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Ruins & Ronin
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/16/2016 00:53:15

I picked up the PDF only of this product and at 80 pages (including endpapers) it represents very good value to a group wanting something like a simplified 1E Oriental Adventures for OD&D rules. The price tripped me to rate it 4 stars though if I was rating on content alone it would be closer to a 3.5 star rating, due to a couple of issues I will highlight below.

It is marked as S&W compatible but is basically playable by itself as it has a simple rule system rundown. This is one area I personally would have deleted as the bulk of purchasers are likely to already have access to one or more OD&D ruleset. The product organisation is basically a take on the standard OD&D manual with a distinct oriental adventures twist.

Instead of the fighter you get the Bujin (I approve of the name- samurai is too restrictive, closer to an occidental cavalier class) who gets a few neat proficiencies like 'follow through' strike after reducing an enemy to 0 HP. Like fighters they are a generalist martial class so could be used to portray samurai, ronin, ashigaru or bandits equally. Instead of wizards you have Shugenja, and instead of clerics you have Sohei warrior priests. The remaining race-as-class is the Half-Ogre, a neat idea for a tank that could be used much like a beserker/barbarian class. There is no equivalent of the rogue/thief class which is a shame, it would have been nice to see a yakuza or ninja class, or even a hengeyokai race-as-class fulfilling this role.

You get a nice run down on armour and weapons with a simple yet satisfying piecemeal armour system (though not illustrated, like the rest of the PDF bar the old school cover), and the bulk of the rules. Then comes the magic section. The Sohei spells are essentially cleric spells with a few druid ones thrown in, the Shugenja spells are standard magic-user/illusionist fare. This was a disappointment as with all the iconic eastern mythology around positive and negative qi, feng shui, pakua etc it would have been nice to see a new approach to magic, or even just altered spells fulfilling similar functions. No 'fire shuriken' here. It also adheres to the occidental conception of elements as earth/air/fire/water rather than the oriental conception of air/water/fire/wood/metal, which impinges on atmosphere somewhat. Sohei performing zen based magic while Shugenja use the power of tao, that I could really get on board with.

After a GM's section we hit the bestiary, which while not illustrated is quite descriptive with some cool monsters. Anyone who has seen the animations Ninja Scroll or Wicked City will nod sagely on reading this. But, perhaps in an effort to make a complete game rather than an OD&D supplement, the bestiary is padded with many primarily occidental and Tolkienesque beasties. Do we really need goblins as well as bakemono, ghouls as well as gaki, wererats as well as nezumi, and ogre magi as well as oni, which are fundamentally the same. Much better to have just put in the oriental equivalents, which have slightly divergent evolution from their occidental cousins. Also while there is some discussion of creating more godlike dragons, the ones listed are standard chromatic fare. I would rather see wingless, serpentine lung combining the functions of both the elementals and dragons listed. Sometimes, less is more.

The magic item section does exactly what it should- provide flavourful alternatives to the standard occidental list, sometimes with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Heal yourself with Balm of the Tiger anyone?? No setting information is included, but that is fine, there is general discussion of setting as befits OD&D play.

Overall this book does some things very well but misses a few opportunities. At this price the PDF is well worth the purchase by any OSR group, though you may have to draw on some other sources. Layout is very clean and neat with no obvious typos. This book is good value, a revised and expanded edition could well become a 5-star essential purchase.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins & Ronin
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The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp
Publisher: Knutpunkt
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 18:31:11

Sorry, but the way this is presented makes me never want to try larp ever. It reminds me of the worst of the dry academic reads from university and seems primarily to be a tool for bringing political propaganda and oppressive political correctness into a game environment. And I'm not sure I can even qualify the 'game' component of an rpg as there seems little room for an activity designed for fun and leisure. Instead it seems to suggest any 'game' for fun alone would be frivolous, that larping should be there to 'educate' us and make us better people, and that will change the world. Shudder, creeps me out, just put me in your re-education gulag already.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Cutting Edge of Nordic Larp
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Brimstone - Abandoned RPG System
Publisher: Golden Griffon Games
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/03/2014 10:08:28

