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The Big Score
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2015 08:05:45
The way in which equipment and resources in general are handled by Spycraft has always been a little odd. In real-world espionage, an agent going on an operation is treated in one of two ways, he either is rather grudgingly handed minimal kit and is expected to get on with it or (if his agency is desperate to get the job done) he will have equipment and resources galore offered to him and anything else he needs he'll merely have to ask for... Yet the core rules offer systems of 'gear picks' that require a fair bit of resource-juggling when preparing for a mission. The one bit the rules got 'right' (in real-world terms) is that agents are expected to return everything they've been issued, or account for its loss.

Here is an assortment of ideas designed to enable agents to build up, over time, their own personal (and personalised) equipment - something real-world spies like to do - and even to profit from their adventures materially. After all, not every agent is playing the Great Game out of pure patriotism or even a love of excitement. Here three mini-systems are presented which can be used in conjunction, or you can pick which ones suit your game style and discard the rest. The three systems are the Stockpile system, the Cash'n'Carry system and the Loot system. Depending on which you use, campaign characterists may change as well as the way in which equipment and other parts of the rules function.

The Stockpile system lets characters keep any item with which they are issued on a permanent basis, rather than having to hand it in every time they return from an operation. If you use the formal Intel Phase, that remains (but can be dropped if you prefer), and characters are still limited as to what they possess. Anything designated as a Restricted item cannot normally become a personal possession and will still be loaned out, if you're lucky, when the nature of the operation indicates that it might be of use. The agent's regular equipment is determined at character creation, by rolling Possessions and Gear Picks together and converting the Gear Picks to actual items. Any option taken that provides an item or an extra Gear Pick is included in the total at this point. At the end of a mission, the stockpile refreshes, i.e. anything lost is replaced. It's still a very mechanical system but it does allow for some continuity.

The Cash'n'Carry system caters to those who prefer cold hard cash to abstract gear systems. Gear picks are translated into monetary terms, and characters then have to purchase what they want with that money. Again, this system can be used to allow characters to keep a core or regular equipment (hence you use either Stockpile or Cash'n'Carry, not both). Characters now have to pay for their Lifestyle choice on a regular basis (rent, grocery bills and the like) but they receive a regular income as well as 'starting cash' with which to do so. They can even save - or splash out - as they please. Again, Restricted items may not be acquired during initial purchases, characters will need to get hold of any they want during the course of play - and if not stealing them will have to pay for them. When it comes to a mission, characters receive a sum of money (wages, expenses, term them what you will) that can be used to purchase items required for that mission and to pay regular bills. Characters may also be required to pay for training. It is still a mechanical system, but some players may prefer the added realism of thinking in terms of money. It also makes it easier to add in new items of equipment provided you can find a real-world price for them. Even if, like me, you live somewhere you cannot go out and purchase firearms legally, there's always the Internet to research overseas gun stores for tasty new 'toys' and their prices!

Finally, the Loot system accounts for all those Restricted items that a character may want to acquire and hang on to but which both the core rules and the rest of the material presented here do not permit. Again, however, it is a rather mechanical system with artificial restrictions, whither you are using Stockpile or Cash'n'Carry to determine what characters normally have.

It all depends on how you want to run your game. If you like cinematic spies, consider how James Bond always stops in to see Q before a mission (and sometimes has a mid-mission 'care package' delivered if the need arises)... and cash never seems to be a problem, except possibly at the gaming tables. If your style is more realistic, how much cash and gear people have needs to be monitored more closely although incomes may be generous. Using a mechanical system is one way to keep checks and balances on what characters may have, but can detract from enjoyment as well. There are interesting ideas here, consider them carefully and use what works for your group.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Big Score
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Fragile Minds
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2015 08:12:01
This supplement is for those who'd like to bring real horror to their Spycraft 2.0 game. The main thrust of the book is horror of the supernatural nature, perhaps you want to mix in a bit of the Cthulhu mythos or other such monsters from beyond, but much could be utilised if you are seeking gritty realism, the sort of fear and horror that quite turns the mind and which can be imagined as part of a real-world espionage story.

To start with there are a selection of campaign qualities with which to set the tone that you want. These determine which aspects of the rules presented here you will use. If you want characters who are scared of the consequences of the sort of things they will have to do, consider using the basic classes from Back to Basics - they are less capable, and can be used to generate the feeling of 'I could die at any moment'... just the kind of thought no spy wants to have when embarking on an operation! Or you may wish to mix in occult knowledge and spellcasting for a quite different kind of horror.

To model the toll that such fear takes on characters, an expanded set of rules for stress damage are presented, making minds as vulnerable (if not more so) than bodies. This causes characters to sustain mental damage - in terms of phobias, mental disorders and even catatonia - as a result of the horrors to which they are exposed. Care needs to be taken here, most players find it far easier to cope with their characters sustaining physical injury (it's only hit points on the character sheet after all, they do not feel the pain) than anything that messes with their minds. To be run successfully, players and GC need to be in accord: even more so once a character sustains lasting mental damage which has to be role-played, it is not something purely represented in game mechanics.

Especially effective when created as a collaborative effort between GC and player, an Unhinged Subplot can be developed and run over the next few sessions culminating (you hope!) in a resolution that will help the character regain his sanity in a manner that also contributes to the ongoing storyline.

