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Advanced Adventures #3: The Curse of the Witch Head
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/30/2018 04:21:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons to be undertaken at my leisure.

Now, it should be noted that this, like all modules in the series, manages to cram a significant amount of material into its pages, providing a rather impressive amount of text into the pages. The adventure features a new hazard-concept as well as three new monsters; however, with the exception of one of them, they tie in with the story, and thus will be covered in the SPOILER-section.

As before, the series employs the OSRIC-rules and is easily adaptable to other OSR-games (and more current ones). Formatting-wise, it should be noted that spells and magic items have been bolded, and the same goes for monster names and major negative conditions mentioned in the text. This deviation from formatting standards is not exactly something the OCD-guy in me likes, but they’re consistent, so yeah – I can live with that aspect.

The adventure is intended for 4 – 6 characters level 6 – 10, though it should be noted that a good mixture of character classes is very much recommended. This is a difficult module, though one that thankfully derives its difficulty mainly from player-skill as well as referee-prowess.

In order to discuss this, though, I need to go deep into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great!

So, the eponymous witch-head is an indestructible artifact of pure evil and malevolence – but thankfully, it has been sealed away in a complex dedicated to goodness. But, alas, as is the way of the world, the hero who sealed away the witch-head’s bloodline did not strengthen. Instead, the current duke, Ymis, has to contend with a distant cousin named Dalan, who seeks to abduct his cousin Derica to solidify his claim on the title and overthrow Ymis. While he has managed to secure the dread witch-head, he can’t penetrate the warded estate. This is where the adventurers come in.

Basically, the PCs enter a complex designed by the forces of good, which has been overtaken by evil adventurers, with the darkness of the artifact slowly seeping into the designs of the dungeon. This makes the dungeon complex feel really, really unique: In a shrine, the PCs can watch the oscillation of forces of good and evil vie for dominion, with potent buffs and debuffs. The good nature of the complex also is reflected in rooms of purpose – potentially super-deadly trap-rooms that don’t kill smart PCs, courtesy of the good guys obviously including safety measures. These rooms of purpose reward smart PCs and represent one of my favorite aspects herein – the module emphasizes player skill over PC skill with many of the decisions, and smart players will soon realize that separating the actions of the evil pretender’s posse from the architecture of the complex itself will yield them a big advantage.

Speaking of which, the outlaws that accompany Dalan are actually 6 fully statted, proper NPCs, with spells prepared noted if applicable. They also have their very own motivations and dynamics and can, in the hands of a capable referee, make for a formidable dynamic encounter to complicate the exploration of the complex. One of the new monsters deserves special mention: The rancid is an otyugh-like, wicked thing that can cause long-time barfing (and thus lock down a careless group fast); it can also cause a really quick wasting disease, which inflicts 2d10 damage per hour…and needs a 14th level caster to cure. There are not many of these things in the dungeon, thankfully, but contracting the disease is pretty much a death sentence for the level. Not a big fan there. The second creature herein would be another somewhat dynamic encounter – a specialized golem that knows the secret doors of the place and looks like a multi-armed minotaur stalks the halls, adding a further complication to the proceedings. My favorite creature here, though, would be the prism ward – basically a pretty harmless, floating crystal that reflects light as super-deadly blasts, acting light a living light amplifier. One of my favorite traps herein is a wand of illumination, wedged in the wall, with a magic mouth (not formatted properly) appearing and speaking the trigger word, aiming at the creature. It’s clever and deadly.

