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Crypts & Creatures Dungeon Adventures Book One
Publisher: Pick Up & Go Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/25/2014 12:04:48
In need of a quick dungeon? Look no further, here are three fully-detailed ones for your party to die in, ahem, I mean, for them to explore.

The core concept is simple. Each one is provided with a floorplan showing where everything is and with details of traps, monsters and treasures to be found there. That's it. You need to provide the reason why the party is there and any plot about the dungeon itself.

The first is 'The Halls of Horror' which has a basic theme of undead and is intended for characters of 2nd-4th level. In the compact style we've come to expect from Pick Up and Go Games, there's a brief descripton of each room to use as read aloud text and a concise listing of appropriate stats for monsters/NPCs to be found therein. The map shows the door types - open, locked, secret, portcullis, archway and so on - and everything is clear and easy to run.

The second dungeon is 'The Sanctum of Shiva the Destroyer' and is designed for characters of 4th-6th level. It's quite a nice place with superior masonry walls and natural floors... well, nice until you meet the denizens, which include wandering monsters as well as those who stay put in their rooms waiting for the party to turn up.

Finally, there's 'The Crypt of Crimson Death' all ready to entertain parties of 9th-11th level. This is nearly all interlocking rooms rather than corridors (there's only a couple of those) and it's rather hot - 120F/48C - so characters are going to have to save to avoid heat exhaustion as well as all the critters and traps they have to contend with.

These are classic old school dungeons. Creatures apparently sit there waiting to snack on passing adventurers, but there's no clue as to what they eat if no one calls by. However, each dungeon hangs together well, there's a good variety of monsters to fight and an interesting array of loot to carry off once you have managed to slay them.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts & Creatures Dungeon Adventures Book One
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Exodus Post Apocalyptic RPG: Wasteland Adventure #23
Publisher: Glutton Creeper Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/23/2014 11:55:52
Back in the Old West, an organisation called the Pony Express carried mail through the badlands from community to community. Now in post-apocalyptic times a similar group called the Postal Riders offer the same service - and the party gets asked to help out in the delivery of some 'holy books' in the face of cultist predations.

It's a straightforward road trip adventure with a few running battles and chase scenes, yet it comes over fresh and new with the wealth of detail provided to bring the whole thing to life. For a start, the party has to navigate through wild terrain, even choose the best route. From then on there are ambushes and challenges galore, with each being laid out clearly with just about every option covered, making it easy to run.

There's a completely off-the-wall episode during the journey, harking back to old cartoons. If you are happy with a 'Looney Tunes' element to your game it works well, but needs to be included even if you prefer a more serious approach as it does turn out to provide useful information regarding the party's mission. Perhaps it's just that the post-apocalypic desert sun has turned a cartoon fan so mad that he's been recreating the stories he no longer recalls as cartoons.

The climax contains a real sting in the tail and is very open-ended - so much so that a full SIX conclusions are provided so that you can run the one most appropriate to the party's actions!

Designed as a 'shared campaign' adventure which could run in a convention slot, it also would fit in well with your own campaign provided you can engineer some reason for the party to be in Reno, where the action starts. Once they are there, let the fun begin!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Exodus Post Apocalyptic RPG: Wasteland Adventure #23
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Bitter Medicine
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/22/2014 10:56:24
This is an exciting adventure, with some of the overtones of the Wild West as bandits mount raids on trains, with the added pressure of a deadly disease to contend with as well. It's set in northern Cygnar, quite definitely, but should you wish to run it elsewhere there are suggestions for adapting events to other locations within the Iron Kingdoms.

After an overview of what is going on and a summary of the adventure itself, you get to meet the major NPCs involved. Both adventure and characters are wound into the fabric of the Iron Kingdoms and its recent history, making everything spring into coherent life - they're here because of their own reasons, not just because the presence of the party and the requirements of the plot have called them into existence!