A whole slew of things which can cause a character to get stressed out are listed. Many assumes a rather less heroic approach than the classic spy/thriller one, casting the characters as mere ordinary folk rather than the larger than life heroes that normally inhabit a game, especially one like Spycraft. Then the discussion moves on to Forbidden Knowledge - arcane secrets it is probably best not to delve into... only you know how curious characters are, and they may need this knowledge to defeat the threat that they are up against.

Throughout, there are examples and suggestions of ways in which to incorporated different kinds of horror into your game. There is also a collection of monsters and cosmic horrors, if that is the direction you wish to take.

This style of game will not be for everyone, and other groups may prefer to switch to a different game system that's built around such horror from the ground up... yet if you like the spy genre and Spycraft in particular the way that these rules work embeds the horror into the core game mechanics rather than bolting it on as an afterthought.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fragile Minds
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Practice Makes Perfect
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2015 08:33:40
If combat is the high spot of your game, especially if you like it cinematic and exciting, this resource supplies a lot of ideas (complete, of course, with appropriate game mechanics) to make it even more exciting and spectacularly cinematic. It does these through character options and feats, enabling each character to develop his own personal combat style by focussing on particular weapons and techniques. Characters can pick up advanced actions and tricks in place of taking new weapon proficiencies as they rise in level.

Naturally, you can do the same thing with NPCs - you want your antagonists to be able to put up a good fight after all, and to be memorable foes. A mechanism is provided for building this in to quick NPCs, whilst those you wish to detail in full - your major opponents - will use the same rules as characters. Either can use any of the various tricks and techniques presented here, of course.

The range of ideas presented is quite varied, including plenty of unarmed techniques for the brawlers (or martial artists) as well as ones to enhance gunplay for runners and gunners. There are even delightful quirks like Exhibition Shooting, which allows you to target items or scenery with a spectacular shot, showing off - 'That could have been your head!' as you demolish a statue for example.

Each trick - and there are 53 of them - has a descriptive paragraph showing how it works along with the necessary rules information to make it happen around your gaming table. They are also summarised in a chart for quick reference.

If that wasn't enough there is also a whole bunch of feats - basic combat feats, melee feats, ranged feats and unarmed combat ones - that you can take to further customise your fighting style. Many relate to mastery with particular weapons, and some even allow you to recover - more or less gracefully - from rolling a 1 when you attack!

These are somewhat mechanistic and best suited to those groups who'd like to be cinematic but who prefer to play out combat strictly according to the rules. If you tend to free-form and let things flow, relying on player descriptions of actions rather than stepping mechanically through each round of combat, this may be of less use - but it's still worth a look if only to understand how the rules can be made to support whatever it is that you want to do.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Practice Makes Perfect
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Bag Full of Guns: Red Heat
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2015 08:32:19
In this second installment of the Bag Full of Guns series, we take a look at weapons coming from the Soviet Union and latterly Russia, some of the more unusual items stemming from innovative research rather than the more mundane Russian weapons to be found in the core Spycraft 2.0 rulebook.

The idea is that weapon designers were seeking to achieve the twin goals of penetrating power and silence in weapons designed for use in a range of situations including underwater! There's a new weapon quality Submersible to reflect this, which allows firearms with this quality limited effectiveness when submerged, a situation in which most regular firearms are useless: even if they will fire the bullet is so slowed by water resistance that it is very little threat.

The first weapon is not strictly speaking a firearm at all, it's a ballistic knife which looks like a regular combat knife only you can 'fire' the blade using a strong spring in the handle. It has limited range and apparently is woefully inaccurate (not to mention leaving you empty-handed!) so I'm not sure what use it is. Surprise factor, maybe?

Next up, a couple of small holdout pistols including one specifically designed to be silent. Using a sub-sonic round and various engineering tricks to minimise the sound of the mechanism when firing it is pretty quiet. These are followed by several service pistols and revolvers for handgunners who need a bit more stopping power. This collection includes a bizarre-sounding underwater pistol, the Tsniitochmach SPP-1M Underwater Pistol. From the description it looks quite weird... and it actually exists so you can find pictures of it (alas, there isn't an illustration here). It uses a hydrodynamic effect called supercavitation to enable its projectile to travel further than a regular one would when underwater.

A collection of sub-machine guns, assault rifles and semi-automatic rifles follows. Again, however weird they sound, most were actually made and even worked! Each weapon is given a fairly detailed description and there are full game statistics in a big chart at the back.

If your game includes Russian agents they may have used some of these (or at least heard of them) but the real fun will probably come when your characters mount a raid underwater and the defenders pop up with these odd-looking firearms that actually shoot reasonably effectively underwater!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bag Full of Guns: Red Heat
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World on Fire
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/19/2015 08:55:31
The premise of this book is straightforward: to provide a coherent background for modern espionage games that is realistic but imaginary enough to avoid problems such as the real security services coming round to check out your terrorist plot or anyone's real-world sensitivities being offended (after 9/11 my group requested that I never run an aircraft hijack scenario, for example). The introduction explains all this, and is quite fascinating reading now, as when it was published in 2007, Crafty Games had only recently formed as the Spycraft team moved from Alderac Entertainment Group to set up their own company.

