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White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying [Swords & Wizardry]
Publisher: Barrel Rider Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2015 11:43:38

Unless you are living in an OSR-free zone you may have missed the big release this week of "White Star" from Barrel Rider Games and +James Spahn.


BRG had made a name for itself publishing classes for "Basic" era D&D/Labyrinth Lord which is how I discovered them. Recently James has made the switch with some very successful products for Swords & Wizardry. In particular he released the White Box Omnibus to much acclaim.


White Star is a similar quality effort, but represents a serious step up in terms of quality and content from his previous efforts. This is immediately obvious in terms of the quality of the cover art, but the interior really lives up (and beyond) that first impression.
White Star is Space Opera viewed through an old-school RPG lens. So think Star Wars. Not the series of movies really, but just the first 1977 movie.
Starting with the basics the book is 132 pages, two pages of cover art, two blank pages and one page of OGL. As usual BRG is very permissive with the content of the books. So this amounts to 128 pages of content (127 + OGL). Not a bad deal really.
The book is divided up as expected. Chapters on Attributes, Character Classes and Races (more on this in a bit), Equipment, Game Play, and Combat. These chapters are more or less similar to what you might find in S&W White Box. Not a copy, but a re-write to accommodate the style and tone of the book. The remaining chapters cover the important topics of SciFi; Starship Combat, Gifts and Meditations, Aliens and Creatures, and Advanced Equipment. There are also chapters on The White Star Campaign, Interstellar Civil War and Kelron Sector, and the Second Battle of Brinn.
As my friend, Greg Littlejohn says, "just enough meat on the bones, yet room on the plate to add some nice sides." That is 100% true.


Character Classes and Races
The classes of White Star are simple enough to cover a variety of character archetypes. The classes include Aristocrat (think Princess Leia or Paul Atreides), Mercenary (Boba Fett, nearly every movie in the 80s), Pilot (Han Solo), and Star Knight (Luke). There are also two race as classes, the Alien Brute (lots of examples), Alien Mystic (Yoda) and Robot. Each class is 10 levels and presented in the same format as S&W. So one could easily move classes back and forth between the two games with ease.


Sci-Fi Chapters
The chapters on Starship Combat and Alien Creatures are really the star here. Starship combat of course can be easily ported over to S&W as ship combat. But there are a lot of really cool nuggets here. It is also one of the chapters where the pure "Star Wars"ishness of the book fades a bit into some "Star Trek".

Alien Creatures covers a wide variety aliens. Nearly everything is here; Borg, Greys, Fluffy aliens, the lot. Since everything is S&W compatible you can move anything back and forth from S&W to White Star. This little feature opens up thousands of creatures to WS.


Gifts and Meditations covers the magical-like powers used by Star Knights and Mystics. Many of these are re-skinned spells. You could add more powers as spells, but only carefully. Some spells are not entirely appropriate for a sci-fi setting.


The last three chapters cover roughly a White Star campaign universe. The Kelron Sector is given some detail. Enough to get you going and enough to give you a good idea of what is going and where you can take it your own. If you watched any Sci-Fi in the 70s or 80s then you will recognize a lot of the pastiche here.


What can I say about White Star? It is one of the best Sci-Fi games I have picked up. The more and more I play, the more and more I like level and class based systems for space opera. It seems right to me somehow. I think it is because I discovered Star Wars and D&D right around the same time and to me they always go together.


IF I had one criticism it would be I would prefer Sword and Wizardry Complete rules or Labyrinth Lord. But that is weak-sauce on my part really. I could convert it if I wanted.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying [Swords & Wizardry]
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Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2015 09:44:52

So I picked up the Heroes of the Feywild a while back. I had been looking forward to this one for a while, especially when I saw that the Witch was going to be one of the character class options.
I then spent some time working on various witch characters and builds (and yes I did them all by hand). Here are my insights.


In General
Like Heroes of Shadow, Heroes of the Feywild assumes that these characters are either from or have strong ties to their "homeland" in this case the Feywild. IF you have any interest at all in the Feywild or any sort of land of the Faerie (such as Avalon, Alfheim or any number of others) then this is a good book. While not really compatible with older editions of D&D there is still plenty that can be used. The feats even are written that they could even be used with Pathfinder or D&D 3.x. I found plenty I can use for my current 3.x game that I run with the kids and Ghosts of Albion. I actually ended up liking this book more than the Heroes of Shadow book out earlier.


