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Guide to Phaemorea
Publisher: Pointy Pony Publications
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/20/2016 20:21:21

Pointy Pony Productions is a relative new-comer to Drivethrurpg, but I have watched the development of this setting with great enthusiasm. There is a strong attention to detail to make this consistent with 'Rules Cyclopedia' products - both thematically and aesthetically. It became clear from the opening pages that this is a outlier in self-published D&D titles. The book benefits from a professional approach to not only respect for intellectual property, but a desire to openly share the content. The production values are consistently and pleasingly good, whilst the accompanying text shows a mature grasp of the fantasy genre.


Many D&D products seek to build the campaign 'up' - that is, they are primarily concerned with building new classes, increasing power levels, or providing new magic items to furnish treasure hordes. Phaemorea takes the approach of improving the breadth of the campaign by offering the exploration of an alternate setting, complete with realised cultural groups that - whilst somewhat different to the usual sword and sorcery races - are well-constructed, reasonable, and internally consistent with the author's established norms for the world.


In the PDF, you will find:




  • a one-page descriptive overview of the main races of Phaemorea. At first I questioned the use of this section to open the book, but then found it a handy reference when reading the later sections. The descriptions of the races (and various human cultural groups) made picturing the various power and political groups much easier. Dedicating a page to some portrait shots of the races would have been useful in this section, but the absence is not a major issue for this reviewer.




  • A six-page history of the realm. Written as an over-aching narrative, this is not the standard assault of fantasy history, but rather a 'broad strokes' overview of the key events in Phaemorea. This is certainly enough to evoke the setting and provide a rationale for the functional elements of the setting. Again, I found myself returning to the description of 'internally consistent' as I read this section. The history chapter also implicitly provides the DM with plenty of plot-hooks - from magic-ravaged haunted towns, lost artefacts from previous empires, and even the ever-present frontier-like feel from the wilderness. Any DM worth their salt will be able to create entire adventures from any of the descriptions. There is also something that is absent in many other settings - a believable explanation for the formation of the 'adventurer' profession. Phaemorea is presented as a place that is in need of change, that a lot of activity is occurring across the setting, and that the actions of adventurers will matter. It leaves the reader with a strong sense of potential stories, and a desire to realise those tales.




  • The largest section of the book is Culture. This explores each of the main races, providing details about the Lifestyle, Education, Government, Law, Economy, Military, and Philosophy. Whilst many of the races and concepts will appear superficially similar to standard fantasy races, the author builds value by exploring the consequences of racial decisions. Elves are generally thought to be artistic and whimsical, but how does an economy actually function for such a people? How would adhering to a sense of honour cause Dwarves to abandon their ancestral gods? How does a nomadic barter-based cultural group work? This section not only provides interesting concepts for players who enjoy role-playing cultural norms for their characters, but also supplies plenty of fodder for the DM to make encounters more interesting, and provide local flavour in their own games.



  • The last section covers the Immortals. This overview of the gods; many of whom have already been mentioned in the previous chapters. Again, there is a fine-grain attention to detail, with a wealth of information for players and DMs. There are a lot of interesting choices here (with my favourite being Zwitarn, the Bearded Lady).


The book is small enough that navigating using the Table of Contents alone will be easily accomplished, and the printer-friendly version will still provide a very polished version for the DM. The full-colour one however is when the production values are showcased. The true value lies in the content however, the notions could be used as a complete setting, or modularised to build interest and depth in your own campaign.


My only request would be for a Glossary of Terms. The names (personal, cultural, racial, and geographical) - whilst evocative - would benefit from a centralised list so that the reader can either re-acquaint, or briefly acquaint, themselves with terms whilst reading.


At 44-pages this is a deceptive product. I had first thought to read it in a single evening, but found myself taking notes and scribbling in the margins of my printer-friendly copy. This is the sort of title that could easily be the foundation for a long and productive campaign.


Old school gamers and those looking for new challenges and horizons will be equally pleased by the title, and I look forward to reviewing future instalments for this setting (including the proposed module series).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Guide to Phaemorea
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Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2015 18:17:18

'Dreams of the Red Wizards' presents a module that should take a number of nights to explore and complete, and offers a wide scope for players and DMs who like non-linear adventures. It mixes exploration, intrigue, social encounters, and combat, so there should be something for all classes.


