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Dungeon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2013 13:37:15
That WotC decided never to release a second Dungeon Magazine Annual, despite the implications of the title, tells you something about sales figures, which in turn reflects the gaming public’s perception of the product’s utility. This book contains five adventures reprinted from the first year of the WotC digital edition of Dungeon Magazine. In order of presentation, these are “Menace of the Icy Spire” (2nd level, Forgotten Realms); “Winter of the Witch” (22nd level, with links to “Keep on the Shadowfell”); “Throne of the Stone-Skinned King” (15th level, Scales of War adventure path); “Storm Tower” (3rd level); “Heart of the Forbidden Forge” (7th level, Eberron). From a brief scan of the contents, you can see that the volume is best approaches as a “showcase of what D&D 4e can do.” The adventures chosen cannot easily be linked together into a campaign, nor do they even occur in the same cosmos. Dropping into the middle of the Scales of War adventure path can be quite jarring, limiting the practicality of that adventure. The Forgotten Realms and Eberron adventures are pretty tightly tied to the lore of those settings, so relocating them will take some work. If you’re a D&D Insider subscriber, there’s no reason for you to pick up this compilation; download the individual adventures and issues of Dungeon instead. If you’re not, you might enjoy running the adventures. Be aware, however, that the product has not been updated to reflect post-Monster Vault statistics, so running the monsters as written might result in easier fights than you’re expecting from the more mature versions of 4e monster math.

With regard to production values, the layout is attractive and the artwork is wonderful. But the product falls significantly short of expectations for a PDF. WotC did not bother to crop the pages down from printer’s sheets (so you get color bars, crop marks, etc. in the margins) and did not bother to bookmark the file. Two bookmarks exist, but they’re the ones auto-created by combining multiple files using Adobe tools, so they point to pages 1 (the cover) and 2 (the title page). This is particularly disappointing for this product, whose “table of contents” isn’t a table at all, but a series of paragraphs in Chris Youngs’s introduction.

I was never terribly excited about this book in print, and the PDF version, though costing noticeably less, doesn’t add any value beyond the print version. I’m not sure why WotC chose to roll out this book as one of the early 4e offerings at D&D Classics, but I don’t find it to be one of the more useful products in the line.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1 (4e)
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Peacekeepers: ICONS edition
Publisher: GRAmel
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2013 00:00:56
Peacekeepers has an engaging premise: superheroes helping to rebuild the world after an alien invasion. Sure, variations on this have been done before, but author Jakub Osiejewski does a good job implementing it. The text covers a broad range of considerations relevant to the setting’s world, but without straightjacketing creative GMs. For GMs wanting more guidance, Osiejewski offers adventure seeds for five linked scenarios that could form a satisfying campaign, as well as two more fully described one-shot adventures. There’s even a system for randomly generating adventures (using a deck of cards instead of dice) that GMs who enjoy that sort of thing (or are short on time) can use to replace or supplement the one given in the ICONS core rulebook. The writing is lively and engaging, though some of the conventions seem to waver between American and European English. The layout is pretty nice and evokes the feel of a comic book, but the mixing of black-and-white and full-color clip art is a little distracting, and you may find yourself wondering where you’ve seen that artwork before. On balance, the book is pretty good, especially if the backstory of its campaign world sounds like a place where you’d want to set your ICONS adventures.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Peacekeepers: ICONS edition
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Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2013 02:03:28
There was never much doubt that I’d love an A-to-Z summary of characters, creatures, places, tomes, and so on from H. P. Lovecraft’s influential corpus of weird fiction and related works inspired by Lovecraft’s story world(s)—and Dan Harms delivers in spades. I have only used the ePub version within iBooks on an iPad, so I can’t speak to the other formats. But the ePub version works great. The essay that the beginning on the origins and scope of the “Cthulhu Mythos” is quite valuable, too. Any Lovecraft aficionado or Cthulhu-curious reader will appreciate this book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia
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ICONS: Gamemaster Screen
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2013 01:57:46
Does a game as straightforward as ICONS really need a GM screen? “Need” might be too strong a word, but ICONS GMs will certainly find much to like about this low-priced collection of tables and reminders. Also, a printable GM screen might seem inconvenient, but it’s great for those running the game from an iPad or similar tablet, or for GMs who, like me, use customizable GM screens that allow you to swap out insert pages. The PDFs (the screen and printer versions contain the same charts) provide eight pages of tables. Here’s a quick rundown, by page:

1. The standard scale from ICONS, test formulas, outcomes, the “Benchmarks” table from Great Power, and a table of dice probabilities. All but the last are close to indispensable. Fans have been asking for benchmarks for years, and I’m always forgetting where the cutoffs are for major and massive successes and failures. It should be noted that the outcomes table incorporates the “0 = marginal success” concept from the still-unreleased ICONS Team-Up product from Adamant Entertainment. This would definitely make the cut for my three-panel customizable GM screen, even though I really have no use for the dice probabilities table. I would much rather have had the “Uses for Determination” panel from p. 5 here instead.

