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Tracker Trade
Publisher: Top Cow
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 20:15:22

I had a couple of sneak peeks at this volume of Tracker as the issues were being released, and I have to say it’s really nice to see it all together in one volume. The Issue 0 preview and Issue 4 just whet my appetite for what looked like a great werewolf story. As it turns out, the story is exactly what those bits and pieces promised. Alex O’Rourke is one of the best trackers in the FBI — he’s so good that his instincts are the only thing helping the FBI track down Herod, a serial killer whose vicious attacks look more animal than human. Alex gets into the middle of an attack, following a hunch that Herod will be there, and miraculously survives, recovering on the autopsy table. His girlfriend, Tory, is grateful that he survived — especially after having been called in to identify his body — but she still refuses to marry him until he gives up working in the field. Alex’s partner, Jezzie, however, is glad to see Alex back at work, well before he’s supposed to be. While most of the story is about Alex vs. Herod, the push and pull set up at the beginning of the story between Tory and Jezzie has a huge impact on Alex: does he choose the woman he loves? Or does he choose the job — and, thus, the woman who understands him. As we know from the back cover of the graphic novel, Herod is a werewolf — and, due to surviving the attack, now Alex is, too. Our werewolf expert is the ambiguous Dr. Cyril Tucker, who works for the mysterious Handel Foundation. Dr. Tucker is willing to help Alex — but he also appears to be working behind the scenes with Herod. Tucker tells Alex that the only way for Alex to be cured of lycanthropy is by obtaining some of Herod’s living blood. Alex effectively tells Tucker to shove it… but as he comes to realize that Tucker isn’t making things up, and he starts to rely more and more on his new lupine sense, Alex turns to Tucker for help. This, of course, makes the end of the story — where it’s clear that the Handel Foundation is up to all sorts of no good — a great lead in to further stories in the world. Without spoiling Alex’s struggle against both his inner beast and against Herod, I will say that the serial killer horror level amps up as the story goes on — and because Herod needs something from Alex, he targets Alex for his own personal terror. Alex has to decide how far he’ll go, and what he’ll sacrifice, to defeat Herod once and for all. There’s plenty of violence, and lots of blood in the art work, as well as detached limbs and a severed head for good measure. The artwork uses an almost sepia cast to the colors, giving it a gritty feel that works for the brutal nature of the story’s violence. Overall, Tracker works as an origin story. Alex is an appealing hero with the true potential to become an anti-hero at any point when the scales tip in favor of his inner beast. The werewolves here aren’t very wolf-like: the beast draws on strong emotions to change them into a monster, not a forest dweller who’d rather avoid humans than battle them. With a lot of kinder, gentler werewolves in urban fantasy these days, it’s nice to see a hard-core monster style werewolf; even if several of the werewolves featured in the volume aren’t monsters in the human side, they all have the potential to become so if they lose control. That story is an old one — but it hasn’t lost its appeal, and it works particularly well when the hero of the story is a law enforcer, who has to choose whether or not to throw the rules out the window. Definitely check this one out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tracker Trade
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Revere: Revolution in Silver
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment LLC
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 20:13:57

Mash-ups are all the rage; whether it be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, or any number of lesser-known works, putting two seemingly unlikely things together has become a literary obsession recently. Revere: Revolution in Silver carries on this growing tradition, positing that, in his spare time, Paul Revere was actually a werewolf hunter and member of an occult organization dedicated to defending the world against supernatural threats. With the early days of the American Revolution as the backdrop, Revere: Revolution in Silver takes this premise and runs with it. Doing an interesting bit of world-building, writer Lavallee and artist Bond create a whole new mythology around the famous American revolutionary.

The art style is reminiscent of the Hellboy comics from Dark Horse: spare and cartoonish, and occasionally appearing a bit rough. I find the style perfectly serviceable for the medium, and have no quarrel with it. I like the subtle, effective shading done to achieve different lighting effects – from overcast to torchlit night and full daylight – it caught even caught my artistically untrained eye.