Set in Daggerford, the module asks the PCs to make a number of choices that will influence the resources at their disposal later in the game, but does so by prompting the characters to express their values (and their commitment to said values). The DM could easily tailor these to reference the characters history, or a recent module (although this starts at Level 2 - an odd choice - so chances are the characters have only completed a single module beforehand). Daggerford is not well-presented and subsequently appears to be very dry. It has potential, but running this module off-the-cuff is not recommended.


Overall, the module makes good use of a variety of monsters (some of which are played very intelligently and woven into the overall plot) and locations - again with the clear intent to ensure that not any one class or race is constantly in the spotlight.


The only downside to this module is the lack of practical design. Puzzles that aren't repeated in handouts (and have the answer on the same page), maps that have both player and DM information (instead of two separate maps which I thought was standard development), and a lack of xp amounts on monsters means that you'll need to prep this before playing quite well and think about the implementation choices that weren't catered for by the design team.


That said, the writing is on standard with other Wizards modules, and the adventure is suitable scaled and challenging for a party of second-level adventurers. The module offers the opportunity for far more than one night's play, and with some work, Daggerford could be developed into a 'home base' for a much longer-term campaign.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
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Dark Convergence
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2015 18:05:15

'Dark Convergence' deals with the incursion of the Convergence of Cyriss and the attempts of the Cygnaran forces (under Nemo) to not only repel them, but also find the purpose of their unexpected aggression. As a game novel, this does well to show the day-to-day workings of the Iron Kingdoms and those who play either of these forces in the miniatures game will probably enjoy the character exploration. Those unfamiliar with the game may struggle initially as the book introduces a great number of established NPCs in the first chapter with little explanation of who they are and how they operate. However, as the story unfolds, this is explored in more detail (and it does answer the question of how effective the Devil Dogs are against 'jacks and the usual casualty rates).
Unlike many other game novels, I could not imagine the sounds of dice rolling in the background during the combat encounters which was highly gratifying. Whilst the author has clearly 'done their homework', it doesn't play out in any sort of mental book-keeping. Additionally, the personal touches and sub-plots to the main characters mean that this isn't simply a battle-report, but rather a story about individuals as their lives and possible catastrophe intersect.
It's an easy read that will be enjoyed by fans of the miniatures and role-playing games alike.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Convergence
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Through the Breach RPG - Fatemasters Almanac
Publisher: Wyrd Miniatures
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2015 17:55:06

After reading over the ‘Fated Almanac’ I was keen to see more of the world of Malifaux and the ‘Fatemasters Almanac’ does not disappoint. At a five-chapter, 226-page book, it makes not only effective use of space, but the overall layout and artwork choices make this a beautiful book to own. Having also now seen a physical copy at my FLGS, I’d say these are some of the smoother products on the market right now.
I seriously thought about skimming the first chapter ‘Fatemastering’ so that I had an overall impression of the tone of gamesmastering that Wyrd prefers and instead found that it warrants close attention. I’d recommend this chapter as reading for any GM, as it goes much deeper than any other guide I’ve read to date, and incorporates a lot of current discussion into the chapter. Besides general advice on running and pacing the game, it delves into ‘Getting to Yes’ (the notion of ‘yes, but…’ to encourage player interaction and investment rather than a simple ‘no’ to player ideas), ‘Actions have Consequences’ (my favourite section in this chapter by far, and a subject that RPG books like this need to address), as well as running prologues and epilogues (these terms have specific meanings in ‘Into the Breach’, but should be adapted to other games). This sets high hopes for the rest of the book.
‘Secrets of Malifaux’ introduces the Fatemaster to the world in more depth and goes to great lengths to illustrate how daily life ‘works’ in the game. This can be used for set pieces, backdrops to scenes, or as plot hooks and encounters. As someone not terribly familiar with the miniatures game, I found this easy to understand (and in fact absolutely necessary) and could think of ideas immediately for fleshing out scenes and bringing the world to life.
‘The Lost City’ then deals with how to create stories in Malifaux. This deals with how to construct stories generally, but then adds in Malifaux-specific elements and how to make the games personally relevant to the characters. It offers many more opportunities than just ‘loot and pillage’ (although that is certainly possible) and plays back to the lessons from the first chapter to illustrate ideas.
The leads of course into ‘Dramatic Encounters’ which gives a range of adversaries and allies, motivations, schemes, intrigue, and stat blocks. You’ll get a lot of ideas from this chapter and the anecdotal additions provide some in-game flavour for the factions.
Lastly, the book gives you some ‘Advanced Pursuits’ and is mainly mechanical in nature, providing options for Death Marshalls, Freikorpsman, Steamfitter, Grave Servant, and Torakage. I haven’t played the game enough to meaningfully evaluate content from the perspective of rules, but these are options readily identifiable to those who have played the miniatures game.