So, beyond aforementioned, dynamic aspects, we have an uncommon kind of bottleneck, namely an underground lake that needs to be crossed. Careless players will bite off more than they can chew here – if the journey is not handled smartly, they may well fall. There’s a reason for this. Dalan has already been corrupted and all but consumed by the Witch-Head. While he has the potent staff of screams that may stun and deafen the PCs for a while, he also has a grand total of whopping 15 hit points, which means he can be pretty much one-shot-killed by a lucky PC. This pitiful, lone boss, separated from his formidable posse, is intentional, for the true climax here would pertain interacting with the artifact and not succumbing to its malevolent power. In a way, Dalan and his evil group are warnings to the prospective bearers of this horrid artifact. And yes, we get tight rules for its use. It demands a steep price indeed…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to the no-frills, classic 2-.column b/w-standard of the series and the pdf sports some nice, original b/w-artworks. The cartography of the complex is functional, if not impressive, and unfortunately sports no key-less player-friendly version for VTTs or printing out and cutting up. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Sometimes, less is more. James C. Boney’s second Advanced Adventure only covers a single dungeon level, as opposed to the Red Mausoleum’s three, but takes it time to properly develop the complex and its inhabitants. The different forces at work in the complex lend it a unique atmosphere, and the inclusion of basically a hostile adventurer group adds some serious spice to the proceedings. I also loved the intentionally anticlimactic BBEG, as this is something that many an author would have shirked away from. That being said, the relative brevity of the module does show a bit. Having a full patrol schedule/AI-like action/response-sequence for the hostile NPCs would have been the icing on the cake.

Still, all things considered, this represents a fun and flavorful dungeon with some creative hazards and challenges. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #3: The Curse of the Witch Head
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Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:54:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, who graciously bought the module and told me to finish it at my convenience.

Now, this is the second of the Advanced Adventures-modules released by Expeditious Retreat Press, and as such, it is not the latest offering of the author – James C. Boney moved on to create other adventures, which will be covered in due time. As with the first module and all in the series, the default rules system employed herein would be OSRIC. Also, like the first module, this chooses to deviate from formatting conventions, bolding magic items and spells, for example.This is not employed with 100% consistency, though.

The module introduces a new material, a kind of magical fabric that is as tough as metal, and it features three creatures: The illustrated Gehzin are basically telekinesis-using extraplanar frog folks with nasty diseases; harbingers are slain fallen paladins that have not atoned for their sins, revived by the forces of the abyss, and finally, shadowcaps are more of a hazard than a creature – the shrooms are my favorite critter here, as their spores render your incorporeal! Yeah, damn cool and something I’ll be using in games, regardless of system.

All right, this being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The premise of this adventure is rather simple: There have been undead excursions coming from the swamp and the PCs are sent in to fix this issue. After a trek through 15 miles of non-mapped swampland, the PCs arrive at the eponymous red mausoleum, ostensibly the source of the living dead roaming the land. The brief wilderness trek does come with a random encounter table, which is appreciated and feels “right”, in that it does not clutter the desolation of the swamp with humanoids, instead focusing on animals and vermin...including brain moles! This is smart, for it makes for a sharper contrast when the PCs actually find the complex.

They’ll notice that they’re in the right vicinity by redness oozing from the stones, coloring everything, which makes for some really neat visuals.

Now, the mausoleum was erected by a long gone civilization obsessed with blood and unlife, and as such, is not a nice place. A big plus here would be that the module doesn’t waste x pages depicting this civilization, instead opting for an indirect narration; the PCs get to piece together some aspects of how this society worked as they explore the complex. Provided they even get in.

You see, this very much is a module that not only is written for high level PCs, it also assumes appropriate player-capabilities, all without the GM having to constantly improvise. The complex does not hobble the PCs by artificially limiting their options, which is a huge plus. In fact, the module assumes that PCs and players have amassed a degree of competence during their adventures. So, if by any chance you managed to reach these lofty levels by just murder-hobo-ing your way through everything, you’ll suffer. What do I mean by this? Well, one of the best aspects of this adventure would be that, from the antechamber of the dungeon to a lot of bottlenecks of sorts, you’ll need to deal with puzzles. Not in the annoying way, mind you. The mausoleum has an array of defenses and these are often tied to obscure command words etc. – in short, you’ll finally get some use out of those divination spells. The module assumes that you’re using the like, and while there are ways for PCs to brute force these instances, we ultimately have a module here that asks the PCs to use their considerable resources. That’s a good thing and something high level modules often get wrong.

