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Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:33:51
Protagonists cut off from the real world. Men and women forced into violence to survive. Agents of powers that skulk in shadow. Are they spies or vampires? Both types of characters share a startling amount of similarities. The two genres seem tailor made for each other. Ken Hite brings them together in his newest RPG, Night’s Black Agents. But be aware, it’s not vampire spies. It’s spies vs. vampires.While playing vampires in RPGs has been extremely popular over the past 20 years or so, this one is about putting stakes in hearts and walking away while the bloodsucker burns in the sun.

The PDF is full color and laid out in a very modern style. The game includes several sidebar callouts explaining why certain rules work certain ways as well as giving examples of what happened during playtesting. The tone is intelligent yet conversational. The game is not afraid to cite influences in the text. The books ends with a discussion of sources that range from the literary to the cinematic to other games that inspired the design beyond the GUMSHOE rules. Popping in some of the DVDs recommended is a great way for players to be inspired for their characters.

The game casts the PCs as Jason Bourne style spies who stumble upon a vampire conspiracy. The PCs are expected to punch their way up the latter to the dread undead lords who rule and bring them down. It uses the investigative GUMSHOE rules set but mixes in much more options for action scenes. It also offers several rules tweaks to get the espionage feel the group wants. The spy genre is a broad definition but the game offers rules for groups that want a James Bond, Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne feel.

The game also offers a wide toolbox on how to build the campaign’s vampires. Vampires are also a very broad category. Part of the investigative element of GUMSHOE works well in figuring out which bits of folklore are true and which bits are false. Vampire games require a set of rules for the bad guys to work under and the campaign does a great job examining the pros and cons of powers and limits. The game also offers help in building up a vampire conspiracy that goes from street level thugs, through multinational corporations all the way up to the vampire lord’s crypt. There are example conspiracies in the book that act as excellent jump offs or quick adversaries in addition to fully playable bad guys on their own.

By comparison, the spy side of things comes off less useful. It’s a daunting thing to wade into the mass of agencies, private contractors and shady individuals and pare it down to something that fits in the core book. Most of the information can be had in a few minutes on Wikipedia. The book’s default setting of the european intelligence underground makes things exotic. It also means the GM should look to do a bit of legwork if they want plots grounded in the real world. Some games won’t care about the difference between the Russian Mafia and the Italian Mafia, but those that do will want to prep with some outside sources. This side of the book is merely good, not great.

The art also is an area of relative weakness. Pelgrane has a history of putting out gorgeous books and Night’s Black Agents has a fantastic layout and several art pieces that fit the mood perfectly. But the art is inconsistent, especially when it comes to depictions of the monsters the agents find themselves battling. Pelgrane’s no slouch in the monster department. There are several pieces in the Trail of Cthulhu line that are perfect, brooding and unsettling. The monster pieces here are too often brightly lit when they should be swallowed by shadow. The art featuring agents and their methods fares much better.
Every version of the GUMSHOE rules improves on the last and Night’s Black Agents is no exception. The thriller rules turn one of the weaknesses of the system into a strength. Short combats and quick, brutal outcomes are a staple of spy thrillers. But now the agents have many more options ranging from spends that allow them to go whenever they want to stunts that refresh pools if the player takes the time to talk up how awesome a gadget is. The skill list is flavorful and adds bonuses for each general skill hitting a certain level instead of a select few. GUMSHOE is proving to be a surprisingly robust platform for different versions of the game. Each version is similar enough for people to grasp the basics but the genre modifications work splendidly. There’s even a section that talks about using other games for modifications, like running spies vs. Cthulhu or adapting the powers from Mutant City Blues for actual super spies.

Bottom Line: Night’s Black Agents could easily be played as a straight up spy game. The vampires are delicious, blood red frosting on the cake.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
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Reap the Whirlwind
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:28:28
The first section covers basic character creation and sneaks in a good bit of backstory on vampires in the WoD. It also provides insight valuable to a fist-time storyteller to help set the tone for the adventure and to create a fitting atmosphere. The second section, Into The Void, is the introduction to the adventure. It includes the set-up for the scenario, and offers a selection of the major players in the events about to transpire.

Next is Goodnight, Sweet Prince, offering the details of the first scene in the adventure, in which the player’s characters have been assigned or volunteered for an unpleasant mission. The second part of the adventure, Secrets On The Wind, finds the players discovering their characters have literally opened a Pandora’s Box of chaos through their actions. There are three more sections to the adventure, plus several optional encounters to add a little more flavor. This adventure was previously published in ebook form as Into The Void, about what happens when a power vacuum suddenly opens in Kindred political structure. Very little appears to have changed from that publication to this one.

At once an introductory product and mini rules reboot, RtW includes enough basic information to run an game without knowing the ins and outs of the Storyteller game system. Fans of Vampire: the Requiem will notice a few things have changed; previewing the Blood and Smoke core book due out later this year, combat will be handled a bit differently — particularly damage from attacks — and Vampiric Disciplines have been tweaked and modified.

At 64 pages plus a full-color cover, Reap the Whirlwind is an extremely attractive product. It’s an excellent introduction to the World of Darkness setting and the Vampire corner of it. It’s also a multi-part, self-contained adventure usable in any setting, including White Wolf’s own excellent Chicago and New Orleans setting guides for VtR.

Experienced fans of the World of Darkness may find Reap the Whirlwind interesting because of the changes made to the system. New players will find this book interesting because of the depth of the setting and characterization. Whatever the motivation, I urge players with any interest at all in roleplaying to check out Reap the Whirlwind. It is an excellent introduction to the Vampire setting in particular, and to the World of Darkness in general.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Reap the Whirlwind
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Shadow Hunters #1
Publisher: Scattered Comics
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:26:17
The story in this issue is fun and action-packed, from its jokes to its great pacing. There was not a single moment where I was not happy to be reading this book. There were a few moments where I did find the dialogue to be a little off, but it did not take away from the overall joy of reading this issue. The artwork is BOO-btastic!

Haha, I just made myself laugh.

No in all seriousness this issue does feature some top-heavy women, who look great in most panels. At times the angles seem to not be their friends, but it does not distract from the overall look of the issue. Great colors and a great use of effects add depth to the scenes that you don’t find in most comics. I also can’t forget to talk about the awesome design on the monsters. Overall I liked and I want some more of it right now.