Next there is a collection of suggestions as to how you can get the characters involved. The adventure is one which does not require an organised party, so could be used as a campaign starter to get the characters together in the first place, but it works equally well if they have already formed a group. Events open on a train journey, and it is open to you to give the characters plot-related reasons for being there or they may just have the misfortune to have chosen THAT train when all they wanted was to travel from wherever they were to wherever they want to go. It may be a while before they reach their destination in that case!

And we're off! The action is swift and exciting from the outset, although there's time for some scene-setting and 'get to know you' conversation as well, with the other passengers being detailed even if the characters themselves are already acquainted with one another. But just as everyone is lulled into the sense of a dull train journey events begin to unfold...

Plenty of detail and options are offered for the action scenes so you should not be at a loss whatever the party decides to do. From the train, the characters will have to make an overland journey to locate their objective, with two well-defended locations to search and plenty of opportunities for combat. It's not all brawling, though, there are opportunities for other abilities to be brought into play, and of course there's that illness to contend with too, and a good chance that the characters themselves might become infected. There's a good Mexican stand-off and an epic chase scene in there as well, and a climatic showdown.

Action over, there are some suggestions as to how you might develop matters further if you so wish. Finally there are several appendices: on vehicles in the Iron Kingdoms, on chases, on the deadly disease that is central to the plot and lastly full profiles for the antagonists involved.

While quite linear, and in places with things that just happen regardless, it's an exciting adventure that is well worth including in your campaign or running as a one-off.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bitter Medicine
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Stock Art: Blackmon Cloaker
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/22/2014 08:12:25
Just the thing if you want to SHOW your players what their characters are facing, rather than just tell them... and this ferocious cloaker should make even the players want to run, never mind their characters!

There's both a colour and a line art version of the same drawing, showing the cloaker rearing up to attack, all pretence of being a garment cast aside and teeth bared.

Wish I'd had this a couple of months ago when some of players had to deal with a nest of the beasties... it sums up the shock and horror that cloakers present really well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stock Art: Blackmon Cloaker
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Urban Dressing: Mining Town
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2014 10:25:13
So, what makes the mining towns in your campaign world stand out?

Here you will find some ideas to make a mining town come to life within your shared alternate reality. Suitable for use when planning the township or adventures therein, or even during play when you need to breathe extra life in to it or the party ask about something you hadn't anticipated, it works by giving you a selection of tables. These can be rolled on or you may prefer (particularly if you're planning rather than needing something in a rush) to read through and select the options that appeal most or which fit best with whatever else you have in mind.

The first one is Sights and Sounds. A full one hundred of them, ranging from a pile of abandoned picks to a collapsing shack or a line of miners awaiting a handout from a soup kitchen. Some can be mentioned in passing, many could spark an encounter if not a whole adventure.

Next is a selection of around fifty businesses. Some are mining-specific but many are of more general use: everyone needs taverns and butchers and even blacksmiths! It gives the feel of a quite rough and ready shanty-town, with an area where miners can pitch camp, a mayor who does shady deals and a guard post which views the miners as troublemakers and treats them accordingly. This table will prove useful when the party asks for the local... well, whatever... as well as providing the backdrop of a busy mining town going about its business.

Next up is Folk of Interest. Plenty of 'instant NPCs' here who can be woven into your stories as anything from the person at the next table in the tavern to the source of a whole chunk of plot. Each is described vividly in a couple of sentences although stats are limited to race, class and level - if you need more you will have to work them out for yourself. If you so chose, you could populate your town with them, and weave their stories into your own, giving the impression of a living community that exists irrespective of the presence of the party within city limits.

Finally, there are 20 Hooks, Complications and Opportunities - if the materials already supplied have not given you enough inspiration for events and encounters look here for ones designed to deliberately draw the party in and involve them in whatever is going on - anything from a gas explosion to a murder, a job offer or a green cloud that's engulfing people. Plenty of excitement here, your mining town need not be a quiet break for rest and relaxation between adventures (unless, of course, that is what you want!).

