains to their ability to catch fish in the wild. Etc. Maybe not.

Character advancement is not a mechanical thing in W, R & M. The Game Master gives surviving characters a point or two of advancement at the end of an adventure or campaign. (There are other options, and the skillful GM can make the reward process very sweet if he/she decides to do so.) In a way that's brilliant. No one has to keep track of experience points. In another way it doesn't seem fair. A mechanical system of character advancement bases progress on the player's actions during the game. Merit is proportionate to reward. Letting the GM hand out advancement at will is wide open to bias.

There's one thing in the rules that rubs me the wrong way. At chapter six Wolf tells the reader to stop reading unless he is going to be the Game Judge. The remainder of the rules and understanding of how the game works is reserved for the Game Master. That's futile and naive, and smacks of the kind of one-sided publishing that WotC and TSR have been practicing for years. Players manuals, Game Master Manuals, other books to be read only by certain gamers! Phooey! What gamer worth his salt is going to stop reading the rules just because the designer said to? This kind of dichotomy between GM and Player is foreign to my nature. Everyone should be able to do both.

And there's one thing that I totally agree with. I'll quote it directly, as I believe it is Mr. Wolf's finest moment in this set of rules: "MAKE IT YOUR OWN. Ican't stress this enough: make WR&M your own. GMs and Players are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table. Add new lands. Create new monsters. Change the rules. Whatever suits your fancy, do it. A lot of creativity went into the creation of this game, but it definitely shouldn't end there! This book contains several optional rules, but you can add your own house rules as well. If you think there's something critical or very cool missing from the game, let us know!" Bravo, Michael! Empower the players! Well done!

I have two technical quibbles. I believe that Michael chose the wrong font for the text of his rules. While the booklet is attractively laid out and illustrated, the font is angular and crowded. It shows very poorly with contractions like "can't". The apostrophe appears above the n, and the t can barely be seen. This is true for all contractions and wherever the letter t follows the letter n. I found myself guessing instead of reading in places. I also don't like having the game available only as a pdf. That makes it impossible to copy and paste from the document. I would have included more art and more quotes from the text if I had been able to grab them and paste them into this review.

Warrior, Rogue, and Mage already has 5 supplements, all of which are available for free at Drive-Thru RPG. This is an act of philanthropy unprecedented in gaming history. Get Warrior, Rogue, and Mage! Read it! If you like it, by all means follow up with his other publications.

There are many aspects of the WR&M rules that I didn't discuss. I haven't actually had a chance to play the game, so I don't know if Michael's task resolution system really works. It looks like it should. Parts of the game feel rather Dungeons and Dragons to me with plus modifiers for weapons and spells and ability checks. I never liked that system, but that's just me. D & D players may love it.

Finally, since I intend to post this review at Drive-Thru, let me give WR&M a star rating. I give it 3.5 out of 5. Download a copy and read it. Play it if you get a chance, or can make one. You have nothing to lose by doing so, and some interesting new perspectives to gain.

end.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Warrior, Rogue & Mage
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TrollZine #2
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Ken S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2010 09:25:37
TrollZine 2 is an excellent source of supplemental information for players of the Tunnels and Trolls rpg, and a good read for fantasy lovers in general. And, you can't beat the price. Just about the only criticism one can make is that there is just too much good stuff.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
TrollZine #2
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¡Uncle Cucuy's Lucha Libre!
Publisher: Fabled Worlds
by Ken S. A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/05/2009 16:15:43
Who here likes the wacky world of Mexican wrestling? Nobody?
Who here has seen Jack Black in Nacho Libre? Ah some hands go up.
You know? Other cultures can be strange. Even cultures as close to me here in Arizona as Mexico. Now, I'm not casting any stones. American wrestling is weird, wild, and wonderful--full of heroes and villains and just plain bizarre characters. I'm dating myself when I saw that the wrestlers I remember have names like Andre the Giant (he's dead), Hulk Hogan (God only knows what he's doing these days), The Rock (Is his swords and sorcery movie career over?) and Chyna.
I have a friend named Jeff Freels who has created a fun little game called Uncle Cucuy's Lucha Libre. It's a mini-rpg for Mexican Wrestling. You use 5 six-sided dice to play it. The five dice make two dice pools, one for agility and one for strength. You put 3 dice in one pool and 2 in the other. So you can go for a slippery, agile guy, or a musclebound hulk, but neither one has an overwhelming advantage over the other type. Then you make up a colorful and exotic name. Jeff made a guy called the Vortexican Grande. I think that's clever. A vortex is a spinning storm. A texican is a guy from texas. Grande is big. Brilliant name for a wrestler! Jeff also gives the player prototype player cards--a place to write down your wrestling attributes and draw a luchador mask. Mexican wrestlers wear gaudy little masks--you get a chance to create your own. I am all in favor of games that you bring the players into the action by appealing to the player's creativity.
When you're ready to fight, each player chooses an attribute and rolls the number of dice allocated to that attribute. I'll use the Vortexican and my own character El Trollo Verde (The green troll). Vortexican puts his faith in agility--he rolls 3D6 for a total of 9 (1, 2, 6) and El Trollo counts on his strength. He rolls 12 (3, 4, 5). 12 minus 9 is 3. Vortexican loses 3 points of stamina. But Vortexican rolled a 6, and sixes always do damage, so El Trollo loses 1. When one fighter loses all his stamina, the match is over, and the one still standing wins. You create your own narrative. (Vortexican and Trollo circle. Suddenly, Trollo grabs Vortexican by the ribs and picks him up and slams him down on the canvas. As he is falling Vortexican lashes out with his foot and hits El Trollo in the jaw with his foot, knocking the big bruiser back a step.) There are some special rules--I don't intend to give you the whole game in this review. Doubles add and roll over (DARO) that are slightly reminiscent of Tunnels and Trolls (but then, T & T took that idea from Monopoly). If you're at all interested, you should download a copy from Drive Thru RPG. I think it costs $1, maybe $2--it won't break the bank. Jeff in not only an innovative mini-game designer, but also an amazing artist (that despite the fact that he is legally blind and has to use a jeweler's glass to even see what he draws) whose amusing pictures of the luchadores are worth the price of the game by themselves.
I hope I've intrigued you enough to go take a look at Jeff's game. You can find out more here: http://www.jfreels.com/Gaming.html. I like this game because it's off the beaten trail, it's quick and easy to learn, and it will make most people smile. It could be turned into a campaign, and it calls for creativity from you as a player. In my humble opinion Uncle Cucuy (Jeff Freels) embodies all that is best in the modern Indy game designing world
--Ken St. Andre

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
¡Uncle Cucuy's Lucha Libre!
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