If you intend to run ‘Into the Breach’ this purchase is non-negotiable in my mind. It makes an excellent addition to the ‘Fated Almanac’ and manages to deliver an incredibly practical tome that will serve any Fatemaster well. The ideas alone are well-worth the purchase, and I especially appreciated that the authors do not assume the reader is familiar with (or has played) the miniatures game. This was a particularly valuable design decision as it means the world can be enjoyed by those who have no interest in miniatures, whilst also offering an enhanced appreciation of the world for those who do.


I will continue to have a high interest in pursuing this game and further offerings from Wyrd. The high expectations and hopes after reading the first chapter were certainly met.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Through the Breach RPG - Fatemasters Almanac
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W20 The Poison Tree
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/27/2015 23:34:49

As the product blurb states, this is part of the W20 Kickstarter and it is great to see new products still arriving so long after the initial rulebook release. I read a lot of gaming fiction, and White Wolf has novels that sit across the quality spectrum. This novel is certainly one of the better ones that I have read and it shows that the author not only has a good grasp of the core concepts and game material, but a great love for the setting.


The main story is about a besieged Sept ruled by a Shadow Lord Elder. Even though the Sept is part of a greater area, the Elder has autocratically locked down the city, whilst playing political games with both the Garou Nation and the human world. His former Glory is enough to cement his position, but the city is falling steadily to the Wyrm. His daughter Ingrid is the main character and the daily war against the Fomori (and worse) falls to her.


The setting is well-imagined and I'd love to see Onyx Path follow the same 'enhanced fiction' route as Catalyst - that is, a novel that presents the story and then includes game statistics in the back for major characters, places, and items. The overall feeling of the city is one of creeping, inevitable doom - perfectly evoked for Werewolf. The sense of impending Apocalypse is portrayed through a confluence of events that overlap and interact meaningfully and add to the story. Intertwined are the character relationships, influenced by Rank and Tribe (there is plenty of prejudice against the Ronin and Metis that is not overdone) and the reader is treated to a view of the Garou Nation that is fractured by petty rivalries, personal grudges, and past hatred. There are a lot of small details included from the use of Rites, the portrayal of the Umbra, and even Spirit Weapons that I appreciated as they all worked to make the world more consistent with the game whilst at the same time written in a way that didn't feel like a retelling of a gaming session. When reading some game novels, I can almost hear the dice fall on the table behind the descriptions, but this is not the case here.


It is a setting that I'd like to see explored in further novels and possibly a short sourcebook, and I'd recommend this for any fan of Werewolf. Mike Lee's work has already been included in 'When will you rage? II', and if Onyx Path is to produce more novels, then he should be part of the regular mix of authors.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 The Poison Tree
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Through the Breach RPG - Fated Almanac
Publisher: Wyrd Miniatures
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/20/2015 04:56:58

‘Malifaux’ is a game setting that has intrigued me for a while and so I leapt at the chance to review the RPG. The miniatures line has been running for a few years and has a very distinct look in both the sculpts and the artwork (much of which has been transferred across to the RPG book). The ‘Fated Almanac’ is the players’ book for ‘Into the Breach’ and contains everything you need to build a character (referred to as a ‘Fated’).
The setting is simply fantastic and it is clear that a lot of development has occurred to ensure a consistently themed and intriguing world. In short-form, the city of Malifaux was discovered on the other side of a breach (the same mentioned in the title of the book) as well as the mysterious substance known as ‘Soulstone’. Earth’s economies adjusted quickly to the new trade item and the city soon fell under the sway of rival factions, and fed by a broad array of folks wanting to find their fortune on this new frontier (or folks wanting to flee from whatever wrongdoing they had committed on the Earth-side of the Breach). The city of Malifaux has a strange feel – a slightly Western, steampunk, Victorian feel that mashes the genres in a pleasing fashion. Whilst some elements are reminiscent of Deadlands and even Mordheim (both feature similar motifs and supernatural stones – both Ghost Rock and Wyrdstone), Malifaux manages to evoke a separate tone.


