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NPC Creator and Emulator
Publisher: Eric Bright
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/08/2020 13:35:58

[Updating my review, Feb 7 2020: I try to write reviews that offer constructive feedback and suggestions to the publisher, as well as helpful information for a prospective buyer. When a publisher acts on feedback and suggestions, they deserve recognition and acknowledgment, so thanks go to Eric Bright for taking reviews into consideration and making updates.]

The author states two goals: "1) I tried to make it so that NPCs can drive the plot better. 2) I made this a push-button, programmed PDF so you can get everything you need without flipping pages and rolling on tons of tables."

[Updated Feb 7 2020: In the update, the author separates the text tables into one PDF and the JavaScript push-button generators into another. That simplifies life for anyone who's leery of downloading PDFs that include executable content, or anyone who has disabled executable content or gets warnings about it. The push-button option is still available for anyone who's willing and able to use it.] For me, the first goal matters more than the second. The second is a convenience, not a necessity. Furthermore, if you have security concerns about executable content in a PDF, you might have disabled Javascript in Adobe Acrobat Reader (or whatever PDF viewer you're using). The tables exist in the text, so you're not losing anything if you disable Javascript (unless the author updates the random generators without updating the text tables as well). To find out more about the Acrobat Reader settings, search for an adobe.com page called "JavaScripts in PDFs as a security risk."

Back to the content...

It's all system-neutral. The good news is that you can use this across game systems. The potential hassle is that it's on you to figure out what these tables mean in your game system.

Creating an NPC

The Creating an NPC section isn't bad, but it doesn't really add anything new. For each table in that section, you can find similar content from many sources.

A couple of the tables are oriented toward a medieval European fantasy setting. The product description should mention that. If you've got cultures or species that don't fit that mold, you've got some customizing to do or you need other resources.

The tables are Job Training (200 jobs with a medieval European/fantasy flavor), Social Background (20 social categories that are mostly medieval), Economic Status (wealthy, upper class, middle class, and poverty -- nothing you couldn't think up yourself), Character Motivation, Flaws, Demeanors, and Physical Descriptions. If your game system or game setting already provides tools for generating NPCs, you might not need or want any of the tables in this section. Or maybe a table or two will fill in a gap for you.

[Updated Feb 7 2020: The term has been fixed.] By the way, in the Job Training table, someone who makes bows is a Bowyer, not a Bower (which is an attractive dwelling or retreat, or a lady's private apartment in a medieval hall or castle, or a shelter made with tree boughs or vines).

The Character Motivation table offers 60 goals for an NPC. In general, they can serve as long-term or short-term goals or drivers for the NPC. For example, "Get revenge" could be the hook for a single adventure, or it could be the driver for an NPC's years-long search for the Six-Fingered Man. This table would be a good resource if you're not already assigning goals to major NPCs.

The Character Flaw table is setting-neutral. It gives 100 adjectives describing various traits that make the NPC troublesome to those who have to deal with them. Nothing new here.

Character Demeanors gives you 300 adjectives describing the NPC's overall behavior toward others. They're a mix of positives and negatives (polite, self-centered, gentle, grumpy, etc.). Character Physical Description gives you 100 adjectives. If you want either table to give different results for different character species, classes, alignments, skills, or other elements, you'll need to customize.

Emulating an NPC

For me, the Emulating an NPC section offers more distinctive content than the Creating an NPC section. It covers two tools: Random NPC Conversations and NPC Plot Knowledge. Both tools are usable during play (if you're willing and able to make up the specifics on the fly), or you could generate some results in advance to be used if and when you need them. Either way, the results are pretty general, so you'll need to add the specifics for your game world.

Random NPC Conversations is a decent tool, especially for a more sandbox-oriented campaign. It's for when "you just want to talk to somebody and see if anything interesting comes up" (as the author says). Essentially, it generates general-purpose rumors.

First, you decide whether the NPC is normally positive, neutral, or negative. Then you roll against a table of 33 "attitudes about conversation" to see what sort of mood the NPC is in at the moment. The moods are sorted approximately from positive to negative, so you have the opportunity to come up with modifiers for the table, if you're so inclined.

[Updated Feb 7 2020: The reroll option has been turned into a specific entry. Pet peeve addressed!] Pet peeve: I'm no fan of "GM Choice or Reroll" results. My "choice" was to get random inspiration from the table. If I already had something in mind, I wouldn't have rolled on the table. If I roll on the table, I want a result.

The next step with Random NPC Conversations is to roll up the topic. You get 60 topics. Put it all together and you could find, for example, that the NPC has a "guarded" attitude about "a source of wealth" or an "insane" attitude regarding "the heritage of an NPC."

NPC Plot Knowledge is the tool I like best, because it ties the NPC to a particular adventure. It simultaneously develops a storyline and an NPC, so that's good stuff, for me.

It consists of two tables: the type of information and the topic of information. For example, you could find out that the NPC knows a) the identity of b) an enemy spy, or that the NPC knows about a) a finanical loss involving b) a beloved NPC. It's up to you to come up with the specifics. The two tables blend together well, meaning you're not going to get nonsensical combinations.

If the result is something you already had in mind, then this is your chance to share a clue. Maybe the NPC simply approaches the PCs with helpful information. Or maybe the NPC wants a favor before sharing the info. Or maybe you drop hints that this NPC knows something important, and it's up to PCs to figure out how to get the info. Maybe the NPC doesn't have the knowledge directly, but they know where you can get it.

If it's not something you already had in mind, the result can become a plot twist. When you determine that the NPC knows the identity of an enemy spy, it could be an opportunity for a big plot twist. A previously trusted or minor NPC turns out to be a spy. Or the NPC giving you this info is mistaken. Or lying.