The Witch
The witch is a new "sub-class" of wizard that basically learned in the Feywild. On one level I didn't like this since the witch isn't really a type of wizard. But in reading it I can get past it since the witch is only a type of wizard "mechanically", she uses the same rules as a wizard and thus all the same powers, feats, magic items, Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies the wizard can use. In this respect it makes her more like what I have done in the past where wizards and witches are both a type of "magic-user". It gives the witch a lot of power to choose from.


The witch has two builds or covens she can choose from, a Full Moon Coven and a Dark Moon Coven, or if you prefer a good witch and a bad witch. The covens have some powers associated with them, but the witch is still free to choose powers as she sees fit.
Only Paragon Path is given, the Legendary Witch, and it focuses on the two covens. It lacks any strong thematic element, but this is a complaint I have had of the Paragon Paths of the post Essentials line.
The Epic Destiny, the Witch Queen, though is quite good. I had done something similar as a Prestige Class for 3.5. This one is different but there are some interesting powers and effects.


I might try a multi-classed witch/warlock, but that might be splitting my roles a bit too much


Powers and Spells
What sets this witch apart from another Wizard or a Warlock are her spells and powers. The witch relies on her familiar to learn magic. Something I have seen more and more of late in FRPG versions of the witch. Her magic has a distinct feel to it different than that of the warlock, even if there seems to be some overlap. Witches do get a minor healing power from the Full Moon Coven, and her magics in general are more subtle. She does not for example have a fireball like spell, but she can change monsters into other animals and they take damage for it. Heavy on the charms and transformations. Lots of powers with the Psychic key-word. Some are similar in theme to the Warlock; Horde of Puckish Sprites is not too different, save in level, than Pixie War Band.


I would like to see more on the relationship of Witches and Warlocks. Especially given the Fey commonalities and interactions with Patrons. I think I'll have to write that myself now given that the 4e is a dead line.


Non-Witch Material
There are three new races to play that are well suited to a Feywild/Faerie World sort of game. The Hammadryad, the Satyr and the Pixie. All have something very interesting about them and I'll stat up some witches for each race as well. There are other class builds as well the Berserker (Barbarian), Protector (Druid) and Skald (Bard). All great for a psuedo-Celtic themed game of D&D. Just add Player's Handbook 2 to the mix to get the base Bard and Gnome and you are set. Honestly there is enough here to run a high-magic game and never leave the Feywild.


Overall I am very pleased with this book. It's not perfect, but it is very, very close.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild (4e)
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The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen
Publisher: Maximum Mayhem Dungeons
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2015 10:26:55

Also posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan-
.com/2015/04/a-to-z-of-vampires-vampire-queen.html

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Hitting that nostalgia feeling hard is another adventure, The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen. This adventure, written by Mark Taormino might be an homage to the first Palace of the Vampire Queen adventure, but it is more likely an homage to those meat-grinder, total-party kill, fun-house dungeons of the late 70s early 80s. There is a basic plot here, enough to get you in the door and moving along, but really this adventure is about killing things and avoiding getting killed. Example, in one of your first encounters you have to run a gauntlet and get past a bunch of fire giants. Eight of them. And their hell hound pets. This is "room 1". It is downhill from there. It has demons and other vampires in the wander monster table. Liches, demons, succubi, greater devils, nearly 50 vampires in total, tons of other monsters and of course the Queen herself, Lady Neeblack.


This is not an adventure to challenge the resolve of hardy role-players. This is an adventure to survive and leave a trail of bodies behind you. It is old-school, but old-school through the eyes of 40-somethings looking back on their times as teens.

The adventure itself has a great lead in to get you interested, but that is just the carrot on a stick, most people buying and playing this module are going to want to jump right in. Another example (this is not a spoiler), you are captured by Lady Neeblack and told you have to run through her crypts for her amusement. The conceit is the characters will feel coerced into doing this, so they slide down a passage to the previously mentioned Fire Giants. In truth my players wanted to jump in like they were doing a dive at the pool.