Without giving too much away, it seems apparent that Revere and the chief villain know each other and have history together. Their animosity towards each other is clear, though an explanation is not forthcoming – at least in this first volume. The dialogue is clear and fairly concise, with use of period speech used sparsely for effect rather than overwhelmingly so. A few cliches pop up from time to time, but nothing to really draw one’s attention.

The storyline is solid and eventful, the characters have depth and sensible motivations, and the world-building at work is intriguing; there are more than just werewolves prowling around Colonial New England, and wandering around at night – whether alone or in a group – is clearly a chancy and potentially dangerous proposition. While I wouldn’t view this as a major complaint in any way, I would like to have seen a slightly less heavy hand in portraying the villains – the British are totally insufferable bastards in the story, and while we know that this was true from time to time, there were also less than pleasant people on the other side as well.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Revere: Revolution in Silver
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Hunter Sheets Issue 1 - SLA Industries
Publisher: Nightfall Games
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 20:07:47

SLA Industries is somewhat different. It posits, in the typically dour, rain-swept and pessimistic style it has achieved, a contest between the players and the monsters – er, a series of psychopathic serial killers – which may or may not be equal or fair in nature. The conceit is that the players take the role of quasi-official operatives who may accept contracts to eliminate undesirable presences on the mean city streets, returning if successful with evidence of the kill (ears, perhaps, in the Mongolian style or some other previously agreed token).

There are twenty such ‘Hunter Sheets’ provided in this supplement, which runs to a length of 77 pages in a PDF item. As well as initial and concluding fluff – sorry, intensely-wrought and crafted flavour pieces (there is a reason why publishers are so reluctant to pay for fluff) – the twenty serial killers are presented one at a time, first with information for players and then the same for the GM. The first would be presented to the player group, depending on how much choice the GM is prepared to offer them, while the second is reserved for subsequent use. Some clues are presented for working the individual killers into play but, inevitably, too many of these in a row will make game play feel a little repetitive. Perhaps they may be reserved for occasional interludes when a campaign reaches a natural break or when an impromptu game breaks out for one reason or another.

The different prey vary in deadliness but share the atmospheric qualities that SLA players will enjoy (since they presumably do not play if they do not enjoy it) and are consistent with that atmosphere. The style of the book is also consistent with the theme and the portraits of killers are sensibly located in the players’ part of the text. The text itself is divided up into sections artfully arranged across the pages in exciting post-modern style and, for some reason which escapes me, lengthy sections are written entirely in capital letters, which can make it feel like the reader is on the receiving end of an extensive character assessment by an ex-spouse. Still, no doubt it will appeal to some people.

For would-be entrants to the SLA GM clique, this is likely to be an invaluable resource in providing means of involving the players in urgent action and preventing them from having the leisure time to write poetry, open hardware stores and raise llamas and all the other stuff that players will get up to if they are not being continuously threatened by vile and violent sociopaths. The GM is unlikely to use all of the hunter sheets, at least not all at once, but some will be very helpful in getting things going. Above all, it helps ensure the continued power and existence of the GM clique.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hunter Sheets Issue 1 - SLA Industries
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Gilded Cage
Publisher: White Wolf
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 20:03:24

Gilded Cage, a sourcebook for Vampire: The Masquerade, takes a look at the opportunity for players to control their ability to use politics and influence. The book is a fairly easy read at 111 pages and its layout is pretty easy to follow. Focusing on one’s personal influence, Gilded Cage exhibits how anyone can become influential, whether you are in janitorial services or the leader of a multibillion-dollar corporation. Not only can you learn to become more influential, but the book also covers some strategy behind climbing the social ladder. What player doesn’t want to become the highest on the social food chain in their local game? Learn how to pull all the strings needed to rules the streets or the business world; it’s your choice.

The key to using Gilded Cage isn’t the exact words on the pages, but instead how one uses the information given to enhance the story they have created. My favorite aspect of role-playing is the opportunity to take any story or concept and make it your own. The ability to make a character a “social butterfly” in the World of Darkness is just as important as how many enemies he/she can take down with a punch or a gunshot.