A vibrant collection of resources tailored to suit the particular environment of a mining town. Keep it to hand for the next time your party visits one.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Urban Dressing: Mining Town
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The Theta Files: Abe-X
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2014 10:23:35
This product presents an unusal, interesting and potentially tragic super-villain: a genetically-enhanced gorilla!

The backstory is presented sympathetically, telling how a young gorilla was captured in the wild and experimented on (in some shady facility, of course), but developed far faster than the scientists anticipated to eacape and live wild on the streets.

There's no indication of who captured and experimented on him or why (which could provide some interesting adventure material in its own right) nor precisely what he's up to now beyond living on the streets and stealing what he needs to live.

Presentation os good, with iIllustrations clear and good, and a full stat-block is provided, as well as the backstory (a line or two of which fall foul of the bottom edge of the page background, although you can just about make them out) so of himself, Abe-X is all ready to go - just what's needed for the discerning GM's stock of super-villains.

If you want more than a quick side-encounter, work out who was experimenting on him and why, or maybe who is influencing or manipulating him now he's on the loose.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Theta Files: Abe-X
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Amethyst: Destiny (Fate Edition)
Publisher: Dias Ex Machina Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2014 12:38:45
A long piece of fiction preceeds the introduction of the core premise of this game: what if storybook concepts co-existed with the real world around us? Most of us, certainly in the community of role-players, have active fantasy imaginations, but what would it be like if those imaginings became real, not as a replacement for the real world outside the window but alongside it? In answering such questions, we have the game, the setting, that is Amethyst.

Amethyst is not new. It's been around for quite some time now, growing and being revised, being changed to fit different rulesets - D20, D&D 4e, Pathfinder and now Fate. For the first three, the ruleset itself provided the framework for the fantasy aspects, bringing their monsters and magics out into a 'real world' setting which is easy to provide: we live there.

The introduction continues with the background - in character - as to how the co-existence of fantasy and real worlds came about and the tensions, conflicts, that this causes. Magic is real, but quite rare. Monsters too are mercifully rare but devastating when they do show up. And deities? Nobody knows if they are real or not, but there are plenty that believe... just like in the real world.

Chapter 2: Fate of Amethyst touches on the setting's history before launching into an explanation of how it works with Fate and, for those new to it, how Fate Core itself works. For this is a stand-alone book, all the rules you need to play are here, although if you do have access to Fate Core it can be helpful. You will also need a Fate Deck or Fate Dice, and alternative methods of generating the required random results are discussed. The character sheet is explained, leading into an explanation of how to generate characters coupled with information on how to use the character mechanics within the game. There are some variations from standard Fate Core mechanics, mostly brought over or modified from previous incarnations of the game using various class/level mechanics: instead of Fate skills you have rather broader Vocations, for example.

The character creation process itself is detailed clearly and well, being described as 'part of the game' rather than a precursor to it. In devising a character, you'll need to understand his background, and so you are already beginning to tell his story. As such, it is best done as a group activity with the entire party and the GM working together. The next few chapters go into depth on the choices you have to make: species, vocations and so on. Delve deeply and pick wisely. Throughout, snippets of fiction - some from the original story, others singular bits relating to the topic at hand - serve to illustrate what is being covered. Illustrations too are rich and varied and give a feel for what is being discussed. Many fascinating snippets of information are buried here, it's worth reading throroughly. For every choice, however, there is also a summary box which tells you what a character making that choice will be capable of - if the summary appeals, consider that choice in detail.