Though to claim people will play this for nostalgia reasons is completely unfair. Mark did a great job of this. The rooms are detailed and what detail! There are interesting encounters and Lady Neeblack herself should really move up the ranks as one of the more memorable NPCs ever. In fact I am hoping that she comes back for a sequel sometime soon. Just like a good Hammer villain she should find ways to come back from the dead. Mark Taormino, this needs to happen.

The text of the book is big, easy to read and despite the "old school" claims still has boxed text to read (screw you Grognards! I still like boxed text even when I don't use it.) Each room is unique and feels like it belongs. Plus the "Hanging Coffins" themselves are the coolest idea in vampire graves since the Lost Boys.

The proof of any adventure is not in the reading, but in the playing. So I played it. It rocked.


Now the game is designed for OSRIC, but can played with 1st or 2nd Ed AD&D. I played it with 5th Edition D&D. I just replaced the monsters and made a character sheet for Lady Neeblack. I ran the same group of people that I had taken through the original Palace of the Vampire Queen and we all treated it as an unofficial sequel. I worked out well enough. We all had fun, but if this module reads as a deathtrap on paper it's a killer in the playing. So make of that what you like.

Personally I would love to run it again using AD&D1.


In any case this is one of those adventures that will have your players talking for a long time.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen
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CC1 Creature Compendium
Publisher: New Big Dragon Games Unlimited
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/10/2015 16:43:29

"Remember those flashes of inspiration that electrified your brain when you first picked up that hardback volume of monsters all those years ago?" Richard LeBlanc begins this new monster book right where I need to, reminding me of the absolute JOY I had holding the 1st Ed. Monster Manual in my hands for the first time.


This book doesn't quite fill me with that joy (that is a TOUGH act to follow) but it does come close and for the price it is a damn fine book.


So what does this book have? Well it is 94 pages total and over 200 new monster for your Old-School game. Which system? All of them, or nearly enough. Each monster is "dual" stated for 0e/1e and BX. Simply read the stats that work the best for you and take what you need from the other. Sometimes there is no difference. For example an AC of 3 in AD&D is roughly an AC 3 in BX and the monsters will either list 3 or some other close number. Movement rates are easy to convert of course and alignments are different systems, but all in all it is still nice to have.


There are a lot of fun monsters here too. A mix that reminds me of the old Fiend Folio to be honest. Even the art, which is good, reminds me of the FF a lot. Every monster is illustrated, or if they are not I didn't see it. So a lot of art.


Of particular use are the two appendices.
Appendix A gives us Treasure Types by Edition. 0e, 1e, HB and BX. Subtle differences in each, but best to line up what you are doing.
Appendix B gives us the monster XP totals for various editions as well. 0e, S&W, BX/BEDMI, LL, 1e and OSRIC. Great to have.


If they wanted to capture the feel of reading the old MM then they were successful. If you love old school games and monsters then this really is a must buy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CC1 Creature Compendium
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The Snake's Heart - A Lost Age Adventure
Publisher: Moebius Adventures
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2015 13:13:37

This is my newest one. The overall feel of this one is like an action movie. Maybe more like a horror-action movie, but you get the idea. The adventure is hard core old school. It is compatible with S&W: White Box but like most of the OSR adventures it can be used with just about any rules. The file is a pretty simple affair; 19 pages, line art. So nothing too fancy, but the aesthetic is very, very old school. It looks like something your older brother's friend who was the first kid in the neighborhood to play D&D might have made; only a lot better.
The adventure itself starts with a simple set up and encounter (I like adventures that make the players DO something right away) and then that simple encounter leads to a confrontation with an evil cult. Shenanigans ensue. The adventure takes a few cues from more modern adventures and separates encounters. The effect this has is to keep the action flowing. If this were a movie it would be Raiders of the Lost Ark or, more aptly, The Temple of Doom. At just under $2.00 it is also perfect for an afternoon when you want to play something but don't have an adventure ready to go.