I think that Shadow Hunters #1 is a great first issue in what seems to be a fun action title.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadow Hunters #1
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The Vessel of Terror Trade
Publisher: AAM Markosia
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:24:20
ARRGH! Shiver me spine and turn on the lights, this is one creepy sea monster comic by the team of Aspli and Acosta! Okay, well wait can I technically say sea monster? Yeah I can say that but I need to add some Lovecraft style to it so let say Sea Cthulhu. The artwork in this book is just above and beyond on a few levels. I will point out some parts where angles seemed odd which is the reason I did go a little lower on the score, but people seriously, one artist… 2 different styles… and he delivered on a scare factor that is rarely done in comic books.

The story telling at first seemed jumpy, until I really got what was going on. There are 2 stories being told here and they work so well in the way they break each other up. Now I am not a Lovecraft aficionado, I know the basic of the basics, but I do know that when I read a story with these themes, they typically have an ending that makes me happy and puzzled at the same time. This book was no exception. I was so satisfied with how it ended but, is there more to come? What happened to _____? Oh you tricky writers and your great storytelling. This book is worth every penny you pay for it.

I feel horrible having it sit in the review pile for as long as I did, because now I have to sing its praises after it has been released. Plain and simple Lovecraft fans, Slasher Fans and Monster Fans this one is a must own.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Vessel of Terror Trade
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Dept. of Monsterology Issue 3 Digital
Publisher: Renegade Arts Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:20:49
I gotta tell you, I was pretty excited about diving into issue #3 of the Dept. of Monsterology. So far the issue has been well written, possesses some good, witty dialogue, and the artwork has been spot on in setting the feel and tone of this pulp-supernatural series. Issues 1 & 2 were interesting rides while building up to some serious trouble for both Team Challenger and Team Carnacki. Things were already going downhill for Carnacki by the end of issue #2, and trouble loomed on the horizon for Team Challenger. So how does issue #3 fare?

Simply put, the third issue picks up right where 2nd issue left off. Team Challenger is suddenly in a jackpot with an eldritch behemoth, while Team Carnacki is still trapped underground and suddenly in a race against time while facing down an army of zombie vampires. Along the way, members of both teams get to show off some of their talents we’ve not had the chance to see as of yet (I will never look at Amelia Court nor Professor De Tovar the same way again). Those who’ve been craving action in this series will find it in issue 3 (and undoubtedly issue 4).

In the middle of all the action, there’s a new wrinkle forming with Team Carnacki member Samwi who looks to be an unwitting piece of a larger puzzle being put together by a supernatural evil mastermind. This issue even shoehorns in a few more details about the missing Team Carter.

My excitement and intrigue are peak and I can’t wait to read the conclusion for this four part series (and you know I’ll post a review when I do). I was bummed out after realizing that after issue 4 there’s might not be anything to look forward to from the department. But after doing some digging, I’m happy to say that it sounds like Renegade Arts plans to release a graphic novel with all four issues. I’m also happy to mention that a new series of Dept. of Monsterology series will be coming later this year.

For those of you still on the fence about joining the Department of Monsterology…this is a great time to get in on the ground level.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dept. of Monsterology Issue 3 Digital
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Harlan County Horrors
Publisher: Apex Book Company
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:13:28
Harlan County Horrors, edited by Mari Adkins, is billed as an anthology of regionally-inspired tales. With Harlan County being in the heart of coal country, one might expect a number of the tales to touch on aspects of mining, and that assumption is correct. However, there’s more to Harlan than the mines; for one thing there’s the people themselves, and where there are people, scary stories are sure to follow. These twelve stories are a showcase for tales of Kentucky coal country by a fine crop of writers, many of them with close ties to the state.

The lead story, “The Power of Moonlight” by Debbie Kuhn is a bitter lesson about a woman scorned and the folly of rash acts. It was a very good selection to kick off the anthology. Maurice Broaddus’ “Trouble Among the Yearlings” is a subtle tale that captures well the claustrophobia of being trapped in a mine. In “Spirit Fire”, Robbie Sparks weaves a tale that warns about making a deal that seems too good to be true.

Ronald Kelly’s “The Thing At the Side of the Road” has a darkly humorous twist – at first. “Inheritance” by Stephanie Lenz was my favorite of the collection, and possibly the scariest story of the bunch. I also liked Alethea Kontis’ “The Witch of Black Mountain”, another woman scorned tale that turns out a bit differently for the protagonist than does “The Power of Moonlight.”

Do the stories capture the feel of Harlan County? Having never been there it’s difficult for me to say. What the tales do capture is a feeling of loneliness, of desperation, and of a hardscrabble existence in a remote place where good paying jobs are few and far between. Pulling coal from the ground pays well, but takes its toll on everyone eventually, and many don’t survive the task. The stories also capture the natural beauty of the area, with its dark, rugged mountains and thickly-forested gullies and streams; towns that seem to still cling to a century ago, and people who could have lived in any time period during the last thousand years.

One criticism I would offer on Harlan County Horrors is that not all of the tales are horror stories per se; many are, but some seem more science fictional than truly horrifying – though horrific elements are definitely present – and one or two defy clear categorization. None of this is necessarily bad; the stories are uniformly well-written and engrossing, but not all met my expectations. That’s a tall order in any case for an anthology; part of the reason why so many anthologies seem a hit-or-miss proposition is precisely because each reader brings a different perspective and different expectations to any book.

Regardless, Harlan County Horrors is a worthy addition to any horror collection. At 180+ pages it’s not an overwhelming reading project, but the stories themselves are page-turners, bringing me to the end of the book sooner than I wanted. It is a satisfying read and, at $16 for a trade paperback-sized edition or $5 for a download, it’s well worth the money.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Harlan County Horrors
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Alice & Dorothy
Publisher: Northern Frights Publishing
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:10:53
I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz. I’m old enough to remember CBS playing it annually; therefore, I watched it annually. I’m eager to see new tales set in Oz (though I’m generally let down), so the chance to review this book promised a fresh look. The blurb on the back of this book promises an insane Alice (in Wonderland) and Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) being tracked by something fantastically evil while they search for a tornado . . . they can use to escape Earth. It was exactly the kind of American Gods read I was looking for, so the question becomes this: Did the book live up to my own hype for it?