Scoring and reviewing a product in beta can be problematic- after all it is unfinished. So bearing that in mind I gave this a 5 for a free offering of an unfinished rulebook. I have seen dozens of D&D retro clones coming out recently, what stood out for me in this one was the elimination of the class system with its replacement being a fairly straightforward feat and skill system. I like- it offers more flexibility and less rules while retaining the old school play style- because you can still make a character who is like a traditional cleric or magic user, or one who is like a multi-classed AD&D character- within the same simple rules set. I'd buy that for a dollar- except it is totally free! And by the way, the interior black and white art is fantastic- totally evokes the feel of the old basic set and the pictures I would stare at for hours as a kid, wondering what the back story was. I hope they stick with this art style in future revisions.

I also liked the rules for hirelings and retainers, simple and elegant. This is the most notable OSR rules set I have seen recently, I think I may even like it more than DCC and LL...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brimstone - Abandoned RPG System
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for the kind words, Simon! The game has a way to go yet before being finished, but it is comforting to know it seems to be on the right track.
Engines of Babylon
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/03/2014 09:52:19

As always when I read Kevin Crawford's stuff, firstly it just makes me want to game, then fervently wish he would someday write a novel set in his Stars Without Numbers/Other Dust universe. This isn't your standard tech manual, some of the devices presented herein are pretty esoteric, science sufficiently advanced resembling magic and so on, but the signature of his products are the well organised generation tables to enable time-poor GM's to quickly generate material for their home campaigns. SWN has broad setting outlines set upon a simple ('basic system' or Labyrinth Lord) rules, the rest is an endless sandbox- this supplement focusing on locales and devices of 'lost' civilizations. Another triumph for Sine Nomine!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Engines of Babylon
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Tenocha: Setting Guide
Publisher: Amagi Games
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/29/2014 06:16:07

This setting has a cool Tekumel-like vibe yet is far more accessible (no language courses required..). Its good to get play out of medieval Europe and into something that feels like a cross between the ancient Americas and Polynesia. Art is very appropriate to the subject matter, and suitably up for interpretation. If the setting and background were fleshed out just a little more it would be a 5 from me, as it stands it would take a lot of work from a GM to put meat on the bones presented here. However some folks may see that as a positive in customising the setting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tenocha: Setting Guide
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Infected: A Living Archive
Publisher: Amagi Games
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/29/2014 05:09:49

I cannot wait to try this- a compelling and different take on the zombie apocalypse with a unique rules set geared perfectly to the action, something a more generic rules system could never achieve. The game screams fast pacing and conflict driving the narrative, much like any good zombie film.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Infected: A Living Archive
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Envoy 82 #1 [FREE]
Publisher: DarkBrain
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/15/2013 00:03:33

A lot of erotic comics have a plot no deeper than the average pornographic film, not so this one. Against the backdrop of an interstellar war you have a murder mystery and a cauldron of human drama amongst a starship crew struggling to survive in the cold depths of space. One of the ways to cope is the use of 'counsellors', both female and male, employed to service the crews sexual needs. I got the first issue for free and thought it was worth picking up the next three available issues at cover price. Its the characterisations and relationships in the story that make this stand out, if it didn't have graphic depictions of sex (and be forewarned, sexual violence) it would still be well worth picking up (and would probably garner more mainstream acceptance). However the sexual aspects are not jarring to the story, they make sense in the context of the situation and postmodern worldview. The art style may not be to everyone's taste if they enjoy hyper realistic depictions of humans, but personally I enjoyed the slightly more 'impressionistic', cartoony quality of the art, it reminded me of some Harlan Ellison stories I saw adapted in old Epic Illustrated, though I can't recall the artist. The quality of the product is as good as if not better than some of what I've seen in Heavy Metal magazine. Definitely adults only, but one of the best comic series I've read in recent months of any genre. If you just want pornography, go to the net, if you want a good story which allows in adult themes and behaviour that is usually behind closed doors; right here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Envoy 82 #1 [FREE]
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Under the Moons of Zoon
Publisher: Artikid Arts
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/10/2013 21:31:16