For myself I might make some minor changes here and there. Snake Goddesses are fun and all but what if I need a Wolf Goddess or a Centipede one? It make a great introduction for some characters that have already been through one adventure and are their way to the larger plot brewing. I say grab this one and use it this weekend.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Snake's Heart - A Lost Age Adventure
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Publisher Reply:
Awesome. Thanks for all the kind words!
Theorems & Thaumaturgy
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome Productions
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2015 11:29:44

Post here:
http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2015/03/re-
view-theorems-thaumaturgy.html


To start with Theorems & Thaumaturgy is a "Pay What You Want" product. Yes you could pay $0.00, but I hope this review convinces you to pay more. The book itself is 66 pages (standard letter) with text and art that reminds you immediately of the old Moldvay Basic books. If you have The Complete Vivimancer then you have an idea of the how the text and art looks. To me the art is like psychadelic art-nouveau meets Elric. In other words, perfect for a magic book in my mind.


There are three large sections (Classes, Variant Classes, and Magical Tomes) and an Appendix with nine sub-sections. Like old-school Basic the new spells are all listed with the classes. The book is designed for use with Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Characters, but really it can be used with any sort of "old-school" game.


The new Classes are the Elementalist, Necromancer and Vivimancer. The Vivimancer is of course detailed in a later book, but he gets his start here. The classes do pretty much what you would suspect they would do. The Elementalist uses elemental forces, the Necromancer deals with the dead and undead and the Vivimancer. Each class has a good number of new spells (250 in all!) to make using them feel different than your normal "magic-user". Each has spells from 1st to 9th level. All the classes use the Magic-User XP, to hit and saving throw tables, so whatever system you use, you can just use that to put them on the same footing as the Magic-User. While I like the simplicity of this and it helps make the "subclasses" feel like a part of the same Magic-user family. I would have liked to have seen some powers or something for each class. After-all they are sacrificing spell flexibility for what? Power? More variety of spells in their chosen field? I think I would have given them a couple of bonuses at least. But that is fine, these rules are flexible enough to allow all sorts of edits.


For the variant classes there is the new Fey Elf race. This elf is closer to the faerie origins of the elf. The class taken by these elves is the Sorcerer. This class is similar in idea to the D&D 3.0 version; a spontaneous spell caster with magic in their blood. The sorcerer has a couple of new spells and a modified list of spells they can cast. There is an alternate version of the Illusionist as well. This version has a few more spells and has 8th and 9th level spells.


The final section is all about magical tomes. It includes a bunch of unique magical tomes with new spells. The books' histories are also told and which classes are most likely to get use out of it.


The Appendices are a small treasure trove of great ideas and useful material.

Appendix 1 has new optional rules for Magic-Users. A number of these are very similar to house rules I (and many others I am sure) used back in the day.
This is followed by new monsters, new magic items, and some examples of memorized spells by class (all classes presented here and MU). We end with an alphabetical list of all spells included here and in the Advanced Edition Characters book.


All of this for whatever you want to pay for it.
Personally I think anything less than $5 is an insult. There is a lot of great material in this book and all of it can be used right away.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Theorems & Thaumaturgy
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The Witch - A Dungeon World Playbook
Publisher: Jacob Randolph
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2015 11:58:18

This Witch for Dungeon World is a 3 page playbook with descriptions on the moves of a witch character. In general this book covers how to play a "Weather Witch", a "Wicked Witch" or a "Winter Witch". I approve Jacob Randolph's penchant for alliteration. Everything you would expect to see in a DW character is here. There are Bonds, Starting Moves, Gear and Advanced Moves.
In this version the details are printed right on the sheet. This is rather convenient and saves some space. If it were reformatted to look like the layout in Dungeon World I'd imagine it would be more like 6 to 8 pages. So you get a lot of text, but not a lot of pages.
This playbook is under $2.50. I would have liked a little more I think, but it is still really nice.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Witch - A Dungeon World Playbook
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The Witch - A Dungeon World Playbook
Publisher: Awful Good Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2015 11:57:27

This is a "playbook" for the witch character class for Dungeon World. Class might not be the right word since this is more of a "role". The book is 27 pages, released via Creative Commons and has art by David Guyll. I have to admit, it was the art that first drew me into this book.