I found that Schnarr’s writing is a relatively fresh style. He doesn’t often show his writing roots in his own words. Schnarr’s story contains an excellent mix of the surreal. There are McDonald’s Happy Meals at the Mad Hater’s (not a typo) tea party. The White Rabbit is a drug pusher.

The story contains a great deal of frank (I hesitate using the word explicit) drug use and sexuality. The first chapter alone is saturated in it (the rest of the book cools off immensely). It isn’t on the level of Luke Davies’ Candy, but it is an adult read.

The two chief characters are both well-written. Alice is a heroin user going through a psychological episode while Dorothy, a Lesbian storm-chaser, tries to convince doctors she didn’t try killing herself. I’m biased, so I thought Dorothy was the better character of the two. Alice remains too extroverted, even her manipulations are brazen. Dorothy, with her stuffed Toto (she knows it’s stuffed), has manipulations and motivations I found much more satisfying.

The book contains minor typos (“the” instead of “they”). These are few and far between and always a case of an omitted word or another similar word being used instead of a helpful wrod that spell-check would catch. They didn’t overly distract.

While I’m usually disappointed with a childhood icon being used (poorly) in modern stories, Schnarr didn’t disappoint me. This tale becomes quite the page-turner (you guys know Dinosaur-I print out all my stuff) that leaves you rooting for the good guys. If you like the bending of familiar ideas (like in the before-mentioned American Gods), you’re going to like this book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Alice & Dorothy
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Chillers - Volume 1 (Graphic Novel)
Publisher: Caliber Comics
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/04/2014 18:38:28
I love it when an anthology comes together so well because it is not an easy thing to accomplish. Having a large number of writers and artists on a book can lead to a lot of issues unless it is done right, and Chillers is done right. Based of the film of the same name, this collection is by Daniel Boyd, the man behind the Troma film.

I have to admit I have not seen the movie before, but after reading this I think I have to. This art in this book is spot on, because every story feels like it belongs. Some of my favorite looking stories in the book were “Dr. Timmy’s Fearless Dentistry”, “On Good Authority” and “Free to a Good Home”. I really liked the concept of what tied the stories together and how people were always getting on the bus. This is a great group of horror writers, who just padded their resume more by being a part of this collection. A few of my favorite stories were “Mickey Barnes Gets a Gift”, “Ghoulas” and “Until the Flies Come”. No matter how I look at it, I love this collection.

I read a lot of anthology titles and Chillers is quickly rising to the top of the list with the best of them. This book is also like a gateway drug because after reading it, I NEED to see the movie. I am sure fans of the movie will be picking this one up as well. Overall this was a great read from start to finish. I can not wait for a sequel.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chillers - Volume 1 (Graphic Novel)
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Legend of the Five Rings: Imperial Histories
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 19:52:38
Each of the previous editions of Legend of the Five Rings was connected to a specific time period. The first edition was set before the events of the CCG. The second edition bumped the timeline to the Time of the Void. The third edition came out current with the CCG story at the time. The fourth edition opted to be timeless to allow fans to use whatever time period they wanted. This left a lot of the game’s history out of the core book. This makes the fourth edition versatile, but left out a lot of the player created history and backstory. Imperial Histories was created to fill that void.

Imperial Histories is a guide to various points in the history of Rokugan. Many of the periods have been seen in other sourcebooks or editions. Some have been referred to in historical accounts. And a few are brand new to the book. Each of these is set ups as a campaign possibility with new rules, new schools and, in some cases, modifications to the existing rules for different eras of the Empire. This book is aimed at GMs looking for campaign ideas or fans wanting historical information in one place.

Imperial Histories is available in hardcover and PDF. The book follows the same art and layout style as the Legend of the Five Rings core book. Most of the artwork is from the more recent sets of the CCG with the chapters broken up by two page spreads. Appropriate art is used where available. The book includes a sidebar talking about the time periods that don’t use accurate art. There is an index in the back. Unlike the core book PDF, neither the table of contents nor the index are hyperlinked. There are one or two repeats of art from the core book but the majority of pieces are new to the RPG line.

The chapters each detail a different period in Rokugan history. It starts with the Dawn of the Empire, when the kami walked the earth. The book also details more famous elements of history such as the first two arcs of the CCG. The Day of Thunder is when many fans of Legend of the Five Rings came into the game. It was followed by the Spirit Wars and the Four Winds saga. Each of these gets a chapter. The book rounds out with two alternate timelines. The Heroes of Rokugan illustrates a living campaign that’s been going on for years. One Thousand Years of Darkness takes place in a world where Fu Leng, the Lord of the Shadowlands was not defeated on the Day of Thunder and rules over the Emerald Empire.

Each chapter ends with mechanics relevant to the chapter. This usually means new schools, different schools or rules modifications. There are a few settings that involve gaijin, which add rules for things like firearms and non-Eastern weaponry. The rules for playing a gaijin essentially boil down to: don’t. Full rules might appear in a later book but the authors make an argument that there are plenty of other fantasy games on the market that cover that ground well.

The most compelling chapter is One Thousand Years of Darkness. This dark setting is one the fans have been waiting for. The timeline puts the players as part of the rag-tag rebels still fighting against the dark Emperor Fu Leng. This game of samurai already thrives on tough choices between duty and honor. This setting makes those choices even tougher. Fans of horror will love being desperate demon slayers as well as dark intrigues to try and save an Empire that might not be worth saving anymore.

One of the chapters not in the book is the current CCG storyline. Other storyline updates have filled entire books. Fans looking to see how the current timeline is shaping up will be disappointed. AEG has plans for a second book like this next year. Rather than just updating characters and storylines, these books could be a gateway for fans of the RPG to keep up with the CCG and fans of the CCG to try out the RPG. These camps have been separated for far too long. Not telling the ongoing story here is a missed opportunity.

The Heroes of Rokugan chapter misses in a few areas. It reads like someone’s campaign that already happened rather than a jumping off point for a new campaign. The story has some interesting elements and characters but doesn’t feel ready to run out of the book like the others. The same information can be picked up for free on the campaign website. Having it here seems like a bit of padding, especially when there are a lot of other time periods that could have fit in the book.
GMs looking for material to mine will have a lot to choose from. Things from the alternate timelines could easily make themselves seen in home games. Historical schools could be reskinned or used to make an NPC unique. There’s a ton of material here to put into any game regardless of the setting. Each chapter also has enough material for the basis of a campaign. GMs looking to run Legend of the Five Rings after a campaign or too will find the information here very useful.

