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The Secrets of Cats: Animals & Threats
Publisher: Richard Bellingham
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/23/2015 07:14:45
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/04/23/tabletop-review-the-sec-
rets-of-cats-animals-and-threats-fate-core-system/

SO I was a huge fan of the original supplement The Secrets of Cats when it came out. My review of it was glowing, and at the end of the 2014, it had picked up our award for “Best Gaming Supplement” in our 2014 Tabletop Gaming Awards. With the success of The Secrets of Cats it is probably no surprise that its author decided to do a follow-up. The second Secrets of Cats release, entitled Animals and Threats became a Kickstarter campaign. It was a modest success, with 123 backers pledging nearly 1100 GBP to make the second book a reality. It wasn’t a huge Kickstarter by any means, but it did triple the original goal, so while it might not have raised money on a Frog God Games or Chaosium level, it still did pretty well for what was essentially a one man show. I was one of those backers and was happy to see that not only did the project get finished nearly two months before the original estimated date, but it was another top notch affair, oozing with as much style as it had substance.

While only forty pages long, Animal and Threats packs a lot of information into those pages while also interspersing it with some truly terrific art. It’s divided into two sections – Animals and Threats. Which makes sense considering the title of the piece. Now although this is a release for The Secrets of Cats, you won’t find a lot of cat oriented stuff in the book. This is about expanded the supplement into a full-fledged universe. As such you’ll see how to play as other animal species and how they differ in powers and abilities.

There are five sections under “Animals.” Here you’ll find information on playing Dogs, Rabbits, Bird, several insects and arachnids and finally, Foxes. I’m pretty happy about the rabbits section as I remember postulating about this in my original review and the author, Richard Bellingham, actually wrote up a quick piece in response to said review and posted it in the comments section and on his blog. So I’m really happy to see the piece reprinted here, with some expanded ideas and fleshed out contents, of course. Remember though, sapience in species other than cats is very rare, so a game of all dogs or hawks is unlikely and outside the spirit of the game. These other species as PCs should be like other were-races in Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Corax and Mokole are most effective as concepts or if only a single player is one. If the whole party is made up of different animals, the original core concept of the game is diluted.

Each animal species has their own unique stunts as well as specific Character Creation rules that pertain only to them. There is also a sample character made for each species to show you what it looks like. For example, you have Pureblood the husky and an evil killer rabbit simply called “The Lop.” There’s some cute stuff here which not only highlights of flexible and versatile The Secrets of Cats is, but FATE as a system. Corvids are perhaps the most interest of the options, if only because their True Name hints at how they will die. That’s extremely creepy but it also has an incredible amount of potential for the GM and the Player to make a very cool endgame for the Raven character. I also loved that Snails were given their own section. Such an usual and potentially hilarious choice for a PC option.

The second half of the book is devoted to “Threats.” These are essentially NPCs and antagonists for a GM to use in their Secrets of Cats game. This gives the GM a little more to work with than what was found in the original supplement. This section starts off with the undead, giving the GM examples of Revenants and Devourers. Obviously you were probably expecting vampires, ghosts or mummies here, but that’s not what you’ll get. Instead the undead are grouped into these two categories. A Revenant is any incorporeal undead. Generally they are either raised by a necromancer or have some task on earth to still finish. Devourers are any undead that eat the living. Thus you can use this template to make zombies, nosferatu, lamia or ghouls – whatever suits your fancy.

After that you have The Invested, who are the spirits or otherworldly being who help sapient animals access supernatural abilities. These will be your nature spirits, angels, demons, Great Old Ones and whatever else falls into this category. Think of it like D&D where your animal of choice is a Cleric or a Warlock (depending on the nature of the arrangement) and the Invested are what your cat or bunny channels.

Finally, we have EVIL CATS, which are the Blackguard/Anti-Paladin of the game. These are cats who have eschewed the Parliament and have gone rogue for whatever reason. Here’s you’ll find a lot of mechanics for Evil Cats, especially some interesting Forbidden Magical Stunts. They even give a vampire cat as an example of an Evil Cat. Very cool!

Of course, we can’t really talk about a Secrets of CatsAnimals & Threats are fantastic and Crystal Frasier is fast becoming one of my favorite artists in the industry, right after Tim Bradstreet and the Shadows of Esteren crew. It’s a very different style but I love the cartoony yet serious style. It’s Batman: The Animated Series quality, but with animals instead of super heroes. It’s almost worth purchasing the book just for the art. It’s that good.

Animals and Threats is a fantastic follow-up to the original The Secrets of Cats. It’s a short little book, but it only costs as much as you want to spend. I paid about twelve dollars during the Kickstarter, but that was to get a write-up of my kitten Malice (15 lb. Kitten BTW…) in character sheet form to give to you the readers. Just click right here to download her for use in your games!

If you haven’t picked up the original Secrets of Cats supplement, you really should. It’s currently available in print or as a “Pay What You Want” release. Considering snagging this and the original off DriveThruRPG.com and enjoy a fantastic new way to play FATE core. Of course, you WILL need the core rulebook for FATE, but it TOO is “Pay What You Want” over at DriveThruRPG.com. Why not purchase all three if you’re brand new to the system. You can pay what you can afford and if down the road you want to throw Evil Hat and its writers a few extra bucks, you can! The system works. Either way, you really should give The Secrets of Cats a look-see, even if you’re just going to read it. It’s a lot of fun.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Secrets of Cats: Animals & Threats
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the awesome review, Alexander; I\'m so glad you enjoyed the book! Between you and me, snails are my favourite animals in here.
Horror on the Orient Express
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2015 09:56:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/02/tabletop-review-horror--
on-the-orient-express-digital-edition-call-of-cthulhu/

After more than TWO YEARS since being funded, a final version of the Horror on the Orient Express remake has been sent to the 1,374 Kickstarter backers that made it happen. Sure it was originally scheduled to come out in August of 2013, but it’s very rare that tabletop games make their estimated release date. It’s part of the industry. What matters is that it is here now – at least for Kickstarter backers who pledged at least $20 to the project. For everyone else, you can get this massive PDF collection for a “mere” $499.95. Now don’t worry – this price will drop after the official release of the physical product in a few weeks. This hefty price tag is to make sure that the Kickstarter backers (or those who have Sanity Points in the single digits) have a few weeks to themselves with this. Considering the physical product can be preordered for about $120, it’s safe to say the PDF collection itself will be under $100.

Now if you joined me back in January of 2014, you already know that I’ve extensively looked at the first four books in this collection (Chaosium sent me the proofs – that’s why I could cover it nearly a year before the actual release) and did a photo collection of some of the many ancillary items that can be obtained with (or separately from) the physical edition of the game. I won’t be rehashing those. Instead I’ll be covering everything but those parts of the collection in this review. For those interested in reading very long and detailed coverage of the first four books and some physical swag, here are the links:

Add-on & Ancillary Items (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/10/tabletop-preview-a-loo-
k-at-horror-on-the-orient-express-ancillary-and-add-on-items-
-call-of-cthulhu/)
Book I: Campaign Book (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/03/tabletop-preview-horro-
r-on-the-orient-express-book-i-campaign-book-call-of-cthulhu-
/)
Book II: Through the Alps (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/10/tabletop-preview-horro-
r-on-the-orient-express-book-ii-through-the-alps-call-of-cth-
ulhu/)
Book III: Italy and Beyond (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/17/tabletop-preview-horro-
r-on-the-orient-express-book-iii-italy-and-beyond-call-of-ct-
hulhu/)
Book IV: Constantinople and Consequences (http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/24/tabletop-preview-horro-
r-on-the-orient-express-book-iv-constantinople-and-consequen-
ces-call-of-cthulhu/)

I should also mention that I will also do a review of the physical product when that is finally release, although that will be more a pictorial of all the bells and whistles. I will review the story collection Madness on the Orient Express that was a stretch goal funded by the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter as well. Man, you are probably getting sick of all the Horror on the Orient Express coverage I’ve done this year but honestly, I’ve been waiting for a new version to go with my Fifth Edition version since I was in high school, so I’m even more excited for this than the Seventh Edition books coming my way. Now, let’s look at what else is in Horror on the Orient Express besides those core four books we looked at in January and February.

Book V: Strangers On the Train. This is the final core campaign book for Horror on the Orient Express. I didn’t cover it in my original preview pieces, mainly because Chaosium had not sent it to me. Now I have a copy and can delve into some detail about what you’ll find in this ninety-four page booklet. As this is the biggest piece I haven’t covered, expect this to be the largest section of the review.

Strangers On the Train starts off with a look at famous people who could be found riding the Orient Express. This two page brief is broken into three sections: 1890-1900, Around 1900 and After 1920. From there, the book goes into a list of non-essential NPCs to populate the train with. This list of over forty characters (more if you count the “entourage” each NPC has with them) includes both passengers and staff and also can make for potential PCs once one of the original characters dies in the campaign. You’ll have to flesh the stats out a bit in this case, but if there’s a particular NPC a player gravitates toward, this might be a fine option for you. The “List of Passengers” is quite long and it’s arranged not by page order but by alphabetical order. Of course alphabetical order is by first name or beginning of a title, so take a good long look at the list or you’ll get confused thinking the actual layout of this section is in alphabetical order as well. Much of “List of Passengers” is a direct reprint from the original campaign, although the list was in a small loose leaf (Unstapled) pamphlet. There is new art in this re-release of the campaign though.

Book V then concludes with “Investigators.” There are twelve premade characters here for your use. The first six come from the Bradford Players recording of Horror On the Orient Express, which can be found over at Yog-Sothoth.com and the other six were created by Kickstarter backers. All characters are given Seventh Edition stats, so you’ll have to do a bit of converting if you want to use with an earlier edition.

Book VI: Handouts for the Investigators. This is a 196 page book and a new addition to the campaign from previous printings. Previously the campaign was only numbered up to Book IV and the handouts pamphlet was about sixteen pages in length. This is a greatly expanded booklet with a page count worthy of being considered a full campaign book in its own right. The production values are also greatly increased. It is all stuff you have seen before though. It’s just a collection of all the handouts and maps in the first four books, collected for easy use and printing. After all, you don’t want to show the players one of the handouts in a campaign book and let them see snippets of content they aren’t meant to view! I really like this addition, especially the PDF version, because I don’t cut up my books and I hate folding/creasing them on a Xerox machine or scanner to make actual handouts for players. This is a great move by Chaosium.