The game system is card-based and whilst there are ‘official’ decks for the game, you do not need one to play. There are a couple of quick modifications that allow you to use a standard deck of cards. This in particular lowers the barrier to play given that everyone at the table will need a deck. Skills and Talents are used in conjunction with revealed cards (called a ‘Flip’) to beat a Target Number. Some abilities will allow you to Flip additional cards, and each player also has a hand (called a ‘Twist Deck’) that allows for card substitution if the card you Flip is too low. However, there is an element of resource management as the Twist Deck is finite.
Overall, anyone familiar with Target Number-based systems, and the notion of mechanics to influence the outcome of a score will find the system easy to pick up.


You’ll also find an array of spells, equipment, and special items to either round out or enhance your character. As with the other aspects of the game, character creation is handled by the cards. You lay a ‘Tarot spread’ of cards and then consult the character tables for the results. This will give you your stats (which can be assigned) and other aspects of your character. A nice touch is the prophecy lines that accompany each result. You can take all of these and construct them into a stanza which actually has an impact on the game. The GM (referred to as the ‘Fate Master’) uses these prophecies to provide plot hooks and there are in-game benefits when they come up in an adventure. After trying the character creation rules a few times, I easily understood the system, and there is certainly enough flexibility built into the process so that no two characters will emerge the same.


Overall, this is a great book. It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need anything from the miniatures line to play the game, but you might like to purchase some of the minis for the table nonetheless. The game line has a distinct look and simply having the models on the table might be evocative. The book mentions quite a few of the named models and how they fit into the world, but there is no sense that these NPCs would overshadow the PCs – they are simply mentioned as a matter of course and then left alone.


For anyone who likes the genres I listed above, I’d say this is a must-have. You could learn the game very quickly, but it does strike me as one that would support a number of very different play experiences for a long-term campaign. I will also check out the ‘Fate Masters’ Almanac’ and review it soon, but obviously if you are to run this game you’ll need both books.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Through the Breach RPG - Fated Almanac
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3 Weapon Cards (SR4A Stats)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2015 05:55:07

These are a fantastic addition to any Shadowrun game as both a ready-reference for the GM and the players. Given the amount of gear and additional rules that are offered in Shadowrun (a constant in every edition) this is the sort of resource that makes life a little easier. I had been using some hand-written pieces of card to represent weapons looted and purchased during a 'run, but these are far better. The images on the cards are a great asset in a game where your choice of weapon is a statement of style and there is a good variety to the cards.
It would be great to see an annual set of cards released that includes weapons from the publication schedule as an expanding set (or perhaps title specific sets as a bonus with each PDF release) but this is a solid product that will get a lot of use at my table. The price point is excellent and includes 33 guns of varying types. I was surprised to see the Ares Predator was not included - which is the weapon synonymous with the Sixth World - but this is minor consideration.

When added to the Spell Cards these have the potential to make running the game a lot smoother.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3 Weapon Cards (SR4A Stats)
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Shadowrun: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Enhanced Fiction)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2014 04:57:17

By now you probably already know that 'Sail Away Sweet Sister' is the sequel to 'Another Rainy Night'. If you didn't, go back and pick up the first in the series. Whilst some will say that this novella could stand alone, readers will have a much more coherent experience if the companion volume if read first.


Now - on to the actual story. It is a well-written piece of fiction that pays attention to little details, good characterisation, vampires-as-monsters, and Shadowrun continuity. The author is obviously a fan of the setting and this shines through in their style. All of the characters are given solid personalities, drawbacks, and (in some cases) slightly disturbing vices as coping mechanisms for the Sixth World. It would be really easy to mine the concepts in the novella to flesh out NPCs for your next game. The story ties into the hints from 'Storm Front' (a brilliant source book from 4e) that those afflicted by HMHVV are experiencing far worse symptoms than usual. The novella offers no deep revelations, but does show some practical effects of this situation.