Bottom Line: A great book for GMs looking for a time to set their new Legend of The Five Rings campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legend of the Five Rings: Imperial Histories
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The Age of Ra
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing Ltd
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 19:48:38
The Age of Ra has an interesting setting and reinvents the Egyptian gods in a very human manner full of flaws and failings. Events take place during the present day on planet Earth, but it is not the Earth we would all recognize. Around the time of Howard Carter, the Egyptian gods made themselves known to humanity and waged war upon all of the other human religions and deities that had ever existed. Once victory had been achieved, the gods then split the Earth amongst several of the more prominent members of the pantheon. Osiris, Isis, Nepthys, Set, Horus, & Horus’s children all then organized their territories around their worship and used those earthly assets to wage war amongst each other. The Exception to this is Egypt. It has been renamed Freegypt as part of a treaty amongst the gods whereby it was agreed that the birthplace of the faith should be independent from any one god’s rule. Human technological development has also been altered in that many of their devices and weapons are powered by the energy or “ba” of the gods.

The novel is also divided into two parallel story arcs. The main arc follows elite paratrooper Lt. David Westwynter as he comes to term with his own personal issues and the fallout of being swept up in the wars of the gods. After a botched mission, Westwynter flees to Freegypt and ends up coming into contact with the Lightbringer, a messianic guerrilla leader out to overthrow the gods and free humanity from their machinations. Westwynter ends up becoming part of the Lightbringers revolution and is forced to come to terms with his own personal issues.

The other story arc is very different. It follows the Sun God Ra as he interacts with the other members of the Egyptian pantheon. As king of the gods, Ra has a great deal of influence over his peers, but does not seem to actually rule over them and has no territory on Earth. Ra is a sympathetic figure; he is tired of the feuding between the gods and saddened at how all of their conflicts have spilled over onto human beings. As Ra attempts to broker peace amongst the gods, the Lightbringer’s revolution affects the outcome of his plans.

The Good:
I like Lovegrove’s writing style. His writing flows well and the narrative is balanced between the internal and external conflicts faced both by Ra and Westwynter. His treatment of dialogue is also well done and the characters speak and act genuinely. I was a bit put off by some of the over-use of British slang. Despite being a bit x-rated, I also enjoyed how the gods were depicted. Even though they are divine beings, their problems and motivations were understandable. Not a whole lot has been done with the mythology of Egypt and the novelty of having them featured was fresh and provided an exotic element to the story. I enjoyed the setting of the novel; the human nations were interesting and the integration of divinely powered technology into human science was unique. It was clear how the gods had influenced the cultures under their respective control. One passage in the book that depicted some Anubian commandos stood out as having been well done. This was a well thought-out and solidly constructed world for the story.

The Bad:
I liked David Westwynter as a character, but some of the focus upon his personal issues may have been overdone. Instead of coming off as a guy who struggles with taking emotional risks, he came off a like a kid at his first boy/girl social event. The culmination of the Lightbringer and his revolution was anticlimactic. It made sense and had some bite, but as far as resolving the story arcs of both Westwynter and Ra went, I found it to be a little flat. Too much was done too quickly without actually providing the reader a satisfactory resolution to what had happened.

Final Word:
This is a unique story in a unique setting. The characters are interesting and the novel reads fast and furious. However, I felt that the climax and ending of the book were a bit flat — too many things fit entirely too well for how things were worked out. I was also able to predict a good bit of the secrets revealed to the reader well in advance. I would not recommend this book for younger readers as there are a few sexually explicit scenes.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Age of Ra
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Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom
Publisher: Outlaw Moon Books
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 19:45:44
The place of the pastiche in fiction is mixed at best: August Derleth’s Solar Pons is but a pale shadow of Sherlock Holmes, and the less said about Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft, the better. But in his collection of linked novelettes, Trail of Cthulhu, Derleth had the happy inspiration to combine the Cthulhu Mythos with Fu Manchu, and the result is a propulsive series of tales considerably above his usual mark. In Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom, Tim Byrd goes Derleth one better; he combines Lester Dent’s Doc Savage (as clearly as the laws of copyright will allow) and the Cthulhu Mythos – in the form of a young adult adventure mystery.

This last bit is the key element that elevates Byrd’s short novel above the ruck of mashup and pastiche, and Byrd has the tone of young adult fiction down pat. It’s not only a voice that suits him better than Dent’s manic testosterone or Lovecraft’s vertiginous cosmicism, it’s a voice that brings a welcome note of originality to what might otherwise be dismissed as derivative. The real protagonists of Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom aren’t Doctor Spartacus Wilde and “Grampa” Wilde (a 1930s adventurer still hale and hearty at 99, although he’s let his buzz cut grow out), but Doc’s kids Brian and Wren Wilde. By using 10-year-olds — albeit 10-year-olds trained in the arts of super-science, daredevilry, and adventuring — Byrd avoids (for the most part) the traps of the modern pulp: a hero who’s never in real danger, and a hero who wastes the pulp reader’s time on internal turmoil.

Instead, he presents a Doc Savage, er, “Doc Wilde” adventure through a kid’s excited eyes, in fresh language that recalls Blue Balliett or Anthony Horowitz rather than being imprisoned by its octogenarian sources. Despite our young heroes’ impressive abilities, the threat of the Frog God Frogon builds to a genuinely scary level by the end, with a properly Lovecraftian threat to the universe (and to one of Doc’s sidekicks, a burly Irishman named Declan mac Coul) waiting in the depths of a South American cave inhabited by the titular Frogs of Doom. Byrd plays with amphibian biology, and with plenty of other sciences from nanotech to aerodynamics, with the keen eye for the plausible impossibility shared by Dent, Lovecraft, and many of the pulp greats.