Le Guide du Voyageur: The Traveller’s Companion. This is another new piece for the updated and expanded 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu version of Horror on the Orient Express. This fifty-two page supplement is meant to really enhance the look and feel of the campaign for those that want a more immersive experience. The piece is written completely in-game and it acts as a little booklet from the Orient Express and its concierge to its travelers. You get travel advice, menus, information about the routes, sites to see and so much more. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the Horror on the Orient Express remake as it’s so well done. Sure some gamers won’t appreciate or even make use of this, but this little travelogue is pretty fantastic and it’s something I’ll give to each player who takes part in this campaign the next time I run it to really help them get a feel for what the level of class and care the Orient Express was known for in its heyday.

Air Routes of Europe in 1923. This is a one page PDF and it’s exactly what the same suggests. It is a map of Europe complete with air routes that were used back then. This should help players who are trying to circumnavigate the region or who might have missed the Orient Express and are trying to catch up quickly. It’s worth noting that Italy, Portugal and Ireland lacked air routes at this time – at least according to the map.

Routes of the Orient Express. Another self-explanatory one page PDF. This is a full colour piece showing the routes of the five different Orient Express routes throughout Europe, along with a sixth “lesser services” route. Each route is assigned a different, distinct color so you should be able to follow the map quite easily. Unless you are colorblind or only can see in black and white. Then you’re screwed. The map also a nice little legend details major cities, capitals, and locations important to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign. There are also close-ups of three regions to let you and your gaming troupe better see these areas which will come into play as you go through the campaign.

Orient Express Bumper Sticker. Exactly what you think it is.

Sedefkar Simulacrum. A print and play version of the McGuffin that the campaign revolves around. A VERY different version from the one in my old 5e set. I like the new design.

Train Car Plans. Five pages of diagrams showcasing the layout of the Orient Express cars. You have a dining car, a sleeping car, a cathedral car and more. Everything you need to give a visual representation of the train is right here.

Scroll of the Head. This is a one page PDF describing what the Scroll of the Head is and how to use it in the campaign. It also gives some neat ideas on how to make the scroll look aged and weathered. It also references a “How to Use Supplemental Items” sheet that should be in the boxed set, but unfortunately, it’s not in my PDF collection. Boo-Urns.

Overall, the updated and expanded version of Horror on the Orient Express is truly fantastic. If you missed out on the original back in the day for whatever reason (Age, lack of funds, didn’t play the game), you really need to pick this up to see just what an incredible job Chaosium has done on this boxed set. Sure the original version was terrific in its own right, but this new expanded version really makes the overall experience that much more immersive and entertaining. Unless you are dead set against Seventh Edition for whatever reason. Even then, it’s worth picking up Horror on the Orient Express because it contains a conversion guide. It’s also cheaper than trying to buy an unused version of the original edition on the second hand market. Of course, you’ll want to wait for a price drop on the digital because five hundred dollars is insane, even for a terrific job like this, but once the Kickstarter backers have everything in their hands, expect the price to drop to something far more reasonable. Of course, you can still pre-order the physical version if you missed out on the original Kickstarter campaign. You won’t get as many bells and whistles, but it’s still a fantastic deal for anyone even remotely interested in Call of Cthulhu. I can safely say that Horror on the Orient Express has been worth the wait.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Horror on the Orient Express
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Unleashed Tales: Blood in the Water
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2015 06:22:24
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/03/26/book-review-iron-kingdo-
ms-unleashed-legends-blood-in-the-water/

I’m not really a fan of Warmachine, Hordes or Iron Kingdoms. The miniatures, I mean. I just don’t find them aesthetically pleasing (Only the Gatormen look remotely fun to paint/play with) and Privateer Press’ webstore is god awful ($10 shipping for a single mini???) so I’ve mostly stayed away, preferring to stick with Reaper, Games Workshop, Mantic and Knight Models for miniatures and games that use them. That said, I enjoyed Richard Lee Byer’s Murder in Corvis story set in the Iron Kingdoms, so I knew it was just there was definitely something good to be had in the setting. That said, I came across the chance to get the Iron Kingdoms Unleashed – Role Playing Game Adventure Kit, and it looked fantastic, especially since I snagged it for only $30. This would give me a chance to discover the RPG side of Iron Kingdoms and I absolutely loved the miniatures for Longchops (Gatorman with a big gun) and Lurk (shaman fishfolk!) so I thought this would be a good gateway to maybe appreciate the work Privateer Press does. After all, it was the RPG version of Warhammer Fantasy that eventually got me to pick up the Fifth Edition boxed set and look where I am now! Maybe this would have the same effect. It also looked like a quasi-board game to try with my wife, who enjoys those.

Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for my Iron Kingdoms Unleashed boxed set to arrive, so in the meantime I decided to pick up Blood in the Water. It was only $1.99 and set in the same game-verse as my boxed set, so this would be a good chance to get to know the characters better. I also downloaded the FREE Introduction to Savagery pack, which contains a digital version of the rulebook, game scenarios and the pre-generated characters that will be in my Boxed Set of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed, so that I could get a head start on understanding the game. It’s FREE so you should download it even if you’re only minutely curious about the game. Commentary on that though will have to wait for another day as it’s time to talk fiction.

Although the PDF for Blood in the Water is forty-nine pages long, the actual story is much shorter. The first nine pages are filler. You have the cover, title page, a page containing the Skull Islands Expeditions graphic (and nothing else), a table of contents(???), a map and a four page overview of the Iron Kingdoms world. The last seven pages of the PDF are devoted to an author bio and then lots of ads. Yuck. That’s sixteen pages of filler in all – a full THIRD of the PDF. Not cool. The story is only thirty-three pages long, which isn’t bad for the two dollar price tag and thankfully – it’s a really good one.

Blood in the Water is a prequel to the boxed set scenarios and features only two of the four characters in that piece. Thankfully it was the two characters I was most interested. You have Longchops, the honourable but constantly hungry Gatorman who is as crack a shot with his teeth as he is with his fists (and teeth). You also have Lurk who is a powerful but slimy shaman. Sure, I mean slimy in a literal sense, but also in a figurative sense. Think Thanquol from Warhammer meets Dr. Druid with a healthy dose of Starscream thrown in for good measure. There is a third protagonist in this story, a human monster hunter named Alten Ashley. Alten doesn’t appear in the boxed set version of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed, at least not in miniature form or in any of the free booklets. So I’m surprised he was used instead of one of the other two protagonists. It’s not a bad decision though as this means the author can focus on two of the main characters from the game instead of all four, while also creating their own piece of the IKU world. I’m pretty happy that the story focuses on the two characters that made me pick up the boxed set and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Even with only thirty-three pages to tell a story, author Aeryn Rudel really makes these two demihumans come to life. They are full fleshed out with quirks, notable personality features and obvious flaws that make them relatable to readers, even if they aren’t the biggest fans of humans. Alten is a little less nuanced as he’s just a monster hunter in things for the thrill of the kill and getting him name even more out there, but he’s a fun addition to the tandem of Longchops and Lurk. Alten also gives readers a human character for them to play off as well as a character more relatable to us. I mean, how man gator people or Deep Ones do you know, am I right?

The story’s plot is a simply one, but it’s very well told. A small fishing village is being terrorized by a sea monster. The village hires the duo of Longchops and Lurk, but also sends out one of their own to hire Alten. Hey, it doubles their odds of being free from the beast. The two sides decide to work together to defeat the creature (purposely not naming what it is BTW) although all three have different goals in mind. Lurk plans to use the creature’s remains to power his spells, Longchops plans to eat it and honor it via the glory of the hunt. Alten wants the renown for killing it. The fact all three are being paid by the hamlet is just gravy.

It’s not really a spoiler to say that the protagonists succeed. After all, we know at least two of them are in the boxed game in some fashion. However it’s the journey rather than the destination that makes this story worth reading and it really is a great short little read. Sure I’m still waiting for my boxed set of the game to arrive but if playing Iron Kingdoms Unleashed is even half as much fun as the story I just read, then I’m confident I made the right choice to give Privateer Press’ products another try. Who knows, maybe the Adventure Kit will spur me on to buy the core RPG book for Iron Kingdoms Unleashed. At worst, I’ll definitely enjoy painting the minis that come in this set. It’s too bad Privateer Press’ website doesn’t have a full catalog of what all they produce. I wouldn’t mind a Gatorman regiment of some sort. One thing is for sure, even though I haven’t cared for Warmachine or Hordes, I’m really enjoying the Iron Kingdoms fiction I’ve picked up.



Tags: Iron Kingdoms

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Unleashed Tales: Blood in the Water
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Shadowrun: Dark Resonance
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2015 06:36:31
originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/03/19/book-review-shadowrun-d-
ark-resonance/

My second dip in the Shadowrun novel pool was a bit more to my liking. Where the first was focused on a single run and team, this one has a much larger cast of characters and a bigger mystery to solve with bigger stakes. It also delved into technomancers, which I’m not nearly as familiar with since my experience with Shadowrun is back on the Genesis and with Shadowrun Returns and, if I remember right, Third Edition. Technomancers are more from the newest edition of the RPG, so it was a little confusing, at first, as to where they fit in and what they could do, but Phaedra Weldon does a great job of giving someone new to the technomancer some idea of what they’re capable of throughout the novel.

Focusing primarily on Kazuma Tetsu, Soldat online, the novel deals with his search for his sister, Hitori, who went missing months back without a trace. He’s a technomancer and hides it as well as he can using basic gear without really using it to hide his ability to connect to the Matrix without actually making a connection using gear. Technomancers are both feared and hated, and in this instance, wanted and dissected to see how their abilities work, so they keep underground to keep their abilities and whereabouts unknown. His sister was also a technomancer and he fears she’s vanished for good this time with only a name, Caliban, linking to her disappearance for a second time. Finding that name on a routine cleaning job for an old server, Kazuma decides to break in on his own and swipe the data to see what’s in there, only the PCC are interested in the data as well as the original owner of the data who wants it back before the servers and building are demolished. That’s when his personal investigation go sideways.

A shadowrunning team, operated by Mack Schmetzer, hired by the PCC hits the building up the same night Kazuma does and two security guards and the teams shaman are murdered in the building and at first the murder is linked to Kazuma by the team’s lead as Kazuma’s partner and girlfriend, Silk, scrambled the team’s getaway van. Things have gotten worse as the shaman’s body has disappeared and their other runner has gone off the grid. Mack’s not ready to take this lying down and wants the data back, especially since his contact is an undercover agent with the PCC. The worst part is no one seems to know what data was being kept on a server that was about to be shut down that’s worth killing for.

Another of Kazuma’s online friends has gone missing, last seen sampling an online game called TechnoHack that’s supposed to paint being a technomancer in a good light and show what they can do to try and bring things around for the maligned group. Not wanting to seem out of place, Kazuma heads back into work and is ambushed by a dwarf named Mr. Powell comes calling on Kazuma with a pet technocritter which Kazuma barely escapes from and the chase is on from there. Not only does Kazuma need to get the data before a shadowrunnning team and now some private security guy with a thing for technomancers, but he also has to piece together how it ties in with his sister and a video game that keeps making the news for dying servers.

