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Toys for the Sandbox 11: The Astral Star
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/01/2012 19:43:28
(originally published at tenkarstavern.com)

The Astral Star is the 11th installment in the Toys For the Sandbox series of... not quite adventures, but more like stories hooks and adventure seeds. I believe as I write this, Occult Moon is up to 13 in the series, plus a free "Issue Zero" and a bonus that those that grabbed the freebie in the first 24 hours were eligible to receive. Yep, its a pretty lively series.

The Astral Star takes the series to new heights and new dimensions. This is one that would benefit if you could place some rumors and seeds a few sessions (or longer) in advance, as it would really make for a larger impact on the PCs if it could be successfully pulled off.

The hooks (and twists) are really, really good this time around. With a little work, some could be used to decent effect as seeds to encounters or adventures of your own design. That is the one shame of this series. Six hooks, each with 3 twists gives you 18 possible ways to get your party involved. Since you will only use one, you have 17 that laying there, wishing they were used. I'm already thinking of ways to use a handful of the ones I won't be using in different set ups.

The Astral Star deals with the Astral Plane (not a big surprise there), but I don't want to spoil the major twist here. I really do like it. It's very innovative and can certainly lead to a whole chain of events for your party, either immediately or in the party's future.

Best of the lot so far IMHO. I've liked them all, loved a bunch, but The Astral Star beats them all.

Oh, and I label this "Generic OSR", as it is most certainly drawn from and OSR mindset and gaming history even if there are no stats includ

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 11: The Astral Star
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Toys for the Sandbox 10: Hamlet Under the Waterfall
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/26/2012 18:02:38
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/26/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-the-hamlet-under-the-waterfall/

Overview

The booklet consists of a title page, a page of general setting information, a page with a map of the hamlet and some outlying tunnels, two pages of plot hooks, one-and-a-quarter pages of characters, and the last page has a table for rumors table on it and another table for random encounters.

The basic story goes like this: there is a rare and potent algae that grows in some dark caves, far into the mountain. People use this algae as a reagent in various spells or alchemical processes. The cave entrance is hidden by a waterfall, and a village has sprung up around the algae gathering and trading operations, as well as a secure storage service. The area has attracted an elven ex-ruler, a newly elected mayor, a head merchant in charge of algae trading, and possibly some other rather unsavory personalities.

Possible plot twists include a fey messenger route, a strange side-effect from harvesting algae, intrigue between the merchant and the mayor, and some interest in certain powerful items that the elven noble has brought with her.

What Do I Think?

This is another little module that can be thrown into any adventure. Characters take off to the mountains or some other location that might have a grand waterfall? They can discover the hamlet of Waterkeep and the GM can use any of the plot twists to easily make a session. I don’t think the plot points in this particular one lend themselves to anything more than a session’s worth, but Waterkeep could easily be an adventuring base for a party. The idea that the little village has become a trading hub is interesting, and I feel like that is something that could definitely be explored further. Overall, another location that a GM can use at their whim; it’s going to need some fleshing out, but the central idea is good.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 10: Hamlet Under the Waterfall
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Toys for the Sandbox 09: Dormant Volcano
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/26/2012 05:51:24
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/21/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-the-dormant-volcano/

Overview

The booklet consists of a title page, a page of general setting information, a page with a top-down and side-view map of the volcano’s caldera, two pages of plot hooks, one-and-a-quarter pages of characters, and the last page has a table for rumors table on it and another table for random encounters.

The basic story goes like this: there is a long-dormant volcano, Mount Nodelith, that harbors a primitive tribe among its crags and tunnels. Also on the huge crater floor are various jungle creatures, a witch, exiled tribes-people, and a half-buried ship. Depending on which plot twists you go with, there might also be all kinds of strangeness and danger going on in the caldera as well, like bandits and a ghost dragon. The people of the tribe rely on the giant spiders that live in the crater to provide silk for their clothing, and some magical pools scattered around the bottom have interesting and unpredictable magical properties.

Wait, ghost dragon, you say? Yes, a ghost dragon. There is a myth (or is it?) told by the tribe that tells of when the volcano erupted, and it involves a ghost dragon settling in for some sleep, or tending to some offspring perhaps…

What Do I Think?