That dealt with, what of the world in which your character will operate? This is covered in Chapter 5: The World. Although the concept is fantasy meets real world, the game is not actually set on 21st century Earth, but in an imaginary world with fantasy elements intertwined with technological development of what is a modern society. Remember that it did not develop that way, rather a significant event released the fantastical parts on a more normal society - many of whom resist the idea and reckon fantasy still belongs in a book! Player Characters, even the non-fantasic ones, generally are a bit more aware of what is going on from the outset. It is a rich and varied background, and again this chapter is worthy of serious study to get the feel of the world in which the game takes place. Depending on where a character comes from, he may have access to abilities and knowledge that others do not, so again choose carefully based on what kind of character you want to play. And if you don't care for any location in this rich backdrop, rules are provided for creating your own!

Chapter 6: Equipment looks at the kit and caboodle your character can accumulate. Most is abstracted, you are assumed to have all the ordinary things you need for day-to-day life, it's only the gear that will become important when adventuring that matters. You'll need to know the tech level of the things you want and how well it can resist magic. Different species (and vocations) have their own preferred weapons and equipment, although your character may choose to buck the trend a bit it will make things harder and the character stand out. Weapons vary from basic mediaeval ones to wildly-futuristic, and there's a similar range of armour too - right up to combat exoskeletons and power armour. Tools, drugs, vehicles and more are also covered.

Chapter 7: Magic delves into the underlying philosophy and mechanics of spell-casting as well as exploring the actual spells that can be cast and what they do. Although the rules are quite precise spells are not - it is more a case of dreaming up the effect that you want to have happen and then applying the rules appropriately. There are plenty of sample spells to get you going. Magic items and alchemy are also covered, and there are notes on converting spells from other game systems if there's one you particularly like.

Next, Chapter 8: Monsters details some of the quite outlandish - and dangerous - beasts with which the characters will have to contend. This also includes NPCs. There are sample monsters, notes on devising your own, hazardous environments and much, much more here.

Finally, Chapter 9: Campaign deals with what you'll actually be doing once the game begins. The contrast between the familiar and fantasy should be at the heart of everything that goes on, but just about any plotline can be followed or story told within that context: exploration, intrigue, conflict, investigation... whatever takes your fancy. Running the Fate system is also discussed here, as it has quite an influence on the way in which your stories will be told. This chapter is really for those who want to GM rather than only play, but makes interesting reading whichever role you are planning to fill. There's advice on constructing and locating adventures, and a short sample one to get you going.

Beautifully written, a rich backdrop cunningly crafted and visually spectacular as well (with one flaw, a very dark figure in the lower left of the standard background that often renders a few words of text illegible), if you are already a fan of the Amethyst concept you'll want to add it, if you want to see just what can be done with Fate Core given a strong idea this is of interest... and if you are in search of a unique and different game, you may well find it here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Amethyst: Destiny (Fate Edition)
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Ships of Clement Sector 5: Traders and Scouts
Publisher: Gypsy Knights Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2014 07:21:16
Containing a full seven different starship designs within the category of Traders and Scouts, this is a good place to look if you intend the party to be operating their own vessel.

The first is a smallish trading vessel, just the right size for an adventuring party! Described in the 'as-real' pseudohistorical tone used by Gypsy Knights in most of their material, it is presented complete with illustrations and deckplans as well as full statistics.

Next up is the Palomino-class runabout, an historic design that was never a great success in its original incarnation but which is now enjoying a considerable revival amongst those who want a small craft to transport up to four people (although it can be flown solo in a pinch).

Then there's a larger vessel, a real workhorse of the starways called a Billings-class Free Trader. It needs a crew of five (but has room for more), and can carry ten passengers (and a further ten in cold sleep) in some degree of comfort. The crew and passenger areas are separate, each with their own common area, and there is ample space for cargo as well.

A Goldrush-class belter ship, a very self-reliant craft, an Explorer-class Type LS Long Range Scout and a Ningaloo-class Survey and Exploration ship follow; each fully-detailed with text descriptions, deck plans and statistics and all well-suited to their stated roles. The last has space for scientists, lab space and a magnificent sensor suite.