Better yet, the GM actually gets the command words spelled out, which may be a small thing, but it adds to the sense of the immersion when the players have to recite the pass phrase. The demands on well-rounded groups are also mirrored in the way in which dungeon progress is made: You see, the connections between levels are magical and require the understanding and use of some remnants of these days gone by; not true understanding, mind you, but rather a general concept – this is an altar, with this and that move, we can bypass it…

As a whole, this creates an interesting overall feeling that manages to evoke the sense of properly delving into an old complex. Anyways, these magical connections…they actually don’t last that long. If the PCs dawdle, they may well find themselves caught in the complex, forced to delve deeper. And yes, smart groups will have means to offset that, but I still considered it to be smart from a design-perspective.

Now, as far as random encounters go, the dungeon is very much a themed dungeon, in that the PCs will fight undead, undead, and, for a change, undead. In hordes. This is reflected both in the bosses and in the random encounters, which are btw. replenished pretty quickly…and there’s a reason for that built into the module as well, which is a big plus for me. The living dead don’t just pop up, after all. Anyways, the most remarkable non-undead encounter on the 3 dungeon levels that this adventure encompasses would be a tomb of honored knights, which, in a somewhat random move, houses a ton of creatures in stasis, which are consequently released in waves once the grave-robbers…her, I mean “adventurers” venture into the area. I am not a fan of the lay of stasis angle and the critters actually may end up fighting each other, which can make this a nice free-for-all. That being said, I wasn’t too keen on this encounter, as opposed to the exploration of the complex and the implicitly conveyed lore of the place. Which may also be a reason why I wasn’t too blown away by the presence of crypt things. The creature always seemed gimmicky to me and I have very rarely seen it used well. (TPK Games’ Caragthax the Reaver would be such an example.) Anyhow, these criticisms notwithstanding, the first dungeon level can be considered to be a success – it is flavorful and challenging.

Level 2, alas, is a slog/labyrinth. Level 2 is basically winding, claustrophobic catacombs with some spaces, where blocks react to the presence of good alignment creatures passing, sliding in place. Much to my surprise and in some form of minor inconsistency, the architects of the complex don’t use this feature to the full extent, imprisoning PCs etc. – instead of deadly, it just ends up as disorienting, which is probably the intent. The level is also crawling with undead and has precious few keyed encounters. It is, in essence, a level that exists solely as a war of attrition on PC-resources, which, per se, is a smart move for high level games. However, I really wished it had more going on. After the atmospheric first level, this one felt a bit more generic.

Level 3, then, would be the heart of the complex and a flooded passage may actually allow for escape, should the PCs find themselves in over their head. It is also here that we have the module’s most devious trap, which includes demons and a pocket dimension in a false crypt. And yes, potential for eternal imprisonment included. Combat-wise, this does sport the most memorable fight in the adventure: There is a ritualistic area, where a massive mandala on a raised pedestal channels negative energy, summoning hordes of the living dead to crawl from a pit, with a metal dome to keep its powers in check currently raised atop it. Lowering the dome can make the constant stream abate. This is very cool, and while harbingers and Gatheris, a level 21 cleric/level 19 magic-user lich have their abodes in the vicinity, I found myself wondering why they don’t join the fray here – it’d make more sense and be more climactic. Also, RAW, the lich may come with a buff-suite of sorts, but still deigns to fight the PCs more or less on his own, which, even in the lesser power-levels of OSR-gameplay, tends to be a bad idea for high level casters. Reliance on summoned aid doesn’t help as much and a caster in melee with a good fighter can be a pretty bad idea. Then again, perhaps this was intended, as resting in the complex is tough and the 2nd level’s war of attrition on the PCs can really drain their resources. Still, I think combat in the mandala-room would have been more remarkable and interesting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports a few solid pieces of b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The complex comes with okay b/w-maps, but no player-friendly version is included, which constitutes a comfort detriment for GMs like yours truly who hate drawing maps and enjoy handing out cut-up map-segments to the PCs.