This is an interesting one, although I feel it could have used a little more polish. I like that the volcano is self-contained; as I say with just about all of these booklets, I think it’s better to be ambiguous about place, time, and other specifics. This booklet gives no map as to the exact location of the caldera, so adventurers could just stumble upon it, be guided to it by a local, or find a map or any typical route like that. If you want a more radical path, the party can arrive via the ship buried in the crater floor (you’ll have to read the module to understand how that can work). Some of the plot twists and things mentioned in the character descriptions are a little suspect for me; specifically involving Dwarves and the ghost dragon also seems a bit cataclysmic, although it could provide a fine battle or diplomatic session with the right party.

I would have liked to see more connection with all of the elements within the crater. Reading through everything you get a phrase about spiders, then about Dwarves, then a ghost dragon, then bandits and pools and flying squirrels and trolls and… it began to feel like so many things were being thrown in to this one and there were few connections or glimpses as to how it all worked to make this ecology. However, if you are a GM and you like all the ideas and can put in a little elbow grease to reconcile them and figure out how they could all work in your game, it’s great.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 09: Dormant Volcano
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Toys for the Sandbox 00: Wizard's Tower
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/20/2012 06:30:00
Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/20/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-the-wizards-tower/

The Wizard’s Tower is number…zero? Yes folks, it’s #0 in the Toys for the Sandbox series. A prequel, if you will, to #1… I suppose.

Overview

The booklet consists of a title page, a page of general setting information, a page with a map depicting the various floors of the tower, two pages of plot hooks, one page of characters, and a page with a Rumors table on it and another table for items that might be found in the basement.

The basic story goes like this: a reclusive wizard lives in a tower near a town, and his activities tend to attract attention… at least, when he is actually home. The wizard’s presence provides for tall tales, possible employment, fascination, and not an insignificant amount of attention from people wondering just what valuable things they might find inside that tower.

The wizard himself is an accomplished adventurer, and he is one of the characters described in the booklet. You will also find a local farmer and ex-adventurer, a demon who may or may not come calling on the wizard, and a strangely talented stone mason.

What Do I Think?

This is my favorite of the series so far. It’s got theme, it’s got plot hooks from all kinds of different angles, it’s got cool stuff to find in the basement, interesting characters, a decent map of the tower, good setting information, and above all it doesn’t make itself too definite; by that I mean it’s able to be dropped into any setting that will accommodate it. It does have a plot hook that links it to The Secret Library of Ethos, but a GM can substitute any library or archive he or she wants. I would have liked to see a top-down map of the tower and gardens, and also one of the general proximity to the town, but again those are things a GM can sketch up in a few minutes. In my opinion, this is a great freebie to pick up.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 00: Wizard's Tower
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Toys for the Sandbox 09: Dormant Volcano
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2012 18:36:27
Dormant Volcano (which is how it is titled at RPGNow) also goes by the name The Nodelith Caldera (which is the actual title of the PDF - confusing, aint it?). In this case the name of the dormant volcano is Mount Nodelith, which should clear some things up. The Nodelith Caldera is the floor of the volcano. Simple, eh?

Well, this caldera has a galleon (a ship) embedded in it's rock wall.

As usual with the Toys for the Sandbox series we get a map, 6 hooks with 3 twists each (giving the GM 18 different possibilities to play with. The nice thing about this entry in the series is that the hooks aren't exclusive... you can run with more that one, which gives this a lot of gaming potential. We also get 4 NPCs, an encounter table and a rumor table.

Location is a bit out of the way and may be hard to integrate depending on the campaign, but there's a lot you can steal from it in any case.

It's hard to go wrong ;)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 09: Dormant Volcano
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Toys for the Sandbox 07: Coachman's Inn
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/10/2012 15:38:38
As usual, we get a map, 6 possible hooks (each with 3 possible twists), 4 NPCs, a rumor table and random table for special items available on the market. The usual good stuff from the Toys For the Sandbox series.

What's really nice about The Coachman's Inn is that the plot hooks could work at pretty much any inn or tavern, they aren't limited to the scenario / setting presented.

If I have one complaint, and it's minor, is that the default location calls for The Coachman's Inn to lie at a sort of neutral ground where the borders of four kingdoms meet. While it sounds kinda neat in theory, it's also damn rare, especially when boundaries would usually follow terrain features. Easy enough to hand wave away, but when you are trying to make something easy to drop into a campaign, less detailed... details... would have worked better.