I think one of the big points I liked about this was the descriptions for the Matrix and the actions within. Especially with how the technomancers access and deal with the Matrix. It’s a big part of the book and probably wouldn’t work nearly as well in any other medium. The technomancers are probably the biggest stars in this one as far as classes from the game system go, so if you don’t like dealing with the Matrix as much, this might not be the book for you. Overall though, I loved it. There’s enough real world interaction to keep everything grounded with the characters and to make sure the reader has that kind of reference even when dealing with the Matrix. We get some nice touches with the characters about keeping in shape or keeping up your body while you spend so much time online. The usual big bad corrupt corporation is ever present and as usual nothing is ever quite what it seems.

While I don’t necessarily think this would be an ideal introductory novel for people new to Shadowrun, there’s enough explanation and detail that anyone not into it could get by. For people familiar with it there’s a lot here to go with but it also makes use of characters from past Shadowrun novels that I didn’t catch as I’m haven’t hit the previous books in the Shadowrun set. Dirk Montgomery and Netcat are two that I found while I was doing some snooping as to who’s been used before, but from the way Mack and his group are written they either have a past that haven’t been explored in novels or sourcebooks yet or they’ve been active in them before. It’s a nice mix here and broadens the scope of the novel really.

This is a great mystery novel on top of being an excellent cyberpunk novel and a fast-paced and involved Shadowrun story. It’s a compelling set of circumstances and I like that even while we get some behind the scenes with the main villains, we’re still left to piece a lot of this together with Kazuma, the police and Mack’s team. We get a lot of different viewpoints and while it does jump around and play a little bit with the timing, the reader never really gets lost with the large number of characters. They’re each really memorable and have depth and motivation to them, even if it’s in brief. This has a great pace to it as well that had me burn through it pretty quickly when I got a chance to actually sit and read it. So don’t let the page count fool you, this moves at a nice brisk pace that’ll keep you flipping pages.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Dark Resonance
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Cthulhu Britannica London Boxed Set
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2015 06:18:18
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/02/20/tabletop-review-cthulhu-
-britannica-london-boxed-set/

From the same publisher that’s been putting out the Doctor Who Adventures in Space and Time RPG that I thought was fantastic, comes another entry in the ever expending Call of Cthulhu settings options. This one tackles 1920s London, and like Achtung! Cthulhu before it is so in depth and well done that you could use it just to run a 1920’s RPG set in London even without the Cthulhu mythos attached. Like Achtung! Cthulhu I’m also really anamored with this set which has some really nice collections of maps and handouts on top of the adventures and two sourcebooks. I’m reviewing the PDF versions here, but just going by the PDF copies, the actual physical set has to be even more amazing. Before I get into gushing too much about this, I will say the $90 price tag might put a few people off. Even if you couldn’t get it for almost half that, which you can, I’d say the physical version would be well worth it. The PDF price tag at full price would be pushing it, but if you wanted to run in this setting, this would not only be recommended, I’d have to say it’d be essential. The books look fantastic and are packed with great material and almost no filler at all and even when there is it’s generally artwork that fits with the books completely. These are solid and well put together sourcebooks for the Cthulhu games and anyone who plays there should pick these up.

02Aside from the three books you get in the set, there are also a few side goodies that can be useful for any campaign. The first up is a set of maps that are actually from the period the game is set in. The first three aren’t print resolution but look decent enough on a computer screen. My only complaint with these maps are that they’re pretty much only good for flavor. To be able to read them on the PDF you have to zoom in up to 400% and that’s when the text starts to break down. The first map is a layout of the London Underground or what’s referred to as the Tube today. The second map is a layout of country bus routes. The third map also looks like it could be for the London Underground but is zoomed in a bit more than the first. The last map for London is a bit more plain looking, but the detail is a bit more impressive especially close up. The last map’s full print size would be 22 by 17 inches and the details remain when you get in close on it even on your computer or tablet screen. All in all I like the inclusion of vintage maps, but I would have liked the first three at a bit bigger resolution with the PDFs to be able to be used a bit more than just fluff or props at the table. That last map is fantastic though.

With the maps, six pages of handouts are also included, all tying into the adventure included with the set which means not having to print them out of the book instead. If you had the physical copy I’m sure this would be more important. It’s less so with the PDF version. They all vary in design and color, so if you want to cut these out and pass them around with your gaming group you’ll need a color printer to get the full effect. They look well-worn when they need to and for the most part definitely feel like 1920’s London. There’s a little too much in a few that looks far too clean lined to be from the time, but they’re for flavor more than anything else as well as conveying some information to your players. That they do beautifully.

01The first of the three books in the set is a set of adventures that runs for ninety-six pages appropriately titled Adventures in Mythos London. There are three adventures inside each of varying length plus the stats you’ll need to finish them along with their handouts. Out of the ninety-six pages that make up the book, eighty-six are direct content and seventy-nine of those are just the adventures minus some of the stats for Sixth Edition Call of Cthulhu. The first adventure takes up the most amount of pages in the book between the NPCs and handouts, but is also the most linear and probably the shortest. Terror on the Thames is meant as an introductory adventure to introduce new players or just to bring a group together so it is pretty straightforward. Set on a riverboat that’s been converted over to run the Thames, things get a little tricky and it goes from there. The second adventure, Those Poor Souls Who Dwell in Light, gets a bit more involved and gets players active in an investigation into a murder and something dark going on tied to that murder. At only twenty-two pages, this one takes up a little over half the pages of the first adventure but there’s far fewer handouts and your investigator’s will be thinking a bit more with this one. This one doesn’t really seem tied to the first adventure in the book at all, but the third adventure, the Non-Euclidean Gate, can and does tie into the second adventure depending on how the player’s got through the second one. The last adventure is dealing with some of the same forces as the second adventure and has the investigator’s looking into some pages stolen from the Mortlake School for Girls and they’re being hired to retrieve them. Things are never simple and there’s a lot of investigating in this one which may not sit too well with player’s who like to engage with their guns or fists. There’s a good variety to the adventures, not just in the events surrounding them, but the way you have to go about trying to solve the problems at hand and make it through them. While I’m more ho-hum about the first adventure as it uses a few game master mechanics I hate doing to player characters but also given that it’s a completely linear adventure I understand why. I really like the other two quite a bit. Either way it’s a good source of NPCs to use on your own and a few fleshed out settings within London if you’re so inclined to make your own adventures to start with.

The second book in the set, An Investigator’s Guide to London, is mainly for the player’s but there are a few pop-out boxes here and there that a game master might want to check out. Sitting at one hundred and eighty-four pages, this is a very well thought out and thorough book that will really help get your player’s into what life was like in 1920’s London. It reminds me a lot of how the Investigator’s Guide to Achtung! Cthulhu would have worked really well as just a World War II RPG. You could honestly do the same with An Investigator’s Guide to London and run a whole RPG session just set in 1920’s London without even touching the Mythos. I’ll give you that might bore some players, but I know just the right group of people that would get an insane kick out of it at the same time. Know your audience. The book is well written, is pretty engaging for a sourcebook, and has some great design work to it that makes it feel like something you’d pull off the shelf in that time along with some great artwork and sample advertisements and maps that really help sell the mood. This is a great looking book and I’m actually sad that I only have this set in PDF form because the printed versions would be amazing to own even if I never get a chance to play it.

03Breaking the book down a bit, the first section, London in the 1920s, explores the basics of what’s going on in the city at the time and the circumstances that have led to get London where it was at the time. They talk about current currency and where it ended up in the modern setting, different factors at play throughout London including what happened in the war to get them there along with plagues, and then of course making money. They follow this up with The Twenties: Year by Year which is exactly what it sounds like. They go over major events that happen throughout the Twenties up to and including the start of the Great Depression. Getting to London details exactly how one might go about getting to the city and from a variety of locations as well as what you can expect when you actually get there weather wise and where you might be able to stay once you’re in London. Getting Around London details the six different ways to make your way around, including the Underground and taxis, without simply using your two legs which would take a while.

The People of London is where they start to mix in actual game mechanics and descriptions in with the essential details you’d need to realistically play the game. Before they dive into that they break down the Class system for you, how nobility ranks into things, proper forms of addressing someone and degrees of familiarity to help navigate the social scenes, what roles women play in all of this and the fact they had just one a hard fought battle for some very basic rights, and then of course playing a minority in what was an advancing time. All of that before you even hit on what new and modified occupations your character can partake in. There are twenty-one occupations listed here of all sorts of vocations and skill sets. They do offer breakdowns of several of them to better differentiate them. The Religious Official breaks down starting stats for five different religions, the Soldier is broken down by rank and file, and the Spiritualist gets a nice extra section on Summoning and Communing with Spirit Guides. No matter what kind of character you were thinking of playing that’s really associated mainly with this setting, most of what you might find to make that character interesting at least as far as what they do for a living you can find here. The New and Modified Skills only really give options for three new skills including Boxing, Photography and Etiquette. Lastly covered under The People of London are the Notable People of 1920’s London that breaks down thirty three of the more famous London dwellers in the 1920s which includes their birth years along with when they died and a brief summary of who they were and why they’re notable which is good to have if you happen to have an Investigator who’d probably bump into some of the more famous people in their tours around London.

05So we have some of the history, people, occupations and the like covered, but what about equipment? Enter Shopping in London. They cover some of the exchange rates, the economy in London, then dive into some of the more well-known shops along with what you’d be expected to wear as far as a hat, whether you’re in the country, and if you’re a female character how fancy your dress should be, especially if you’re attending something that requires you to be fancy and you’re wearing a dress right off the rack which is a no-no. Auction Houses get a nice blurb and rules for running an Auction for the Investigator’s to attend. Last but not least are the open air markets before they go into the goods and services price guide which includes actual prices from the 1929 Harrod’s catalogue which I thought was a great touch. They cover just about anything in here item wise and also including hiring people to work for you. My favorite side-bar though covered the invention of the gas-powered hand-held chainsaw and when it was available for sale because you never know when you’ll have to drop into a pit of zombies even in 1920’s London.