Chapter 1: Little World Lost sets a very bleak scene in which everyone - and their governments - seem to have lost their way. Before you say that this is pretty much what the world has become, no - this is darker and more cynical, with some key differences including an underlying dark plot or two... and your characters have the capacity to do something about it. The discussion then launches into an alternate history beginning in 1945 and tracing through the Cold War and beyond, similar to what really occured but with underlying differences that grow and tangle as America, Russia, the UK, China and European organised criminals all circle around each other, plots and counterplots abounding. It's a fascinating and convoluted tale, with just enough rooting in reality to sound plausible, ending with a global wave of terrorist attacks that leads to speculations about the wisdom of forming a world government...

This has led to the formation - or at least revelation - of several organisations. Some mirror real-world organisations and others really do exist. Each gets a paragraph of background, enough to set the scene and let you see who's who. There's also an impressive collection of operations which may (or may not) have been carried out by these organisations, or parties unknown.

And so on to Chapter 2: Traces of Terror. This starts off by discussing the point that most folks don't consider themselves to be 'evil' even when others see them that way... and that things get even murkier in the world of espionage. Not to mention the massive public relations teams that assorted organisations have on hand to make sure that the public believe what they want them to believe, rather than the truth. This chapter is also a chance to meet some of the major players, ones who stay out of sight but have a vast influence on events. It also presents much of the chilling alternate history of recent days within the setting's timeline, establishing the background against which your games will run and your characters operate. Reading through this can send plot ideas spiralling through your mind, and enough is left open-ended that it is possible to start weaving your own ideas through it without tension or the danger of disrupting what is written here. And then there is the utter weirdness of the Eternals. Incorporate them if you want supernatural elements or leave them out entirely, it's all modular enough to allow for this flexibility.

Next comes Chapter 3: Tradecraft. This is all about the things spies do and, crucially, how they go about doing them. Assassination, intelligence gathering, recruitment, subversion and more, they're all here. There are notes on how intelligence organisations function and the day-to-day lives of their operatives. Some of it is even correct... but all of it makes for a good cinematic spy game. There's masses here: tactics for buildings clearance, building cover identities, disguise, even cryptology... (I recall once before this book came out, running a convention game that involved a code - one of the players turned out to be a cryptographer and breezed through that part of the adventure!). There's even advice on legal considerations of the spying game and what to do if you're compromised... and a comprehensive collection of spy jargon so that you can sound the part (if you want to admit to being a spy, that is!). The chapter ends with a fine collection of references - books, films and TV shows that will aid you in presenting this semi-real version of the Great Game convincingly.

Finally, Chapter 4: New Rules presents a wealth of new game mechanics to enhance your game. There are new base and expert classes, the concept of the master class, new campaign qualities and much, much more. New talents and specialities allow you to fine-tune your character, and there are some cinematic combat feats to choose from, other types of feat (gear, style, chase, etc.) not being neglected either. Some of this material is applicable to the World on Fire setting but most can be mixed in to whatever Spycraft game you are running. If you are using this setting, there is rules-based detail on the three 'villainous' factions - the 'Good Guys' are left for future sourcebooks (which didn't materialise, alas) and there are resources for creating notable NPCs as well as full rundowns on some major players in the setting.

Overall, it is an intriguing setting while the Tradecraft and Rules sections are of such quality and general application the book is well worth a look even if you want to run your games in a different setting, or in your version of the real world.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World on Fire
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2015 08:44:03
Ostensibly a bestiary for Achtung! Cthulhu this is a little different because instead of, as in Call of Cthulhu, presenting the actual statistics of assorted Mythos deities - something no character is going to be able to withstand (they'll end up gibbering wrecks if not mashed to a pulp) - they've gone for an approach based on what they are likely to do and what might stave off the horror for at least a while.

Chapter 1: Dread Beginnings explains all this and more. If you've been reading/playing earlier Achtung! Cthulhu books, you might have noticed - particularly if you're a long-time Call of Cthulhu player - that most of the threats have been lesser, albeit nasty enough, manifestations of the Mythos not the real big guns. Now the gloves are off! A collection of real terrors is presented here, along with scenario ideas and a revised mass combat system designed with cinematic action in mind - and all dual-statted for Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. Chapter 2: Death or Glory attends to the details of what is called the Simple Mass Combat System which will enable you to pit Mythos Terrors and their hordes of minions against hapless ranks of World War 2 soldiery, hopefully aided by some courageous Investigators who have done their research. Naturally rules for sanity loss are included, while the system itself is a simple turn based one where the Terror always acts last, performing one of the actions that it is capable of, as will be described in the next chapter. This chapter ends with an example of the combat system in practice. It really is quite straightforward, yet allows the characters to really have an effect.

The main part of the book is Chapter 3: The Faces of Terror. Here an array of some 24 Horrors (including Cthulhu himself) are presented in a standard format. This begins with a vivid description suitable for either reading alound when the Terror in question shows up or presenting (suitably edited and redacted) if the characters buckle down and do some research in advance. Next come some plot hooks suggesting ways in which you can engineer a face-to-face encounter with the Terror, followed by details of what will be effective against it (in most cases, causing it to retreat or otherwise come to the conclusion that easier pickings can be had elsewhere). Then comes the fun bits: the actions that the Terror can perform and how these are moderated in combat. If that Horror tends to hordes of minions, there's details of them as well.

If these are a shade too deadly for you, Chapter 4: Masters or Servants? offers some servitor races that can cause plenty of trouble but are not quite so overwhelming as the Horrors themselves. They do come with proper stat blocks, unlike the Horrors, and can be fought normally. Otherwise, each is presented in the same way as the Horrors.