James C. Boney’s “The Red Mausoleum” does a lot right. It is obvious that the author knows the capabilities of high-level PCs first-hand and has experience handling such groups, which is a huge plus: The design of the complex doesn’t just nerf or hobble them, instead working WITH the vast options the PCs have. That is good indeed. From the antechamber throughout most of level 1, I was pretty hooked: The stark visuals of the red complex and the clever “archaeology” of sorts that is needed to progress managed to elicit a sense of wonder that I enjoyed very much. Alas, after level 1, the complex feels like the lack of wordcount left for the subsequent levels necessitated a less interesting take on the remainder of the mausoleum. A good GM can make level 2 feel really claustrophobic and dangerous and level 3’s mandala-room is amazing, but in contrast to how the first level felt, they are less of a unique complex, and feel more like a standard evil-necro-lair type of complex.

The unique tidbits take a back-seat to defeating undead, undead…and then, even more undead. I don’t object to that necessarily, but it is evident in the writing of level 1 and in the glimmers where these become more unique, that they could have been more. I really enjoyed how this module started, but not so much how it progresses. That being said, design-wise, the subsequent levels aren’t bad and work in the context of the complex, they just aren’t as remarkable. I do NOT want the civilization explained, mind you; but some effects for the seeping red, some global tricks, perhaps blood locks or the like…the visuals and theme of the complex imho deserved more in the lower levels. This has the makings of something remarkable, and then settles for a solid, if conservative complex. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re willing to tinker with the complex a bit, you’ll certainly find some cool ways to expand it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
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Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/27/2018 03:56:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of the Advanced Adventures-modules clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front- and back cover, 1 page editorial ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 14.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was requested and provided as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

All right, quick history lessons – this is, to my knowledge at least, may well be the first ever commercially available OSRIC-module ever, which is a pretty huge deal that renders this a sort of almost historical relic of sorts for fans of OSR-style gaming. Now, the trade-dress evoked by the module obviously hearkens back to feelings of nostalgia, and indeed, structurally, this very much is in line with what you’d expect from a classic module – from the font to the lack of read-aloud text, to the aesthetics, the adventure manages to evoke the same sort of feeling, which is a good thing per se for the target demographic.

Now, I like playing advocatus diaboli, and indeed, there are things to complain about regarding the otherwise very concise aesthetics: If you truly want the classic experience, you may be galled by the absence of blueprint style maps in the interior of the covers – personally, I don’t mind. However, in the adherence to the classic formula and trade-dress aesthetics, the module also kinda ignores some industry standards – personally, I would have loved to see e.g. player-friendly maps or VTT-capable ones. There are plusses, though – the interior artwork, also penned by the author, has a distinct style I very much enjoyed. More importantly for me at least was a pet-peeve of mine – formatting is inconsistent. Magic items and spells are sometimes italicized as per the OSRIC standard, and sometimes bolded, with no discernible rhyme or reason. Now, to be fair, they are always highlighted in some way, which helps navigate and run the adventure, but the inconsistencies still galled me.

Now, on a more positive side, the pdf sports a total of 5 new monsters – vampiric moss would be pretty self-explanatory; the deadly funghemoth can be seen, or so I assume, on the back cover; the pod-men and the eponymous shroom (think evil wizard shroom-people) can also be found…but my favorite critter herein would be the snagwort. These are ugly, ropy plants hanging from the ceiling that attach their tendrils to adventurers and seek to smash them into the walls until they’re a bloody pulp. They are more hazards than really combat-material, but here’s the fun part: Their glue persists for a while after death. And they’re heavy. Yes, chances are that one of two of your PCs will carry one of their carcasses around for a while.