The book covers the same basic material found in all the classes in the main DW book. Where we get to the new stuff is under Starting Moves. Here we can see immediately that we are not dealing with a distaff wizard. Some of the moves could be used by other character classes, but there is a distinct "witchyness" about them all that I really love.


The Bonds for the Witch are really nice and one of the things I wish I had thought of. Well, at lease something similar. Bonds work differently in terms of the DW game, but the idea behind them, and how they can be roleplayed, are easily adapted to other games. Other games would call these "hooks". There are also a fair number of Advanced Moves that are great for a witch. These are the powers of the witch and her magic. Unlike the cleric and wizard, the witch has no spells, just these powers. I can see why they went this route and it gives the witch a very different feel than either the cleric or wizard. A must with a game light on crunch.
There are plenty of new magic items, mundane items and items unique to the witch.


All in all I like it a lot. With a price under $2.50 it is a steal. It includes the playbook, a character sheet and a printer friendly version.
This Playbook is also part of the Awful Good Games Playbook Bundle.


These authors also have written another Playbook on the Psion. I am going to need to pick that one up as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Witch - A Dungeon World Playbook
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Dungeon World
Publisher: Sage Kobold Productions
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2015 11:19:38

Dungeon World is a "D&D-like" game based on the Apocalypse World game engine. Like a favorite of mine, Monsterhearts, the base system has had some changes to reflect the nature of the game being played. So DW features stats named "Strength", "Constitution", "Dexterity", "Intelligence", "Wisdom" and "Charisma". This makes playing DW a little more familiar to those of us that cut our baby teeth on D&D.
DW is a large book, 400+ pages and it basically details the sorts of things one can do in a D&D-like game. I keep saying D&D-like because that is really what this is. This is not D&D, nor is it a clone. It is a different system to achieve the same sort of stated goals. Though there are other things you can do as well.
There are a lot of reviews for DW out there. It is a well reviewed game with good reviews. I have not played DW myself, so I can't speak for the game play, but the rules read easy enough.
In DW there is a very basic mechanic (The Move) and it is up to the player to describe what that is. After that it is a simple Attribute+die roll vs. Target Number roll. In this case the Target Number is 10, but things happen if you roll a 7-9 or below a 6. This is similar to many modern games. The attribute modifiers for DW are the same as most Old-School D&D/Clones, ie 18 = +3 (not +4). This makes using your current character a bit easier in some respects.
Chapter 3 covers the Character Creation. Chapter 4 covers Basic and Special moves. Each chapter after that is dedicated to each of the character classes and their class-specific moves. Each class gets about 8 pages, and then some more for spells. All the classics are here. The Barbarian is even added as a seperate file as a value add.
Chapter 13 covers how to Game Master, Chapter 14 covers the first session and Chapter 15 covers areas or Fronts where the action will happen. Not bad chapters actually.
Chapter 17 covers the monster creation and use guidelines. After the monsters are divided up by locales or by theme.
Chapter 18 cover equipment including magic items.


What does DW offer the D&D Player?

Given the more narrative focus (and less crunch) of DW, D&D players can get some more tips on role-playing, setting up adventures and more immerseve play in general. It seems to me that DW was created as a retort to 4th ed D&D and it's focus on battle-mat play. It is rather compatible though with 5e. Many of same ideas in terms of playing a character or running a game are in both games.
For $10.00 for a PDF and at 400+ pages it would be a nice resource for a group wanting to continue in the same world or the same characters, just looking for some more depth and faster play.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon World
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COA03: Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay (Special Edition)
Publisher: Small Niche Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2015 10:21:25

This is about the Hard cover book, but the review I did for the PDF still applies.
Dolmvay is not only a highly detailed city complete with maps, npcs, new monsters and pretty much everything you need, it is also a shared city.


You get 260 pages worth of material; the original Dolmvay guide and the adventure "Oak Grove Whispers". There are the maps I mentioned, but there is also a fairly detailed history. You could easily drop this into any game, and let's be honest, any system. If you are familiar with other products from SNG then takes place in the World of Amherth setting. But this book (and most of the Amherth books) are easily adapted to any setting.