I like to keep myself aware that Gilded Cage is a sourcebook. Personally, I found it a bit difficult to finish in one sitting. Nonetheless, I also look at that as a good thing, for taking in all that information at once may have been a bit overwhelming. I suggest if you have a tendency of browsing through books for details, that you take a few days to look over the information in detail and then go back and try to read it in a shorter span of time. I found that the second time around, I gathered more from the source than I would reading it only once.

You don’t have to be into Vampire: The Masquerade to understand the information Gilded Cage displays. The book brings up the various social issues that we see in every day life, yet incorporates them nicely in the World of Darkness. All gamers should at least keep in mind that there are many ways to play a character. So if you think you have what it takes to be your clan’s leader or you just want to swindle your way to the top, Gilded Cage could be your guide to being the leader of your Vampire community.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gilded Cage
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Carnival of Lost Souls
Publisher: Monolith Graphics
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 19:56:39

Harlequin’s Lament is a gorgeous gothic song, a blend of repetitious chords with a rich-sounding overlay of a grand piano and harmonized vocals in the background. This piece, while not necessarily “circus-like,” shows off the musicianship of Nox Arcana. Next, strategically placed after the melody, is Calliope; children’s laughter echoes in the background of this brooding, circular tune. Madame Endora follows you around and predicts your future, leading you into the Hall of Mirrors. Even though you run away, you may find yourself Lost in the Darkness.

One of the difficulties with creating a set in a “Circus Diabolique” is that, if not done properly, a haunted carnival can sound campy or lack general appeal. That is definitely not the case here. Of all the Nox Arcana collections, there is a wide variety of music offered on this set, some of which echoes their other work. For example, fans of the Necronomicon collection might find Nightmare Parade and Circus Diabolique appealing. Other than a few songs on this soundtrack, and believe me when I say I’ve listened to all of their collections repeatedly with the exception of Winter’s Knight, each song is more unique than the last.

Carnival of Lost Souls is one of the boldest moves Nox Arcana has made to date. You won’t hear any playful songs; the music isn’t “painful” or monotonous, it’s something new and different and fresh. What causes these differences? Subtle sound effects like silvery bells, children’s laughter, and a heavy use of synthesized chorals are played upon the backdrop of strong melodies written primarily in minor and harmonic keys. Overall, this is a broad composition that utilizes the full spectrum of volume, pitch, and chords. The use of volume, sound effects, and technique is very evident throughout this collection, especially in the song Storm.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Carnival of Lost Souls
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Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures
Publisher: F+W Media
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2016 19:48:16

Being a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s works myself, this book was off to a good start as the forward was written by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. “While Mr. Athans draws from an extremely impressive array of monstrous sources, we are, of course, particularly delighted to see the works of H.P. Lovecraft cited so frequently and so appropriately in this discussion. Lovecraft was indeed, as Athans states, a master of the monster.”

With such a good start, I was ready to dive in, head first.

The introduction goes into some thoughts on “Realism vs. Plausibility” and the responsibilities that come with writing monsters. Philip makes a good case and ends it with “Artist Francisco de Goya wrote, “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.” This is the genre author’s primary responsibility. If you’ve asked readers to sign on to your fantasy or science fiction assumptions, you have the responsibility to make sure those settings—and all the scary and outré denizens of that setting—seem real. Take this responsibility seriously.” Following the Introduction there’s a passage on how to use this book. In particular it goes into knowing what a monster is before you can really write about one. At the end of the passage he presents you with a “Monster Creation Form,” along with an example of how to use it and then provides a link to where you can download the form if desired.

From there the book is written in three parts. Part 1 is aptly titled “What they are” and is covered throughout the first five chapters. This part covers questions like “What makes a Monster?”

“What Makes a Monster Scary?” and “Where Do They Come From?” Chapter five is titled “Monster or Villain?” and between Philip’s personal thoughts, his presenting some examples from a couple of different sources and a passage from Steven E. Schend’s novel Blackstaff, this chapter has arguably some of the best information in the book.