2–4. Character creation tables. Page 2 includes origin, level determination, number of powers and specialties, and power type tables. Pages 3–4 include power tables for each of the power types, and p. 4 has a list of specialties. The power tables assume the use of Great Power rather than the original ICONS rulebook. (This is a good thing, but you should be aware of it going in.) I wouldn’t really want or need these in-game.

5. A collection of sample vehicles, definitions of the distance categories, and a bullet list of ways to use Determination. I’m inclined to cut out the “Uses of Determination” list and paste it on an index card to hand to players for their quick reference. I would definitely include this page in my customizable screen.

6. Random plot elements, villain origin, and a strong reminder to keep Determination flowing freely. I might include this as the third panel in my customizable screen if I expected to play pick-up games of ICONS. Otherwise, I’d just refer to it on-screen during my game prep.

7. A collection of sample animals, reproduced from the ICONS core rulebook. I think I’d keep this nearby, but probably wouldn’t insert it into my screen (if I had four panels, I’d include it, but I only have three).

8. A collection of stock characters and a collection of dinosaurs. I’d probably use this as my third panel, for the stock characters. There’s also a big ICONS logo here, which I don’t really need, but I’m not sure what else they might have put down there. Probably a table of weapons and other common devices would have been more useful than dinosaurs.

I’m very happy with this product except for one thing: the PDF presents the pages in portrait orientation, although the material is arranged on the pages in landscape orientation. In other words, when you open this on your computer or tablet screen, the pages will be sideways. You can quickly rotate the pages in Adobe Reader, but you shouldn’t have to. This, however, is really the product’s only significant drawback, and something that Ad Infinitum could easily fix with an update.

The “PF” (for “printer-friendly”) PDF omits the “heroes vs. villains” artwork that Dan Houser contributed for the outward-facing side of the screen, so look for it in the other PDF. The package also includes a panoramic JPG, but you’ll probably find it more convenient to print out the version from the PDF. While the artwork is beautifully executed in Dan’s signature style, the layout is disappointing because the three panels overlap. The repetition of elements from the center panel on the side panels creates an unattractive and distracting visual “stuttering.” Personally, I would probably use the outer panels only, replacing the center panel with page 1, with a copy of the “Uses of Determination” table pasted over the dice probabilities table.

So the product isn’t perfect, but it’s incredibly useful and only a dollar. The cost-to-benefit ratio is really, as we say in ICONS, “off the scale.”