Finally there's the Dromedary-class Tanker. Big and a bit lumbering, it's designed to deliver fuel supplies to ships and stations out in the black.

As well as all the details provided for each vessel, there are bits of atmospheric fiction and numerous illustrations to set the scene. I'm fond of having a wide variety of ships plying the spaceways in my universe and these will soon be making an appearance.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ships of Clement Sector 5: Traders and Scouts
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Player's Secrets of Binsada (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2014 10:16:18
Of all the realms in the Birthright world of Cerilia, Binsada is one of the most fascinating - not least because it is ruled by a female line that goes back centuries. A player representing Binsada in a classic Birthright game will need to play a female character if they wish to be the ruler, although advisors and courtiers can be of either gender as the player chooses. Prospective queens will need courage, determination and a flair for the dramatic to win their realm over.

The work starts with the High Priest's Exhortation, addressed to that would-be queen (but fascinating and useful to anyone wishing to exert influence in Binsada, of course). He has a startling secret to reveal, and also makes it plain that he wants to see the spread of worship of his deity, Leira, even more than he'd like the realm to flourish and grow! Fortunately, he claims that Leira has told him that Binsada and her Queen are destined to rule Cerilia...

Next comes the history of Binsada, grown out of nomads who once ruled a long-lost mighty empire but whose descendants conquered these lands and have held them ever since. The geography of the realm is described next: in the main a flat grassy savannah ideally suited to nomads and their herds. A major feature of Binsada is that whichever way you travel out of the land, you run into monsters. Hydras, harpies, a sphinx... maybe it is safer to stay at home!

The provinces and people are then introduced. Binsada is remarkable in that it has no roads, and only two permanent settlements, one of which is the capital Ber Dairas. Twelve nomad clans range their own territories, camping during the spring and summer months in 'sun camps'.

As for government, in some ways it's an oligarchy, in some ways a theocracy and to many minds it's sheer anarchy! The queen rules as an 'elder of elders' but each clan mostly listens to its own elders; and everyone listens when the priests of Leira speak. Although most citizens belong to the clans, there are also subservient settlers who farm or fish and who are required to pay tribute to whichever clan rules the province in which they live. Each clan, as well as governing their province, has overall charge of some aspect of Binsada's affairs - one handling customs, some providing the army, and so on.

Law is simple and direct, although ancient retributions like from like have now been replaced by monetary penalties. All is judged by clan elders and the aggrived party may choose to accept or reject payment. If accepted, the perpetrator is no long held to be guilty of anything. An oral tradition governs such matters as what price should be paid for what transgression.

There's plenty of detail on the habits and customs of the citizens, especially the nomads. Everything you might want to know - clothing, diversions, festivals, the animals and birds to be found (and the uses to which they can be put). The capital is described, as is a typical sun camp, and other landmarks along with notable nomads are detailed. There is a detailed accounting of the ruler's holdings along with law, guilds, temples, magical sources, income and expenses so that if you choose to play the Queen or one of her close advisors, you know just what you have to deal with. Finally, there is a selection of rumours and plots ongoing within the realm and some strategic advice.

If you are particpating in a classic Birthright game, this provides you with all you need to represent Binsada's interests. And if you are not, this would prove a fascinating country to visit, repleate with masses of activity and intrigue with which to get involved!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Secrets of Binsada (2e)
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Wellstone City Adventure Deck
Publisher: Silver Gryphon Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2014 09:01:42
Creating the sort of complex adventures that work best in the underbelly of places like Wellstone City isn't easy, and even the most creative of GMs sometimes needs a bit of a hand, a few ideas to spark creative juices... and this product is designed to aid the process. It doesn't generate complete adventures for you, it provides some randomised 'plot highlights' for you to weave into a story that is still YOUR story and yet quintessentially one set in Wellstone City too.

Here's how it works. Grab a deck of playing cards and give it a good shuffle. Your first round of draws determines the 'inciting incident' - the event that sparks off the whole adventure to follow. It takes five cards in all, building various aspects of that incident: history and borough, perpetrators, what happened, to whom, and finally the time and location.