Part II covers why they’re here. “Everything that happens in a story must happen for a reason. And since neither science fiction, fantasy, or even horror actually requires the presence of a monster, monsters shouldn’t show up in your book or screenplay “just because.” In this section we’ll discuss what monsters are for, what they represent, and how they interact with your characters and story.” For you new monster writers out there, this section should be mandatory reading.

This section goes in to several discussions, including how “monster-rich” should the world you’re writing about be and different ways of writing or using your monsters, such using them as metaphors, obstacles, agents, sources of pity, sources of magic or technology and finally bringing out the good and evil in people. Along the way he sources some great monster examples and what makes them all tick, such as Godzilla, the sandworms in Dune (coincidentally Philip provides one of the best shorthanded explanations of Dune that I’ve ever read in this book), a couple of different zombie and vampire references, a few cryptids like the Loch Ness Monster, cursed items (Necronomicon anyone?), various Lovecraftian monstrosities and even Mother Nature. Part III gets to the heart of the book with how to write your monsters. There is a lot of good practical advice to be found here on how to create monsters, how to reveal them over time, and how to describe their actions in a compelling fashion. “Always think about how this monster moves your story forward. How does it make your story more interesting, how does it play into the core conflict of the tale, and what makes it personal to your characters? Is it something they find frightening or pitiable, or even useful? Don’t try to build a story around a monster; build a monster from within your story.”

This section covers a lot of ground over nine chapters, including setting the rules of your monster, including its size, powers and abilities, weaknesses, description, the five senses, staging the reveal of your monster, using isolation in your writing, and what is Cliché vs. Archtype. As a nice change of pace Mr. Athans looks at monsters from different writing perspective such as writing short stories, novels, video games, movie scripts or even Role-Playing games. As a freelance RPG writer myself I was especially appreciative of this angle.

And for those of you who took the time to download the monster creation form will be rewarded here as he references and uses it as an example thought out Part III.

From there a conclusion is provided discussing what monsters mean to us, what they say about us and why we continue to write about them today. As an added bonus, Philip added the short story “The Unnamable” by H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy. “This classic monster story was written in September 1923 and published in the July 1925 issue of the famed pulp magazine Weird Tales. The writing is classic Lovecraft—more than a bit dated, even overwrought by today’s standards—and yet it remains a staple of the genre.” I completely agree with this (it’s one of my favorite Lovecraft scribes) and it’s presented here to read and see how the various aspects discussed in this book come together to make a whole.

Finally Philip adds three different appendixes that are all worth a read. The first is “A Monstrous Style Guide” that provides craft and style tips to help you present your monsters, such as when to use he, she, or it and provides a list of Lovecraft’s favorite monstrous words (“Squamous” is not used enough these days). The second appendix covers suggested reading of other authors, and the third is a works cited section, which is useful as there were sources I’m not familiar with and would like to be.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures
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V20 Companion
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2015 04:17:44

Chapter One: Titles covers titles and their importance within the hierarchical structure of Kindred society. Collections of titles are broken down by sect and each is tied to the Status background. As a storyteller I found this to be a very useful mechanic and I also liked seeing the titles for every sect gathered in one place. Assigning Status values also allowed for easy comparisons between the sects. It is not hard to discern the difference between a Prince and a Cardinal but what about a Camarilla Primogen and a Sabbat Priscus? Who holds more status within their respective societies? Using this new mechanic it is easy to determine they are of roughly the same standing.

Appropriately this chapter also includes an entry for Caitiff which was left out of the Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary core book.

Chapter Two: Prestation touches on the boon system which serves as an economy within the society of the Kindred. Kindred can exchange promises, or boons, for the things they desire. These boons can come in several different types but any kindred would be smart not to throw them about because boons can be traded. Offer a boon to a resourceful Nosferatu and you may find yourself paying it back to a slimy Ventrue who wants you to handle his dirty work.

Chapter Three covers Kindred and Technology. Though some may find this chapter useful many of us have been integrating technology into our games along the way. There isn’t much in this chapter which I would think of as revelatory. Chapter Four: World of Darkness is a tour of several interesting and important locales populated by the Kindred. From Hunedoara Castle to the Succubus Club fans of the game line will find many of their favorites here.