To sum up: For me, the NPC Plot Knowledge tool is worth the one-dollar price tag on its own. None of the other tables are bad, but you'll probably want to adapt the results for your game world and your game system. For some of the tables, there's a good chance you can find similar, system-specific, or setting-specific resources elsewhere, quite possibly for free, or already included with material you've purchased.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
NPC Creator and Emulator
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The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction 2
Publisher: dicegeeks.com
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/01/2020 09:23:24

This is similar in style to the previous book of science fiction tables: a series of d100 tables with brief phrases or one-liners, no details or descriptions.

Laboratories: The Lab Experiments table is useful for tipping off the PCs that something interesting is in the works. It might also be odd, disturbing, or alarming in some way. Items in a Biology Lab and Items in a Chemical Lab both give you ways to roll up assorted stuff. I wouldn't roll up piles of stuff for every drawer, cabinet, or room the PCs open -- boring! Instead, I'd pick one or a few things that are prominent or noteworthy and that are signficant for moving the situation along.

Cargo & Trade Goods: Three d100 tables give you cargo contents; it's similar to Items in a Cargo Hold from the previous collection. As I noted above, I'd use this only to help pick out one or a few significant, noteworthy items, instead of rolling up every a complete cargo every time the PCs run into one. A few tables give you a name (but no description) for exotic cargo items: Fictional Trade Goods, Fictional Spices, Fictional Medications. The Cargo Weight table is useless for me; each entry is a number of metric tons -- meh. Think of your favorite science fiction movies, novels, and TV series; I'll guess that the precise cargo tonnage was never interesting or relevant.

Encounters & Adventure Ideas: The tables are Space Hazards, Asteroid Belt Encounters, and Adventure Ideas. These are good news if a brief phrase or a one-liner is enough for you to work with. You could use these to create hooks or challenges, in advance or during play. If you're looking for more detail or structure, you'll need another resource, in addition to or instead of these tables.

Reasons a PC is Absent: not relevant for me. For one thing, the table fills a niche that doesn't apply in our group, because we still bring characters along if a player is absent at the moment. I could have used this table for a player's extended absence, or for explaining why an NPC isn't currently available, except that the entries are generally silly, trivial, and/or short-term, such as "stuck in a lift" or "flash mob blocking the way."

Technobabble: The two Technobabble tables combine to give you entries like Temporal Osmosis or Cotyledon Omega. It's up to you to figure out what the results mean.

Alien Names: meh. You get 200 pregenerated names and an assumption that one table fits all aliens. There are plenty of apostrophes, if you like the overused trope that science fiction editors warn writers away from. I'd be more interested in a "generator generator" that helps you create a distinct name generator for each species you need.

100 Corporate Names, 300 Planet Names, 300 Ship Names: handy lists of pregenerated names.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction 2
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The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction
Publisher: dicegeeks.com
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/01/2020 08:29:59

You get 26 d100 tables. A few of them are effectively d200 tables, spread across two d100 tables.

The Encounters, Jobs, and Rumors section is good for brief ideas. You get short phrases, not details: Space Encounters, Planetary Exploration Encounters, Urban Encounters, Jobs, Rumors From the Spaceport Bar, and Spaceship Mechanical Problems. You might encounter a smuggler ship, hear about increased pirate activity, or have a fire in the engine room. If you prepare an adventure in advance, you could use these tables to come up with the initial hook and to create some challenges along the way. If you create meandering story threads during play, these tables could give you the tie-in to the next stage. If you use these tables for random encounters during play, prepare for improv. For example, an entry that says "Smuggler Ship" doesn't tell you anything about the ship, the crew, their current activities, or anything else. If that phrase is enough for you to work with, you're in luck.

Several tables in the Items & Things section seem to be an invitation to roll up piles of miscellaneous pointless stuff: Items in a Desk, Items in a Government Office, Computer Files, Items in a Warehouse, Items in a Cargo Hold. The introduction tells you not to roll those up until game time to avoid wasted preparation, but I consider it a waste to roll up irrelevant stuff during play. I prefer the Chekhov's Gun principle (playwright Anton Chekhov: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."). Players are good at coming up with their own red herrings, so adding piles of random stuff slows down the session instead of keeping things interesting. Instead, I might roll up ONE item from one of these tables, in advance, and declare that it's somehow significant. I make it prominent or noteworthy. Maybe I won't decide how it's signficant until we're playing. Maybe I'll be flexible about where the PCs find it. Maybe I'll roll up three items and decide that they all hint in the same direction (see the Three Clue Rule from the Alexandrian blog). Or I'll roll up two things and decide they're relevant for two different story threads. In other words, these tables aren't useless to me, but I don't use them to crank out random assortments. Finding out how many batteries and spare cuff links are in a desk just isn't interesting ... unless they're signficant.

Some tables are good for putting a name to something when you don't want to settle for generic terms: 100 Space Stations, 100 Book Titles, 100 Drink Names, 100 Poisonous Plants, 200 Infectious Diseases, 100 Metals, and 200 Alloys. Those tables are just the names -- no descriptions. The two Code Tables are useless. Do I really need two d100 tables to pick code strings like Q29XF? Would anyone in a technologically advanced setting think that a five-character code string is useful?

The Stars & Planets section is helpful. Types of Stars and Types of Planets use real astronomical terms, but without any descriptions. Prepare to spend some quality time with Wikipedia to find out what Luminous Blue Variables and Mini-Neptunes are. The Civilization Levels table offers 19 levels from Stone Age to Interstellar Age (without description).

The Illegal Drugs table is the only table that offers any detail. It lists 100 fictitious drugs. The drug gets a street nickname (e.g. Dragon's Breath, Feather Shot), how it's taken, a qualitative description of intended effects and side effects, and a percent chance of becoming addicted. It's up to you to figure out what the effects mean in your game system.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Random Tables: Science Fiction
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Encounters & Events - SciFi Volume 3 - Planets
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2020 11:22:09

Although it's part of the "Encounters & Events" series, these tables aren't really encounters and events. They're settings for encounters and events. They're descriptions of planetary features. Some entries are about the physical features of the planet, some about the local species, some about social or political structures, some about the planet's usage, and so on.