It is always refreshing to read a novel about vampires that treats these creatures as monsters. The Monster part of the psyche is written well, and the struggle to retain humanity echoes World of Darkness themes and was really appreciated. Lastly, the author paid attention to the smaller details, reminding long-term fans what the Sixth World is like. One great example was how Thomas' magical ability was perceived by those around him. Most reacted with suspicion or were deeply unsettled by anything magical - which is exactly how it should be.


I'm amazed that a title like this is available at this price point. It represents excellent value, and I look forward to reading the third instalment in this series (and maybe a compilation volume). Highly recommended for any Shadowrun fan.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sail Away, Sweet Sister (Enhanced Fiction)
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Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/24/2014 00:54:52

‘Bullets & Bandages’ could be the title of most of my Shadowrun campaigns, but it is nice to have a book specifically dedicated to healing and healers for the Sixth World. Even with SR2 books like ‘Missions’ the role of DocWagon, their tactics, and composition have always been a little hazy which is a shame considering how much potential this organisation has to impact any campaign. Likewise, there is a lot material in this book for those with a medical bent, as well as for the GM, so it’s equally useful on both sides of the screen (and at this price, it’s affordable for every interested player/GM to have a copy).
The writing is solid, from the opening fiction to introductory corporate training piece from a DocWagon instructor, to the rules mechanics which make up the lion’s share of the book.

You’ll find new equipment, spells, Adept powers, toxins, medicines and drones – all useful kit for runners interested in staying alive long enough to collect their nuyen at the end of the run. The Qualities are extremely average, and even unnecessary (Did we need the Negative Quality ‘Pregnant’ with accompanying rules? Could we have left this story element to house-ruling? I’d argue that there are better ways to treat the issue) but there is nothing completely unusable about them.

Overall, the book represents good value for good content, and this is a welcome addition to my Shadowrun books. The value is also increased by the addition of dual-statted SR4 and SR5 rules references, so fans of both editions have a reason to pick it up.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
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Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2014 23:30:46

‘Of Predators & Prey’ succeeds as gaming fiction, and in that alone it is a fine resource for players and Storytellers alike. Gaming fiction should provide practical examples of how people live and interact within a game world, should be internally consistent, and should provide ideas for character and chronicle design. The authors of this anthology deliver on all points, as well as providing a suite of fresh, engaging stories around what could have been a very ‘tried and true’ product.


The stories all manage to offer something slightly different, but focus on the ‘everyman’ as either individuals or as groups. There are no super-powered action heroes, just regular folk who have glimpsed the reality of vampires and are simply trying to find an appropriate response. From folk who have turned their houses into fortresses that would make an AD&D DM envious, or a small organised force with some basic training and military hardware, or even a gang of children keen to save a school friend, there is an element of believability to each story. Of particular interest is the marriage of reality television and the hunt – and the possible reaction of vampires to televised interviews, but the story told of the vampire who’s ‘only trying to do the right thing’ is just as strong.
It is all too tempting to go through each story and provide a brief synopsis, but you should go into these cold and simply enjoy the experience. Every piece vies for the ‘favourite story’ position in my mind, and it is clear that the editor did a fine job of selecting this showcase of work.


In short, do yourself a favour and pick up this book in whatever format you can. Keep a notebook and pencil nearby and I’ll guarantee that you’ll not only have a great time reading the book as fiction, but allowing your imagination to run with the ideas from these characters and their stories.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
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Deep Magic (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2014 22:10:40

'Deep Magic' is a truly spectacular book, reminiscent of the grand sweeping epics that were the HERO product line. In many ways, this is what a Tome of Magic should be - that is, a huge collection of options that add not only vast amounts of new spells to the game, but also tons of story ideas for future campaigns. 'Deep Magic' succeeds in abundance on both counts.


This review has taken a long time to write simply because writing this piece after the first reading would have been a grave injustice to writers. This is a book that requires a clear head, and plenty of time, and should not be tackled lightly. The depth of explanation, the possibilities arising form the spells and societies and even the broader concepts all need time to slosh about in one's head before use. In all seriousness, a DM could purchase any 3.5 core rulebook, pair it with this tome and and a manual of monsters and be very content for a long long time.