The Appendix is an overview of material which was left out of this volume and the motivations for their exclusion. Some might think of this section as rubbing salt in the wound but I did not mind.

Artistically the book includes a number of classic pieces from past publications mixed with several new pieces as well. Going back and forth means the book lacks a cohesive look but I think this is fitting for a book of this nature. No two troupes ever played the same way or saw it through the same lens so to speak. To restrain the artistic elements to one style would have been a shame.

There was some negative buzz about the length of the book. Many felt the companion was too short. Comparing it to other companions White Wolf has published reveals that the V20 Companion sits on the high end when it comes to page count even after subtracting ten pages of credits for the Kickstarters and the appendix. If we look at the shorter game lines (Werewolf the Wild West, Sorcerer’s Crusade) we start to see companions with hundreds of pages but White Wolf only published the larger companions for the smaller projects. Since fewer books were being published for these game lines more was packed into the companions.

Overall, the V20 Companion is a great addition to the game line and it includes a lot of material for both players and storytellers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Companion
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Hell on Earth Reloaded
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2015 04:14:59

The cover art, which depicts a less-than-thrilled Templar getting religious with what I assume to be Bloats (thought they could be one of the other harrowing horrors of HoE), is indicative of what readers and gamers can expect inside the covers. The two-column layout looks like it is etched out on layers of metal (street signs, grating, and so forth). I like that the former street signs are put to the good use of chapter headers (every other one is shot up for good measure).

The font is typical for a Savage World book, though some variations exists for block toppers and icons (nuclear symbols are used for Wild Cards). The artwork feels like it comes from a multitude of inspirations. I see hints of video games like Fallout and Bioshock, sci-fi flashbacks from pulp comics, and more. These are great things to mesh together and it relates to a fantastic looking book.

For those players who only read the section of the book they are supposed to, HoE gives them 70 pages against the usual 30-40 pages. There is a lot of material for players though beyond just their character options. There are devices and weapons to consider, the known troubles of various areas of America (for creating a good backstory), and so on. The Marshal lucks out though because their half of the book reveals a great many secrets about the ripped-up world.

I’ve always appreciated the writing on the main Savage Lines books. HoE obviously received much support in its creation because the end result is excellent.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hell on Earth Reloaded
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2015 04:12:18

The Book of the Smoke is an oddity. The intentional use would be as an in-game prop for any setting where an occult London would be researched; however, it is best suited for Trail of Cthulhu, particularly the Bookhounds of London (a great read, by the way).

The text itself is a look at London’s occult scene. It is separated by places and persons. The majority of the book deals with places for investigators to, well, investigate. This is the genius of the book.

With a style similar to one found in a folklore journal, the author lays out rumored locales of high strangeness. These places, seeds really, are left wide open for clever keepers to nurture into something else.

The best part: After an investigation check, the Keeper can hand a tattered page or two from the book as a clue for the players to take in. They can make what they will of the academic, somewhat biased text. Since it’s a text clue, the Keeper can save his poker face for bigger moments in the game.

And it keeps in flavor with the game.

Some figures are well-known (Aleister Crowley, for example); others are not. The author does well making the read sound authentic. It’s “written” by a contemporary of the occult movers and shakers and it reads like it.

Overall, The Book of the Smoke feels like an extremely focused product, which is a disservice to it. There is a great deal that can be mined from this book, but it’s not as readily available (or advertised) as that. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, take the time to check out this read. It’s system neutral, but tied to the late 1800s and 1900s (some times vary, but the majority fall there).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
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Where the Deep Ones Are (Mini Mythos)
Publisher: Atlas Games
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2015 17:57:18

The classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak has been parodied before, but rarely as successfully as in Ken Hite’s Where the Deep Ones Are. Ostensibly a childrens’ book, Deep Ones is a story of a boy who rebels and is banished to his room in punishment, subsequently discovering a hidden world that calls to him enchantingly.

Instead of Max, we now have Bobby, a boy who loves to eat fish. He also wears a frog-like costume with several tentacles dangling from the face, and it’s mentioned more than once in the text that he has a cousin named Larry Marsh. This boy is well on his way to becoming a Deep One himself, which parallels the story of Shadow Over Innsmouth, on which the actual tale of Where the Deep Ones Are is partly based.