Roll up or assign one or two of these for a world you're generating to give the world some character. There's a main table of 100 entries. Most entries include a d6 subtable to provide variations on the main entry.

You won't find single-biome entries like swamp planet or desert world, but you will find entries for single-use worlds, such as Hospital Planet, Grave World, or Rubbish World. Many entries could be used to describe specific regions or sites on the planet, without necessarily describing the planet as a whole, such as Military Outpost or Jump Gate.

Overall, the entries are in the low to medium range of science fiction plausibility. There are no input parameters or modifiers to let you adjust for what you've already established about a world. In effect, the tables assume you're working from a blank slate. A Garden World is as likely as Craters, and the tables don't know or care whether you're rolling up Mercury, Earth, Jupiter, or Pluto (or their equivalents elsewhere). It's fiction first, and then it's up to you to if you want to put some science-y explanations behind the results.

If that's what you're seeking, this is a good tool for the job, offering good variety on various science fiction tropes. If you're seeking a science-based method for establishing a world's characteristics or the development of life or civilizations, this isn't the tool for you.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Encounters & Events - SciFi Volume 3 - Planets
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Called Away - SciFi Edition
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2020 00:42:34

The described purpose is narrower than it needs to be: "a player or character can’t make it to a session or you need to have a certain character not present at the same location as others for a short time. Where did they go? What are they doing when not in play?"

In our group, when a player misses a session, we play their character for them instead of making up reasons to take the character out of action. That works for us, so we don't need these tables for an absent player. Maybe we'd use them for an extended absence or a temporary retirement, but not for the odd missed session or two.

However, there are other uses for these tables:

  • Roll up one to three entries as backstory for a PC or a major NPC. Describe what happened then, and how it still shows its influence today.
  • The PCs are looking for a particular NPC. If the NPC isn't available right now, roll on these tables instead of settling for a boring "not available" response.
  • If the PCs meet an NPC they've encountered before, you can roll up a result to say what the NPC has been up to since the last time.
  • If you need to convey information to the PCs about the setting or current events, roll up a result and use that as the means to convey it, maybe in the form of a news item or a conversation with a nearby NPC.
  • Use the result as the means for delivering an adventure hook, instead of yet another rumor in the spaceport bar.
  • Do you remember Morn from Deep Space Nine? He never had a speaking part, but the running gag was that other characters would keep referring to his actions that always happened off camera. Roll up an entry to say what your own Morn has been up to. In fact, I now think of these tables as the "Morn Tables."

To get a result, you roll from the main d100 table. Some entries refer you to d20 subtables, Mad Libs-style. Here are some example results, with subtable outcomes in italics: Got into a fight/argument with another in party and stormed off. Attacked by a childhood enemy by mistake and is recuperating at a military starship. Character’s aunt lost their job as a translator and needs help. Is required to do jury service or give reason for exemption in person in nearby friendly planet or moon. An alien culture is after the character's kidneys for use in a mating ritual and they need to hide.

In a d100 table, you're likely to start repeating results as of the 13th roll on the table (that's the Birthday Problem as applied to 100 entries instead of 365). However, replay value should still be good if you pick the next unused item instead of repeating, or if you find ways to make an entry fresh again on a repeated use. By the time I'd use up all 100 entries, I'm sure that a return to a past result wouldn't seem like boring repetition.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Called Away - SciFi Edition
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Science Fiction Codex of Lists (2nd Edition)
Publisher: JEN Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/06/2020 04:03:18

This is a solid collection of tables.

The 2nd edition has more than twice as many pages as the 1st edition. That's mostly by expanding the existing tables. Many tables have more entries in the 2nd edition, such as Alien Races going from 36 entries to 200. Some tables expand brief entries into a few sentences, such as Alien World Encounters, which goes from brief phrases in the 1st edition to the phrase plus a few lines of explanation in the 2nd edition.

As you can see from the product description and the preview, the tables cover a variety of science fiction flavors. You probably won't use every table in any given setting, but you'll probably find some relevant tables for most settings.

The tables cover a variety of needs: planets, species, encounters, equipment, technology, social structures, and so on. You could use these tables to flesh out your prepared adventures or to throw in some random elements on the fly. You could use them to aid character generation (PCs or NPCs).

The tables are system-neutral. It's up to you to figure out how to represent the results in your game system. For example, you could generate a world with low gravity or an NPC who's an explorer, and then you decide how to stat them up.

Overall, there's little risk of rolling up nonsensical combinations. Many of the tables are stand-alone. When you combine tables, such as rolling up a planet and an alien species to go with it, you could wind up rerolling. For example, your planet might have low gravity, and then you could roll up a species that calls for a high-gravity world. This can happen, but most combinations work out reasonably well.

One thing that's missing, and I'm glad it's missing, are entries like "GM's choice" or "Reroll." I don't need a table's permission to do what I want. These tables give you a result, every time.

My frequent complaints about other random table collections include "That's not what that word means; look it up" and "Sheesh, run a spelling checker." Those complaints do not apply to these tables (yay). So maybe there's a missing hyphen here and there, but for the most part, the entries are written clearly instead of making you figure out or tolerate poorly written descriptions.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Science Fiction Codex of Lists (2nd Edition)
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Town and City Builder
Publisher: James Embry
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/27/2019 15:12:52

This is a good tool for creating settlements from villages to huge cities for a mostly medieval, low-magic setting. It's mostly system-neutral.