Still, love the hooks and the twists. Overall, another excellent effort (with the one minor quibble).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 07: Coachman's Inn
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Toys for the Sandbox 00: Wizard's Tower
by Samuel B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/08/2012 15:44:39
A nice, simple, seven page document giving a few drawings of a wizard's tower and the basement and sub-basement along with a description. It then provides a number of plot scenarios and plot twist possibilities. It also provides details of the main characters mentioned therein as well as a couple of tables for random choice of the above.

For what it is, it's nice. Well presented and written but nice and basic.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 00: Wizard's Tower
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Toys for the Sandbox 05: Secret Library
by Robert N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/08/2012 08:46:16
Much more sketchy than i expected. Additionally the "map" was a sketch with no scale and the prose only roughly described the library. The main NPCs were also only described in broad strokes: no names, just appearance and their specialties. The hooks were nice though and the only thing i could use for my purposes in my campaign.

So if a broad sketch is what you are after, this is a great product. But for most games, when th party has to interact and deal with the library, i would not recommend this pdf.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 05: Secret Library
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Toys for the Sandbox 08: Druid's Grove
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/07/2012 07:18:44
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/07/toys-for-the-sandbox-th-
e-druids-grove/

The Druid’s Grove is #8 in the Toys for the Sandbox series, a short supplement involving a high-ranking collective of druids, their mountain retreat, and their battle to save the land from those who would destroy it.


Overview

The 7-page booklet consists of a title page, a nice map, a page of general setting information, two pages of plot hooks, one and a half pages of characters, and a half-page consisting of a table for random rumors to be heard and another small map of the general area to the East and West of the grove.

The basic story goes like this: the Moonsong druids are a group of prestigious druids from many different druidic traditions and schools, and they congregate at a secluded spot up in the mountains. This place, known as The Grove of the Moonsong, holds a sacred shard and is considered the birthplace of the elements. Lately, they have heard of devastation being wrought on the land by orcs, and they may be facing a battle to keep them from doing any more damage. In fact, they may have hired a mercenary warlord to oversee the war effort.

There are some great plot hooks in here: one about the shard being a piece of a divine weapon, a few about the stars indicating a variety of important events, a murder, a coup, what more do you want? I should add that there is one specific angle that involves angry faeries and a magical horse… you might have trouble getting your table into that one.

What Do I Think?

This module is a little different, as it goes a bit beyond being simply a small area that can be tossed into any campaign. Instead, The Druid’s Grove hints at a larger picture, one of invading orcs and going so far as to include a map (the smaller one) that defines a rather large area. I am a little concerned that they are defining “the sandbox”, instead of just being drop-in modules for any GM (i.e. being the sandbox instead of the toys for the sandbox). If you look at the plot hooks, you’ll find plenty that has little to do with the maps or any over-arching setting and you can ignore whatever you want.

Overall, I would suggest this if you’re planning an adventure in a forest region, or anywhere where there might be a coven of elite druids. Feasibly, you could ignore a lot of the setting information included and use the plot hooks to set the druids in a city, another plane, underground, or any area where you think druids might possibly meet. Worth a buck? Sure. Print it out and put it in your campaign notes, slip it in with some other papers to be pulled out whenever you need it, or make up a scenario around it; it’s up to you.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 08: Druid's Grove
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Toys for the Sandbox 05: Secret Library
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/05/2012 09:20:18
Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/05/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-5-the-secret-library-of-ethos/

The Secret Library of Ethos is #5 in the Toys for the Sandbox series, a short supplement about, as you may have guessed, a secret library located in a town. Unlike later modules in this series, this booklet only has 5 pages instead of 7. The site where you can purchase the PDF lists the document at 4 pages, but it is actually 5.

Overview

The booklet consists of a title page, a page of general setting information and a map depicting the various floors of the library, a page-and-a-half of plot hooks, one page of characters, and a half-page consisting of a table for random rumors to be heard and one for book titles one might find in the stacks.

The basic story goes like this: A scholar named Ethos fled the oppression of an elf who had appointed himself as a divine ruler over a human kingdom. The elf was bent on destroying books of any kind that might go counter to his claim of being a god. After he fled, Ethos founded a secret library in a town where himself and other battle-trained scholars could keep precious books away from any who might seek to harm them.