There is a chapter on adventuring in the city. How the local churches react to magic and what can be expected of travelling adventurers.
Makes it perfect for a way point between adventures, but you would be missing all the fun.
The book also details an number houses, factions and NPCs and their own desires for the city. If you like games of political intrigue and courtly drama then this is a good place to start.


The bulk of the book details the layout of the city. In this respect it reads like a guide book. NPCs, hooks and other information is given. There is plenty here for new GM to use it as is and plenty more for an experienced GM to add their own information.
It strikes a nice balance between detail and flexibility. Among my favorite items are the random rumor table and the common greetings and gestures. Things like this give a setting life of it's own.


Common businesses are covered as well as a sampling of Taverns and Inns. City encounters and even some new monsters.
Venture into the sewers or the Island of Heroes.


There is a section on random NPC generation as well.


Dolmvay the concept is the idea that this is a shared City. If developers want to create their own encounters, adventures or anything else really and set it in Dolmvay then there is an easy to use and free license to do so.
It is such a great idea I am surprised that no one else has done it before.


At $19.99 this book is steal. Really. I am not sure how they are making money on this. It's a think, full hardcover book priced like it was 1983.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
COA03: Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay (Special Edition)
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Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands
Publisher: Sacrosanct Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2015 10:29:03

I picked this up because I do enjoy seeing what others can do with such well trodden ground as the Keep and the Caves of Chaos. The cover claims to be 5th Edition compatible and uses the current OGL to get there. Personally if I were a publisher I would be staying away from this. It is murky legal ground right now and one I would not tread on. But lets move on.
The cover is nice and drew me in right away. The book is 24 pages, but minus 1 for cover, 1 for ogl, 1 for a blank page, 1 for an ad, 4 for maps and 1 more for a character sheet. So 15 pages of text.


The Good: There is a good section on pages 4 and 5 on playing humanoid races such as orcs, bugbears, gnolls and so on. Just the stats, nothing really on "how to play them" No big, these are the standard baddies for the last 40 years. We know them.
There is detail on how the caves are controlled and what can be the expected losses of the various groups of humanoids living in the caves over time.


The Not As Good For Me: The caves and the rooms themselves are not detailed. There are blanks left for the DM to write in what is there from monsters to items. The main conceit here is that the inhabitants of the Keep have taken over the Caves now. It is all very sandboxy which is fine, but not what I was expecting. I am perfectly fine with sandboxes, but that it not why I buy pdfs. I buy graph paper for that.


The Bad: This PDF uses scanned images from the original map of the Caves of Chaos from B2. It has been run through Photoshop and some alterations have been made, but I can overlay a scan of the blue/white Caves map and line it up perfectly (including grids) to the "Reclaiming" maps. Not very professional at all.


The Ugly: Additionally there is a really bad scan of the old D&D Basic era Character sheet. It has been edited (poorly) to make it more in line with 5th Edition, but honestly it is just plain ugly. The artist would have been better off starting from scratch and making a 5e sheet that looked a bit like the Basic one rather than include this. Better still would be not to include one at all. It is just ugly, shows really poor Photoshop skills and a copyright infringement to boot.
So in the end, despite some promise and high hopes, this falls really flat.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands
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Publisher Reply:
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this review. I know it takes time and effort to do so, and it is appreciated. However, I think there are some clarifications about some claims you\'re making that are not accurate. I hope to address those. * Scanned images. The maps are not scanned. I did them all by hand, and went back to make sure they aligned as close as I could get to the original for scaling purposes. That\'s why you probably assume they are scanned, because I got them really close. I could send you the PSD files if you want. Either way, not scanned. * Implication of copyright infringement. There is none in this, along with no trademark infringement either. If I had the D&D logo or text on the character sheet, you\'d be right. But it doesn\'t. You are right about the way the character sheet looks. Somehow it shows up in the PDF with lines that didn\'t show up in the PSD file, and I\'ll get those corrected straight away. Thank you for that feedback. * Your expectations. I\'m sorry you felt like you got something you didn\'t expect, but I tried to make it very clear and up front in the description exactly what you were getting. I also have every page included in the preview, so you would also know exactly what you were getting before purchasing. I even also made explicit commentary re: setting the price point the way I did because it was structured in this format. Please don\'t get me wrong, I sincerely do appreciate the time and effort you put into your review, and I do honestly regret that you felt like you didn\'t get what you wanted.
Classes of the Far East
Publisher: Sacrosanct Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2015 09:59:52

Grabbed this because my youngest wants to play a ninja like character. It has a ninja, as well as a monk, a mahoutsukai (spell caster that uses both magic user and cleric spells, and a lot of them), and the yokai which is a race as a class of animalistic humanoids, and of course the Samurai.