Once this has all been established, further draws can be made to determine the reason for the inciting incident (which may of course turn out to be more significant than the incident itself), a secondary reason, various complications and, of course, what is the reward for completing the adventure successfully. You may find that as soon as the first few cards are drawn, a whole plotline springs into life - well, run with it. Or later draws may give you ideas that do not mesh with the initial results. So what? You are not bound to the results of the draw, this is merely a tool to aid in adventure planning.

As such a tool, this is a good one dealing well with the style of adventure that fits this setting. Options open out as you read through, never mind once you get the cards out. Yes, there is still some work to be done before the adventure is ready for play, but you'll have a solid framework on which to build. A neat addition to the GM's library, whether you play the original Æther game or run it under the Savage Worlds ruleset.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wellstone City Adventure Deck
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Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding
Publisher: 5 Minute Workday Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2014 12:03:26
Do you want your very own campaign world?

Somewhere deep inside, most role-players do. It's part of the creative itch that we scratch by playing our games. It's part of the delight we take in alternate realities populated by imaginary people who become all to real to us, their creators. As players, we want to create a character who is 'real' within the shared alternate reality he inhabits with the rest of the party; and as GMs we want to creat a rich alternate reality in which all those characters exist. There are plenty good campaign settings out there, and not all of us has the time to create a whole new one from scratch, but that sneaking desire to create is there deep within us.

If you feel that way, this book is well worth a read. In it. the author has mused over a vast range of things that need to be considered if you are going to design your own campaign setting. It's not the gospel how-to, he's the first to admit that he doesn't know everything and indeed that he doesn't always heed his own advice... but it is designed to get you thinking about the right sort of things, considering stuff that will have to be addressed as your development progresses.

Progression is logical. It starts by helping you consider how you want to design: top-up, bottom-down, centre-out or collaboratively. There isn't a 'right' way of course. It depends on how your mind works, what you are trying to do, what the spark or underlying concept is that has made you decide to settle down and do some worldbuilding in the first place. And here is introduced a neat trick: once a particular concept or topic to consider has been discussed, there's an example in an ongoing world design that runs throughout the entire book.

OK, that decided the next thing to look at is what the author calls The Hook. You might like to think of it as a Unique Selling Point - the reason why it's THIS world rather than any other one. It might, if you think cinematically, be the trailer to your campaign - "In a world where..." Well, where what? That's your Hook, the thing you hang the entire setting upon. Here's another neat thing: as well as discussing each point in the abstract the author refers to well-known published worlds, indicating how they have met that particular challenge. Mostly game worlds, but others from fiction and movies pop up as well, to illustrate what is being said.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of designing proper, there are a few variables to consider. Is fantasy or realism more important? Is magic widely available or are there but a few beings capable of wielding its power? How much more powerful than ordinary people are player-characters? And is this from the outset or do they just have the potential to become world-striding potentates after many years of development? Questions like this need to be sorted out, and then you can begin... once you have answered one last pivotal question: what drives conflict? What is the polarising factor that causes tension and, at least at times, outright warfare?

Only once these fundamental issues have been addressed can we settle down to what most folks consider to be world-building: geography, races, classes, nations, cultures, wilderness areas, religion, cities, factions, history and economics. Each topic is considered in reasonable depth, providing a wealth of ideas to chew upon rather than any answers. That's the joy of this book, it sets the wheels turning to the extent that I'm wondering why I'm still writing this review instead of starting in on a new campaign world!

So, once you have worked through what at the outset seems a bewildering whirl of things to take into account, where will your game actually start? It's easy when worldbuilding to almost lose sight of the purpose (and let's face it, worldbuilding is a fun occupation in its own right), but ultimately you will unleash your brand-new campaign world on some player-characters (or is that the other way around?) It will need to be detailed, because the party will be spending time there, and it needs to have scope for adventure, because otherwise why would they want to be there in the first place. You'll need a goodly cast of NPCs for them to interact with too. This might become the party's home and base, or they might decide to move on, but to start with, treat it as if it were their home.