It was written for the Raven of the Scythe Fantasy Role Playing Game, which I've never played. However, only two elements are specific to that game system: the prices (what's an SE?) and various modifiers, such as a -2 penalty when trying to get information from the locals in one type of district. I've stopped tracking coin totals in my games, so I don't care about the price lists. If you care about the costs, you'll have to convert 45 SE for a longsword (for example) to something comparable for your setting. The various modifiers should be easy to use directly or to convert for your game system of choice.

The vast majority of the content isn't tied to any particular RPG system.

It's mostly medieval, but it also includes some Renaissance or even post-Renaissance features, such as public art galleries and separate posh neighborhoods for the upper class. Conversely, a lot of material could work for an ancient setting as well. It's somewhat Eurocentric (churches and cathedrals, for example), but minor reskinning should be enough for other settings.

The magic is limited. You'll find alchemist shops and witches' huts, but no magic shops or wizards. You could create your own "Magic District" by using other districts as a template. It doesn't mention any non-human races. If you want to create a dwarf city or a halfling village, it's on you to customize or reskin what you get.

A big strength of the tool is that you can mix and match to give each settlement a distinct character. There are tables to select the number and type of districts according to the settlement size. You can roll them up randomly or pick and choose to create what you want. Even if you roll randomly, it's basically "guided randomness" instead of completely arbitrary randomness. The place will still ring true instead of being a random mess.

Each district makes good sense. You get a paragraph of general description, a list of the specific places you'd expect to find there, and a list of tables for what else might be there. If you roll up an armorer's district, for example, you automatically get an armorer's workshop, and then the other tables for that districut put other sorts of shops nearby. If you don't roll up an armorer's district, some other district might still have an armorer's shop tucked in.

Every shop type (even the things that aren't "shops," strictly speaking) gets a brief description and a price list.

The encounter lists are good about saying who or what you encounter and how they're likely to act toward PCs. They're specific to each district type, instead of having a one-size-fits-all encounter table.

A nice touch is that some districts have role-playing features. For example, gleaning info from the locals might be easy in an arts district or tougher in a high-end brothel district. Another nice touch is the name tables for districts and taverns. Especially for district names, you could come up with an interesting backstory to explain why a district is named Queen's Hill or Stag Court, especially if it has no obvious connection to the district's purpose.

This isn't a mapping tool. The settlement is defined by its districts. It's up to you to lay out the city to show where the districts are in relation to each other.

The table of contents is helpful, but it leaves out a few headings. At least one entry is out of order.

There are some disappointing omissions:

  • No mercantile districts. There are market districts where you'll find individual shops, but nothing for the big trading houses you'd find in major trading hubs.
  • There are no wells, gatehouses, towers, monuments, bridges, lighthouses, arenas, menageries, fountains, canals, clock towers, graveyards, or bathhouses.
  • There are no embassies, military features (other than the citadel), orphanages (or foundling homes), enclaves for foreign populations, or ghettos for oppressed populations.
  • There's no mention of trade guilds or merchant guilds, although the lodges listed in various districts may cover that.
  • It makes no mention of where the lower classes live. In a rural village, field laborers would have simple homes. If a commoner practiced a trade or provided a service, they lived where they worked and they worked where they lived. The lord of the village lived in a manor house.
  • Towns and cities might or might not wind up with a "Housing (Middle)" district for "the more affluent citizens," but it doesn't say where these people live if there's not a housing district for them. Most likely, they live and work in the same place, or they have homes near where they work (no zoning laws).
  • Similarly, cities might or might not wind up with a "Housing (Upper)" district for the wealthy and nobles. It doesn't say where they live in the absence of a posh housing district. A noble probably has a home in the district where they draw their revenue (more on this below), or possibly a wall tower or gatehouse to call their own.
  • There's no mention of how nobles earn their income. This matters for RPG purposes because it provides hooks for involving NPC nobles. A rural lord collects rents and payment in kind from his peasants. A town or city noble might have a share of particular tolls, such as entry fees at a city gate, or trade tolls at the docks. A noble who presides over matters of justice gets a share of the fines. A noble might be compensated for staffing the garrison, or for providing (and leading) troops for the king's military campaigns. In short, the noble has a role or a grant that involves them in the city's daily life and operations.

There are some wording mistakes. A maker of bows is a bowyer, not a bower. A bower (rhymes with tower) is "a lady's private apartment in a medieval hall or castle" or "a leafy arbor." The boundary between realms is a border, not a boarder. A gallery, in medieval usage, is a roofed promenade or balcony, not an art museum.

Despite the omissions and the occasional mistakes, it's still a solid product for creating useful, varied settlements of various sizes.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Town and City Builder
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Q•RPG Wholesale [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Morningstar Productions
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 15:41:29

There are a few ways to use these products.

First, you can use them as presented in a lightweight, narrative session -- most likely in a one-shot session. Each setting consists of two pages. The player page takes you through a quick character creation process and it explains the core game mechanic, the Skill Test. The GM's page generates an adventure summary and offers a few tips on constructing scenes to carry it out.

The game system is heavy on narrative and improvisation. As a GM, you can do some prep work if you're so inclined, to cut down on how much you have to make up on the spot. The adventure summary doesn't generate a hook, scenes, or a plot structure for you. A typical example is "A Conquering Dark Lord/Lady and their host of Marauding Orcs/Undead want to Find/Control the Queen of the Kingdom so they can Start the Apocalypse, but their secret weakness is the sleeping gods of sky and earth." If you and your players can run with that, there's no prep work required. You might, however, want to break that down ahead of time into some events, locations, challenges, clues, and revelations.