Weapons are listed (damage and cost) but no descriptions are given and no artwork of the weapons. And that is pretty much it. If you don't know what these weapons look like, then you are on your own really.


Looking over the mahoutsukai it is grossly overpowered. It basically advances as cleric and a magic user at the same time. So by 14th level it has 12 each of 1st through 5th level spells, 7 6th level and 1 7th level. It has limits, namely limited to the same arms and armor choices as a magic-user, limited to 14th level and can't turn undead. But that is still a lot of spells. Honestly it should one spell list that combines select magic-user and cleric spells and it should have some limits on what it can and cannot do. Right now it is not a class I can recommend using.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Classes of the Far East
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B1 Journey to Hell
Publisher: Sacrosanct Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2015 09:14:59

Grabbed this because I needed an adventure geared toward 18-20th level. Also it is about Hell, so that got my attention. I bought it on a whim based solely on level and "hell".
First off you get a lot of adventure for your buck. 45 pages of adventures and maps (granted it is the same adventure twice, but still).
The artwork is great, coming primarily from sources like The Inferno. This is quite fitting given that the adventure itself is quite reminiscent of Dante's great tale. It does include some art from the Larry Elmore CD that was out years ago, but doesn't properly cite it in their OGL page.
It is dual stated for the OSRIC and Altus Adventum Role-Playing Game, always a plus in my book, but it can be played with any number of OSR systems or their fore-bearers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
B1 Journey to Hell
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A Red & Pleasant Land
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/18/2014 13:10:51

I want to say off the bat that when I heard Zak was doing an Alice in Wonderland-ish sort of adventure my expectations were high, but guarded. I have seen Alice done a number of bad ways; mostly ones that relied on a one to one translation between story to game. That is all well and good, but ends up robbing the story of what makes it good and ends up short-changing the player's experience in the game. To be blunt, it's not a D&D adventure. I had reasonable assurances that this would not happen here, I didn't know what sort of thing we would end up with.


Also, and I have admitted this many times, I am not a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. But I can say that LotFP and James Raggi do have an amazing art vision and the budget to match and it seems (to me any way) that James leaves people the hell alone and lets them create. You saw that in Zak's last work Vornheim, you can see it Rafel Chandler's "No Salvation for Witches", and you can see it this book as well. While the LotFP rules are in mind when this was made, you can either run it with all the free rules that James gives away for free (another credit to him) or use whatever rules you want. This is important to me and I will talk about it more later on.


So what is A Red & Pleasant Land?
Overtly it is an adventure, in the broadest sense. It can also be a campaign guide to a strange new land (or world). Breaking it down to it's atomic elements it is Vampiric court intrigue with the cast of Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory and Alice. But that is like saying that putting salt on your meal is the same as putting Sodium and Chloride on your steak and trying to eat it.


Let me instead start on the outside and work my way in. This book is gorgeous. It really is. If you have Vornheim or spent anytime on Zak's blog then you have an idea of what you will be looking at, but that is not quite it either. The art comes just this side of reality short of being phantasmagorical. Just slightly out of sync with what you should be seeing. This is intentional since that is also the feeling of the adventure/text itself. (I am going to keep calling this an adventure since that is the easiest translation). Honestly, get this bound in red with gold trim and it would be a book better suited for a coffee table rather than a gaming table. I don't mean that derisively, I mean that in open honesty.
If the art is fantastic then the maps are amazing. I love all sorts of old-school maps and I love a lot of different styles. But these again are very evocative of the setting.


The other thing is this adventure is big. While the form factor is small, the book has 197 pages. There is a lot here. Zak suggests that you can use parts of this book or the whole. I will add that if you opt for the parts alternative then there is absolutely something in this book you can use.