Next, Chapter 5: Unconventional Weapons presents some 'weird science' contraptions that look almost as deadly to the wielder as they are to the target: try them out if you dare. Finally, Chapter 6: The Grimoire has a goodly collection of spells for those brave enough to learn and cast them.

The whole is presented in the standard 'bunch of papers out of a file' style complete with atmospheric pictures and marginal notes that makes it a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. The way of enabling you to bring the heavyweights of the Mythos right into the middle of combat without ensuring the total destruction of the entire party is really rather neat: all in all this is an excellent supplement for the game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War
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Firefly Interactive Crew and Ship Sheets
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2015 07:54:13
These are a very elegant yet simple tool to help you maintain your records. Using the form-filling technology available within PDFs (and using it well!), this download contains a blank character sheet and a blank ship record sheet that you can type on and print out.

It's a lot better than trying to read your handwriting mid-game, it makes it a doddle to update as your character advances or your ship is improved, and - provided you remembered to save a copy after filling it out - you can print them out again and again if someone spills a drink at the gaming table or you keep having to scribble on it to keep track of combat damage and make almost as much of a mess of the sheet as the brawl has done to your character!

The one thing you will still have to do by hand is draw your ship schematics. There's no facility to add a drawing or draw on the space provided on the ship sheet.

Naturally, they can also be used by the Game Master to keep NPC details and ship records in order... and if you have the sort of GM who asks for a copy of your character sheet for plotting purposes between games, why you can print out another one.

It's the sort of useful resource that all game publishers should think about providing - the technology is there so why not use it?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Interactive Crew and Ship Sheets
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Firefly Role-Playing Game Corebook
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/13/2015 08:41:27
This book opens by introducing the Firefly TV show, and does so well even if you have watched it before (likely you have if you are interested in a game based on that show... although the Leverage game from the same company actually started me watching that show, but I digress). This overview is linked neatly into what the game's about: you will form a crew similar to the Serenity one (if you are confused, Firefly is the name of the show, this game and the class of ship they went around in; Serenity is the name of the ship, the movie spin-off from the TV show and a previous RPG...), and have adventures similar to the ones in the show. Indeed, if you want you can play the characters from the show. The adventures will be new, though. It would be rather dull to play out ones you've already seen on TV! This opening section finishes with there's some background on the place you'll be adventuring in, the 'Verse, and basic notes on what you need to play.

The next chapter is an episode guide of all fourteen episodes of the show that were broadcast. Naturally it's a bit more than that, with notes on how things work in the game - e.g. what dice would be rolled by a given character to perform some stunt that he did in the show - ideas for adventures spinning off from what's already happened, stat blocks for people who feature and more. Weapons and items, for example, are both described and given their game statistics, should you want to use them yourself. It's all lavishly illustrated with screenshots - alas uncaptioned. Each episode ends with several full-blown adventure outlines you could use, and there's plenty and enough detail there that you could throw the episode itself at your characters and see if they can do any better than the originals!

This is followed by Find A Crew, a chapter that explains all you need to know to create your own character. It also has full work-ups in game terms of all the show's characters if you'd rather play them and a set of archetypes that provide a half-way house, most of the hard work has been done for you and all you need to do is personalise them for yourself. If you have Serenity Crew, you'll already have the show characters and archetypes, but here you also get to find out how to create a character from scratch, if that's your preference.

Next comes Find A Ship, which provides a similar service for working out the details of the ship that will be your characters' home, transportation and business. There's even a handy technobabble chart for those who want to sound like they know what's happening in Engineering! There's plenty of material here for you to design a ship from scratch as well as a range of ideas about all the other ships that are out there in the black... not to mention other modes of transportation that you'll find when you land as well.

Ship and crew sorted, all that remains is to Find A Job: and the chapter of the same name starts with the basics for novice role-players, explains how the game is played and how the rules work, and ends with more customisation, how to create your own options and how characters advance once they've been played a bit. This continues with the next chapter, Keep Flyin', which is aimed at whoever wants to be the Game Master (GM). This looks at the rules from the GM's point of view before delving into the running of adventures, how to keep the excitement high and the pressure on, and how to create and run the myriad NPCs needed - for Firefly is, above all, a game in which interactions with other people is central.

The penultimate chapter, Into the Black, looks further into that black art, game mastering, showing you how to use those gamemaster characters to best effect, create the atmosphere and the surroundings and bring it all to life. If it all sounds a bit hard at first, everything soon becomes plain - it's a good solid overview of the game master's art. These skills learned it is time to put them into practice with a complete ready-made scenario to run: What's Yours Is Mine. In this, the party's help is enlisted by someone wrongfully gaoled for murder who wants to get their company back from the individual who framed them... well, you would, wouldn't you.

There's an Appendix jam-packed with useful bits and bobs, including enough Chinese to sound authentic (but perhaps best not practiced on the local Chinese takeaway!), schematics for a Firefly-class ship, system maps and blank sheets for both characters and ships.

Overall, it's a fine introduction to the game - go enjoy yourself out in the black!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Role-Playing Game Corebook
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Firefly: Things Don't Go Smooth
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2015 08:56:23
This is a resource for a Firefly RPG Game Master (GM), whose role is of course to ensure that thing's don't go smooth for the characters... er, that they may live in interesting times. After all, who wants a game where all plans execute as intended and the bad guys never show up? Keep that for real life...