If you’re new to the world, you may not realize that we didn’t always have television and cell phones, so the section on Technology, Communication, and News will open your mind to the new inventions of the corded home telephone, the radio and the BBC which didn’t have a twenty-four hour broadcast cycle, telegrams and the good old Post to deliver messages in writing by hand, messenger boys and then of course actual newspapers that relied on pulped paper to deliver the goings-on in the world. There are some neat write-ups here on how to use them effectively and what you could and couldn’t do with them in 1920’s London along with a way to use the classifieds to your own ends. Always good to have options. So along with technology, you have to know what’s available to keep your characters engaged without that smart phone, and that’s where Entertainment in London comes in. They cover the popular sports from the time, and yes football, soccer for those in the U.S., is one of the huge ones. Theatre and the new cinema are covered with a rather extensive list of theatres and a bit about how the cinema was choking the life out of the Music Hall which used to be the more popular venue for the poorer people of London. If those aren’t to your characters liking there’s always the Gentleman’s Club with a rather extensive list for those and summaries of what the clubs actually allowed in and what they tried to do. Still not finding something to your liking? Well how about the exorbitant nightlife with clubs catering to the rich because of their questionable legality with out of date laws still on the books from the War? Well then there’s the Pubs and the London Season where people would descend on London for different events in the 20s because it was the in thing to do during the times.

04I mentioned the questionable legality of nightclubs, and well that leads right into Law and Order which covers a range of topics in 1920s London. You get sections on the London Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, the City of London Police, the ranks of the Police there, who was in charge, the corruption within the different departments, and then of course what they carry. From there we get a rough overview of the English Legal System including some of the criminals of the day and what punishments you might incur for not exactly being a law-abiding citizen as well as some of the more cozy locales you’ll be held in should you be convicted. This is the first 111 pages of the book. There isn’t much filler at all. I can see you using most of this. The next section though is going to be used a bit differently as you may not need swaths of it if you never go there.

The London Guide section of the book covers sixty-four pages and is the single largest section of An Investigator’s Guide to London. This is probably also the more important one in figuring out where you want to go, or if you’re from London, where you’ve lived. They’ve broken the city down into sections in this, Central, North West, East End, South West, South East, and then a section on Expanding London that goes into the growth of the city and differences in how it’s grown and how fast. Each of these goes further into different places within those areas and pulls up the big London map and drops numbered markers that correspond with what they’re talking about within that particular section which is helpful to both the players and the game master. They cover estates, museums, anything and everything you might need to deal with during a session. The book also goes into Royal Palaces, the University of London, Graveyards, an overview of the River Thames, and then a quick dip into the Sewers and Lost Rivers of London. An Afterword, some references and Recommended Reading and the Index follow. I do have to say I’m enamored with the book and what they’ve pulled off with this. Like the previous World War II addition, they’ve been excruciatingly thorough with this and the effort shows. But wait, there’s more. I haven’t even tackled A Keeper’s Guide to London yet.

A Keeper’s Guide to London is fifty-six pages shorter than An Investigator’s Guide to London, but don’t let that get you down, because much like the Investigator’s book, they haven’t wasted space and you’re getting a lot of information in that one hundred twenty-eight pages. So if the Investigator’s Guide is for your player’s, the Keeper’s Guide is all about the person running the show. There’s lots of great information in here. Where they went super accurate with the Investigator’s book, this one gets into what the Mythos side of London is getting up to during the 1920s. It follows the same aesthetic as the Investigator’s book, but the artwork is certainly more gruesome.

06The book is divided into sections again, although these are far more broad than the Investigator’s Guide. The Introduction is pretty straight-forward but has a great three page short story in it to help set the mood. I really recommend reading it. Great stuff. From there we go into the basics with a section on Bringing Mythos London to Life with some great titles that go from London’s Dreaming to London’s Screaming. They discuss some of the ways to bring the real threats to London in line with the Mythos threats as well as some great examples to broaden or even kick off a campaign or session with. The last chapter in this section covers what might happen in an area based on which of the Mythos big bads are involved.

A Keeper’s History of London is the other side of the coin from the brief history and chronology we got in the Investigator’s Guide. It’s far more in depth and deals with a lot more things leading up to the 1920s and of course the Mythos end of things. This detailed history starts back with the founding of Londinium with the Romans and heads all the way up through the 1920s. This is important because they’re always digging up something from the past in London. I just read an article about them discovering something as they were working on a new roadway now, so I imagine in 1920s London this would be just as prevalent as they’re building new roads, homes, sewers and so on. This gives you a massive amount of history to pull from and really opens up your options with what you might infuse your game with. There is a detailed chronology with the major Mythos events up until the 1920s that includes the major normal events as well as a better gauge of where things happened. From there they move into the Notable Historical Occult Figures in London which includes past and what was then present figures in London. In all you get sixteen of these to learn about and any number of them may have some kind of effect on your game should you choose to include their teachings or maybe there was some clue to some kind of artifact in their writings. The write-ups are mostly summaries but cover the important topics of what they were all about. From there we get the Mythos events from the 1920s to cap that off with.

07Unusual Locations is precisely what it sounds like. These are locations that were purposefully omitted from the Investigator’s Guide because they can be strange and unusual places and can have their own fair share of mysteries or secrets that should be left up to the Keeper. They cover the old homes of notable occultists, a railway designed just to move corpses, plague pits and even Tower Bridge. It’s a smaller but decent portion of histories for the locations along with an idea or two for using them in a campaign. The People of London section though is the biggest of the book weighing in at thirty-one pages. It starts off listing your standard occult organizations you’d have running around London, because it’s the Mythos, you need those. These wouldn’t all have to deal with the Mythos in general but could be a thorn in your Investigator’s side or be allies. There’s a section later just for the Mythos. They cover a lot of the clubs, even a section on what the Chinese traders in London may have set up to deal with. There are a few people noted within the organizations, but it mainly covers the organizations. From there, they move into potential allies or associates for an Investigator. You get nineteen different NPCs that you can use with full stats and write-up for each of them along with portraits to put a face to the name. It’s a really good range and I’m sure the stats will be welcome for anyone needing to add one of them on the fly. The last and probably most important part of the People of London is about two of the clubs you’d probably end up using more in your campaigns as they deal directly with what your player’s will be trying to do. They go into resources for each as well as how to use them and ideas for putting them as the focus of a campaign.

08Mythos Threats is the chapter that gets more into things that go bump in the London night and people as well as creatures your Investigator’s will want to be dealing with before they become a bigger problem than they already are. They outline nine specific groups or threats with a few people and monsters mixed in there with each. It’s the tenth one that gets the most attention as it can be used as both something as a benefit to and as an antagonist for the Investigators and that’s the Society of London for the Exploration and Development of the Esoteric Sciences. The Society gets a full ten pages dedicated to it, talking about its scientific and not so scientific pursuits, Fellows of note in the Society, their experiments, and then a few scenarios seeds you can use to get this rather interesting group involved in your campaign. I really love the SLEDES write-up. It’s a great evil group that you can have go either way on your players. They are trying to better mankind by any means after all. That can’t be all bad can it?

Mythos Spells and Tomes covers some of the new spells they’ve created for this setting. It’s not a big section detailing seven tomes which mainly means a brief history and the spells you’d find within, and then the five new spells specifically dealing with this setting. There are some great things to use here, but most of the meat of this volume is in the setting and people and not new monstrosities or magics to throw at your players. The last section, the Appendix, covers all the Call of Cthulhu Sixth Edition Stats for every living named person with a pulse that’s listed in the Keeper’s Guide. I really like this addition to the back of the book as you won’t have to flip pages to find them when they’re all just listed there at the back for ease of use. That’s a great design choice right there. That’s of course followed by the Index.

Overall, I am in love with this set. The PDFs are fantastic and are marked just where you need them to be for actual use by an Investigator or Keeper. They look amazing, the art is fantastic, and they’ve done an incredible job gathering everything you’d need to just crack these open and play along with your Call of Cthulhu main books. I’d love to have a set of these physically and I don’t even have a gaming group in my area that would regularly play the game. If you’re looking to try a really detailed and thought out setting or just a change of venue and time for your Call of Cthulhu game, then you really need to give this a look.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Britannica London Boxed Set
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Castles & Crusades Death in the Treklant
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2015 06:23:57
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/02/09/tabletop-review-death-i-
n-the-treklant-castles-crusades/

Back in December I did a feature/unboxing on the leather-bound copies of Castles & Crusades‘ Player’s Handbook and Monsters & Treasure. The unboxing included many of the Kickstarter extras from crowdfunding those releases including the Death in the Treklant trilogy. If you click back to the unboxing you can see all three physical releases. Now Troll Lord games has bundled all three together in a digital collection and given the titles a shockingly low price of $6.99. That’s pretty incredible. I’m glad other people will now be able to get these adventures as they’re really quite good and every Castles & Crusades fan should get a chance to enjoy them, even if they missed the Sixth Printing Kickstarter.

Death in the Treklant contains three adventures. Together they comprise a nice mini campaign to introduce new players to the Castles & Crusades system. Vakhund: Into the Unknown is for characters Levels 1-2. Dzeebagd: Under Dark & Misty Ground is the second adventure and it is for characters Levels 2-4. Felsenthein: Dogs of War is the third and final adventure and is designed for characters Levels 3-5. Each adventure is designed for between four and six players and it is suggested as least two characters be warrior types and at least one be a cleric. Of course, this is good advice for most low level adventures, so take heed you newcomers. All three of these adventures were originally released in 2000-2001, but have been out of print until the PHB Kickstarter. So long time Troll Lord may already know or have these adventurer. To be honest though, I’ve been playing C&C since its first printing and this was my first time experiencing these adventures, so maybe not.

Vakhund has your beginning characters acting as bodyguards for a caravan. A wealthy merchant and his daughter are travelling with the caravan, but one thing leads to another and the daughter is kidnapped. The merchant hires the PCs to get her back. It’s a pretty straightforward plot hook for introductory characters. What follows is primarily encounters with goblins and hungry animals. Hey, this is for Level 1 characters after all, so you won’t be fighting werewolves or flesh golems. Much of the adventure is set up for the Castle Keeper. It is filled with many NPCs who all have basic stat blocks and a detailed back story. Because of this, the adventurer is pretty evenly split between talking heads, narration and combat. This even split allows gamers to experience all aspects of a RPG instead of being a straight up hack and slash dungeon crawl or nothing but intrigue and politicking. The adventure culminates with tracking down the daughter and saving her from the band of kidnappers and also a race of monstrous creatures known as the Urk. There’s a pretty powerful end boss in this piece and an even more powerful monster called Pejznog that you might want to avoid if possible. With these two, expect the mortality rate of the PCs to be high. Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the basics of C&C and the dungeons are small enough to see interesting without turning into dungeon crawls.

The second adventure Dzeebagdcontinues the story if you decide to play the campaign instead of making Vakhund a one-shot or stand-alone. With this adventure it is implied that the merchant’s daughter is still in the clutches of nefarious evil doers and you must journey farther into the goblin kingdoms to rescue her. Dzeebagd also starts to fill in some of the blanks missing from the first adventure such as why the young woman was kidnapped. Dzeebagd really fleshes out the story of Vakhund further and helps players see how adventures can interconnect as well as the difference between a campaign and an adventure. Again, these adventures are really great if you are introducing C&C to a group of newcomers, while veterans might find them a little hand-holding for their experience level.