You'll find a huge range of new spell types and lists from 'Dooms of the AntiPaladins', 'Minotaur Magic', 'Ring Magic of the Reaver Dwarves', 'Ley Line Magic, and my personal favourites 'Clockwork Magic' and 'Ioun Stone Magic'. These are but a taster of the full breadth of information in the book. It is very clear that the writers were involved in deliberate re-imagining - taking core ideas and then weaving additional layers of interest into each idea. The writing displays consistent conceptual strength backed by an extremely readable style. Given that this is 378 pages of (essentially) new ideas and rules a constant danger would be to overwhelm the reader by taking a textbook publishing approach to this subject. I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth. The artwork is of a likewise high standard and works in near seamless unison with the text to provide evocative emphasis and story inspiration. I could well imagine printing out some of the images and using them as the basis for NPCs in my next campaign.


The level of usefulness of this book cannot be understated. I would imagine that any DM would get a strong return on investment, as there are simply to many good ideas to use in a single campaign (although you would be excused for trying to fit it all in). This volume receives one of my somewhat rare five star ratings as I simply cannot think of any way I would have improved on this offering.


A must have for all DMs.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic (Pathfinder RPG)
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KoDT: Bundle of Trouble vol. 6
Publisher: Kenzer & Company
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2014 21:38:16

Bundle of Trouble Volume 6 continues the fine tradition set up by the previous strips. In this volume, the reader is treated to the progression of the 'Bag World' storyline resulting in B.A. facing a HackMaster Audit at the request of his players (in which Weird Pete interrogates his game notes), a return to the the previously defunct SpaceHack campaign, and a trick from Nitro Ferguson that has the Knight LARPing in a biker bar (with unsurprising results).
As always, it is frightening to see how many of the Knights mirror my normal gaming group, but that has always been a part of the appeal. Jolly Blackburn has a keen eye for the hobby and it is wonderfully translated into this comic.


If you are unfamiliar with KoDT (shame on you!) or a long-time fan, these volumes represent excellent value not only in terms of price point, but also the enjoyment of reading these stories in full in one sitting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
KoDT: Bundle of Trouble vol. 6
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Dark Ages: Darkening Sky
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2014 05:01:53

'Darkening Sky' is the latest in the new line of classic WoD titles. It is good to see this 'lost title' finally in print.


The book covers the eclipse of 1230 AD from five different game lines, and each line has been set in a completely different geographic area. This decision was a pleasant surprise, as the developers have chosen to cast the net across the medieval world so that a wide range of plots can be explored. From an aesthetic standpoint, the book remains true to the designs of the original lines, the art is consistently of a high standard (as we have come to expect from White Wolf), and the editors have been meticulous. At this price point, the book represents excellent value.


The only segment of each chapter that I found of little use was the section on cross-over ideas for each story. Whilst I can understand that the authors aimed to make the book as useful as possible, each story stands well on it's own. Each story is well-situated in its' own line and their strength lies in 'keeping true' to their own line.


The chapters are as follows:


Set in Volga Bulgaria, 'The Evergreen Prison' (Werewolf) deals with an imprisoned spirit against the backdrop of an invading army. The chapter introduces the Stargazers and Uktena to Dark Ages Werewolf, including a range of Gifts and Rites. The Sept is well-realised, and there is plenty of storyteller advice about local cultures to use. Likewise, the plot will keep players on their toes as they need to explore and address very different story needs.


'Accidents and Deliveries' (Fae) moves the lens to the British Isles, with the story focused on ancient grudges and challenging the might of the Church. The story excels through personalising the NPCs. None of the characters charges are simply stats and stereotypes; and the storyteller is given ample tools to make the players actually care about the focus of the story. As with the preceding chapter, this is no simple linear plot, and the characters have a chance to seriously affect the outcome.


'Phantasmagoria' (Inquisitor) - set in Italy - is the high-water mark for this title (which is saying a lot considering the extremely high quality of the writing throughout). Whilst I have never played Inquisitor, this chapter really opened my eyes as to the possibilities for this simply as a single module. The story deals with a range of situations in which regular people have seen the supernatural and reported it to the Church. The characters are dispatched to mediate these difficult situations and the outcome is never a foregone conclusion.