The Introduction lays this all out, in the rather slangy approach that is standard for Firefly resources. Whilst the book is mainly intended for GMs, there is material that players can use, however - like new distinctions, signature assets and ships. You may prefer, however, to introduce these in a controlled manner rather than letting them loose in these pages, particularly if you intend on using the army of antagonists or the plot suggestions to be found here.

Antagonists are not necessarily villians. They're just people whose interests or inclinations run contrary to those of the characters and so can be relied upon to object to or counter whatever they are trying to do... or whose own schemes will impact in a negative way on them. Some are out-and-out bad guys, but even villains don't necessarily see themselves as evil: they may have a quite reasonable (to themselves, at least) rationale for whatever they are doing.

The bulk of this book, then, is a collection of antagonists who can be relied upon to ensure things don't go smoothly for your characters. They are divided into various categories, so you can pick ones appropriate to what you have in mind... and of course, reading through all the details presented sparks ideas for stories if you haven't a plan in mind already. Spies and crime bosses, rival crews and gangs, and assorted other potential opponents are to be found here.

The first lot - the spies and crime bosses - are all individuals although most command a fair few minions to do their bidding. There are notes on what makes a good - great, even - crime boss, which you can apply to individuals of your own design as well as appreciate in these ones. Each one comes with detailed background information and some atmospheric illustrations - not just them but things like appropriate advertisments or scenes - as well as full stat blocks. Notes include typical locations and details of their followers, but the main focus is on the individual in charge. If you are wondering about the spies... well, strip away the followers, tone down their activities a bit and any one of these people could make a career out of espionage, if that suits your plans better. The individual details are followed by some appropriate signature assets. Some might be appropriate for your characters... or they may, ahem, liberate them from a passing crime boss in the course of an adventure. The chapter rounds out with some plot seeds that would work well with these antagonists.

Then come the rival crews and gangs. After all, it is extremely unlikely that the characters are the only bunch of somewhat questionable types crusing around the 'Verse in a ship looking to make a score. There's bound to be other groups with the same idea in mind. Some may be intrinsicly similar to your crew, with enough differences to make them interesting and challenging - their cortex hacker maybe enjoys a good brawl whereas yours hides under a table when a fight breaks out, for example - others will be completely different with their own motivations. Ideas for how to present them in interesting ways are provided before descriptions of several groups are provided, with full stats for the leader and summaries of everyone else in the crew or gang, along with copious background notes replete with suggestions as to how to incorporate them into a good plot. Again, illustrations and notes bring them to life, adding atmosphere to the listings. The chapter ends with a neat system for coming up with a rival crew on the fly (which will work just as well if you are short a few ideas but know you want a rival crew...) and a selection of plot outlines to embroil them in.

The final collection of antagonists are quite strange - things that might be completely unexpected. There are some guidance notes on setting up the right circumstances to introduce them and what makes them tick, too, which empower you to weave them seamlessly into whatever's going on. And they are weird indeed - a rogue AI, perhaps, which has got religion or maybe someone who is a nice person who just happens to be (unbeknownst to themselves) a programmed assassin... or even someone - something? - that may be a ghost or is it merely an urban legend that the unscrupulous are capitalising on? More new signature assests and a whole bunch of stuff about the Reavers and how to bring them into your game with the right amount of terror and confusion that they should generate.

The next chapter presents a veritable fleet of enemy boats. A memorable enemy has to have a ship to match, after all. Several are described in detail all ready for the using (or the stealing if your crew is anything like mine...) and there's also a complete system for designing your own ships, based around devising new signature assets and new classes of vessel.

This is followed by a chapter called Scheming and Narratin' - this is jam-packed full of hints and tips on game-mastering and in particular how to give your antagonists every bit as much life, individuality and interest as your players lavish on their characters. There's all sorts of stuff here including combat, location and much, much more... material that could easily be retooled for any game and so is well worth reading whatever ruleset and genre you run games for. Spend a lot of time reading and rereading this chapter, it will reward you amply.

Finally there are two complete adventures ready to run - Merciless and Thieves in Heaven. The first involves a heist in a museum and the second a collective of shipyard dogs who have fallen on hard times and are coming down with a mysterious illness to boot. Of course, there's plenty more to each of them and they should prove interesting entertainment for you and your group.

If you are serious about GMing Firefly, this book should be snuggled up next to your copy of the core rulebook.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly: Things Don't Go Smooth
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Firefly Echoes of War: Freedom Flyer
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/09/2015 08:35:03
Like the rest of the Echoes of War adventures, the beginning of this book is devoted to explaining the Cortext Plus system in sufficient detail to enable you to play the adventure without reference to any other rules. You'll need characters - Serenity Crew provides both the leading characters from the TV show but a dozen 'archetypes' ready-made, or if you do have the core rulebook that has all the information you need to create characters from scratch. The odd comment and quote appear to assume you are playing Serenity's crew, but it doesn't really matter provided that the characters you're using have a similar range of skills and a ship. The rules notes are clear and easy to follow, and explain the role of the Game Master (GM) well enough that a first-time GM ought to be able to run the adventure without too much difficulty. Novice GMs are further supported by side-bar comments throughout the adventure that give hints and tips on running it to best effect: indeed, even experienced GMs could benefit from them. This is the only part of the book that players should read, the rest is GM territory.