Besides the continuation of the kidnapping plot, there are several other interesting sub-plots that come up in Dzeebagd. This including a goblin warlord getting too big for his britches, and group of refugees being systematically wiped out that have gotten so desperate they are hiding in a dungeon. Players will have to contend with both of these problems in addition to the original plot hook that brought them this far.

Much of the first half of Dzeebagd revolves around random encounters. If, like me, you eschew this concept, the adventure will be pretty short. I’m not a fan of stock filler, but at the same time, if you want the PCs to be able to survive these three adventures, a bit of grinding will be needed. My advice is a bit of a comprise and structure when and where characters will encounter potential threats or allies. Many of the random choices are one time affairs that add color to the overall adventure, which is one of the reasons I like C&C so much. Their random encounters tend to be meaningful and not throwaway hack and slash. Unlike Vakhund though, much of Dzeebagd is a straight up dungeon crawl, so be prepared for the dynamic shift between the two adventures.

Finally we come to the third and shortest adventure in the set Felsentheim. This adventure has a significant increase in difficulty for the both the Castle Keeper’s and the players. Not only is there a lot of combat, but the PCs will be taking part in a large scale battle, which is something that be hard for even experienced gamers. As such the Castle Keeper has to really do a lot of prep work to ensure this adventure runs smoothly. Thankfully Felsentheim gives truncated rules for running a large scale adventure towards the back so that should hold a less experienced CK’s hand SOMEWHAT. Again though, this is one you’re going to want to read several times and take copious notes for to ensure it plays properly.

There isn’t a lot more to that adventure than fighting. You have a chase scene, a couple of set encounters and some minor NPC discussions, but this is pretty much one big fight. It’s a fine climax to the previous two battles, but for those looking to use Felsentheim as a one shot, you might be a bit disappointed.

Overall Death in the Treklant is an excellent collection and the $6.99 price tag makes this an unbelievable deal. In print, each of these adventures would cost you $7.99 so you’re getting the set for more than two-thirds off by purchasing digitally. That’s a must buy for any C&C fan. These adventures still hold up fifteen years later, and if you’re looking for something new to use with your C&C troupe or just looking for an excuse to try Castles and Crusades as a system, you should definitely consider picking up Death in the Treklant. You’ll get your money’s worth and then some with this one.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Death in the Treklant
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Castles & Crusades A Druid's Lament
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2015 08:30:36
Originally posted at: This year’s Free RPG Day release from Troll Lord Games is an adventure entitled A Druid’s Lament. Note that the title page calls the adventure, “The Druid’s Lament,” but the cover reads “A Druid’s Lament.” Not a big deal, but you’ll probably be able to do a search for either if you look for a copy down the road. A Druid’s Lament is designed for a party of four to six characters between Levels 6 and 8. That’s a pretty high character build for a gateway adventure, but the adventure is pretty short and easy so newcomers shouldn’t have a problem if guided by an experienced GM or player in the group. The adventure also comes with six pre-generated 7th Level characters, so you don’t even need to bother with character creation. As this is NOT a set of Quick Start Rules, you will need someone who has access to at least the Castles & Crusades Player’s Handbook. Either that, or you’ll have to pick it up at the same gaming store where you got this year’s free adventure.

Like a lot of Castles & Crusades adventures I seem to review, A Druid’s Lament is a lot easier if you have a Druid and or Ranger in your party. The pregens contain one of each so you’re in luck there. The core adventure revolves a good NPC and their good intentions going disastrously bad. So bad in fact, the PCs will have to come in and clean up the mess. In many ways the adventure reminds me a lot of Ravenloft and how curses worked in the old AD&D Second Edition setting. Retro gamers may find it ports well to that system. C&C and AD&D are pretty close to each other, so it shouldn’t take a lot of work on the part of a DM/Castle Keeper. Anyway, the adventure has the PCVs having to put a bunch of clues together, starting with a strangely murdered family, a haunted forest and a spirit of rage and revenge that did its duty and then some.

A decent part of the adventure will take place in the town of Sherwood where you’ll meet NPCs and be pointed in the right direction. From there you’ll wander through a forest and engage in a small dungeon crawl. There isn’t a lot of combat to this piece, with six or seven battles at most. There isn’t a wandering monster table either. I personally never use those, but I know some people do, so you’ll have to make your own if you want to pad this adventure out. One of the things I think is interesting is that the boss of the adventure is not the hardest opponent in the piece. There is a tougher antagonist but you don’t have to fight it. Heck, it might even befriend you if you use your mouth instead of your blade. I thought that was a really nice touch. It’s a fairly easy adventure over all, and the PCs should be able to breeze through this thanks to always having a numbers advantage unless they get really unlucky with their die rolls or just randomly attack things. The focus of A Druid’s Lament really is on the story and the characterization of the NPCs the players encounter, so while the adventure does balance hack and slash and talking heads nicely, the Castle Keeper should take care to keep the emphasis on characters over combat if they really want to get the most out of this piece.

In the end, A Druid’s Lament is a very short adventure that can be played in a single session. The adventure itself is only six pages long, with the rest going to the cover, a title page with legal mumbo jumbo, a full page drawing, a map of the dungeon type location players will have to find and tread through and a page for two new magic items and the pre-generated characters. Yes, the pregens all fit into a little under half a page, which saves space but the Castle Keeper running this might want to spread the stats out into a full character sheet for easier reading.

For a free adventure, A Druid’s Lament is quite nice. It’s short and sweet, giving newcomers a great look at what they can expect from Castles & Crusades while also being quite fun for long time fans of the system. With the seventh printing of Castles & Crusades coming out later this year, you might just want to pick up A Druid’s Lament now and use it when the core rulebooks get released in full color (and for some lucky few, with swanky leather covers to boot!) Be warned though, each Free RPG Day 2014 box only comes with three copies of this adventure, compared to five to fifteen copies of everything else, so this will be hard to get, especially if you live in an area with a lot of C&C fans. You can’t go wrong for the price point, and if it leads you or some of your friends to try out the C&C system as a while, so much the better.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades A Druid's Lament
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Castles & Crusades Reaping Bones
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2015 08:29:42
Originallyy posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/04/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-reaping-bones/

Reaping Bones was originally a convention exclusive to those that attended Reaper Miniatures ReaperCon 2014 earlier this year. However, Kickstarter backers for the extremely successful crowdfunding campaign Troll Lord Games did for their sixth printing received a digital copy as well. Now there are some differences between the two. Apparently the physical ReaperCon version came with pregenerated characters and some basic rules on how to play, while the Kickstarter digital copy was just the adventure. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but I would definitely track down a physical copy of the ReaperCon version for all the bells and whistles if you really want to get a copy

The name Reaping Bones is a play on Reaper Miniatures Bones lines of Minis. Get it? Reaper Bones – Reaping Bones? Ho ho ho. Well, at least there are plenty of skeletons to fight in the adventure so the title isn’t just a play on words. A horde of the undead isn’t the core focus of the adventure, so the title may through off people who think this is where clerics and paladins will shine brightest.

Reaping Bones is designed for three to five players who have characters between Levels 4 and 6. The adventure advises that an elf, druid or ranger will be extremely useful here and I have to agree. Tracking and woodland knowledge will really help you get through this short but tough adventure. As a big fan of Druids, I always love how C&C has several adventures giving them the spotlight.

The core story has your players being hired to track down the kidnapped son of your leader, Lord Brian of Helliwell. In exchange for money, title and land, your party has to find the orcs that kidnapped the young boy and do away with them. Of course, since this is a convention adventure, you might expect Reaping Bones to stay that straightforward. It doesn’t. As players will discover a third party who wants the boy gets involved and so the party will have to figure out who actually has the child. There are also some subquests and potential NPC allies or enemies to be had. In the end you do have to face several dozen skeletons and a pretty unexpected end boss. Completing the adventure should only take a single session lasting a few hours (There are only eleven pages of content, after all) and it’s a nice blend of hack and slash combat with actual role-playing. There’s nothing here really out of the ordinary (although there are two new spells introduced here), and you’ll walk away with a nice understanding of how Castles & Crusades plays coupled with a nice look at some classic monsters and how different C&C adventures can be from the typical high fantasy tabletop RPG. Now some longtime C&C fans or veteran tabletop gamers might fight this piece a bit too simplistic, but you have to remember it was designed to introduce miniature painters and gamers to a tabletop RPG, so the target audience was a bit different with this one.

Overall, Reaping Bones is an excellent, if short, little freebie. Hey, I’ll take good and free over bad but long and pricey any day, wouldn’t you? GMs can definitely pad this out if needed with random encounters and even turn the piece into the start of a full campaign. After all, once you collect the child, there is still the core reason it was kidnapped in the first place. A clever GM can make several adventures out of the dangling plot threads in this one. Would I actively scour the third party market for a physical copy of this? No, I wouldn’t. Am I happy with it as a Kickstarter backer freebie? Most definitely. It’s certainly an adventure I would use with new and veteran C&C players alike. It’s well thought out, light enough to give new comers a taste of how the game works and it is fun. You don’t really need much more than that.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Reaping Bones
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Shadowrun: Hell on Water
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2015 06:35:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/01/21/book-review-shadowrun-h-
ell-on-water/

I wasn’t sure what to expect diving head first into what is actually my first Shadowrun novel. I’ve read the game books and played the console and now PC games that were set in the universe but never really hit on the fiction. While I don’t think going into this one would be good if you’d never picked up anything related to Shadowrun before, it is kind of an interesting tale about a run gone horribly wrong. Then again, what run ever goes right?

The book focuses on a group slapped together for this particular run. Set in Lagos and Nigeria, this isn’t even remotely an area I’m familiar with on top of being a setting in the Sixth World which means it’s cyberpunk and not quite our own, but you don’t have to rely on knowing the definitions of the Lagosian slurs they use to get by. Two members of the group are professionals from Seattle while everyone else is local and while they’ve been brought in for a particular run, events quickly happen that start kicking things in revealing different secrets of each of the locals that they really didn’t want known. You’ve got a street samurai who has a really violent streak, a dwarf decker with some dark secrets to match her skills, a rigger who detests being everyone’s ride but knows that’s what groups expect from him, and a shaman who’s trying to find her place and some justice as well.

Their job is to simply collect three cases and get those cases and their contents from the mainland and over to the Lagos Island where all the big corporations in the area like to play. The original plan falls apart, of course, so the group that’s barely holding it together ends up having to take the Third Mainland Bridge, a 14km long bridge that they’ll have to take on foot because sections of it have collapsed making travel by vehicle practically impossible. This of course means defending their packages from all sorts of local trouble and getting it across the bridge in one piece to collect on their payday. Being runners and professionals, they didn’t ask too many questions at the start, but after a while they realize they probably should have looked a little more into who they’re working for and just what it is exactly they’re transporting.