As a player, you wind up with one each of six adjectives, six nouns, and six driving forces. These are distinct for each setting, so you might be an exiled wizard driven by a thirst for glory in one setting, or a smooth-talking pickpocket driven by revenge in another. Primarily, these are character concepts that amount to narrative permission. If you're a wizard, you can do wizard things and you have wizard stuff; the non-wizards don't have your skills or stuff. If you're a smooth talker, you can try to smooth-talk your way out of trouble, while others wouldn't be so good at it. The GM might create a challenge for you based on your exiled status or an opportunity to get your revenge. There are three core attributes (Body, Charm, and Wits) and a head-vs-heart pair that varies from one setting to another (e.g. Scroll vs Soul, Circuits vs Courage, and Luck vs Planning).

There's a good amount of replay value. Different players will handle different character combinations in their own way. The adventure summaries consist of six d6 rolls, allowing for quite a few plays before it starts to feel like the same old thing.

There are no hit points, no weapon lists or spell lists, or any game mechanics other than the Skill Test. It's easy to learn. Whether it's easy or hard to play, however, depends on your group. Some would thrive in an RPG where you use narrative to describe what that successful attack means or what happens when you fail to persuade the guard to leave his post. Players who'd rather have the crunch (hit points, specific mechanics for character death, specific spell lists, etc.) will be disappointed or even uncomfortable. I can think of some players who'd fall into the latter category. Know your audience, as they say.

That leads us to a second way to use these settings: Use your own RPG system. As a player, you might use the player page for the basic character concept (such as the exiled wizard glory-hound), letting it guide your RPG's normal character creation process. Or the GM might create some prefab characters based on the character tables. Or you might ignore the player page altogether and create your character from scratch. As the GM, you can adapt the adventure summary for your system. Figure out who that Dark Lord is, stat up the orc horde, and so on.

A third way to use these products is to fold them into an existing campaign instead of treating them as one-shot adventures. If you're running a swashbuckling Captain Blood setting, for example, you could use Cloaks & Cutlasses to generate new situations. Maybe you generate the full adventure summary. Maybe you use bits and pieces, such as creating NPCs for the Corrupt Governor, the Megalomaniacal Churchman, and so on.

Overall, these are very well done. Just be aware that you might still have some work to do, in advance and/or during play, according to your GMing style. For a few of the tables, I'd quibble over some of the entries, but the easy fix there is to make your own substitutions when you feel the need.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Q•RPG Wholesale [BUNDLE]
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In the Heart of the Unknown - Procedural Hex Crawling Engine
Publisher: Goblin's Henchman
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/29/2019 18:27:39

First, I'll review In the Heart of the Unknown (ItHotU) itself, then I'll review the hex flower idea and share my simulation results.

ItHotU helps you run a land-based hex crawl in a Standard Fantasy Setting. It includes an Encounter Engine and an accompanying table for generating encounter types, a Terrain Engine for generating terrain types, and a Weather Engine for generating the local weather. Each of these engines uses the hex flower idea to generate results.

The Encounter Engine covers encounter types: wandering monsters, lairs, settlements, natural obstacles, and so on. It's up to you to figure out what they mean in the current circumstances. The accompanying table lets you roll up specific creatures when needed, with modifiers according to terrain type. If your encounter says "centaur" and you can run with that, there's no other preparation required for creature encounters. You might have prep work to do, however, if you want to stat them up in advance, if you want to figure out what the centaurs are up to, or if you want to decide how they fit into the setting. You'll have some prep work if you want to customize the creature table. For the non-creature encounters, you might have some prep work on your hands if you don't want to make up a Dungeon/Feature, Small Settlement, or the like on the spot.

The Encounter Engine's river and road results help you direct the Encounter Engine toward or away from the top hex, marked "Large settlement/city/destination." There's a potential probabilty pitfall with the hex flower approach, so the road & river mechanisms help nudge play toward a particular destination. More on this below.

The Terrain Engine covers a few common terrain types, with a wildcard "special" result that has you throw in whatever other odd terrain you want. There's no indication of scale, but your overland travel scale is probably a good fit, whether the party is traveling at a rate of a few days per map hex or a few map hexes per day.

The Weather Engine helps you track weather changes. It probably needs zero prep work.

ItHotU is good as far as it goes. It gives you a pre-selected handful of creature types for a general fantasy setting, and it reduces your prep work. If your hex crawl includes waterborne travel, you'll want In the Heart of the Sea as well. If you want to customize or elaborate on any of the engines, you've got some prep work to do.

As to the hex flower approach itself, it's an elegant little tool: simple, but also versatile. It's a hexagon-based tracking tool that provides what I'd call stateful randomness. Essentially, it's a state diagram with 19 states. Your marker on each engine does a random walk around the engine's hex flower, but it can reach only certain other hexes from a given hex. This is how ItHotU stops you from going directly from flat plains to mountains in one random hop. You work your way there through other terrain first.

The interesting element is that the direction of your random walk is biased. A 2d6 roll picks the direction. I whipped up a simulation and had it run as many as 100,000 dice rolls on a hex flower to see which hexes got the most visits. My simulation assumed that you'd start at the bottom hex. It uses the wrap-around rules for when your random walk would take you off the hex flower. If you create your own hex flowers, you might want to know these results:

  • The bottom hex (starting hex) and its three immediate neighbors are likely to have the most visits. Put your most common stuff there.
  • The next-most frequently visited hexes will be the ones in the lower left area of the hex flower.
  • The hexes getting the fewest visits will be those in the upper right area of the hex flower.
  • Some of the available hex flower engines use the top hex as a destination. Given the probabilities, it's hard to get from the bottom to the top. The shortest possible journey from the bottom hex to the top hex is three hops, such as rolling 10, then 7, and then 3. It's statistically possible (but not likely) that you could make thousands of rolls and still not reach the top. In most of my simulation runs, the trip from the bottom hex to the top hex took anywhere from 4 to 40 rolls, but roughly 1 run in 4 took more than 40 rolls. Some took more than 100 rolls, but none of them reached 200. That's a lot of variability -- anywhere from 3 rolls to almost 200. If each roll is a day's journey, you're looking at a trip that could take anywhere from a few days to several months. You'll need mechanisms to help nudge things toward the top, if that's an important destination. You might even want mechanisms to stop it from happening too quickly. This is where ItHotU's road and river mechanisms can help. Other available hex flowers use other approaches for nudging the results in a desired direction.
  • Only three hexes lead you to the top hex. The one to its lower left is the most likely entry point. The hex directly below the top hex is the least likely way to get there. (It takes a roll of 12 on 2d6 to move straight up on the hex flower.)