Max travels in a boat on a magical river to Innsmouth, where he meets an old drunk that tries to warn him off. When Bobby mentions his cousin Larry Marsh the old man leaves, having “got skeert.” Bobby turns to the hotel for a meal that consists of bad bread, bad soup and even bad water – but lots and lots of fish. Bobby grows sleepy thanks to his full belly, and it’s then that the Deep Ones come for him.

The illustrations by Andy Hopp are perfect; they pay clear, loving homage to Maurice Sendak’s original work from WTWTA, while at the same time maintaining their own squamous integrity. Hopp was an excellent choice as illustrator for this book. After the first pass, go back again and study each picture more carefully; the level of small detail is impressive, and Hopp manages to sneak a number of Lovecraftian in-jokes into the backgrounds. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Cthulhoid salt and pepper shakers.

Where the Deep Ones Are is an amusing book that will comfort the soul of any true Lovecraft devotee. Perhaps a bit frightening for younger kids, (although the same was said of Where the Wild Things Are in its day) Where the Deep Ones Are is a loving tribute, both to Howard Phillips Lovecraft and to Maurice Sendak and his best-known work. Kenneth Hite and Andy Hopp are to be commended for producing such a delightful tome. Now in its second printing, Where the Deep Ones Are is a must-read.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Where the Deep Ones Are (Mini Mythos)
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Tales of the Seven Dogs Society
Publisher: Abstract Nova Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2015 17:52:51

Tales of the Seven Dogs Society is a collection of three short stories framed against the background of the Seven Dogs Society, the player group of Abstract Nova’s Aletheia RPG. If the game is unknown to you, I recommend taking a look at the reviews found at rpg.net, flamesrising.com and abstractnova.com, as they will reveal a great deal about the setting which I cannot go into here. The cover is one of Eric Lofgren’s typical pieces, showing an evil-looking man leering at the reader, with flames rising around him.

The short stories give some useful ideas for an Aletheia GM, and (if you don’t mind the spoilers), for some good ideas on how a PC can be integrated into the team – Matt McElroy’s narrator, a former private eye, for example, is recruited after getting a name for himself as a missing persons expert on ‘weird’ cases. The stories also offer some useful suggestions as to how to run an investigation – from the point of view of the GM and the players alike. The three stories offer different takes on the Seven Dogs Society, and possible ‘what-comes-after’ takes on the future of the setting. The GM could easily mine all three for scenario / campaign ideas, but the stories are well-written enough to appeal to the casual reader too.

The book starts with a brief description of the game, but the casual reader can easily pick up on the setting and theme as they read, as notable characters, events and the Society itself are ably described in the stories. Each of the tales revolves around different SDS groups; the stories form independent vignettes of possible player groups, rather than following one particular group through a campaign. Matt’s contribution describes the setting (including the strange house where the players make their new home), the premise of the game, and the main players, and would be ideal as an introduction to the game; a GM could easily create stats for the members of the SDS and have his players run the heroes of the story, with decent enough backgrounds for each of them. Matt introduces some of the areas where players need to be a bit cagey – particularly around reporters and police – as the SDS needs to keep a low profile, and the story as a whole gives quite a bit of useful advice to players and GMs alike for running a game of Aletheia.

The second tale, Jim Johnson’s contribution, deals with the entrance of a new member to the SDS, and deals partly with specializations of the group; an ideal party would have members with a diverse array of backgrounds and skills, from all walks of life with particular roles to play. Again, this story would be appropriate for a newly starting group, so that the players would gain an understanding of role specialization in the group. There’s also a pretty good description of how a field research team might operate when collecting evidence. In addition, the tale gives a decent enough description of the SDS’ HQ. It also, unfortunately, gives away a few details of the metaplot and the fate of one of the society’s previous incarnations.