The secret nature of the library allows for some nice plot hooks: one involves thieves entering the library through a book, another about keeping the “God King” from finding and taking powerful books from the library that he needs. A strange one implies that there are several heads that the library keeps (one of them being the head of the founder, Ethos) and they are calling for the party. Characters include the head of Ethos, the master librarian, the divine tyrant, and the typical scholar.

What Do I Think?

I appreciate the self-contained nature of this module; it would be easy to drop this into a city, town, a mountain, or anywhere that might be good for a group of secretive scholars to go unnoticed. The plot hooks are great, you’ve got anything from assassinating a powerful ruler to trying to help the librarians steal back books from other places. There are several hooks dealing with the acquisition or defense of books, and others where the librarians themselves may be in grave danger. The production suffers from a few grammatical errors here and there, including one spelling error, but nothing that distracts from the reading. As with the other Toys for the Sandbox modules, this can be as narrow or as expansive as the GM desires. I would suggest it for basing at least an entire session around, because the plot hooks tend to be somewhat involved. Spend one dollar, get some nice adventure seeds and ideas.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 05: Secret Library
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Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/01/2012 08:08:24
Originally printed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/01/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-the-cursed-catacombs/

Booklet #6 in the Toys for the Sandbox series is The Cursed Catacombs, a short supplement for adventuring underneath an abandoned monastery. As with the others in this series, it is system-independent, able to be dropped into any game.

Overview

The seven page booklet consists of a title page, a well-labeled map, a page of general setting information, two pages of plot hooks, one and a half pages of characters, and a half-page consisting of two tables: one for random rumors to be heard and one for random encounters. There is also a small map of an island.

The basic story goes like this: the priests of a remote island monastery had rooms in the catacombs where ancient and/or holy artifacts were kept. Something awoke the power of an evil artifact being held there, and since then the catacombs have been dangerous and the reliquary where the object was stored is filled with a mysterious dark force. It is up to the GM to decide what happened and possibly use one of the several plot hooks to determine what is going on and how to stop it. There are interesting options here, ranging from a secret subterranean race to a Lovecraftian pupa that feeds on human consciousness. The hooks are organized under a specific angle like: “a recent earthquake has unsealed the reliquary at the bottom of the catacombs”, each angle giving three different twists related to that particular idea.

What Do I Think?

As with the other Toys for the Sandbox modules, this one is good for dropping into any campaign, or even a session that needs a little extra flavor. The writing itself could use a little work in terms of flow and clarity, but the ideas are there and they are good for the most part. I could have used a little more clarity, for instance, on the fact that the monastery is on an island that connects via tunnel to the mainland. It mentions the island partway through the setting information, but nothing else about it (aside from a small map). There are also references to orcs (spelled “Orks” in the material) that are not really expanded upon except that they are involved in some of the plot hooks.

I found the map to be helpful and having plenty of information, except it is hard to tell exactly how the various catacomb levels are all supposed to connect. This would be easy for a GM to simply ignore or make up himself, since the practice of creating dungeons is age-old. I’m certain just about any small- or medium-size map from another RPG module could be used without any problems. As with the other Toys for the Sandbox items, the most useful thing here are the plot ideas. The characters are interesting in this one as well, but the plot hooks are really where I find value in this supplement.

It’s up to the GM to decide how to use The Cursed Catacombs: whether as a side-note for flavor or for the main focus of a session. I think any GM would be pressed to use the supplement for more than one session of material, unless they just decided to focus a campaign on the monastery or some facet of the evil presence. As is, there is enough here for a party to explore and the GM to riff off of for a while, especially if they play up the mysteries that can come with an abandoned monastery.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
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Toys for the Sandbox 07: Coachman's Inn
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/27/2012 08:04:36
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/02/27/tabletop-review-toys-fo-
r-the-sandbox-the-coachmans-inn/

From the title page: “A coach from the North arrives at The Coachman’s Inn at Grillina crossroads. The inn is a nefarious place known for politics and deal making [sic] even less savory”; thus opens this small nugget of role-playing source material from Occult Moon Games, who has released a series of such booklets (in PDF form) to date. This particular one is presented with a nice green background, but I would prefer if it were simply a blank background to make printing it a little cleaner.