I suspect that readers out of middle school will appreciate Byrd’s tribute first and foremost as a tribute — spotting the references and shout-outs is our own little adventure mystery — but it will surprise you by engaging you with its youthful characters as well. The typography occasionally veers into the comic-book balloon or the wildly picturesque sort of font that seems like a good idea at the time; perhaps much younger readers aren’t tired of it yet. But the words themselves reel out at pulp speed, and tickle two kinds of nostalgia at once: nostalgia for reading Doc Savage, and for reading Doc Savage for the first time, when you were eleven and hadn’t yet talked yourself into being tired of heroes.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom
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Dept. of Monsterology Issue 2 Digital
Publisher: Renegade Arts Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 19:37:44
As a reviewer, I make it a point to not give out any spoilers if I don’t have to. However, after reading issue Department of Monsterology Issue #2 (and #3 once I finish this review), a few spoilers tidbits will have to start coming out. If you don’t want to risk any spoilers, I’ll give you the short version here; “I’m enjoying this comic and I think it’s worth the purchase, go out and get it”. Once you’ve read #1 and #2 (and you will need to read #1 to understand what’s going on in #2), your welcome to come back for the rest of this review. For you more intrepid readers… lets dive in shall we?

Department of Monsterology Issue #2 starts off by introducing us to a field team from the “Lamont Institute” (led by siblings Sebastian & Jocasta Lamont), which looks to be rivals, and even antagonists to the Department. We find them somewhere deep within a cave in the Slovenian Alps (this comic displays an extreme fondness for exotic places and I for one encourage it) in the middle of relic hunting while dealing with the native creatures. Here we get an idea of what they are about, what they’re after, what kind of threat they present, and offers a sample of the unique abilities the Lamont’s possess.

From there, it goes right back into the parallel storylines; Team Carnacki is following the trail of where the two Chinese vampires came from, while team Challenger is dealing with the local wildlife “somewhere in the Pacific”. In between these two group activities is the addition of a third storyline with Professor Booker that takes place at home base; Dunsany College.

This third storyline was hinted at in an exclusive USA Today prologue and interview article, and it had a nice, tidy blurb about why the department investigates the things and sites that they do (“this department isn’t the only body interested in the things we study, but we are one of the few whose interest is wholly benign…”). I look forward to learning more about what goes on at the college; the prologue mentioned a third team (Team Carter), which has been on an “extended sabbatical”. This is code for “they’ve been missing for some time”, and I for one what to know what’s happened to them.

By the end of this issue the action and danger is ramping up. Team Carnacki runs into interference with the “Lamont Institute” while searching for the long lost tomb of an evil Chinese emperor (it seems that magician Dominic Belasco and Jocasta Lamont have history together). Meanwhile, team Challenger has its hands full with a “quite rare species” of dinosaur while the exploration that Professor Wilmington’s undertaking is about to reach a critical stage (fans of H.P. Lovecraft will understand just how critical).

On a side note, I love the name droppings that come up periodically in the series; Lamont, Carnacki, Challenger, Miskatonic, Carter… these names are intentional and means something to the fans of this kind of material. And while I’m still not happy that issue #2 keeps the 32 page count, the fun and pulp-fiction action style of the Department manages to cram a lot of material into this issue. The writing, the characters, the artwork, and the colors are all gelling together very well. None of it feels out of place here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dept. of Monsterology Issue 2 Digital
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Steampunk Emporium
Publisher: F+W Media
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/13/2014 09:10:17
Steampunk Emporium offers five main themes for jewelry-making: Atlantis Expedition, Zeppelin Pirate Attack!, Absinthe Fairy Interlude, Jurassic Valley Exploration, and Clockwork Tea Party. Within each of these categories, there are four or five projects ranging from mixed media designs to wirework. The skills required to make each piece also vary. For example, the Azure Cog Earrings employ simpler wireworking techniques than the Adventurer’s Fob Watch, which definitely necessitates a familiarity with polymer clay.

Anyone who's a fan of steampunk or is involved in costuming would benefit from this book. For the average beader, however, the projects are a little more involved and the components required are not inexpensive. The plus side is that every piece is unique and each step is outlined with a photo. The resources are great as well. Just keep in mind that the digital functionality of the PDF isn’t optimal; the bookmarks are on the chapter level which makes navigation a little challenging.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Steampunk Emporium
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Exquisite Replicas
Publisher: Abstract Nova Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2014 18:02:00
You didn’t notice at first. That can of pop seemed a little ‘wrong’ somehow, but you put it down to a new packaging design and a different recipe or something. Then you noticed that someone appeared to have swapped their chair for yours at the office, but that coffee stain on the seat where you nearly did yourself a nasty injury was still there. It looked – and felt – like the same chair, but you knew, deep down inside, that it wasn’t. After that, you started to notice more and more of these things, and even people. The mailman, whose name you’d never learned, but who you’d often swapped pleasantries with about last night’s game. He wasn’t replaced by a new mailman; he looked the same; he still swapped friendly insults about your team, and even told the same story about how he’d tried out for his team but that knee injury from his early school years had put paid to his chances. He had the same memories as the mailman, put it just wasn’t really him. They (whoever they were) had replaced him with an exact replica. Things in your house were replaced, but your wife couldn’t see what you were trying to say when you tried to explain that they were the same, but changed, and you stayed quiet after a while, so that she wouldn’t think you were going insane. You did wonder yourself, a little.

Then you came home and found that your wife had been changed too.

Exquisite Replicas is the latest game from Abstract Nova, who specialise in surreal off-the-beaten-track games such as Heaven and Earth 3rd edition, Aletheia, and Noumenon. ER shares this surreal quality, but couples it with horror. This is not the gore-laden horror of zombie films (though there are creatures in the game which you wouldn’t want to come across on a dark night), but the horror of losing your mind, or a distinctly unsettling feeling that you know something’s wrong, but can’t explain (even to yourself) why, and you feel powerless to do something about it.

A few days later you meet the Anonymous. All wearing masks, seemingly using the opportunity of the anonymity that the masks give them to indulge themselves in vandalism, smashing up a car, breaking the windows of a bookstore, burning some (but not all, you notice) of the books from inside. Then you realise that the things they’re destroying are all replaced things, not real things. They understand. When they see that you, too, understand, they approach, and one offers you a mask, telling you that it’s the only way to keep them from replacing you. You join them in destroying the replicas, and tell them that your house is full of them, and start to lead them back there.

And then you remember that your wife has been replaced too.

In ER, you play one of the Anonymous, mask-wearing freedom fighters bent on destroying the replicas and attempting to return the real versions to this world. Trying to tell people what’s happening would get you locked up; being caught destroying things – or people – would get you locked up too, but doing nothing means that the world will slowly get replaced, until there’s nothing left that’s real. Eventually they’ll come for you, and replace you.