Working in, the adventure and background are all woven together in such a way that it is all familiar and yet new at the same time. It's like returning to a place you have been years and years later. Except when you were at the place back then you were on LSD the entire time. You memories of it have not faded per se but are warped. This is like that but now your memories are perfect and the reality is warped.


This actually touches on the first issue I have with running this adventure. Now by "I" I mean just that. Me. Not extrapolating it to anywhere else. I don't think I could run this as a D&D adventure for my group. To be blunt about it my kids (which is my group) don't yet know enough about Dracula, Alice or any of the other elements in this to make it worthwhile. This is an adventure for older, wiser and maybe even a little bit jaded players. This adventure needs to be played by people that have tried to play Dungeonland and found it lacking.


You are going to need the right group for this adventure. The book it totally worth getting just to look at, read or steal ideas from, but if you are going to run it then you need to take stock of your own group and make sure it works for them. If your group is more of the "kick in the door, kill the monster, get the gold, move to next door" type then this will only have some utility for you. That is fine there are plenty of fun adventures for those groups. I suppose that if you have read "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and thought to yourself that it would make a great adventure of intrigue then this one might work for you. As point of reference, duels are covered as being something that can be deadly. And so are Banquets. Again some people will scratch their heads on this but I can think of at least three players off the top of my head right now that would totally run with this idea.
It is a prime example of Zak making things he wants to play and if you like it you can come along too.


Back on track. The Alice. This is a neat idea, but for me one of the weaker links. I totally get what Zak is doing here and maybe even a little of why. But Alice comes off as an ersatz, but weaker, Slayer, ala Buffy or maybe even the Schmuck quality from Army of Darkness. Though to be 100% this quote from the book is very awesome:


"Alices forever find themselves falling into cursed rabbit holes, accidentally killing witches, having their halfbrothers stolen by goblin kings, being willed magic rings, finding demons inserted in their chests or having armored knights ride through their homes at bedtime. Obscure gods, however, sympathize with them (they are often born to powerful families), and an Alice is a boon to any adventuring party. Some Alices wear striped stockings, some Alistairs wear pointed shoes." - AR&PL, p. 30.


I love that image. In my games I have called these types of characters Dorothies. The Exasperation Table really makes this character shine and makes it something unique.


The land itself, Voivodja, is in the truest sense of the word a nightmarescape. It's not that it is just horrific, there is more. The best nightmares lull you into a false sense of hope or familiarity. You think you know what this is all about, but you don't. The land is big, densely packed and old. Very old. The main feature (well, to me anyway) is the intrigue between the Vampire Courts and the potential of what you can do with those. Think about it really. Ancient, decedent vampire royalty fighting protracted war. Sure. We did all that in the 90s with Vampire the Masquerade; but this is yet another new take on that.


The monster/NPC section is great. So many ideas. If you are going to smorgasbord this book then start here. There are unique vampire nobles and strange animals, so really enough to keep characters of any level busy. That's misleading...I personally think the vampire nobles in this book work better as non-combatants. Their job is not to be sullied with the likes of mere adventurers. But engaging them in courtly battles. That's where they shine. Really, this is one of the first adventures where a battle of wits to the death (!) is not only likely, but likely to happen before breakfast.


We end this book with more random tables that you could (or should maybe) ever use. 30 pages worth.


So there are a lot of reasons to buy this book. The only one that matters though is do you have the right kind of group for it? If any of these ideas appeal to you then get it. If you are unsure, well I am sure there is something here to make it worth your time and money.


In any case I think it is a solid hit.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Red & Pleasant Land
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Sleepy Hollow
Publisher: Barrel Rider Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2014 16:07:15

The book is 30 pages and contains the complete tale of the Headless Horseman.

Also included are writeups for Ichabod Crane, Katrina, Brom Bones and of course the Headless Horseman. A new class is introduced, the Scholar (for Ichabod). Rules for flint-lock firearms and some new magic are thrown in for good measure. There are also five adventure hooks for adventures in Sleepy Hollow.
Like all (or rather now most) of Barrel Rider Games' books this one is stated up for Labyrinth Lord.
It's all a pretty good deal really.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sleepy Hollow
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