Now, the module is designed for 6 -8 characters of levels 2 – 4, and I’d strongly suggest a good mix of character classes. While this is no meatgrinder as far as OSR-modules are concerned, it similarly is not easy.

All right, this is as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first thing you need to know is that this actually has some replay value, at least for the GM. The module is designed so it can be tackled from two directions: Either from the ground/underworld, moving up (for example after the PC’s first dungeon collapsed/stranded them in the lightless depths), or, in a more classic manner, with the PCs exploring the depths, seeking to destroy the evil lurking down there. This two-directional approach is also mirrored in the dungeon-structure, for, whether you believe it or not, these few pages manage to contain 3 dungeon-levels. No, I am not kidding you.

Each of the levels sports a brief note on random encounter frequency is provided for each level, with the shroom’s lair, level 2, featuring a patrol as well. Now, what I liked about level 1 is that each encounter gets a little bit of agency – it’s just a word like “hunting”, “patrolling” etc., but it helps immensely in my part – alas, in a bit of inconsistency, this cool feature is not retained for level 2 and 3. Indeed, as a whole, the 1st and 2nd lvel are stronger than the third: In level three, we have basically abandoned laboratories and components of the shroom’s complex that have been left behind in the move towards the surface. Here, a map of the upper levels can be found (cue once more my complaint regarding player-friendly maps) and rogue pod men may be found; there is also quite a bit of delightful old-school weirdness and, as some may claim, sadism: There is a goblin shamaness who welcomes the PCs with open arms, thinking that a trapped ghast is her god. The aftermath of this encounter may well see the PCs meet the god of goblins. Similarly, there is a pool containing a sarcophagus: If the PCs dive down, they may trigger a squid-ink trap and find themselves in a black pool with a newly liberated undead. Fun times – and hey, no one said that graverobbing and adventuring would be wise professions to pick up.

That being said, the adventure as a whole does a really good job or balancing risk and reward for players: The module does not throw unfair situations at them and the risk incurred is always the result of their own actions or lack thereof – in short, this is not dickish, it’s fair in its difficulty. Still, compared to level 1 and 2, the third level lacks a distinct leitmotif and simply is less interesting.

You see, level 1, from the get-go, manages to grasp my interest: The means of egress into the cmplex has a sensible mechanism that allows smart PCs to use it, providing a bit of realism there – and subsequent incursions after retreats actually have consequences. The presence of a stream that runs through the complex as a sort of irrigation process further highlights this. The first two levels feel very much like organic, sensible set-pieces with strong leitmotifs: The first level sports, for example, maddened tree offspring of a captive treant that can be found at level 2; a giant leech-infested pool provides an alternate means to go further down. There is abit of weirdness here, which is also encapsulated by weird and unique mosses growing in some caverns and the PCs can e.g. find fish mincers (and, in level 2, those for…bigger lifeforms…), which is used by the shroom to create the disgusting nutritional paste made to cultivate his growing army of pod-people. The first level manages to foreshadow concepts in the second level, providing weirdness, yes, but also hinting at the explanations – this indirect storytelling is really rewarding for the PCs and players alike.

Ultimately, the PCs will make their way to the prison (where they should be careful regarding what they do) and the main complex of the shroom – they’ll witness the pods and have a chance to put an end to the growing army and machinations of the hyper-intelligent fungoid threat – whose labs btw. contain detailed documents as well as a potion rack with no less than 20 potions, which contains, for xample such gems as “liquid wood” or weird potions that make you runin circles and scream for a few turns.

The eponymous sinister shroom is no pushover, btw. – with potent pod-man bodyguards and quite a few spells and HD, he will definitely test the mettle of the PCs, particularly if they are at the lower end of the suggested level-spectrum. Have I mentioned the big bad funghemoth, which may actually be used to help clear the complex if the PCs are smart? Or the mushroom level-based portcullis traps? Yeah, I really, really loved level 1 and 2.