The core book is split into seven chapters and an index, with an appended character sheet (another of which can also be found in the section on character creation). The first chapter, a brief Introduction, gives the basic description of the game’s setting and quick description of role-playing that most games give, a very general description of the system used, and a warning that the subject matter of the game “is intended for mature readers.” This is not a game with which you want to introduce your 10-year old kid to role-playing, unless you like being woken at night by them screaming. It deals with disturbing issues – are you sure that you’re not going mad? You’d better be certain before you start to destroy those replicas of people, especially when you’re talking about your own family. Are you really sure that you aren’t just having some sort of flashbacks from that acid you did back in college?

The second chapter, Initiation, is an in-character explanation of what’s going on, told from the viewpoint of one of the Anonymous, an induction speech by someone with an obviously tenuous grasp on what remains of their sanity: “I think I remember putting a piece of tinfoil underneath my gardening hat; you never know if someone’s trying to microwave your head. You see, I know they were trying to scan me, like a big barcode.” I would suggest having your players read this (it totals 24 pages) after they’ve created their characters, and maybe after a brief introductory scenario wherein they meet the Anonymous. This chapter does an extremely good job of summing up the awful choices that the PCs will have to make, and the mental anguish the characters will have to go through at times, as the scene where the narrator relates how she had to kill her replica grandchildren chillingly illustrates.

Chapter three, Character Generation, is similar to other Abstract Nova games too. You play ordinary people who have joined the Anonymous because you understand that something is amiss. The Anonymous are not some government special forces group; they’re shop workers, businessmen, hairdressers, office workers. They don’t have much in the way of special equipment either – just a collection of tatty plain black suits, some masks (hockey masks, wooden fetish masks, carnival masks, any will do), and “a black conversion van…in time, we hope to acquire a second van.” This is not to say that an elite group of the Anonymous hit-men couldn’t easily be set up by the GM if that’s what your group prefers, but that would reduce the feeling of immense isolation and powerlessness in the face of true horror that the game exudes. Similarly to the old Shadowrun allocation, four things have to be categorized: Physical attributes; Mental attributes; Occupation; Advantages. Priority 1 gets you 9 points to spend, category 2 gets 7, category 3 gets 5 and category 4 gets 3 points. Physical and Mental attributes have a rating between 1 and 5 (1 is free) while these points are used to increase attributes on a 1-to-1 basis. Physical attributes include Co-ordination, Agility, Strength and Endurance, while Mental attributes are Intelligence, Knowledge, Awareness and Will.

Occupations, used similarly to that of other AN games, give a wide-ranging group of skills. For example, a taxi driver (one of the 15 example occupations given, though the players and GM can come up with whatever else they want) has skills in street smarts, casual conversation (useful for interviewing), and navigating the city, in addition to things like driving. Probable contacts are also given for each occupation, and general equipment is also based on occupation. This, to my mind, is one of the great things about the occupation system that ER uses – if it’s a skill that an occupation is likely to have, then they’re skilled at it. There’s no giant list of skills given anywhere – if your character is a mechanic, then his occupation covers repair work, contacts with auto suppliers etc. Occupations are rated from 1 to 5 stars (with each star costing one point), depending on their usefulness – for example, a cop has training in a lot of handy skills, has good contacts that can be very useful, and costs the full 5 points to take, whereas a cleaner wouldn’t have many useful contacts or skills , and would cost 1 point. Occupations have ranks, similarly to attributes, with the same maximum of rank 5, and these also cost points – a player who wants to be a very good cop, for example, could assign Occupation as category 1, getting 9 points to spend. Since cop is an example of a 5 star occupation, 5 of his 9 points would be spent getting that occupation, and the remaining 4 points spent on increasing the occupation rank from 1 to 5. This, to my mind, is a distinct improvement over occupations in Heaven and Earth and Aletheia, where you were given a set amount of points to spend on occupations and ranks that meant you could never be a veteran professor – choosing to put your occupation as your first priority means you can have a veteran at a 5-star occupation. It is also possible to spend points on two (or even more) occupations – an ex-cop who now works as a journalist, for example. Something that isn’t covered here (it’s covered later, in the game mechanics section) is what to do when a character has two occupations that share some skills – the above ex-cop, now reporter, for example, would be able to interview people through both of his occupations – he’d use the highest rank of occupation when doing so, but wouldn’t he get any bonus through having had experience in interviewing for a longer period of time compared to his other reporting skills? This could easily be house-ruled, though, with that cap of rank 5 acting as a limiter.

Advantages are skills that fall outside of a character’s occupation (my postal worker is also interested in hunting, and knows how to use a rifle), increasing particular occupation skills to reflect greater expertise in that area (my taxi driver is rank 3, but when it comes to driving, he’s rank 5), and buying weaponry. For some, as yet undisclosed, reason, replicas are hurt more by replicated objects than by real objects. Spending 1 point will get you a replicated baseball bat; spending 5 will get you a replicated gun and 50 replicated bullets. One thing that I dislike about this part is that objects are being replaced all the time; it’s surely better to spend your advantage points on skills, and simply pick up a replicated chair leg to use as a weapon when play starts.

The rest of the chargen chapter discusses psychological states, and this is another area where ER really shines. Each character chooses a rating of 1 to 5 for three psychological areas – Paranoia, Violence, and Immorality. Players are free to choose whatever level they wish for each of these, but they’re a double-edged sword. Paranoia, for example, makes it easier to spot replicated objects and people; Violence means the character is more able and willing to destroy objects – or people, replicated or not – and Immorality is the scale for how well the character can lie when under interrogation, how willing he or she is to steal or act against their conscience. As such, a character will want to have fairly high levels of these traits to effectively operate. The catch is that as each of these traits increases, the character becomes more unstable, perhaps being unable to act in social situations, becoming more and more selfish, or becoming more sadistic. If a character’s three psychological ratings all reach rank 5, the character becomes a fully-fledged psychopath, and is removed from play. As these mental instabilities are role-played, however, the character receives Tragedy Points (the tragedy being the descent into madness), which can be spent on skill rolls to ensure success. Each character also has 5 points to spend on trivial skills (playing guitar, knowing the names of each player in the Rotherham United squad that played in the League Cup final in 1961 and who scored the first goal (Barry Webster)). The chapter ends with a discussion of the character’s mask – does it have any particular meaning to the character, or was it the first one he picked up? What is the character’s background? Family? Masks are important – with a mask, the Othersiders cannot properly read the person, the first stage in replacing them.