The third tale, by Monica Valentinelli, is a bit of a departure from the others, covering the pre-SDS life of two subsequent members, twins, as well as their eventual participation as members. As well as the usual description of the house and the SDS, this tale also includes the Usher Codex, the weird document at the heart of the metaplot. The tale itself is written in two parts, one from the viewpoint of each twin, and the remainder of the SDS members are absent. It also reveals quite a bit more about the metaplot (at least, the Codex’s place in it) than the other two tales.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Seven Dogs Society
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Evil Ways
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing Ltd
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2015 17:48:51

Evil Ways is a suspenseful dark fantasy novel by Justin Gustainis. Black magic and occult investigators are mixed together skilfully creating a exciting plot. It’s a very entertaining book… so long as you don’t mind jarring geographic errors and odd attempts at dialect.

The second book in the “Morris and Chastain” investigations, Evil Ways (published by Solaris Books) presents its protagonists with a problem: someone is killing children and stealing their organs, and this means dark magic is afoot, and a lot of it. Quincey Morris is an paranormal detective with skills in a variety of areas, including burglary; Libby Chastain is a white witch with experience in taking out some pretty nasty guys. When Morris gets roped in to help the FBI with their investigation, Libby joins in as well–with the slight complication that somebody is trying to kill her.

Having never read Black Magic Woman, the first book in this series, I opened this book without much in the way of preconceived notions about the characters. I merely hoped that the protagonists wouldn’t be too stereotyped and that the villains wouldn’t chew too much scenery. My wishes were granted. The villains were nicely drawn, both the master of black magic, mainly driven by the desire for money and power, and the wealthy recluse seeking to extend his life. The only unfortunate problem with the wizard is that he makes a major blunder–part of his plan to remove resistance to his schemes actually helps the good guys figure out what he’s planning. This wasn’t totally unbelievable, but it did give me pause.

Morris and Chastain themselves were an interesting pair. Libby Chastain is a no-nonsense, capable magic practitioner; Quincey Morris is a folksy Texan lawman type. I don’t object to the folksiness, nor do I mind him addressing people as “fella”. But I do think “podner” is going quite a bit too far. (Does anyone actually say that outside of novels? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I found it kind of silly.) Together they are an effective team, even if they are forced to spend half the book evading hit men. And I was indeed scared by the attack of the hundreds of giant demonic bats! It wasn’t at all clear how they’d get out of that one. There are some actual investigators in the book in the form of a couple of FBI agents, who have a little more success tracking down leads. One lead takes the agents to a prison. This led to a scene that was gratuitous. I think there was no reason for an FBI agent to agree to do something so repugnant, and for the author to suggest that part of the reason she was willing to do it was because she was abused as a child made it worse, not better. It was not written in a sleazy fashion… but it was unpleasant, unnecessary, and unappreciated.

There were two other things in the book that left me cold. One was that the author teased us with a cameo by a much more famous fictional practitioner of magic… which never happened. That is just not nice to do to a reader. It’s rather as if a writer had his characters stop by the North Pole to meet up with a jolly red-coated friend, but oops! he wasn’t home, so they left. What a letdown! Also, I have to conclude that this book had no editor. Or anybody who read the final manuscript. Because near the beginning of the book, we are explicitly told that the bad guy’s mansion is in Idaho. Page 55, in fact. On page 77 it’s suddenly in Iowa. On page 247 it’s definitely in Iowa and it’s clearly where the big showdown will take place. But I wasn’t the only one who was confused… a few pages later, one of the characters asks, “where was it, Iowa?” and Morris corrects her: “Idaho.” Huh? Finally they drive there from Montana, and I figure Idaho is the safer bet. How ridiculous! It was so confusing that I had to stop reading the book and page back through to get it straight.