Conclusion:

Editing is top-notch on a formal and rules-language level; as far as formatting is concerned, the pdf does sport some inconsistencies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and I really liked the interior artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is serviceable, but not spectacular. The absence of player-friendly maps is a comfort detriment.

So yeah, blame Matthew Finch, the author of this adventure. You see, unlike many folks that are active in the OSR-scene, I loved my old-school gaming back in the day…but frankly, there was, and this is something plenty of folks forget, a lot of crap back then as well.

There was a reason so many folks stopped buying the old books.

Not all was shiny and better. (Go ahead and call for pitchforks…)

Hence, I wholeheartedly embraced Necromancer Games, and later, Frog God Games, in their mission of providing new old-school gaming materials. I confess to having never heard about Matthew Finch when I backed the Rappan Athuk kickstarter back in the day – and I got that elusive Cyclopean Deeps bonus level. I read it and was HOOKED. When the Cyclopean Deeps hardcovers finally hit sites, I drooled all over them – I still consider them to be absolute masterpieces, regardless of system.

So yeah, that did lead me to investigate the author, to this adventure – and I sat on it for quite a while. It was the first time I really started digging regarding OSR-books. So yeah, blame Matt Finch’s excellent writing.

When one of my patreons asked me to review this series, I figured I’d begin at the start, and there we are. So, how do the pod-caverns fare nowadays, when the blend of classic and weirdness has become accepted, cherished and its own style? Surprisingly well, actually. While the module does suffer from some comfort-detriments and formatting inconsistencies, we can see a style of writing here that cites the classics without being just a knockoff – this is creative and manages to evoke a sense of consistency that draws you in – more efficiently than many modules with thrice the page-count, mind you.

Now, content-wise, I consider the first two levels to be excellent examples of stellar adventure-writing; the third level, in comparison, feels a bit like an aftertaste and a gimmick, added on to the complex without tying into it as well – it’s still good, mind you – just not outstanding. Personally, I’d run levels 1 and 2, using level 3 perhaps as its own dungeon-hook for the proper complex. That being said, level 1 and 2 warrant getting the book on their own. At the same time, the hiccups and lack of player-friendly maps do drag this down a bit – which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
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One Shot Core Rules
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/24/2018 02:09:30

It wasn't what I was hoping for, but hey, it was free.

The description calls One Shot "a role-playing system designed for single session gaming." I didn't need to see yet another rules-light RPG system. I was more interested in its focus on single-session gaming. I was hoping to get some great insights and cool ideas on one-shots.

The 15-page document consists of 1 cover page, 5 pages on the game system, and 9 pages on a sample adventure.

The game system is yet another rules-light generic RPG system. There's nothing new there.

The 9-page sample adventure seems like way too much material for a single-session game, especially since it's "presented for only a single character." It's loaded to the gills with background material on the people, places, and history - way overkill. My eyes kept glazing over as I tried to read the walls of text. That wouldn't do in a single-session game.

What about the main thing I was after - tips on single-session gaming? Hardly anything.

If you skim the headings in the rules, not a single one of them makes any explicit reference to single-session gaming. You have to wade through the game system text to hunt for it.

The single-session advice comes down to not taking the long view. Yup, that much is obvious - no need to worry about session #2 if there won't be one.

But there's more to single-session gaming than not worrying about session #2. What about tips for engaging the characters from the start when, by definition, they have no history with their own characters, the NPCs, or the game world? (Reading pages of background isn't engaging.) What about guidelines on making the material modular so you can expand or compress depending on what the players do? How about some guidance on how to teach the players the rules quickly? What about techniques to keep the pacing crisp instead of (for example) letting one non-climactic battle chew up half of the available time? What about techniques to make sure you've got a rollicking good ending that's neither too early nor too late, that flows well with whatever choices the players have made, and that gives them a satisfactory resolution to the adventure? Are there any tips for finding a nice single-session balance that avoids excessive railroading (no decisions for the players) and excessive sandboxing (nothing in particular to do)?