Chapter four is concerned with Game Mechanics. The rules, like all Abstract Nova games, are simple and unobtrusive, while remaining very evocative of the feel that ER tries to convey. Game mechanics only come into play in stressful situations, and everyday skills a character uses for his or her occupation (changing oil for a mechanic, for example) are automatic successes. When testing is required, the GM sets a difficulty of 1 to 5, and decides what types of skills and attributes should be used. The rank of the aptitude (eg Awareness) and occupation rank for a particular skill (eg searching someone) are added together, and that number of 10-sided dice rolled. Any dice that roll 1 give 1 success; any that roll a 2 give 2 successes. Rolls of 3-10 give no successes. Tragedy points can be spent to increase the number of successes rolled. Opposed rolls are as above, but with the highest number of successes winning. GM decision says whether lacking a skill can default to just using the attribute, or whether the roll automatically fails (a housewife isn’t going to be able to perform brain surgery). Rules for hurried actions, extended actions, and teamwork also follow, as well as several examples of common actions (spotting replicas, chasing someone, etc).

The chapter is rounded out with a section on combat, which start with initiative and a Violence roll to see whether the character is capable of inflicting damage on someone – a neat touch, and something that most other games lack – Call of Cthulhu investigators, for example, are similarly normal people, and yet they often seem to have no compunction against beating up or shooting anyone that moves). Does your lovable grandmotherly professional babysitter character have what it takes to stab an adorable (though replicated) flopsy bunny rabbit with her kitchen knife? What about one of the kids she’s babysitting? If she has a Violence rank of 1, but rolls well and joins in on an attack against a replicated person, she stands a strong chance of her Violence rank increasing as she comes to term with the need for violence. Combat is simple, mostly opposed rolls for hand-to-hand combat and fixed difficulties for ranged combat with various modifiers (cover, lighting, range, movement etc). Damage is based on the weapon used and the number of successes in the attack roll, the strength of the attacker and the endurance of the defender. Each character has 20 health, and some weapons have very high damage ratings, easily able to kill with one shot or blow. Wounds can affect skill rolls (one success is lost for every 5 health lost). Alongside rules for falling and fire and the other usual things, there are also rules for starvation – handy when the characters take a trip to Otherside, when they prefer not to eat replicated food, or when their paranoia gets the best of them and they find themselves unable to leave the house. To deal with the ever-increasing psychological ranks, rules are also given for therapy and medication to bring these ranks lower, but this is a longer-term action, likely to be overtaken by the pace of increase of these traits.

Surprisingly, the game omits any form of XP system, meaning that characters will find it difficult to improve on their original skill levels, though it is suggested that the GM can use Tragedy Points as XP if he or she wishes. The GM is warned, however, not make this too cheap, as super heroic characters able to easily defeat Othersiders removes something from the game. Even so, the complete lack of any XP system at all seems a little odd – surely the Anonymous group the PCs belong to could provide some rudimentary training in certain skills over time, or the PCs themselves could train each other? Again, though, house rules could easily be put in place, and the rationale behind omitting such a system is a fairly good one.
Chapter five, Threats, covers the Othersiders, those strange creatures who are busy replicating people and things. Five types of Othersider are presented, from watchers to those which replace people, to those given the task of eradicating the Anonymous. When they are killed, their bodies disappear, so no trace of them can be used to learn more about them. Each of the Othersider descriptions include some suggested storylines that can be used with them. Also in this section are notes on journalists and law enforcement groups.

Chapter six, Otherside, describes the hell where the people and things that have been replaced are taken to, a weird mish-mash of concentration camp, dangerous waste repository, junkyard and factory, mired in red smog and darkness. It is not a place you want to spend any length of time in. Patrolled by weird creatures that stop escape back to reality, Otherside quickly brings on insanity and a rapid disintegration of civilisation and morality. With little available food, cannibalism is the norm, and many of those replaced have undergone such mental torture that their sanity has irrevocably gone. The Anonymous who go there (there is a way for them to go there (and return), though very dangerous) to bring back replicated people have to be very wary, and cannot stay long before they too have their minds twisted. One of the horrible ironies of ER is that as the characters become more competent at dealing with Othersiders, they become more and more liable to insanity, until they can no longer function and are taken over by the GM. Several other denizens of Otherside are described here. Your PCs will not want to meet any of them. Various locations are also described, which most characters will usually want to avoid.

Chapter seven deals with Gamemastering, and gives lots of good advice for running an ER campaign, starting with advice for running through chargen with the players, to scene-setting, types of conflict (social, environmental, psychological as well as physical), to the usual scenario and campaign creating sections. The section abounds in plot ideas (you hear about a similar group in the next city over – are they for real, like you, or are they a new and sinister development by the Othersiders to draw you out?), as well as doing a good job asking questions as to what effect on normal people the characters’ actions will have – are they just LARPers? Battling an evil and invisible menace, as a tabloid might suggest? What will happen when someone sees a white cop with a mask on and his similarly masked friends beating the crap out of a Black guy in an alleyway? Does Michael Jackson cover the faces of his children to hide their faces from paparazzi or because he knows what’s going on?

Conclusion: So, why are the Othersiders replicating and kidnapping people and objects? ER doesn’t say, but it does give several possible reasons that you can use to come up with your own campaign ideas. As such, there is quite a bit of replayability in ER. The simple game mechanics ensure that the game doesn’t get stuck in tactical combat for goes on for hours, leaving more time for role-playing and the story. The mechanics related to psychological attributes, while of course they don’t pretend to match the reality of mental illness, are innovative and help create the atmosphere that the game thrives on, of a slow descent into madness and terror, and the probably ultimately failed attempt to fight back.