I got this as a free PDF, and about 5 minutes into looking at it I knew I would love it. Disclaimer: I haven't tested the mechanics of the system yet, but I am a fan of planetary romance. While the novels themselves can be a bit repetitive the settings offer a lot of flavour and possibilities that don't fit well into the pseudo-medieval setting of most fantasy rpgs. This game does a great job of distilling the tropes of the genre into its own setting, a tidally locked moon with a day and night side and a crumbling civilisation. The rules are simple and suit heroic play where action and romance are more important than multiple dice rolls, modifiers, and levelling up, so this game will suit narrative style play better than power gaming. I believe this game was translated from Italian and despite that there were very few grammatical errors and overall they did little to detract from readability. The art has a slightly cartoony look and suits the setting well, it is also stylistically consistent which I appreciate. Its not a long game at around 80 pages but supplies enough for a creative GM to get started without overburdening with detail, each GM's setting is sure to have a different interpretation of the world anyway. If you are a fan of the genre then I recommend picking up and reading the PDF, then if you are pleased with what you see think about the print version. I will be interested to see if any supplements come out for this.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Under the Moons of Zoon
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Creator Reply:
Hi Simon, thanks for the very favorable review! The game was written in english, no previous italian edition exists. Also please feel free to contact me and point out any grammatical errors! No supplements are planned till 2014.
Relics of the Lost
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/10/2013 21:03:01

I usually pick up Sine Nomine products as soon as they come out, they are just that good, and this one is no exception. Inside are a wealth of items each with enough detail to warrant their own subplot in a game. I'm not sure how this guy comes up with his ideas, but there are some truly weird tech devices here that nevertheless retain an aura of scientific plausibility. Even if you don't play Stars Without Number or Other Dust this is worth picking up to mine for ideas for your far future sci fi game of choice. Interior layout is clean and easily understandable and of the same format as other Sine Nomine products. Interior art is B&W only (not a problem for me as I am a fan of line art) and retains consistency of style with other pieces in SWN products. I picked up the PDF version only because with international postage (to Australia) the value for money erodes slightly at 32 pages, but for locals I think this would be worth going all in and getting the print version, its a keeper. I hope Stars Without Number can get some wider exposure as it is a great setting that truly deserves to be sitting up there with better known products like Traveller and Star Frontiers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Relics of the Lost
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ATLANTIS: the Second Age
Publisher: Khepera Publishing
by Simon K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/25/2013 21:26:18

I have been a long time fan of the setting if not the rules system itself and have picked up each edition I could find. Previous updates seemed really just a repackaging of the original material but this version goes further with deeper changes to the rules system and expansion of the setting. It seems the authors may have taken a good look at the evolution of D20 and Fuzion and applied some of the lessons learned there without getting too rules heavy. The lifepath and religion sections in particular remind me of Artesia- Adventures in the Known World (not a bad thing) while being much more accessible to those lacking a masters degree in comparative religion and mythology :p The font and layout are at times reminiscent of Mongoose's Conan RPG (again, not a bad thing) which combined with the art really gives the 'proper' S&S feel, even fey in this setting are more reminiscent of Poul Andersen's Broken Sword than Tolkien. The art itself preserves many of the best B&W pieces from earlier editions while there are a wealth of new colour pieces which are internally consistent and evoke the setting well. The world maps in this edition are much cleaner and more comprehensible than older versions, they also have that 'Mongoose Conan' look. What makes this particular S&S setting nice is that magic, swordplay and roguery are nicely balanced with none getting more 'screen time' than others, so you could play a game anywhere on the spectrum from Conan to Elric to Gray Mouser as suits your tastes. In short, if you are a fan of the genre, even if you won't use the rules, at this price the setting is well worth picking up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ATLANTIS: the Second Age
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