The book is told through several different ways. The first of which, the story itself is being told by someone recounting the run to the reader, presumably by someone who knows the runners or at least one of them and the events that happened well enough to recount them. It starts off with them already having picked up the packages and heading for their doomed transport and continues from there with some key flashback scenes and nice headers for the chapters that are flashbacks so you know right when they’re supposed to be happening. I generally hate flashbacks like this, mainly because usually it’s a certain point and then the storyteller goes back to tell us how it happened up to that point which completely kills the suspense. By doing brief flashbacks like this we instead get character motivation for what happens next, just like you’d get if someone were telling the story to someone else for emphasis, and for the most part it works pretty well.

The bigger issue with this story, is that we end up revisiting a few obstacles the heroes already got passed at one point and having them get passed again feels almost unnecessary. It does lead to some rather humorous exchanges and decent action scenes, but at the same time feels like ground retread. It could have easily been handled a bit differently, especially after looking at the map of the city as it is currently and trying to figure out how that particular sequence would have played out as described. So it could have been shortened a little bit or had a few different things happen to move things along. The best thing about this section is it gives a few of the characters moments to shine within the group of runners.

The only other issue I had is the storyteller him or herself. While this is done through that person, the character voice for the storyteller is really strong in the first few chapters and then instead of letting it slide a bit here and there, that voice just drops off almost entirely just to reappear once or twice. It served initially to draw me into it, but then once I noticed it was gone kind of kicked me out of the story a bit. The storyteller’s voice could have been a bit stronger throughout, but it’s not a make or break it for the book itself.

Overall I like the characters and the banter. The run seemed a bit too simplistic and a bit too much like a fetch quest at first. There are far more layers to it but when you break it all down the runners are simply playing the part of couriers here. Granted they’re playing the part of courier and there’s something else going on, but it reminded me a bit too much of why I hate having so many of these to do in video games. This ends up being far more interesting than it first appears. The book does move along pretty well without losing the reader, but it does feel like several of the plot threads get dropped by the ending. The ending does work, but ultimately the reader is left like the runners in the book who are telling each other war stories – all are left wondering about details that the storyteller didn’t disclose at all, so we only really get a taste of what happened. This is nowhere as satisfying as a bigger conclusion and so the book fails to give readers and Shadowrun fans alike what they truly want.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Hell on Water
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Shadowrun: Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2015 07:38:11
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/01/16/tabletop-review-shadows-
-in-focus-sioux-nation-shadowrun/

So 2014 wasn’t the best year for Shadowrun. Sure we got the Dragonfall video game, but the tabletop side received a lot of grief from critics and fans alike in regards to what came out that year. I’ll admit it was probably the worst year the game has had in the past five or so, but it wasn’t as terrible as some doom and gloomers made it out to be. You know what though? It’s a whole new year. Time to start over and more importantly – start off on the right foot. Case in point – Shadows In Focus: Sioux Nation. I’ll admit these are my favorite kind of supplements. You get a solid look at a specific location in the Sixth World with a lot of fluff and a dabbling of mechanics at the end. I’m never happier than when the current SR writers look at places that have been left untouched for several editions or that have never been covered at all. I’m still pushing for a Caribbean or Samoa based piece but for now the Sioux Nation supplement satisfies me and then some. It’s a region that hasn’t really been tackled since third editions Shadows of North America and it hasn’t been tackled WELL since Nigel Findlay wrote Native American Nations, volumes 1 & 2 back in 1e/2e days of the game. Fans of the original pieces on the Sioux Nation will be quite happy with the attention to detail and quality in this piece. In fact there was only one really big error I found and that was the supplement kept referencing Fargo as part of the Sioux Nation when in fact it’s in the UCAS. The map in Sioux Nation clearly shows this but the city is actually right on the North Dakota/Minnesota border which is why it’s often referred to as “Fargo-Moorhead” because only the Red River (and state lines) separates the two cities from being one. Speaking as someone that had to fly in there in August, 2014 I can say the characters in this piece are correct in that not a lot happens there. At the same time there were a LOT of “No Vampires Allowed” signs for some odd reason. This amused me but in conjunction with this supplement made me think there is either a Sixth World story by Patrick Goodman to be had there…or some Vampire: The Masquerade piece.

So, let’s actually talk about Sioux Nation. This was one of my favorite pieces released for Fifth Edition so far, mainly because it’s a look at one of my favorite places in the Sixth World and because it was so well written. The Sioux Nation is SUCH an important part of Shadowrun lore and the fact it is rarely mentioned these days shocked me. Doubly so with the influx of new players via 5e and the video games that would otherwise overlook while this might be the single most important country in the Sixth World. Not in terms of power or politics mind you, but because this is where the Sixth World BEGAN. It was Howling Coyote and the Great Ghost Dance that caused the deviation from our reality and the one in the Shadowrun universe, so if you’re new to Shadowrun this is a piece well worth getting just to familiarize yourself with the area. This is especially true for those that have just read the recent novels or played the video games. Sioux Nation gives you a lot of history as well as the current landscape of the country. Some of you might pause at the $7.99 price tag for a supplement of less than forty pages, and I can understand that. However, it’s better to pay $7.99 and see if you want to try the tabletop game via a well written supplement than pay $50 for a core rulebook you’ll need errata for anyway and that you might never use. So for people on staff here at Diehard GameFAN who are interested in trying the tabletop version of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, I’d probably give them the Digital Tool Kit first and then this supplement second.

Sioux Nation is written in a similar fashion to most CGL Shadowrun pieces. The booklet is written from the perspective of Jackpoint (A Matrix Hotspot for in the know runners for you new chummers) where someone (or in this case, several people) has written up a dossier on a topic with the occasion comment from other members. You’ll learn all sorts of great info on the Sioux nation with this piece such as the fact it comprised much of what we call Montana and Wyoming with a bit of Colorado and the western end of the Dakotas and Nebraska. You’ll discover that tribal politics are pretty similar corporate and UCAS politics. It is nice to see that the Native Americans of the Sixth world have a higher education, literacy and income rate than those in a lot of our real world reservations. I know 4e and 5e have gone Warhammer levels of Grimdark over the more laugh out loud satire we often saw in the FASA version of the game, but this was a nice bright spot in the 2070s of the game. It’s also telling that Angelos in the Sioux Nation are living on reservations now and that they are regarded as little better than free range prisons. As above, so below I guess. I would have liked to have seen the Sioux be the bigger man than what Joe Honkey did (and to an extent still does) to the Native Americans but this is probably the more realistic take on what would happen if the tables suddenly turned thanks to things like magic and Dragons showing up on our doorstep.

Think of Sioux Nation as a faux travel guide. You have the visitation rights, how to enter the country, topography, climate information, important landmarks and people and major cities. Enterprising GMs will be able to form dozens of plot hooks, if not full adventures, out of the various sections in this supplement. About the only thing missing is an in-depth look at the different tribes that live within the Sioux Nation, but that is due to hitting page count more than anything else. For most gamers, the sections on Government, The Shadows and the Law will be of most interest as you’ll get to see some of your targets and the punishments for messing up there. For people who want to MAKE a Sioux Nation based character for Shadowrun, the military section is probably something you’ll want to bookmark since all citizens are conscripted for at least a year of service. Of course, there’s also a section on corporations but it’s markedly different from what you usually see in a Shadowrun piece mainly because there isn’t a focus on the MegaCorps in this piece. It’s A or smaller companies, which was really cool.

The first thirty pages of Sioux Nation are pure fluff as some people call it, but honestly I prefer the world background and storytelling in Shadowrun 5e to the mechanics, so I’m pretty happy with what’s here. The last ten pages are for written for those who want some in-game information and a little something crunchy to play with. It starts off with a nice transition from storytelling into stats with a set of ten plot hooks you can flesh out into adventures. Then you get information on what it means to be a Sioux Shadowrunner or a Shadowrunner in the Sioux Nation (probably smuggling). Clothes, Language, prejudice and even how some things are different. For example a Sioux character getting a (very) minor version of the Mentor Spirit quality for free. At the same time qualities such as Orc/Elf poser work…differently here. There’s also a look at six character archetypes and how they are viewed (as well as operate) differently in the Sioux Nation. Deckers should especially take note.

For those looking to build a character, there are eight skill packages. Some are worth it while some are not. Names do seem to be applied arbitrarily here. For example the “SDF One Year Wonder” package gives you Automatics 3 (Assault Rifles +2) and Unarmed Combat 2, but the Sioux Army Veteran only gets Automatics 1 and no Unarmed Combat. They also don’t get disguise. I’m sure there is a reason or this that makes sense to the devs but in my head, I would think the veterans would have all the skills of a one year conscript but beefed up in addition to extra skills. There’s also a new version of “My Country, Right or Wrong” for the Sioux called Code of Honor: Nationalist. After that you get a small section on equipment and then nearly twenty adventure seeds. Yes the piece is extremely heavy on world background and storytelling rather than focusing on much in the way of mechanics, but honestly I prefer that. If all they printed were straight up mechanics in a supplement, CGL would have some extremely dull releases.

Overall, I’m very happy with Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation. This is the type of thing I’d like to see more of. I was not very happy with metaplot pieces like Storm Front and Stolen Souls because things were not going in good directions in-game or out-of-game. From the looks of message boards and other reviews out there my opinion was far from being in the minority. Focusing on fleshing out areas of the Sixth World in 5e without forcing bad ideas or poorly thought out ones that could have been good) throughout multiple books (Remember the Bogota conflict?) is probably the way to go after the year Shadowrun had in 2014. It lets the writers flex their creative muscles without leaving gamers feel railroaded and everyone gets interesting outside the box pieces to boot. I’d much rather read about the a part of the sixth world that has been left alone for a while than yet another Seattle/Bug City/London piece so if we can get another half dozen or so supplements like this in 2015, I think Shadowrun will be in excellent shape. If you’re one of the people who really didn’t care for last year’s output, you’ll be happy to know that Sioux Nation is a return to form and that last year was probably just new edition blues for everyone. The real trick is to see if CGL can keep the momentum going. I wish the piece was priced at five dollars as that would probably be a sweet spot for it, but it’s selling well as is, so if you have the disposable income to spend, grab this and either discover a new part of the Sixth World you’ve never visited or engage in some nostalgia (Depending on when you started running).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Shadows in Focus: Sioux Nation
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #83: The Chained Coffin
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:12:06
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/30/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-83-the-chained-coffin/

After seeing several third party publishers like Brave Halfling run successful crowdfunding campaigns for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system, Goodman Games finally decided to run one of their own. This campaign originally starter out to fund a regular adventure with a workable prop and limited edition cover. It grew to be an entire boxed set including an almanac and an extra adventure. Now, the boxed set isn’t ready yet and hasn’t been released to backers, so we’ll have to wait a few weeks until mine arrives and I can do a feature on it. Instead, today we’ll be looking at the version of The Chained Coffin that you’ll be able to download in PDF format from sites like DriveThruRPG.com or purchase in dead tree format your local brick and mortar gaming store. Don’t think you’re getting the short end of the stick with this version though as it includes several upgrades made possible by the 729 Kickstarter backers who took part, including some random encounter tables, seven mid-boss variants and more. So you are getting a bigger adventure than you normally would have – all thanks to crowdfunding. Hopefully you took part!