None of that is present, but that's what I was hoping to see in a system designed for single-session gaming.

In short, I was disappointed. The rules system is light, but otherwise it does very little to aid single-session gaming.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
One Shot Core Rules
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Lava Rules! Fire and Brimstone
by Creal Z. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/19/2018 15:59:17

Very disappointed in this book. I spent two days getting psyched up about it, then found out that it is just one sentence, with a whole lot of false advertising and unnecessary examples to add bulk. Seriously? So not worth the memory space on a computer, so not worth the bookshelf space for a book. It might be versatile, but it is STILL junk. For your own good, publishers, drop this title.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Lava Rules! Fire and Brimstone
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Malevolent and Benign
by Brent W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/10/2017 14:49:04

This tome is one of the top three OSR 1e Monster books out there. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's close enough. And it does stay true to it's name as it has a good blend of both malevolent and benign critters unlike a few other out there. It feels like it fits OSR like a well worn pair of Boots of Striding & Springing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Malevolent and Benign
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A Magical Medieval Society: City Guide
by Ian W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/10/2017 21:41:43

Where is the magic? Average, could do better. I was surprised by the sub-ordination of magic to might - the lords are still in charge and magicians are just another guild. Not bad for a low magic genre, but it kind of feels too much like 'old europe' with some magic on the end. The thieves guild gets more collumn inches than the guild of sorcerors. And yet i expected this to show how a city in a magical realm would differ from a mundane historical one.

I got the Guide to see how the authors wove magic into a world, and it looks more like an after-market patch rather than magic being inherent in the world. As a friend said, where is the awe? water fountains without the need for aquaducts, healing gates that cure (mundane) diseases of all who enter. Where are the high level sorcerors that rule by magical fiat? the council of seers who can predict crop failures and invasions? The Sorceror's guard who know the location and health of all of their fellows. Blight resistant crops? Zero infant mortality? Equality of the sexes? Surely magic will have solved the basics: shelter, security, warmth, egality, health and food.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
A Magical Medieval Society: City Guide
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A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/28/2016 12:08:12

Classic, has some useful information but is otherwise overrated.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe
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Classified
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/16/2016 22:12:47

I love espionage RPGs and am always looking for different systems to try. When I heard about Classified it was labeled a Victory Games James Bond RPG clone, and basically it is. I played thee original many times in the 80s and 90s, so I have a bit of experience with similiar game mechanics. That said, it does a much better job of explaining rules and presenting game concepts. This game compared to other espionage RPGs is better run with one or two players maximum. The different levels of success is a great mechanic, something that 7th edition Call of Chtulhu is doing. Skills are a bit clunky, but once you play a couple sessions you get accustomed to it.

Is it great? No, but its good and playable.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Classified
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Advanced Adventures #27: Bitteroot Briar
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2016 02:52:47

Quite nice little adventure for a session or two. It has a strong fairy tale vibe with many faeries and talking animals. At one point adventurers are decreased to one inch tall and perhaps half of the adventure involves interacting with bees, ants, traveling through grass, swimming through stream and similar scenes. It's quite amusing. There are some small editing problems, but nothing serious in my opinion. Three small functional maps and three illustrations - nothing special, but nothing awful neither.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #27: Bitteroot Briar
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A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture
by William E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/12/2016 10:30:33

This is a really comprehensive book. Anyone who is interested in world building for rpgs, and writing could find this to be an invaluable tool. It may be much for a casual builder, but at the price I would still suggest it. It really allows someone to look at the dynamics involved in world building, and allows them the tools to create worlds that make sense. The book addresses biomes, climate, weather, culture, and numerous other important aspects. Very pleased with this purchase, and look forward to buying The Silk Road.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture
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A Magical Society: Beast Builder
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/04/2016 13:42:23

This is, without a doubt, the most useful book I've ever bought (with the exception of books from Core sets).