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: Gamemaster Screen
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Dungeon Props :: Kit 01
Publisher: Inspired Device
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2013 00:04:30
This product includes both a printable prop—a circular maze that changes as the PCs move through it—and a storyline to help DMs use the maze. The artwork is well done and the maze is cleverly designed. The writing isn’t quite as good as the prop, but the prop itself is worth the price, so you’ll get your money’s worth even if you don’t use the suggested storyline.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Props :: Kit 01
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Dungeon Delve (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2013 15:50:35
When you want to run D&D 4e but you don’t have a lot of time to prepare, Dungeon Delve offers a nice selection of short, combat-oriented mini-adventures. The adventures span the entire range of character levels. Encounter areas can be built using the older sets of Dungeon Tiles, which is great if you happen to have those sets and a bit of a pain if you don’t (though you can always use Gaming Paper, Chessex mats, or other strategies). You can get some replay value from the encounters by taking the video-game approach of imposing time limits (measured in rounds), adding enemies, making enemies harder, changing the terrain effects, and so on. This might even be a good way to let players try out different character concepts. The monster stat blocks reflect the initial wave of 4th edition math, so DMs will probably want to either use monster stats from more recent sources like the Monster Vault (or Compendium), or you might be able to get away with just doubling static damage bonuses to monsters’ attacks. From the perspective of mid-2013, when this book was (re)released as a PDF, it appears a bit dated (you can tell that it’s from the early days of 4e) but still offers a lot to a hurried (or creative) DM.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Delve (4e)
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2e Adventure Tiles: Labyrinth Core Set
Publisher: SkeletonKey Games
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/14/2013 15:23:24
The 76 (!) 6" square tiles in this set offer you a myriad of straight, diagonal, and curving corridors and small (up to 3 x 4) rooms with which you can create a wide variety of maze-like dungeon layouts. Although it’s part of the new 2e Adventure Tiles series, this set gives you the ability to create more “old school” dungeon layouts than any previous SkeletonKey product. Fiddling with these tiles takes me back to fiddling around with TSR’s old dungeon geomorphs. Excellent art, creative layouts, and a generous selection combine to make this a fantastic printable tiles product. If you’re already heavily invested in the older style of SKG dungeon tiles, don’t fret; three of the tiles in this set help you connect the new 2e-style tiles (with stone walls) into your old-style tiles (with black walls).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2e Adventure Tiles: Labyrinth Core Set
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ICONS Hero Creation Quick-Sheet
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/14/2013 15:16:24
Current ICONS players and curious onlookers wondering about the game will both appreciate this compact set of tables for character creation. The grayscale version that initially went up when this product went live has now been replaced by a new version that fixes a couple of small errors and, more significantly, reflects changes to the game introduced in the upcoming Great Power supplement from Ad Infinitum. If you’re running a pick-up or convention game or starting a new ongoing ICONS campaign, having several copies of these charts on hand will speed things along significantly. As a free product, it’s a no-lose proposition!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS Hero Creation Quick-Sheet
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Hex N Square Graph Paper!
Publisher: Lawrence L Bertoniere
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/11/2013 18:51:55
This simple product is exactly as advertised. If you need a quick grid in PNG format, just make a copy of the included files and go to town. Very straightforward, inexpensive, and useful.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hex N Square Graph Paper!
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ICONS: Hero Pack 4
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/08/2013 09:51:15
It’s exciting to see a new release from Ad Infinitum Adventures supporting the ICONS line! This one, like the Hero Packs previously released by Adamant, presents a collection of superheroes suitable for use as PCs or NPCs in your ICONS games. If you’re looking for villains, you should be aware that only one appears in this pack (Sigma, p. 42); all the others are heroes. This makes HP4 less useful for ongoing campaigns, but a good source of pregens for cons or pick-up games. Twenty-two of the characters featured here were submitted by ICONS fans who backed the Great Power Kickstarter (in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I am one of those backers); the others were created by Steve Kenson and/or Dan Houser, and are either updates of iconic characters from earlier publications (like the core rulebook) or are previews of new iconic characters featured in Great Power (and perhaps other AIA publications to come). There are plenty of cool superheroes in this pack; some are more similar than others to existing comic-book characters. One thing that stands out is the prevalence of characters grounded in Celtic lore—Boudicca, Ruadan, Lugh—although you also have one character each drawing on Norse (Greta Dammerung), Egyptian (Sekhmet), and Greek (Shepherd) mythology. The initial release contained some embarrassing cut-and-paste errors and typos, but Dan Houser acted quickly to repair the most egregious ones in the stat blocks. The character bios and descriptions still have some inconsistencies and mechanical errors, probably due to using backers’ text “as is” without substantial editing. On the other hand, the cover price of $8 comes out to less than a quarter per character, so you’re getting good value despite the writing errors. And, as always, Dan Houser’s artwork is flavorful and evocative. Aside from my own contribution, my favorite characters in this pack (whether due to artwork or stats and backstory) are the Blade (think John Constantine with a magic sword), Dr. What (a plot device, not a PC), Ghost Fox, Gerta Dammerung (for her name if nothing else), Megaton, Megavolt (admittedly kind of a cross between Captain Marvel/Shazam and Johnny Thunder), Ruadan, and Tesla.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: Hero Pack 4
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Dungeonlands Original Soundtrack
Publisher: Savage Mojo
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2013 17:41:34
Let’s start with the most obvious plus: this is beautiful, inspiring music. I can’t really place it in the context of Dungeonlands, because I don’t know anything about Dungeonlands and the only Savage Mojo products I use are system-neutral (maps and such). Therefore, I can’t comment on whether or how the music fits the implicit storyline. But I can tell you that “Anat’s Lament” is haunting, “Heroes Arrive” is epic, and “Battle for the Catacombs” takes a while to build up to its exciting peak. Each of the six tracks comes in two versions, its standard version and then a “trailer version” that is more or less half the length of the standard version.

Now for the bad part: if you’re thinking about using these tracks as soundscapes to score an RPG session, I think you’ll be disappointed. Each individual track has a lot of ups and downs within itself, making for great listening but poor backgrounding. There are also a lot of vague choral vocals that could distract from your speech around the table. Also, the tracks don’t loop. At all. The beginnings and especially the endings are much too distinct for that, and the tracks are short enough (ranging from 3:31 to 6:37 for the non-trailer versions) for the transition to be very noticeable. Compositions like these could be great in a movie where the length of the scene and the length of the music correspond precisely; they are not so good at the gaming table, where the length of a scene can be unpredictable. I’ve never known an RPG meeting with a dragon to take precisely 5:43, for example.