Despite these wacky side trips, I did think Evil Ways was a gripping page turner. I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what would happen, and clearly the plotting was the main strength of the book. It’s not particularly gory, though it is quite violent, and the murders of the children happen offstage. The characters are engaging; I’ll probably seek out a copy of the first book, Black Magic Woman, and read that as well. I recommend it if you like a bit of a mystery mixed in with black magic.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Evil Ways
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The God Machine
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment LLC
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2015 17:35:22

Artwork: 5.0 out of 5 The only thing I knew about this book before diving into it was how GORE-Geous is was going to be. I will admit though that what took it a notch above most is that Chandra took the time to create every element on every page. The color work reminded me of Dreamkeepers, in that it was just perfect on every page. Free’s style has a seems to be a great mix of the SLG titles with a small hint of Manga here and there. I loved the character designs from page to page, and of course the little demons were my favorites. Overall this is a book that looks as better than most on the market, and the amount of talent on the pages shines through even the darkest of panels.

Story: 4.0 out of 5 I honestly had no idea what to expect from this book, other than how great it would look. The story was something that I felt came out of the pages of my youth. Being a teen in the 90?s I saw the Goth scene like how it was portrayed in this book. I do not know if that is what Chandra was after, but to me it made sense. So within that regard, and much like with the Gothology books, I felt a special place for this book. At times the dialogue did feel a little choppy, but overall it was a solid read, until the “To Be Continued” end! ARGH!!! It was getting so good and then… BOOM! The overall concept is a lot of fun, the execution is great and the real treats are the small jokes that you find here and there throughout the book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The God Machine
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Deadworld: The Last Siesta (Graphic Novel)
Publisher: Caliber Comics
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2015 17:33:10

Artwork: 5.0 out of 5 I bow down to you Mark Bloodworth. I have seen artists do styles like this, I have seen artists make it work within their own books, but I have never seen this style work so well. Mark was not afraid to show you anything in this book. From his character designs, to the way he laid out a page, there was nothing I could have wanted more from this book visually. The consistency was perfect, but the over the top work came from the way panels transitioned into each other and, of course, the depiction of the undead. Mark your work on Deadworld, whether old or new, is beyond what I need and I can not ask for more. You have achieved visual perfection on this book.

Story: 5.0 out of 5 When I try to describe the writing on Deadworld, I do my best to describe how many levels there are. I think that this book shows off how different this series is than all the rest. You have 2 protagonists in Raga and King Zombie. If anyone wants to fight me on saying King Zombie is a protagonist bring it. The basic breakdown of this book is that you have 2 characters, who cross paths, through animal means, and yet you get a complete story on both. How often is it that you can feel for King Zombie, I really wanted him to get a helicopter damn it! Raga was an awesome character in his own right. The back story given was good, but I want a full book on it. For those of you who have not read Gary Reed yet, this book will showcase his talents to you. Gary has done amazing work in St. Germaine and Baker Street before, but when you see how he can change his style with this book and make it fit the genre, ugh, total love for it on my end. One quick last thing… the ending was the perfect closure to this book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadworld: The Last Siesta (Graphic Novel)
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The Hungry Dead
Publisher: Popcorn Press
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/09/2015 11:33:34

The Hungry Dead is a collection of poetry and short stories that mostly hovers around the title’s stated theme. The excellent and evocative cover image shows a slightly decayed – yet no less well turned-out – young woman, a plate of brains in front of her, gold-plated knife and fork in hand. She’s daintily hoisting a forkful, lips parted in anticipation. It sets just the right tone for the collection. By way of full disclosure, I would add that a number of contributors to The Hungry Dead — including the publisher — are friends of mine, so take that for what it’s worth.

Of the fiction, several pieces are standouts: I readily devoured Stephen D. Sullivan’s “Tricks & Treats”. Exploring the origins of Halloween legends, it provides a creeping chill to freeze the blood. J. Robert King’s “Unlife on the Mississippi” brings humor and a clever concept to a rustic, American vampire tale. A Backwoods young man living in the Mississippi basin near Hannibal, Missouri discovers he’s suddenly become a vampire. He soon learns the how of it, and realizes the old adage that with great power comes great responsibility. Who knew it was so easy to create vampires?

Like all anthologies, this one is no less a mixed bag, though I can’t actually say there were any bad works here – only that some were more striking and thought provoking to me than others. The Hungry Dead is well worth picking up for horror fans of all stripes. There is very little here that will challenge the reader unduly, and a fair amount of reward to be had from its consumption.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Hungry Dead
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