After discussing a few other ideas, the concept of a Player's Guide is introduced. Unless you bring adult player-characters smack-bang into a completely new location (probably by means of very powerful magic) you will always have the problem of CHARACTERS knowing more about their surroundings than their PLAYERS do. Creating some kind of guide, and getting the players to read it, is one way of getting around this issue... and so advice is presented about how to set about providing one that will be effective.

The work wraps up with some further reading and comprehensive listings of everything that's been mentioned in the text... about all that it doesn't do is hand you a blank notebook to get going on your next world! If you've wanted to try your hand at worldbuilding, this is a very accessible starting point; if you've been at it for ages it still has plenty to make you think.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding
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Pier
Publisher: DramaScape
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/09/2014 11:06:27
This provides an interesting setting, a pier built out over a rocky shoreline and providing mooring for boats... and a few places to sit and enjoy the view, fish, etc. There's even an intriguing little story provided involving lights going out, boats crashing and people being attacked if you don't have a ready use for this in mind.

As usual, the download includes a PDF with a single-sheet overview and several multiple-sheet (print out and stick together) versions - hex grid, square grid or no grid at all - as well as a giant JPEG version for virtual table top users or those with access to poster-printing facilities.

It's a little disappointing that there are no buildings on shore or much of the shoreside quay shown, as well as a lack of any structure on the pier itself - what looks like buildings on the cover picture turn out to be no more than a canopy, bus shelter style, over bench seats. Some kind of shack would have been nice...

The image quality is excellent with good contrast between the planks of the decking of the pier and the rough rocks below. The top-down view, of course, makes it hard to judge relative heights of things, but the effects of water around rock are particularly well done.

I think this is a working pier, rather than a tourist attraction, but it is not quite clear - I'd expect a working pier to have nets, crates, fishing equipment and a shack or two; while a tourist attraction generally has a bit more than a couple of seats. Maybe a shorefront bar?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Pier
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Ossuarite Druid Archetype
Publisher: Forest Guardian Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/09/2014 10:02:55
Have you ever wondered what happens to sacrificial animals after they've, er, been sacrificed?

The ossuarite druid archetype takes the conventional druidic view of the cyclic nature of life and death and explores the extremes of death, believing that nothing should be wasted and that the very remains, the bones, of those who have gone before should be put to good use.

As a fully-playable archtype, all the necessary information is provided regarding new class abilities. The pivotal one is the new bonecaster feat which allows the ossuarite druid to summon animated skeletal creatures rather than the normal flesh-covered live ones when casting Summon Nature's Ally spells. However, they cannot cast as many spells as regular druids although they do not have the normal alignment restrictions - death is the ultimate neutrality, no respecter of alignment and so no such moral or ethical obligations fall upon ossuarite druids either.

An interesting feature is the ossuarite druid's familiar - it's skeletal although with the normal intelligence of whatever animal is chosen. At higher levels, the druid himself can assume a skeletal form.

This is an interesting take on the druid. It may work better as a really strange NPC rather than as a party member... others may find it rather disturbing.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ossuarite Druid Archetype
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- The Comics Code -
Publisher: Simon Burley Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/07/2014 10:39:19
OK, there are superhero games all over the place - so why bother with yet another one?

One reason is that this is a rules-light game that lets you focus on the fun part of being a superhero. This lets it capture the FEEL of the genre without needing dense mechanics to ensure that it works correctly in true four-coloured style. But the real joy of it is that it - like the very best comic books - steps back from the nuts and bolts of operating your superpowers and lets you concentrate on the man or woman inside the fancy spandex getup, explore the way they interact with the world, with fellow superheroes and the villains they come into conflict with, and lets you pose the big moral questions: what should a superpowered being do with all that power and how do they fit into the regular world?