If 19 possible states and 3-200 rolls to reach the top is overkill for a situation you have in mind, you could ignore the outer ring of the hex flower and use only the seven interior hexes.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In the Heart of the Unknown - Procedural Hex Crawling Engine
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Creator Reply:
Hi Jim thanks for the thoughtful review! In my sea adventure (ItHotS), I included a suggested rule that said: “Travel time – decide how many days the voyage will take and roll for each day. Alternatively, roll until any flag is reached; or for a long sea voyage, roll until the red flag with a white spot is reached.” The idea here is that with a competent captain the journey is never more than ‘x’ days. Without such a captain, then all bets are off !! In this the land-based crawl (ItHotU), the same rule could be applied. That is, the DM could set a maximum journey time (e.g. 12 results). And/or like the flags with a white spot in ItHotS, the ‘signs of civilization’ and ‘small settlement’ icons could be deemed to be a day’s journey from the city, and so getting there thereafter is then a formality. But … I figured that ItHotU is designed for exploration of complete wilderness, so if the ‘destination’ is the mythical city of Eldorado, then it could take a while to find (or it could even be a wild goose chase). Alternatively, perhaps a better way to go is for the DM to (secretly) add the city to the map and let the PCs try to find it by manual exploration. This presumes a DM, but this thing could work for solo adventures too! Another option, is to take inspiration from the Hex Flower (HF) in my procedural adventure ‘Carapace’. In that Hex Flower, the PCs can earn points to nudge the outcome of the HF roll. So, transferring this idea to ItHotU, if the PCs get a map, hear rumours, get intel, hire a guide etc., the DM could give the players points, these points to be used by the players to help them nudge the navigation results towards their chosen destination, be it a city or a dungeon. I tried to squeeze ItHotU on one page, so space is at a premium; and so I decided to go more minimalist and not include these extra navigation options! Also, that all said (unlike ItHotS) getting to a destination is an option in ItHotU, but by no means the main goal. Again, thanks for taking the time to write this review and for the serious number crunching!!! GH
The Creature Crafter
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/10/2019 14:32:58

It was only a $5 gamble, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I'll chalk it up to mismatched preferences about what makes creatures interesting and usable.

Here's an example creature rolled up on these tables: quantity 1; size - small; type - amorphous; intelligence - mindless; description - clingy/sticky; description - amorphous (why is "amorphous" in the amorphous creatures description table?); special ability - limited use; another special ability (to find out what has limited use) - resist damage (physical damage and piercing attacks). As an amorphous creature, it's immune to poison or attacks that affect specific organs. The resulting modifiers for the Potency Table are +2 for health, -6 for speed, +2 for defense, and -4 for offense. Rolling on the Potency Table, I get baseline health, minimum speed, weak defense, and minimum offense. It's then up to me to convert these to my game system of choice.

You might like Creature Crafter if all you want is a stat block for your monster of the week so you can run a combat. To me, that's a way to make creatures boring - just a list of numbers and a couple of the usual abilities.

I was hoping for the types of things that make a creature an interesting, active part of the setting: where the creature would live (climate & terrain), how the creature interacts with its environment, how it relates to people, what it eats and what eats it, and the sorts of behaviors and triggers it might have. The tables have no hooks to suggest for the features you roll up. A good set of tables could either derive stats and abilities from the setting elements, or the tables could derive setting elements from the stats and abilities. A good set of tables would look beyond what the creature can do in combat. Creature Crafter ignores all that. Whether you're dealing with mountain tops, a desert, or the bottom of the sea, or a busy city, deep caverns, or the infernal realms, or pets or predators, it's all one to Creature Crafter. You can add those other elements yourself, of course, but if that's what you're seeking, this isn't the tool for the job.

Those omissions are the main source of my disappointment in the product, so I wish the product description had been more informative. All you really get is a stat block that you'll need to convert for your game system.

Note that "The creature classifications and special abilities favor monsters with a fantasy feel, such as mythological beasts or magical constructs," even though the product description says "works with any rpg." The product description should mention the fantasy focus. You could reskin many of the results for a low-plausibility sci-fi setting. You could adapt some of them for creatures that are natural but unusual. The more you'd have to rewrite the results for a non-fantasy setting, however, the more likely it is that some other tool would serve you better. Essentially, Creature Crafter is geared for a fantasy setting.

Although it includes a few loose guidelines about creating "regular people," I recommend you look elsewhere for NPC generators. Your game system or other tools will give you more substance and variety in your NPCs and better integration into your setting.

The tool is system-agnostic in that no one game system is represented, but it's oriented toward crunchier game systems. It's less useful for game systems that are more about story, atmosphere, and immersion than number-crunching.

Pet peeve: The description tables for each creature category (animal, humanoid, undead, etc.) include "GM decision" as one of the results. It's always the GM's decision, no matter what you roll. If I choose to roll on a table, it's because I want the input. Rolling up "GM decision" is like getting a shrug instead of a suggestion.

The document could use another editing pass (breaths vs breathes, affect vs effect, "ect.", etc.).