Overview

The 7-page booklet consists of a title page, a map, a page of general setting information, two pages of plot hooks, one and a half pages of characters, and a half-page consisting of two tables: one for random rumors to be heard and one for items being sold in the market. The plot hooks range from simple to possibly very involved, and from the mundane to the strange (e.g. the flaming ghost of a man wrongly executed). The characters are pretty straightforward, with four distinct personalities and places in the ecology of the inn.

Players traveling to the inn will no doubt encounter Julian Fairlight, the proprietor and primary pie-slice-taker for anyone who dares make some coin in the vicinity. There is much coin to be made, as the inn is practically surrounded with a living tent-city, filled to the brim with merchants on any given day.

What Do I Think?

This may be a useful supplement for anyone who likes to drop things into their campaign, or possibly even extrapolate their own campaign or session from the bits of plot presented in this booklet. I find the most interesting and useful thing to be the setting information and plot hooks, the other things are marginally useful. The map is a bit cumbersome, as it shows the inn and some surrounding buildings in one corner, and then a TON of tents, more than could possibly be needed. A few lines point to “burned tents” and one misplaced line (one end is right in the middle of the words) points out Fairlight’s tent. Why would Fairlight need a tent? Why doesn’t he live in the inn? This (to me) is one of the inconsistencies of the little volume that you may notice if you read through it. Another small complaint of mine is that in the setting information it says that the inn “stretches over the borders of four powerful kingdoms,” which I think should have been left out because it takes away from the isolation (and thus the flexibility) of the module; not to mention that any GM not using this as a basis for a game world is going to completely ignore that information anyway.

Overall it presents some fun ideas, and if you ignore a few things here and there you can easily drop this into any setting, even in a busy city. Despite an illustration error and some unpolished writing, this has the potential to provide enough bang for your buck.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 07: Coachman's Inn
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Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/14/2012 20:56:22
(originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm hooked on the Toys For the Sandbox series, but in case you've missed it - I am hooked, line and sinker too. It's an extremely affordable and flexible toolbox to have available when you need something to drop into a campaign.

Each Toys For the Sandbox entry is generic , as in "stat free" (but the OSR "feel" is very much there). It also means level free, so you can adjust these for the level you need at the moment. You get a short back story, a map for the encounter area, 6 hooks to choose from and each hook has 3 twists, giving 18 variations on how you can decide to have the encounter pan out. You also get a handful of PCs (usually 4) and some appropriate random tables (in the Cursed Catacombs we get a Rumor Table and an Encounter table)

The Cursed Catacombs is a follow up, an essentially a second part, to #4, Hermit's Island. Yes, you could run them independently, but run together it becomes a really nice micro setting.

With The Cursed Catacombs, page count goes from 4 to 7 pages. The format itself doesn't change, but the extra pages allow Occult Moon to be a bit more verbose with their descriptions. It also makes the pages less cluttered dense. The extra space is definitely put to good use.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
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Toys for the Sandbox 04: Hermit's Island
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/11/2012 22:48:15
I'm getting addicted to Toys in the Sandbox - I just can't get enough of these 99 cent treasures. The Hermit's Island is the latest one I've read (there are more for me to read- I'm playing catch up).

What can I tell you about it without giving away any of it? Let's see, you get a map of a small island (which appears to be missing an indication of scale / distance - not a game killer, but it would be nice) and some background material and a brief description of said island.

You get your usual (I love "usual" in this case) 6 possible plot hooks, each with 3 possible twists. It makes it very easy to tailor to your campaign and GM style.

You get descriptions of 4 NPCs that are very detailed yet stat-less. You know what drives them, but you'll need to stat them out to your system of choice.

Oh, and a random encounter table and a rumor table. A bargain and a half.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 04: Hermit's Island
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Shades of Grey
by James D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/25/2012 04:49:48
Disclosure: I helped edit this.
At a short two pages there's not a lot to get your teeth into but the concept of following fate and bending fate with decisions to shape the adventures of a character is a good one. This is bare-bones but excellent food for thought and a buck isn't much for an evening or two's entertainment. It could do with some more guidelines and a bit more of a hook to see where you stand within the game and what you do, but that could be addressed by a follow up blog post or similar.

Worth it for the ideas.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shades of Grey
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