If you happen to be a superhero, you see, there are only two ways out: die (heroically, of course) or become a villain. You might not intend to be a bad lot, you might even not be a bad lot... but how does the public view you and your actions?

The Comics Code is designed to handle these kind of questions with as much ease as it handles an out-and-out super-powered brawl.

After the Introduction, which explains all this, we move on to Chapter 1: Birth of a Hero. This explains the relatively simple process of creating your character. The basic character sheet is well designed to support this. In essence, you need three superpowers - or three facets of the same power - which are used to attack, to defend and, well, for whatever else you might need to do with a superpower. Maybe you fly or have x-ray vision or some capability that's useful for solving crimes or getting cats out of trees... there are suggestions if you are struggling, but let your imagination go wild. The whole process of character creation is illustrated with logical examples.

There are some neat features like the 'special effect' - an off-the-wall, whacky or plain spectacular thing you can do if you roll a double on 2d6 when using a superpower - or the way in which power strengths are calculated. You've got three powers, right. Take the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Assign two of these numbers to each power, then multiply them. A vast range, great flexibility, and not too taxing for the arithmetically-challenged.

That's about the limit of the rules, most of the rest is done by thinking about how you want the character to operate and distilling that down to a few phrases.

Chapter 2: Playing the Game then shows you what you can do with the newly-minted superhero. Some of this is pretty basic and serves well to introduce newcomers into role-playing. Superhero games are a good way of doing this, after all - everyone has heard of them, even if they are not so much in to fantasy or science-fiction. There's a neat sub-plot concept which gives individual characters goals or things that need sorting out to go alongside the main storyline.

The core game mechanics are simple too. A single die roll against characteristics handles most task resolution with two dice being rolled when superpowers come into action.

Because the concepts of status and heroism are written into the rules, as well as the sub-plot concept, it can become a little mechanical but if handled with care these mechanical bits ought not to impede role-playing but enhance it by giving it a framework to hang upon.

There's some advice for GMs and a section on running battles as well, with plenty of examples and ideas for using minions, ganging up on people, desperate actions and so on... and the all-important rule that participants must describe actions and effects rather than merely roll dice! There's even a rule for cheating. Wait? That cannot be right... but it is. If a character is in a desperate state he can either flee combat or cheat. Cheating means he automatically wins, but it does of course have consequences. And you have to describe a plausible way in which you fled or cheated, of course.

Finally, there's a simple sample adventure with which to try this all out. Oh yes, and some other additonal rules and ideas that you can use if you want, but which are not necessary to make the game work. The adventure is well laid out and shows how to incorporate the way in which this game functions mechanically into whatever plotline you have in mind.

Overall, this is an excellent rules-light fun-heavy superhero game built for enjoyment over realism. Zap! Biff! Pow!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
- The Comics Code -
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Village Backdrop: Vulcanbridge
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/07/2014 09:03:15
This would make an interesting place to visit: a village perched on pylons over a volcanic plain. The inhabitants make their living from the riches - gemstones and the like - cast up by volcanic activity or actively mined under the settlement. Not surprisingly, a lot of the inhabitants are dwarves, but other races are also found. As they trade their wealth for necessities, they get plenty of visits from traders... but may attract less welcome visits from the likes of bandits. All can make for an interesting visit by the party!

There's a sketch map of the settlement, descriptions of notable locations and people of interest, as well as information that can be gathered about Vulcanbridge and rumours that might be picked up there.

The final section covers life in Vulcanbridge, with details of trade and industry, law and order and the like, as well as a short list of random events (roll a d6 or pick the one you like) that might take place whilst the party is there.

It's an unusual settlement and one which could easily find its way into a plot that requires obtaining gems or travelling to a volcanic region of your campaign world.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Vulcanbridge
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