'The Abyss Gazes Back' (Vampire) takes us now to Sevilla into a political story with the fate of a torpored Elder in the mix. It deals heavily with Lasombra mysticism, and draws in the Crimson Curia. As with any good Vampire story, the charm lies in the non-linear nature of story (despite the nature of the events set to unfold) and the depth of character given to the major NPCs.


Lastly, 'Divine Right' (Mage) is set in Jerusalem and is -at it's heart - a story of apotheosis. The religious backdrop of the city (something that has appealed to me since reading 'Jerusalem by Night') is brought to light, and in context the main NPCs' actions will be contentious and heretical. This story, more than any of the others has the potentially to go horribly, horribly wrong.


So, there you have it. Five quality stories in one book. If you're willing to run a series of short stories, it would be possible (and highly enjoyable) to work your way through the book - and the game lines - over the course of a few month. The title comes highly recommended and stands as a testament to the fact that these writers are still able to seamlessly evoke the feeling of the classic WoD, which is highly impressive and appreciated.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Ages: Darkening Sky
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/27/2014 19:05:27

Whilst designed more for the GM than the player, 'Coyotes' is a solid addition to the Shadowrun product line in an appropriate price bracket.
I came across the term during Season 4 of Shadowrun Missions, as Coyotes were integral to the border crossings in Denver. Generally, I winged any scene involving this profession, and always lamented the lack of additional story information. This book addresses my needs admirably, and will be folded into my next game with great enthusiasm.


So what do you get?



  • Short fiction at the beginning that is decently written and shows a sample 'run from a Coyotes' point-of-view (as well as the inherent dangers)

  • an overview of the role of the Coyote, what you can expect when dealing with them, how they calculate fees, and where the money goes, and why Coyotes can be downright distrustful of 'runners

  • a section detailing the hierarchy of borders, how to cross them, what resistance you can expect and the stats for any likely security. This section is well-detailed, and should provide any GM with enough information to add a border crossing to their game.

  • the book finishes off with some example Coyotes and a module. The characters are diverse in terms of (meta)humanity, preferred transports, and locations, and this creativity is well-expressed. The module is a one-shot that has the 'runners taking on the role of a Coyote for a night. The basic premise is sound, the pacing is good, and there is plenty of scope to personalise the module for individual groups.


In all, it's an extremely handy resource - especially if you're intending to take your Shadowrun game on the road and expose characters to some new locations. It's well worth the cover price.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Undermountain: Halaster's Lost Apprentice (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2014 00:32:12

‘Halaster’s Lost Apprentice’ is one of the D&D Encounters seasons that nominally ties into the forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Nominally tied, because the dungeon and lore used in the Encounters are linked to Undermountain, which receives two products in the Fourth Edition line.
The season is structured as twelve interlocking encounters and it is advised that a party will complete each encounter in 90 minutes to two hours – so there is a substantial amount of material in this product. The party is ideally five first-level adventurers, and substantive advice and mechanics govern progression and treasure acquisition during the Encounters. This guidance was required for the organised play aspect of the game when it was originally issued, and some gaming tables may find it interesting and fun to play under similar strictures to replicate the experience.

The title excels however, when removed from the organised play structure. All of the Encounters are very straight-forward and could be easily run by a novice DM. As players progress sequentially through the season, they are introduced to the mechanics of Fourth Edition in a purposeful manner. This is not to suggest that this product is only for beginners; quite the opposite in fact. Experienced DMs will find a good skeleton for a short series of adventures, and can add their own flavour, tinker with the opponents, and also with the motivations of the NPCs. Whilst this would require additional investment of time in terms of planning, the results (especially if the DM could blend this with content from the AD&D boxed set ‘Ruins of Undermountain’) would be worthwhile.


The design of the title is clean, with statistics boxes clearly able to be read, and organised with quick reference at the table in mind. The maps are likewise presented in an unambiguous manner, but for full use of these the DM will require set of Dungeon Tiles. All of the artwork is of a high standard, and these elements combined make for an enjoyable and streamlined read.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Undermountain: Halaster's Lost Apprentice (4e)
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