The adventure proper is organised with an introduction - The Way of Things - which presents an overview and a clutch of NPCs, a Prelude and four Acts, with some closing notes (Roll Credits) which include ideas for follow-up adventures. The NPCs come in two sorts, the main ones get a full-page write-up and a complete character sheet whilst lesser ones come with more condensed information. Throughout the emphasis is on giving the GM what they need to role-play each and every NPC as an individual.

The plotline involves a reformed thief whose past includes stealing ships from one side in the recent unpleasantness and selling parts to t'other side which means there are bounty hunters as well as the authorities on her tail - the 'reformation' is only in her mind, she wants to start a new life without any of that tedious stuff like answering for past offences. Oh, and her Mama's not too well and there are hospital bills to pay. She claims she has the money and a ship, but needs help to access them... it gets complicated but to cut a long story short, can the crew help? For a fee, of course. On the other hand, the bounty might look like a better proposition.

A really neat part of the briefing for the GM is a collection of subplots aimed at characters who are playing the archetypes from the Serenity Crew book. There's something to hook each more more closely into the adventure, so there will be a lot more going on than just aiding the former thief (or collecting the bounty on her head). Of course if the characters being played are from the TV show, there are a set of sub-plots tailored to them as well. Read them thoroughly and incorporate them to have a mulit-level adventure that all your players will feel really involves them. Even without this, there's a lot going on and plenty to keep them occupied with interactions and the possibility of a brawl at virtually every opportunity.

It's a good adventure and one which captures the spirit of the original TV show well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Freedom Flyer
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Firefly Echoes of War: Friends in Low Places
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2015 08:42:55
Like all adventures in the Echoes of War series, this one opens with a comprehensive run-down of the basic rules for playing and Game Mastering the Firefly RPG. These are introduced simply, novices ought to be able to get the idea whilst experienced gamers new to this particular system can pick up its salient features. This adventure is designed to be played with characters from the Serenity Crew supplement (who may be either the main characters from the TV show or ones based on the archetypes provided), but will work just as well with characters generated using the core rulebook. This part of the book (only) can be read by both players and GMs.

Next is a section called 'The Way of Things' which explains what the adventure's all about and provides major and minor NPCs. It is full of hints about role-playing the various NPCs, particularly important in this adventure as it is one involving a lot of interaction. There's detail on how to embroil the party, with the suggestion that it might be easiest with the original Serenity crew as the player-characters and a run-down of how the archetypes mentioned above can be woven into the story if that's what your players have chosen. A wealth of detail on the main locations that might feature in the adventure is provided here as well, the nature of it being such that most of the action will happen where it happens rather than being tied to a specific location.

So, on to the adventure proper which comes in a Prelude and four Acts. It all starts in a bar, where an old friend and drinking buddy tells the crew that his wife has gone missing... and then things degenerate into a bar-room brawl which for once actually makes sense as part of the story rather than just being an excuse to flex muscles and smash things up. And that's just the Prelude!

Naturally, things go downhill from then on. The crew will have to defend themselves as well as try and find out what's happened to their friend's wife - who, it turns out, is not the only person to have gone missing. Twists and turns follow thick and fast, and the crew will have to decide who to trust... and how far. Intrigue and interaction mixes with threats and outright violence gives a good balance to the adventure: whatever each player-character's strengths are they will get a chance to shine. And it all ends up with a three-way showdown that should have everybody on the edges of their seats, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

After the dust dies down, there are some suggestions for further adventures, as well as a couple of maps that ought to come in handy when running the adventure.

If quite intricate plots, villains to foil, choices to make and a few good brawls make a good game for you, this is one to take a look at.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Friends in Low Places
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Firefly Echoes of War: Shooting Fish
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/07/2015 08:47:40
This is the second adventure in the Echoes of War campaign, which serves to introduce you and your players both to the Firefly RPG and its setting. As such, the first section explains how the game is played - in terms simple enough for people new to role-playing, never mind this game - with the assumption that you either have characters from Serenity Crew or created using the full core rulebook. This includes advice for Game Masters, so even if it is your first time running a game you have some guidance about what you should do to get everything to work well for all involved. If you are an experienced GM but new to Firefly there's plenty of detail showing you how to both apply this ruleset's game mechanics and how to run a session in a way that catches the essential flavour of the game. Most of this first section can be shared with players if they need to learn how to play this game.

All that out of the way, the next section is called 'The Way of Things' and tells the GM exactly what is going on in this adventure and a likely course of events once the crew takes on the initial challenge. It also introduces two key NPCs, Shepherd Mordecai Rust and Roscoe Lake, complete with full character sheets as well as notes on how to play them. Other lesser - but no less important to the overall adventure - NPCs are also given in less detail, with notes on how to play them and embed them into the adventure as well.

So on to the adventure itself, with a Prelude in which the crew meets up with Shepherd Rust who asks for their help - an orphanage he supports is under threat of being closed down by Roscoe Lake, to whom they owe a fair bit of money. The good Shepherd has come up with an idea to save them by entering a speedboat race and winning the substatial prize on offer, but he needs some help - like people who can maintain and pilot a speedboat, for example! He's got one, but it is in a state of disrepair and needs a lot of work before it will float let alone give a good showing of itself in a race.