The last campaign I ran was one of the most sucessful I've ever pulled off. And this book gave me not only the main villains of the story (carnivorous plants that constantly reproduce, drain the life from the area around them, and skewer anyone who comes near them). But also the main roleplaying reward of the game: special powers that can be obtained nowhere wlse.

Long story short: I let the players unlock random powers that they then rolled for on the randomised tables at the back of the book. They loved it, and the unpredictability added a lot to the game.

But it's not just that. I've also used this book to generate literally dozens of new enemies, allies, and random species for my players to encounter.

People in these reviews seem to be complaining about what the book isn't, and that's unfair. I have never found another book that is as easy to use, has such huge variety, and that provide so much fodder for new ideas, regardless of your fantasy roleplaying system.

If you're looking for a book that helps you make monsters or grant special powers then as far as I know you literally cannot do any better than this book.

It's great.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Magical Society: Beast Builder
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Classified
by Charles S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/05/2016 14:20:14

I did not play the original game. I was getting impatient waiting for a new edition of another spy game to be released and I thought, while I’m all excited about playing a spy game why don’t I give this a try? I’m glad I did. This game has some really interesting concepts and I found it to be a really capable game system. It was not too hard to pick up even though I have never played it before. Here are some things about the game that stuck out to me.

Mechanically, everything seems to be decided using a d% roll. So you just need two ten sided dice to play. You calculate your skill level plus attribute bonus for a particular check then consult a table concerning the difficulty and then roll the d% to determine if you succeeded and if so, how well. In combat both hitting and damaging all happen with the same roll. The two tables at the core of this system are pretty wacky looking at first sight but once you “get it” it’s really flexible and brings a powerful sense of possibility and chance to the game. You will want those two tables tattooed on your arm though, you will consult them a lot.

The game has a really good chase system. That’s a big deal to me. Spy games need to have a good chase system. This one rivals the best of them. It’s like playing a game of chess and chicken all at the same time. I love it.

The game system is not flexible in the characters it creates. Stats and skills are really only concerned with things James Bond would do and I think there are some pretty apparent holes in the skills a character can learn. For example, one of my players wanted wilderness survival skills. James Bond does not do camping so don’t look for it on the character sheet. No such skill exists.

I love guns and was underwhelmed by the list of available guns. There were several 9mm handguns available but not one 45. No 1911, no USP, no MK21, even though these are very popular spec ops handguns often fitted with suppressors. I also found it strange that the old Browning Hi Power in 9mm did more damage than the Beretta M9 9mm. Someone help me understand that.

I think the formula that maps skills to characterizes is a little awkward too. Stealth gets a bonus from Willpower not Dex? Local Customs linked to Perception? Charisma linked to Willpower? I’m sure this is all translated from the old game and has to stay intact to keep these rules compatible with the old game but it’s still awkward.

To sum things up though, there are some awkward artifacts from the game this one was probably patterned from and I would have liked seeing them cleaned up a bit, however, this is still a uniquely cool game. I would like to see a revised skill system down the road someday. I really think that would bring this game to the next level.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Classified
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Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
by Thomas B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/23/2015 18:38:41

Subtracting the cover and the OGL from the text leaves us with a pathetic nine and a half pages module. I have not yet read it, but not Hickmann and Niles working together at the height of their powers would be able to produce something worth almost a buck per virtual page. This is steeply priced, to put it kindly. Never ever from this publisher again.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
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Pozas Art Pack Fantasy vol. 1: Heroes
by RJ G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/13/2015 03:29:49

The monkey character really sells it, although the other characters are very handsome. Resolution and clarity are excellent. The licensing is no problem at all for a publisher.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Pozas Art Pack Fantasy vol. 1: Heroes
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