Bottom line: I don't really have a use for Creature Crafter, but I could see where it would be useful for a GM who just wants to make up a new stat block for a fantasy setting. You'd also have to do the legwork of deciding how to convert the generic stat block for your game system. In any event, the product description should be more informative for prospective buyers.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Creature Crafter
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Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests
Publisher: Ryan Macklin
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/27/2019 11:32:04

This was an eye-opener and a game changer for me. I also have some suggestions.

I used to consider Fate contests a minor game mechanic that might come up every once in a while. After digesting "Hacking Contests," I came to realize they offered a solution to a problem I had: combats that took up too much session time and that devolved into unexciting dice rolls back and forth until one side was taken out. Contests could let combat take on a more cinematic, narrative feel. The classic sword fight between the Man in Black and Inigo Montoya lasts only 3 minutes, for example; it would have been boring if it had lasted half an hour.

Then, after some further thinking and usage, I realized that Fate contests can serve as scene frameworks in general. If traversing the forest is a scene on its own, make it a contest. If hacking into the computer system is a scene, make it a contest. If questioning the prisoner is a scene, make it a contest. If any of those aren't worth turning into full scenes, resolve them narratively or with a dice roll or two. If traversing the forest is a rich adventure environment, don't make it a single contest. Break it up into a series of scenes (planned in advance or established on the fly according to your style), and then you can turn each scene into a contest as needed.

As a scene framework, the contest gives everyone a scene goal. With only two competitors, there are six possible scores in the end: "Red Team" wins 3 to 2, 3 to 1, or 3 to 0, or "Blue Team" wins 3 to 2, 3 to 1, or 3 to 0. That's six different ways the contest could end, and that's if there are only two competitors. A contest, therefore, enables and encourages variety while also converging toward an ending instead of letting things drag on.

This highlights a shortcoming in Fate contests: Victories are an abstraction. The "fiction first" principle tells me that each victory should mean something concrete in the game world. To create a scene goal, ask yourself what success looks like, in world. That's what happens when you score your third victory. Then ask yourself what two things should happen before you're successful. Those things happen when you score your first and second victories. This fits neatly into the "Rule of Three" for story-telling. Maybe you'll know those intermediate stages in advance, or maybe you'll figure them out on the fly.

Sometimes, the intermediate stages are a matter of inflicting bad luck on the opposition; if you're sneaking up on a guard, the guard's victories could mean your sleeve gets caught on something or you drop something important without realizing it or the guard becomes more alert. The guard's third point means you've been spotted and the "sneaking up" scene transitions to something else.

I eventually concluded that the variants in "Hacking Contests" are all really the same thing: someone or something pursuing a scene goal in stages. Maybe it's the whole PC party traversing the forest as a group. Maybe it's everyone out for themselves as they race for escape pods before the ship self-destructs. Maybe it's one PC hacking the computer system while the others hold off the guards. Instead of distinguishing contests under fire from timed events from whether you're doing a conflict phase or a contest phase, it's all one thing: Everyone is striving toward a goal. When you score a victory, you're making concrete progress toward whatever goal your action was serving. When you score your third victory, you achieve your goal, and that might or might not end the contest.

With a little help from the Bronze Rule, sometimes the environment is a competitor with a goal: the time bomb that wants to blow up, the burning building that wants to collapse, the forest that wants to repel or trap intruders, the security system that wants to set off alarms. Each intermediate victory gives visible, tangible, or audible in-world effects that ratchet up the tension.

If a contest feels like it has too many competitors, break it up into concurrent contests, such as the struggle to disable the security system as one contest, and holding off the guards as another.

"Hacking Contests" shows how powerful Fate contests can be. I suspect it could be streamlined, and I'd give more emphasis to making each victory meaningful in world instead of leaving them as abstract counts.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests
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Danger Cards
Publisher: Amagi Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/26/2019 08:56:46

I like these cards. They're a good mix of 20 outcomes. I use them with Fate, letting the players decide how we're going to put them into play (random draw, draw from a face-up pool of five, etc.). The cards are useful in a few Fate mechanics: when a character gains a Boost, when an action succeeds at a major or minor cost, and when a character takes a Consequence.

My players sometimes struggle to come up with ideas on the fly for such things, so these cards offer inspiration and variety. They help create dramatic moments in play.

We dial the intensity up or down according to circumstances. For example, if an attack ties and we apply the Snares card as a Boost on the defender, the defender is entangled only briefly, such as catching a sleeve on something for a moment. If a character succeeds at a major cost while trying to open the door of a sinking car, the Snares card could mean the car door is now open, but the character is entangled in the seatbelt while the car continues to sink.

I also like using the cards in Fate Contests. Each side scores 0-3 victories before the contest is over. I want each contest victory point to mean something within the game world instead of being an abstract number. If a PC is trying to sneak up unnoticed on a guard, for example, each victory for the PC reaches another waypoint leading up to the guard, while each victory scored by the opposition applies a danger card to the situation. This lets the attempt become more dramatic, if the PC's foot gets caught while sneaking up, for example, or if the PC drops something along the way. We let the Failure card end the contest immediately (e.g. the stealthy PC is suddenly, totally revealed to the guard) instead of waiting until one side or the other scores their third victory.

A corresponding set of "benefit" cards could be welcome, but these cards can still be useful for beneficial effects: Use their opposites. A beneficial version of Injury, for example, could mean heroically ignoring an injury ("'Tis but a scratch!"). The Snares card could mean something becomes disentangled. The Expense card could mean suddenly replenishing a depleted resource. And so on.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Danger Cards
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Creator Reply:
Happy to hear that you're enjoying them! I'll note that some of the possible "benefit" effects can be found as print-and-play cards in Schema, and some of your Fate mods using these have a similar flavor *to* Schema. Which is very cool indeed, but also suggests to me that you might want to take a look at that if you haven't yet done so: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=218533
Consent in Gaming
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/12/2019 13:36:02

The consent discussion is good and important in gaming. Those who dismiss this as "political correctness" have missed the point that this is about wanting everyone to enjoy the game, about being considerate and respectful toward others, and about setting expectations. It doesn't mean you can't have "mature" themes in your game, no more than an R rating means you can't have mature themes in a movie; it just means you try not to blindside anyone with them. If you have content that some players aren't comfortable with and if you can't or won't adjust, at least you have a chance to find out up front instead of halfway through the session. If you're worried that legions of players have been waiting to ambush you mid-session to throw out everything you've prepared, well, I haven't had that happen in over 40 years of RPGing.