The adventure continues from there with a sequence of four acts that take the crew through getting ready for and participating in the race. Naturally, it's not quite as straightforwards as that. Suggestions and options are well-highlighted along with ideas about what would happen should the characters decide on a certain course of action. It all makes it a very dynamic adventure with a lot going on and plenty of scope for using a range of skills and role-playing... and of course some fighting as well. The way the text is written assumes that the players have chosen characters from the Serenity's crew, but there's nothing that cannot be tweaked if they have different characters. The adventure ends with some suggestions for further action.

It's a fast-paced interesting adventure with plenty going on, presented in a way that should make it easy to run with loads of options and suggestions at every turn so that it can appear tailored to the crew's actions - neat. Even so, make sure that you have read it thoroughtly beforehand, it is probably too much to try to run straight out of the box. As an introduction to both game system and concept, it's excellent.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Shooting Fish
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Firefly Echoes of War: Serenity Crew
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2015 08:52:47
This book, which came out well before the main Firefly RPG core rulebook, is designed to enable you to leap into action with the adventure series Echoes of War. For those who fancy playing the crew of the TV series, they are presented in detail, whilst those who'd rather play their own character in the setting have a selection of archetypes on which to base their own creations.

Then we move on to each of the main characters, the crew of the Serenity. Each has a good portrait (now I can figure out who is who... yes, I did watch the show but was more interested in the stories than the characters!) with plenty of background about how they came to be there and what makes them tick - all useful stuff if you want to role-play them effectively. This is followed by a full character sheet. The complete information fits onto two pages, so quite easy to print out back-to-back and have everything you need on one piece of paper. Printer-friendly versions are provided, basically on a white background rather than the coloured one in the main text. They mesh well with the characters on TV although they go no further - things that the characters didn't like to talk about there are not explained any further here.

For those who prefer designing original characters there are a dozen archetypes. These are almost-complete characters with scope for personalisation - you'll need a name and although there's a bit of background provided you may tweak it, change skills and such like to make it your own. It's a cut-down version of the full character generation system, and enough to produce a playable character. There are printer-friendly versions of these included as well, but they will end up rather messy by the time you have finished your customisation - pick up the free Interactive Crew and Ship Sheets download and use that for your character sheet instead, or you can use the rather more basic blank character sheet at the end of the book.

Finally, there's a section on that other essential you're going to need before you start playing: a ship. Just like characters, ships have various characteristics in numeric form that can be used to roll dice when the need arises, and this is explained here. The equivalent of attributes are engine, hull and systems; and ships then have signature assets. For the party's ship, you use the characters' skills as appropriate, GMs use a fourth attribute called crew to replace the characters on other ships. There's a blank sheet for writing up ships provided at the end too.

This is a good 'get-you-started' tool, and once you have your characters there are a range of compatible adventures around to try them out on. It's a bit more expensive than the average 'quick-start' package but a lot of care and attention have gone into it, although some people may find the rather casual text a bit off-putting. It's pretty much in character for the game itself, though. A good way to get started.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly Echoes of War: Serenity Crew
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Guide to the Eastern Front
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/05/2015 08:50:05
This supplement deals with World War 2 on the Eastern Front, that is, the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union. As the introduction points out, it is less familiar in the west than events in Europe or other parts of the world, due in part to the long Cold War that followed the ending of overt hostilities with former allies becoming enemies eyeing one another balefully through the Iron Curtain.

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Eastern Front sets the scene with a brief introduction to the Achthung! Cthulhu setting, mention of the dual-statted nature of this work with game mechanics provided for both the Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rulesets and a chronology of events running from 1831 (when the founder of the cult Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, was born) right through to May 1945, taking in revolution and developments in occultism right along with mainstream history. Plenty of neat little details about notable individuals too.

Next, Chapter 2: Tundra, Taigia and Steppe looks at the dark nature of the conflict, two totalitarian states clashing leaves little room for individual opinion and intolerance and brutality are the order of the day. This section concentrates on Russia, explaining the history and the nature of daily life during the war years. There are notes on major cities, rationing and many other things that affect the population - and anyone else roaming around, of course. What transpired as the Germans advanced is also covered, as well as the Baltic States, Poland and Yugoslavia.

Then Chapter 3: The Soviet War Machine looks at the forces arrayed against the Germans, including organisation and their unique mindset - part based on the Russian character and part imposed by the Communist regime. This is followed by Chapter 5: Heroes of the Soviet Union - nothing to do with the decoration of the same name, this tells you how to generate Russian characters under both rulesets covered, and includes new occupations including vor (Russian organised crime) and military ones such as the cavalry (the Russians continued to use the horse in battle until 1943!). If you are interested in getting your character a medal or two there's a very simplistic chart, it is worth finding out more and relating awards to exploits that you have in your backstory or perform during play!

Characters in order, Chapter 6: Weapons and Gear provides the information that you need to kit him out. (Or her, unlike everyone else, the Russians allowed women to enlist in every aspect of the military.) There is also a new weapon quality: Unreliable, to reflect the often poor quality and dodgy supply chain with which Russian troops had to contend... it would be later on that Mikhail Kalasnikov came up with the simple and durable rifle bearing his name! Chapter 6: Across Land and Sky discusses transportation issues and presents a range of Russian vehicles, including tanks (LOTS of tanks!) and aircraft.