And so the value of this product depends on its purpose. I won’t be using any of these tracks at the gaming table, because of the looping problem I mentioned earlier. However, I’m very glad to have this music in my listening library. It’s great for inspiration while I plan and prepare as a GM.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands Original Soundtrack
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Deities & Demigods (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Chris H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/23/2013 13:01:30
When my friends and I were first discovering AD&D back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Deities & Demigods was one of my favorite rulebooks. I must have learned, or perhaps mislearned, more mythology from Deities & Demigods than from Hamilton and Bullfinch combined. Although the copy I bought upon its original publication in 1980 eventually passed to my brother and then into obscurity, a friend recently gave me his childhood copy. I’m delighted, nonetheless, to have access to the book in PDF format.

The content holds up as well as it ever did; it remains to be seen how easy it will be to plug some of the fightable monsters into D&D Next, but the important things about deities are their descriptions and portfolios, not so much their stat blocks. In this regard, Deities & Demigods remains the premiere D&D source for importing real-world pantheons and other fantasy mythologies into D&D. This volume contains some fantastic black and white line drawings, too—Jim Roslof’s fantastic action shot of Thor on p. 107 is one of the most outstanding. Sadly, this PDF contains the edition that omits the Cthulhu/Lovecraftian mythos and the Melnibonean mythos (even though the Credits and Acknowledgements still offered “special thanks to Chaosium” for permission to use those materials).

In terms of production values the PDF is fairly good for a scan, and the OCR seems to be pretty clean. The file is thoroughly bookmarked, although the bookmarks are poorly organized (the Egyptian mythos and beyond sit at a different outline/indent level than the others) and inconsistent (individual entries are bookmarked for the American Indian mythos through the Chinese mythos, but not for the Egyptian mythos and beyond). There’s also at least one spelling error in the bookmarks (“Foreward” instead of “Foreword”) that doesn’t reflect the actual text of the book. Otherwise, the conversion is well done.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deities & Demigods (1e)
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ICONS: The Sidereal Schemes of Doctor Zodiac
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2013 23:36:41
I missed out on a chance to get to play this adventure at a convention when ICONS was first released, so I’m delighted that it’s available for purchase. Originally written as an introductory adventure for players new to ICONS, The Sidereal Schemes of Dr. Zodiac provides plenty of action and fun for any ICONS group. The story lets heroes experience the origin of a new supervillain, one who could easily become a recurring villain in your series. If you’re just starting to play ICONS, you could do a lot worse than to start with this adventure. Careful readers will trip over a few punctuation errors, but the adventure is well worth the price.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: The Sidereal Schemes of Doctor Zodiac
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[Icons] Heroic Moments: The Possession of Dr. Diamond
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2013 21:03:44
In this single-scene scenario, a supervillainous plot goes horribly wrong, creating even more problems than if the supervillain had simply succeeded. With a reasonably interesting villain and a combat encounter that’s more than just throwing punches, “The Possession of Dr. Diamond” definitely adds up to fun, and in terms of its storyline it’s a worthy addition to the Heroic Moments line. The formatting is clean and usable but uninspired and uninspiring, but Brian Brinlee’s illustration of Dr. Diamond is rather nice. In Dr. Diamond’s stat block, his origin is out of place (stuck smack in the middle of his qualities). Punctuation is used inconsistently, and there are a few other grammatical and formatting issues, but nothing too disruptive. I’m not sure why p. 1 proclaims this an “ashcan” supplement; that term usually implies a prepublication version or work in progress. These weaknesses do limit my rating to four stars, but the bottom line is that “The Possession of Dr. Diamond” gives the GM a good return on investment. In fact, it plants the seeds for an even longer series of encounters with Dr. Diamond, perhaps a whole issue fleshing out Diamond’s reputation and transformation. It’s definitely worth the price and few ICONS GMs will regret buying it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
[Icons] Heroic Moments: The Possession of Dr. Diamond
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D-Percent - Russian Names
Publisher: Black Falcon Games LLC
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/01/2012 20:29:29
The whole reason I bought this product was because I don’t know enough about Russian language and culture to come up with good Russian NPC names on my own; therefore, I can’t comment with any degree of actual knowledge on the authenticity of these names. These three lists (male names, female names, and family names) certainly seem to provide cool-sounding Russian names, though. The compiler has avoided too many overly-familiar names, so you’re not going to inadvertently generate “Fyodor Dostoevksy,” “Vladimir Lenin,” or “Grigori Rasputin” that you’ll immediately have to re-roll. All in all, a handy chart to have around if your game includes Russian characters, and for the price of a candy bar.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D-Percent - Russian Names
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Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
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