Art: Eric Lofgren does some very evocative work in ER. A lot of the half-page scenes depicted are natural poses – the narrator of the Initiation chapter, for instance, is seen sitting, an old woman in a cheap black suit with a carnival-style mask. A run-down abandoned building which serves as the Anonymous HQ and the like. In addition, each chapter begins with a full-page greyed illustration, usually of Anonymous members destroying replicated things (or people), attacking Othersider creatures etc. Some of these are repeated in other chapters as half-page illustrations. The outside margins of other pages are decorated with depictions of various masks. These margins are the same throughout the book, and it would have been a great aid to flipping through the book looking for particular chapters if these had been different marginal mask illustrations for each chapter, but otherwise they look good; several of the masks seem have a malign or malevolent look to them, which fits well.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Exquisite Replicas
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Dark Ages: Inquisitor
Publisher: White Wolf
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2014 17:53:12
“The Revenge of the Kine” would also be an adequate name for Dark Ages: Inquisitor, where ordinary mortals are called by God himself to serve their fellow man in the vocation of the secret Holy Inquisition. Hold onto your souls kids, we’re entering a medieval world tormented by the get of Satan — from demons to heretics to blood drinking witches, and we are all that stands between man, and his corruption by evil incarnate. We are the men in black. And white. And red. And the rest.

It was a good theory anyway. The horrors perpetrated in the name of God were little better than the Get of Satan is capable of. Torture, murder and mob violence are the staples of the Inquisition, which at its most extreme will stop at nothing to root out the minions of the Adversary. How could a good Christian stand by and let Satan’s minions run freely around God’s Earth? All sin may be absolved, and what is the odd transgression when you are in the practice of saving souls? What choice do you have when the legions of Hell are here, now and stealing the souls of Innocents? Trust in God, and in his Forgiveness.
One of my favorite aspects of this game is that when the Inquisitor’s Conviction for his cause outstrips his faith in God (i.e. Piety- the Inquisitor path) he becomes “Callous”, effectively becoming a killing machine in the name of the Holy Inquisition. The Inquisitor gives in to the dark side of his Nature- his ‘Impulse’. Gone is any empathy for wretched souls tricked or being coerced by Satan, “Kill them all for God will know his own” is the sort of cry that comes to mind when an Inquisitor turns to the dark side of the force.

In service to the Holy Roman Church there are five Holy Orders divided (similarly to high and low Clans) into Monastic and Lay orders. These five orders are under the command of Cardinal Marzone who answers to the Pope, to God and to no one else. He and those under him are charged by the Pope with the Holy task of eradicating Satan’s evil from all of Christendom, while remaining completely unknown of (at this stage) by the common populace, including most of the Church itself. These Orders include Honorable Knight-Monks, Nuns who gain visions from God, A Noble house with a nose for the stench of evil, A broad spy network, and even an Order who actually desires to use the knowledge of Hell against its minions, but often at a terrible cost.

Steeped in ignorance as to the strengths and weaknesses of demons, and being only fragile, God-fearing mortals themselves, the Inquisitors are given mighty Blessings from God which take the form of miracles, and similarly are given Curses for being greedy in seeking power too quickly, or for having imperfect faith. Blessings from God are not bought with experience, rather they are purchased with the Holy Conviction that the Fight engenders within every inquisitor that their cause is just.

Inquisitors, while on an individual basis are not even vaguely as powerful as a Vampire, Werewolf, Mage or Fey, employ the awesome strength of the Flock. This is the one power that all of the mightiest creatures in the world fear, that of those they prey upon (in one way or another) rising up collectively against them, the herd stampeding the predator, so to speak. Inquisitors may be unable to employ unholy methods to gain hellish strength, speed or even the use of hell-spawned magic, but they have the single most powerful organization at their backs, whose members follow, out of blind faith and sheer desperation to save both their lives and souls.
Having mentioned their weaknesses, some Inquisitor Blessings are truly horrific. They may create true sunlight (at a low level), and at higher levels may reflect Unholy Powers back upon the caster (including Potence!), equal the physical statistics of a foe, call down the Wrath of God, or even force ‘demons’ to join in a glorious hymn praising Almighty God, inflicting copious amounts of aggravated damage in the process. For all their anti-magic pretense they seem to be awesomely potent magic-users, to me at least. While not as versatile as a Mage, resilient as a Vampire, or combat munchkiny as a Werewolf they represent the terrifying power of the Flock, and the Flock is not happy.
Inquisitors are God’s bastions of strength among the Flock, having been blessed with several abilities that set them apart from their fellow man, as well as the denizens of Hell. As with Vampires, Inquisitors have Virtues, although these have also been further refined into “Superior Virtues”- Conscience growing into Faith, Self-Control into Wisdom and Courage into Zeal. Superior virtues grant the Inquisitor resistance to unnatural powers like thralldom, memory alteration and fear effects. God has given the Inquisitors four different types of ‘Blessings’ including Orisons, Endowments, Ritae and the Holy Art.

Orisons are the weakest of the blessings, generally performing some minor feat- e.g. turning the Inquisitors blood toxic to Vampires, enhancing ones knowledge, or reducing the need for sleep. Endowments have different facets, which are drawn upon by different Superior Virtues. Holy Ritae include everything from exorcism to creating holy armaments, while the Holy Art is similar to path magic of the Tremere, with three paths representing the three aspects of the Divine Trinity.

‘Well, what the hell do you think about it?’ you are probably asking by now. Well, I quite like Dark Ages: Inquisitor, although I am extremely annoyed that you need Dark Ages: Vampire to be able to run a game, whether you want it or not, because only it contains the core rules. A lot of the book is given to explaining how the inquisition thinks, and rightly so, it is very hard to shift from modern day thinking to such a narrow minded, contradictory and ignorant world view. It is a real culture shock shifting from a Mage or Vampire game to an Inquisitor game as the sheer ignorance of the group. Despite its power, its core concept is ‘If it ain’t us it’s the Devil’s work’ makes for a very interesting, if limiting, game. I love the fiction (there is an awful lot — more than a whole chapter) about Leopold von Murnau and the other hunters, as well as the way that the Inquisition’s view on the supernatural is explained during a story (in a very Tolkienesque manner if you ask me).

All in all, this game embodies (even if it appears otherwise) what all the WoD games historically entailed- “We may not be right, we do not have all the answers, but we are going to give life the best damned shot we can give it. We are going to act in a manner and try and protect our friends and family and ourselves, for our own purposes, enforced upon us by our own circumstances.” This way of thinking is what has led me to love White-Wolf games in the first place- the dissolution of the good vs. evil cliché, and the characters (regardless of what they happen to be) acting simply as life has shaped them to act. The concept of ‘we may not have all the answers, but we’ll give it our best shot’ is a universal one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Ages: Inquisitor
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