Next, Chapter 7: The Weird and Wonderful turns attention to matters occult, including an establishment by the name of the Brain Institute who, amongst other things, make use of Mi-Go technology in their experiments. There's a heady mix of other organisations, cults, individuals and expeditions to get your teeth into as well, ending with a gazetteer of occult activity - plenty to spawn ideas for adventure here. Chapter 8: Hidden and Forgotten Knowledge follows, mixing genuine Russian occultism with Mythos lore seamlessly.

These are followed by Chapter 9: Beasts and Behemoths - an array of monsters - and Chapter 10: Cogs in the Machine, which contains several notable historical figures and a regular army of NPCs for you to make use of, all dual-statted of course. Finally (just in case all that has gone before hasn't given you enough ideas) Chapter 11 provides some adventure seeds and Chapter 12 presents source material that can help you develop atmosphere as well as provide even more ideas.

An enlightening book that provides plenty of resources if you wish to take your campaign into the frozen lands of Mother Russia!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Guide to the Eastern Front
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Guide to North Africa
Publisher: Modiphius
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2015 11:35:50
In many ways, North Africa seems tailor-made for the concept of mixing World War 2 action with the Cthulhu Mythos... after all, it's got Egypt in it! But as this book reveals there is a lot more to be found than the secrets of ancient Egypt, although they do come in handy in the fight against the Things That Should Not Be.

After an introduction that tells of the wartime exploits of the lead author's father (somewhat similar to tales told by my dad!), Chapter 1: Welcome to North Africa sets the scene and provides a time-line from 1869 (the opening of the Suez Canal) right up to 1945, although as far as actual combat is concerned, things went quiet after the middle of 1943. There's still plenty of scope for espionage, archaeological investigations and more, however.

Chaptet 2: A Sea of Sand and Stone then talks about the desert and more, starting with a gazetteer of the countries along the Mediterranean coast from Egypt in the east, including notes on those all-important places, oases. Water is vital when travelling in these parts, of course. The notes provide brief yet vivid pen-sketches of many places most have heard of in passing, such as El Alamein or Tangiers. This is followed by a discussion on the war in East Africa, down the east coast of the continent and involving countries such as Sudan, Somaliland and Kenya; many of which were drawn into the conflict due to being colonies of various European powers. The chapter ends with a detailed look at Cairo, the capital of Egypt and seat of much intrigue although untouched by actual combat. It's a melting pot of a city and an excellent setting for many an adventure.

Next, Chapter 3: Secrets and Lies discusses the tremendous amount of espionage and other secret operations that were rife in the region during the war. Plenty of scope here for plots, be it the activities of the British Special Operations Executive (and you thought they spent their time parachuting into France, didn't you? Nope, they spread their net far and wide...) or even the antics of the world's press, sniffing out stories despite censorship and military needs for secrecy. The Americans and the Germans were not far behind with their own clandestine affairs.

Then Chapter 4: The Shifting Sands of War provides game mechanical resources for creating and playing area-appropriate Investigators, complete with both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rules. Fancy being an archaeologist or even a Bedouin tribesman? Or perhaps the Kepi Blanc as a member of the French Foreign Legion is more your style? Details of how to set up characters in these and other suitable occupations are provided. Naturally the Long Range Desert Group and the newly-fledged SAS are there too; and there is scope to play Australians, South Africans and New Zelanders as well.

Characters generated, you will need some equipment and Chapter 5: Coffee Pots and Jerry Cans should meet your needs. The uniforms worn by various armies and specialist groups is covered with special note to footwear (a soldier's best friends are his feet and they need to be taken care of!)... whilst apparently every Italian soldier has his own personal expresso coffee pot. There is an array of weapons and some rather more esoteric items as well.

Next Chapter 6: Ships of the Desert covers the whole range of issues about travelling in the desert, it's not only about camels (although my favourite riding animal is included, of course). Here we read about getting to North Africa in the first place, and getting around by various vehicles on land and in the air, not to mention the perils of navigation when landmarks are few and far between. Once you have your means of transportation the next chapter (Chapter 7: Just Deserts) covers survival and the dangers that the environment poses to the unwary and unprepared.

Chapter 8: A Most Dangerous Game then explores the occult forces at play in the region and with ancient Egypt there's plenty to be had! The Germans have been investigating here since the mid-1930s under the auspices of the Ahnenerbe and more conventional archaeologists have found more than they bargained for as well. Here is told the origins of the Necronomicon, possibly the most infamous text in Mythos lore. Locations for investigations abound, if you can but hang on to your sanity long enough to explore them. There are mysterious societies and cults to join, infiltrate or combat, and plenty of mysterious and powerful people to provide opposition and others who may prove to be friends or allies. This chapter is definitely one for the GM or Keeper alone!

Chapter 9: Of Magic and Magicians goes further into the murky depths, detailing arcane treasures and strange magical knowledge that go only to fuel the region's reputation as an exotic, romantic and mysterious place. There are several tomes that belong in very secure libraries and a handful of new spells to cast... if you dare.

The next two chapters - Chapter 10: Beasts, Real and Imaginary and Chapter 11: Friend and Foe - provide a host of creatures and people to interact with and to fight against, including known personalities of the time as well as generic examples. Finally, there are adventure seeds and suggestions for sources of inspiration in the final two chapters to set you up for some memorable adventures, campaigning in North Africa.

Everything is presented in the by-now familiar 'bunch of papers' style, with atmospheric pictures, scribbled notes and sidebars with snippets of information, all skilfully blending history, Mythos and more. Where's my camel?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Guide to North Africa
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