The opt-in and opt-out tools are both important. The checklist is thorough on the opt-in side but it also looks time-consuming. With an established group and a known setting, a quick skim is probably enough, but if you've got a pile of players who don't know the GM, or each other, or the game world, getting everyone through the checklist seems like it could get tedious.

The booklet misses a spot. It fails to acknowledge the potential conflict between consent, where the default answer is no, and improvisation, where the default answer is yes. To reconcile the two, it's important to recognize that improv's "yes, and" principle isn't carte blanche to ruin someone else's fun. Use consent practices to set expectations up front, and then you've got boundaries for the improv. If someone goes outside those boundaries, the improviser is the one who needs to adjust. If the improv hits a gray area or a new area and someone wants to X-Card it, consent trumps improv. That could disrupt the flow of the game, but hopefully by that time the players have a feel for what's palatable and what's not, so adjustments can be made quickly. Anyway, the booklet missed a spot by not talking about ways to reconcile consent's default no with improv's default yes.

Consent is an important topic in an RPG where anything can happen, so I'm glad to see publications like this.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Consent in Gaming
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The Moebius Deck of Wonders - Playtest v1.4
Publisher: Mystic Dragon Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/08/2019 17:27:08

Essentially, it's a collection of magic items, including stats for D&D 5e and Pathfinder. As magic items, they're a good mix. In this starter set, they're all "wondrous items" in the D&D5e sense. That's a plus for me. I tend to prefer wondrous items over +2 whatevers because they nudge the players toward roleplay and story instead of seeing the items only in terms of game mechanics.

On top of being a set of magic items, the described usage is that it's a deck of cards at the gaming table and a deck of cards in the game world. There's a backstory for how the cards came to be and how they might be used in your setting. I considered the old Deck of Many Things arbitrary and silly. The described usage of this Deck of Wonders is only a little less arbitrary, from my perspective. Fortunately, the cards are still usable if you don't deploy the deck as described. Moreover, they don't have to be cards at all, either in-world or at the gaming table. You could use the deck simply to represent unrelated magic items.

A nice touch: "We have purposly desinged [sic] these cards without any names or rules printed on them." This lets you use hand the cards to players while revealing only the info you want to reveal. You can rename them, revise their descriptions, or convert them to another RPG system and still use the cards as handouts.

Speaking of "desinged," the text could use another editing pass in various places.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Moebius Deck of Wonders - Playtest v1.4
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Creator Reply:
Jim, thank you for your candid review. We greatly appreciate it. You'll be happy to know that we've uploaded a newer version (1.4) that has corrected the typos. We also wanted to let you know that the full Print-n-Play version is available here for download found here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/302941/The-Moebius-Deck-of-Wonders--PrintnPlay-full-version Thank you! -Michael
Fate Location Cards 1
Publisher: Nothing Ventured Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/07/2019 23:36:43

Each of the 16 cards gives you an exotic fantasy location where you'd set a key scene or series of scenes. To give you an idea of the scale, locations include: an ancient monument, a forest, a bridge, a valley, and a castle. That is, these locations are neither single rooms nor vast realms.

The locations are described briefly in a few sentences each, such as the location's history, what goes on there now, and (in general terms) who or what you'll find there. Some locations describe something PCs can do while they're there. The descriptions are system-neutral.

Each location includes two situation aspects that are in effect while the PCs are there. They could be invoked by or compelled against the PCs. For example, one location has Supernatural Stillness and Reflections Reveal Truth. Another has WHIZ! BOOM! None of the aspects get direct explanations on what they mean or how you might use them. How you'd use them is based on how you interpret them in light of the location descriptions.

The aspects are easily adapted to non-Fate systems. If a location is Hard to Reach or Haunted by Fae, for example (and we'll assume that's not a dig at the Fate Accelerated Edition -- I'll be here all week), you could easily use those ideas in some other RPG.

Each location includes a stunt. In most cases, the stunts can be used by any character present. A few are marked "after visiting," meaning the stunt is usable in later scenes. A few stunts are marked with a moon icon indicating that PCs can acquire them as stunts of their own at a later milestone.

The stunts are written in the style of Fate Core. You'd reinterpret them for Fate Accelerated. The stunts are the only Fate-specific elements on each card.

The images on the cards are great visuals to show your players.

The cards include names ("the planetouched inventor Filigree") and various assumptions about the setting ("pilgrims venture here"). Obviously, you can come up with your own versions of the text to fit your setting. The only small catch is that the original text is still there, overlaying the images, if you show the cards to the players.

These are specific locations, not templates for building similar locations. If the PCs visit the Ruin of Fal'Triaz, for example, the card describes that ruin in particular. It's not a template for other ruins. Because they're 16 specific locations, there's not really any replay value other than revisiting the exact same site. You wouldn't make every ruin the same as the Ruin of Fal'Triaz. However, the locations can inspire you as you create other sites: two descriptive aspects that make the location interesting or challenging, plus a stunt that goes with the place.

These cards include no maps, no lists of NPCs, no creature stats, no encounter tables, or anything else that would flesh out an adventure. There are no hooks in the sense of an initial encounter to grab the PCs. That's all up to you. They're locales for you to build on. Consider this a positive or a negative as you see fit.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fate Location Cards 1
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