The Chained Coffin actually contains two full adventures. We will take a look at each one separately as they are very different. First is the adventure which bears the same name as the collection, The Chained Coffin. This adventure is designed for six LEVEL FIVE characters. Yes, that’s right. That’s pretty high for a published DCC adventure, so expect The Chained Coffin to challenge even the mightiest one time cheesemaker! I should point out magic and especially magic weapons are a must in this adventure, as many opponents have damage reduction or outright immunity to non-magical attacks. Going in without magic will get a character killed- even moreso than normal in a DCC adventure!

You would think from the title that a chained coffin would be central to the plot and it is in fact so. What you may not be expecting is that the inhabitant of the coffin is on the side of law and order. Usually coffins are the purview of chaotic, often undead, creatures. In the case of The Chained Coffin, an ancient and mighty priest of a lawful god has been locked up tight inside thanks to the machinations of an agent of chaos who seeks to become a demigod of sorts. The priest is now trapped in a permanent state of undeath within the coffin. The priest and his god make the coffin known to the PCs in an attempt to stop the servant of chaos who has reared its head once more in another attempt to amass vast quantities of power. The adventure will take through several dungeon crawls, although each of them are rather short. This is fine as you get several different locations instead of one long labyrinth and I’ll take the different scenery over a literal dungeon crawl any day.

Much of the adventure takes place in the Shudder Mountains, which will be give more depth in the boxed set. Here though you still get a pretty nice snapshot of this Ozarkian/Appalachian like area and its inhabitants. Besides random encounters with giants and bears, the regular inhabitants of hollers/hollows like Bent Pines or Bad Lick can be either helpful or send you on wild goose chases that eats up your time. Because you have only X number of days before the servant of chaos reaches a location where they can reign destruction down upon the land, time is of the essence and not something you want to waste on feuding with giants or selling your soul to demons like Ol’ Blackcloak. There are magical fiddles to be dug up, fingernail based fetch quests to win, and ghosts haunted by other ghosts asking for your aid. There is an enormous amounts of ways the adventure can go, along with several potential mid-bosses to face, like the Sin-Eater or Bad Lick Beast.

All of this comes down to finding the Luhsaal Wheel, which is the MacGuffin for the adventure and where the adventure’s final confrontation takes place. To get to it, you must first pass the spinning dial puzzle which trigger the whole crowdfunding for this adventure in the first place. The spinning wheel is a puzzle where you try to align all three rings properly. Do so and you can enter. Get the puzzle wrong and take damage along with a possible fall into a chasm. Unfortunately, there is no way the PCs or their players can figure out the solution to the puzzle. It is literally blind luck. There aren’t any hints and there certainly isn’t any logic to solving the puzzle. This is guess and check at its worst. The piece states that die rolls are not allowed, which is fine, and that player knowledge bleeds into character knowledge with this one, which I’m never okay with. The only real way to solve the puzzle is if someone somehow knows what any of these runes mean and that is very unlikely to happen. This was a massive (and annoying) disappoint to me. I was hoping for an actual puzzle straight out of old school D&D or like you find in point and click adventure video games. To have all this build up around the puzzle and have it simply be little more than a anthropomorphic personification of trolling rather disgusted me. Honestly as good (but not great) as the adventure was up to this point, had I known that the puzzle wasn’t actually a puzzle, I wouldn’t have sprung for the eventual box set and it was this Vince Russo style swerve that has kept me from backing the current DCC Kickstarter, Peril on the Purple Planet because I do not want to be this disappointed again. This part was just terrible.

After you get pass the massive disappointment that is the spinning wheel puzzle, you get your boss fight and everything wraps up happily ever after – as long as your characters live through the adventure, that is. You might even see one of your characters being a temporary demigod, with some big stat boosts of course. That’s always fun.

So that’s The Chained Coffin. Aside from the terrible puzzle that isn’t a puzzle, the adventure is pretty decent. It’s not as good as some other recent first party DCC releases like Bride of the Black Manse, The One Who Watches From Below or Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (all of which would probably have been better choices for the extra content and boxed set bonuses), but it’s a decent adventure, you’re certainly as fun with, even if a lot of you with house rule changes to the spinning wheel puzzle so players can get some kind of hint or tips on the actual solution. At least the physical wheel Kickstarter backers will get won’t be a one trick pony as the back of the book includes five alternative uses for it. That’s something I guess.

The second (and much shorter) bonus adventure in this piece is “The Rat King’s River of Death,” and it is for a party of Level 1 characters, although the text does not designate what size the party should be. Whoops. The adventure is also a direct sequel to the very first Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Idylls of the Rat-King. That great to see a sequel to an old piece like that. Unfortunately, that adventure is for D&D 3.5 rather than the DCC system and it’s been out of print for some time, so the actual people who have played the adventure and/or will get the reference will be quite slim indeed.

In Idylls of the Rat-King the named antagonist is killed by the PCs, but this is not the end of his story. Reborn into a cloned body, the Rat King has now taken a position of power in a small farming fiefdom far from the site of his original defeat. He has begun to poison the local water supply, as well as the crops, with the intent to wipe out human life with some sort of demonic plague. Hey, he’s Skaven – their plans aren’t super well thought out you know…

Now it is up to a new breed of PCs to take down the Rat King and his nefarious scheme. The characters will have to deal with rancid, pestilence inducing water, magic plague rats, a hedge maze full of sentient angry mutant plant life and some rat demons. In the end, “The Rat King’s River of Death” is a fairly standard dungeon crawl where PCs get a small plot hook in order for them to traverse a generic location and do battle with the big bad of the week. Now while the plot if fairly paint by numbers, the creatures and locations really spice the standard formula up and make this piece a lot of fun. The adventure even has some dangling plot thread so you can keep the storyline going if you choose. All in all, a fun short pat little piece, which is all “The Rat King’s River of Death” needed to be.

So, for ten dollars, you get two good adventures, even if neither of them are as good as other DCC adventures released this year. The Chained Coffinis well worth the ten dollars you’ll have to spend to get it (Or seven if you get the PDF), but only time will tell if the Kickstarter boxed set will be worth thirty dollars. Keep checking back as once I have mine, I’ll do a full pictorial feature on what it all contains. Until then, DCC fans should certainly considering picking up The Chained Coffin. There have been better first party DCC releases in 2014, but both adventures contained within this piece are still fun in their own right.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #83: The Chained Coffin
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Age of Cthulhu: Transatlantic Terror
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:10:45
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/23/tabletop-review-age-of--
cthulhu-transatlantic-terror-call-of-cthulhu/

Although currently unavailable to everyone else, Goodman Games released one of the stretch goals from their recent Age of Cthulhu Kickstarter to backers. This very short scenario should only take a day or two to play. It is set in the 1920s and although it comes with pre-generated characters, it can easily be played by your regular Investigators from this era.

Transatlantic Terror has the characters on a nine day cruise from New York City to Belfast, Ireland. Along the journey characters will be living it up as first class passengers and even be allowed to attend an on-board wedding between two of the NPCs. Depending on how observant players are, this could be all that happens to them on this scenic cruise. If the characters are a bit too nosy for their own good however, they could uncover a plot by Serpent People that goes all the way to the White House! Of course, knowing CoC protagonists AND the fact they are trapped on a boat for nine days, the odds are pretty good the players are going to encounter more than just a happy couple celebrating their newfound marital bliss. Transatlantic Terror is a pretty hard adventure to finish in a positive manner though, I’ll warn you that now. Even if you have some pretty top notch players, the chances of them saving the intended victim of the Serpent People is going to be almost impossible. By the time players even get a hint of what is going on, he’s already dead. Still, I love the concept of being trapped on a boat with some Cthulhu Mythos characters as it’s always a fun time. Transatlantic Terror is nowhere as lethal to Investigators as say, The Owglass, but it is one that will test players’ wits and mental resolve as there aren’t a lot of dangling clues out there for them.

The black and white artwork in Transatlantic Terror is pretty terrific. I absolutely love the cover although I have to admit, it reminds me more of Killer Croc from Batman rather than a Serpent Person. That’s okay though, because the cover is as fantastic as it is spoiler-laden. I also love the picture of the R.M.S. Adriatic at night with a strange bulging bundle slowly sinking into the sea. There’s a surprising amount of art for this little twelve page PDF, and all of it is great.

Now, this isn’t to say everything about Transatlantic Terror is great. There are a few stumbles. The Table of Contents for example, is extremely erroneous. It doesn’t match up with the actual adventure itself and it goes up to page 14, while the PDF is only twelve pages long. Whoops. At least it’s not as terrible as the ToC in Horror Stories From the Red Room. Another notable error is that two of the Serpent People Antagonists are listed in the Pre-Generated Investigators section rather than in the Non-Player Character Appendix. Double Whoops. Although, this did get me thinking how much fun and adventure written FOR Serpent People or Ghouls could actually be.

Overall, Transatlantic Terror is a fun addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. I’m not sure how much I would have paid for this on its own, but as a free add-on from the Age of Cthulhu 9 Kickstarter, I’m quite happy with this little bonus. Transatlantic Terror isn’t going to shake up your game by any means, nor is it some monumental adventure you’ll be talking about years after the fact, but it is a fine, short little diversion, putting Investigators and Mythos creatures on a boat out in the middle of the ocean, which is a situation neither will really be comfortable with once the zaniness starts happening. Keep your eye out for Transatlantic Terror if/when it becomes available to the general public.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Age of Cthulhu: Transatlantic Terror
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Age of Cthulhu 8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2014 08:09:56
Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/08/01/tabletop-review-age-of--
cthulhu-8-starfall-over-the-plateau-of-leng-call-of-cthulhu/-


Age of Cthulhu 8 was another successful Kickstarter project by Goodman Games. In this case the goal was to fund a hardcover adventure for this Call of Cthulhu line of products. The goal was met and then surpassed, allowing for a few extra bells in whistles in the release, along with some bonus mini-adventures like Transatlantic Terror. It is worth nothing that out of Goodman Games’ six Kickstarters, Age of Cthulhu 9 raised the least amount of money and “only” 341 backers as compared to double that for their Dungeon Crawl Classics Kickstarters. I can only surmise why but I think $25 for a single adventure is a bit hard for some CoC players to take, especially when the $7 tier got you a PDF version AND a free previous Age of Cthulhu release. That tier was such a great deal it probably ended up cannibalizing the sales of the hardcover edition. Anyway, let’s take a look at Age of Cthulhu 8 and if it is worth picking up once it becomes available to the general public. Remember that Age of Cthulhu releases are for Call of Cthulhu Fifth and/or Sixth Edition, so you will have to do some tweaking if you plan to use the adventure with Chaosium’s upcoming 7e core rulebooks.

Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is an adventure that takes place mostly in the Dreamlands. I’ve always found Dreamlands adventures tend to be less popular than “regular” CoC adventures, but I think it’s because this aspect of Lovecraftia gets so little coverage and attention that when a Dreamlands piece comes up it throws both Keepers and players off their game. The whole Dreaming and Dream Lore skills or how reality is someone but not entirely different. Personally I enjoy them but like Cthulhu Invictus, it’s very easy to write a terrible adventure for the setting. Thankfully Age of Cthulhu 8 is not terrible. It’s actually very fun, although this is because it’s a more or less straight forward set of dungeons crawls with branching paths. In fact, one such path lets you bypass the majority of the adventure – but only if players and their Investigators are clever enough to discover that option. In this regard the adventure is really well done.

Now that’s not to say it is perfect. Azathoth is not written as the blind idiot god, but as something actively malevolent, which may annoy some purists. As well, ghouls are portrayed as more or less mindless human eaters. While they aren’t the kindest race towards humanity in the real world, Lovecraft wrote ghouls in the Dreamlands as intelligent and even quite willing to talk or even befriend humans. Look at how Pickman and his pack aided Randolph Carter in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath for example. At the same time, Hastur’s machinations come up and this is actually well done. The author does a great job of portraying Hastur and his cultists as less evil than a lot of other Great Old Ones, and you get a very Chambers/Bierce-esque vibe in the writing. This is wonderful compared to a lot of other authors who make the King in Yellow or Hastur some outright black hat wearing evil doer when he was originally written as one of the more benevolent Great Old Ones. The High Priest Not to Be Described revels in the destruction of all reality that is Azathoth’s plan…but he also helps the PCs to prevent it. This is the kind of weirdness that Hastur needs to be portrayed at – machinations that seem contradictory and bizarre to mortal minds. So some portrayals are really off the mark, while others are extremely good. It’s all in an author’s interpretation of the Mythos after all, but just a head’s up that purists or more anal retentive Mythos fans may quibble with some of the core events in this piece.

The adventure itself takes players from Arkham, Ma to Eureka Springs, AR (it’s a real place with supposedly a very nice big cat refuge) and then on to the Dreamlands. The adventure assumes Investigators are either veterans or recent additions to the “International Historical & Archaeology Society,” which is essentially the Age of Cthulhu‘s rendition of SAVE from Chill. It’s an organization dedicated to understand and subduing Mythos related thingies. Again, some people might take issue with this concept or shoehorning characters into an organization for a single adventure, but don’t worry. The adventure gives ways to get around being members of IHAS, as well as pregenerated characters to use if you don’t want to muddy up your regular characters with the organization.

It seems that a young artist on the stipend of the IHAS has been having nightmares growing in frequency and intensity. It’s also showing up in her paintings. Because of this the IHAS has sent her down to a mental health clinic specializing in…let’s say dream analysis…to help her get better. Unfortunately the artist in question has not been heard of in some time. Nor can the IHAS raise the clinic’s owner/director. The Investigators are then hired/chosen to go down to Arkansas and check things out. Once in Eureka Springs, the Investigators discover that they are in way over their head. Not only will they discover a way to enter the Dreamlands, but they will also have to foil a nefarious scheme bent on destroying that plane of reality and our own as well! No pressure here, am I right? From there the adventure is more or less a straightforward trek (also with branching paths, as previously mentioned). It’s simple in form and format, but still highly enjoyable to play. The end scene is especially memorable and will be worth experiencing even if you normally aren’t a fan of dungeon (or in this case Dreamlands) crawling.

The adventure is a lot of fun, and aside from occasionally requiring use of the Dream Lore and Dreaming skills (which most characters won’t have and some players might not even know about!), this would be a great introduction to the Dreamlands as you’ll see a lot of different things without having to get too in-depth. From there, if players liked the Dreamlands, they could move on to something like The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man or something similar.

Anyway, Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is a fine addition to the Age of Cthulhu line. There are several ways a character can meet instant death/insanity, but for the most part the adventure is one of atmosphere and exploration rather than combat. There are a lot of really interesting locations and encounters in this piece and I want to give special attention to the various maps in the adventure, as they were really well done – especially the Plateau of Leng and Eureka Springs maps. Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is another excellent addition to the Age of Cthulhu series and if you’re a fan of Dreamlands based adventures, or have been mildly curious about experience one, Age of Cthulhu 8 is a fine choice indeed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Age of Cthulhu 8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
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W20 Book of the Wyrm
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2014 17:25:19
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/21/tabletop-review-book-of-
-the-wyrm-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/<-
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Onyx Path Publishing has come a long way with their Kickstarter efforts. Book of the Wyrm is actually their 11th Kickstarter campaign (The 12th, Deluxe Vampire: The Dark Ages 20th Anniversary Edition is going on now!) and the third for Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition. What makes Book of the Wyrm so interesting is not that the entire book is about the Wyrm, its troops and what it looks to accomplish in bringing about the Apocalypse, but the fact that it came out in October of 2014, three months before the original listed delivery date. This make Book of the Wyrm one of the rare Kickstarter projects to not only come out on time, but beat the delivery date. That’s pretty impressive, and it shows that OPP really has mastered crowdfunding better than any other publisher out there.

Before we get into the Introduction, four chapters and the Appendices, I do want to take a moment to applaud the amazing artwork in this book. Unlike a lot of art we have seen in the 20AE line, the art in Book of the Wyrm is extremely horrific. It’s really well done. I can’t say beautiful, since much of the new art has gore, tentacles and tumours, but it’s really impressive and high quality. At times the art reminds me of something you’d see in Lamentations of the Flame Princess or the old Black Dog label White Wolf used to have for releases like HoL and Clanbook: Tzimisce. This is rather appropriate, as Black Dog Game Factory is actually IN Book of the Wyrm as one of the corporate subsidiaries of Pentex, the main corporate empire of the Wyrm. So the art is not for the faint of heart or young children, but anyone even THINKING of buying Book of the Wyrm is a longtime fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse and will know that going in to this. Still, just a warning for those of you reading this review who are unfamiliar with the brand. Fantastic art, but very creepy and/or squick-y.

“The Wyrm’s Call” is the Introduction for Book of the Wyrm and right off the bat, you should realize this is not going to be newcomer friendly. It references previous W:tA and W20 releases and makes no attempt to explain mechanics or specific game terminology/jargon. Of course, it shouldn’t have to. It’s clearly a sourcebook, not a core rulebook. You will need W20 in order to make sense of Book of the Wyrm if you’re not already familiar with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, so go read (or preferably purchase) the 20AE already. It’s exceptionally well done, and Book of the Wyrm will make a lot more sense after you flip through the hundreds of pages that will explain the Garou, gifts, and mechanics.

“The Wyrm’s Call” makes it clear that this book is all about the evil, chaotic, psychotic and monstrous nature of the Wyrm. This is not a happy book to read. It’s a book about what how the bad guys of Werewolf: the Apoclaypse think, plan, breed and plot. There are a lot of potential triggers in here, from cannibalism to necrophilia. Child abuse? Rape? Extreme violence and gore? Expect that and more from Book of the Wyrm. That’s why the Introduction pretty much is the equivalent of someone jumping up and down with their arms waving saying, “Hey! Don’t come over here unless you have a cast iron stomach.” The OPP team is perhaps the most PC group of writers and developers in the tabletop industry right now, which means as much as they enjoy tackling the sadistic and horrific nature of the Wyrm in extreme detail, they also don’t want their customers to have traumatic flashbacks to something that might have happened to them, or even feel uncomfortable reading their book. Hence the warnings. So now you’re warned by me too. If you are easily offended, grossed out or have things that can really make you feel uncomfortable, know you’re probably not the target audience for Book of the Wyrm. Also, if you are able to enjoy Book of the Wyrm for what it is and want to use it in your Werewolf: The Apocalypse game, don’t be a dick and throw in bits you know your players will be uncomfortable with by using, “Well it’s canon in this book” as an excuse. Don’t drive people away from our hobby. Anyway, kudos to OPP for include some warnings about the book’s material and for using the Introduction to highlight what each chapter of the book will be about.

Chapter One: Lore of the Wyrm gives you an overview of how the conflict between the Wyrm, Weaver and Wyld began. You see how the Wyrm went insane and became the source of corruption, pollution and chaos in our world. Once there was balance between the Triat. Now there is only war. Like Warhammer 40K, if all the Space Marines were Space Wolves. Anyway, Chapter One not only gives you a look at the history of the conflict, but how the Wyrm itself has broken apart and created a twisted hierarchy within its remnants as well as dark mirror version of the Triat. Yes, the book continually uses Triat instead of Triad. It’s a specific W:TA term, not a repeated misspelling, for those new to the game. You’ll learn about the three core pieces of the Wyrm in its new Triat: Beast-of-War, Eater-of-Souls and the Defiler. There’s also a long list of Urge Wyrms (Negative Emotions) and their Avatars, the four Elemental Wyrms (Smog, Toxin, Sludge and Balefire) and how the Wyrm interacts with the Spirit Realm of the Umbra. The chapter ends with an extremely long in-depth look at the pemi-plane of Malfeas, which is the realm which the Wyrm calls home. It’s eleven pages of pure description, showcasing different duchies the land is divided into, along with showcasing how extremely messed up Malfeas is. Definitely worth reading, and it will really give you a great idea of how the Wyrm is actually quite orderly in its chaos and corruption. Well done.

“Chapter Two: Pawns & Puppets” is exactly what you expect it to be. Here you get a look at the corporations, factions, allies, servants and unwitting dupes of the Wyrm. This chapter primarily focuses on Pentex, which is perhaps the most common way that PCs encounter the Wyrm in a game of W:TA. You get a look at Pentex’s structure, how it weathered the recent economic downturn, a whole list of subsidiaries and crazy products they put out and, of course, the people that run the corporation. It’s a fascinating and fun look, because Pentex has always been where OPP (and White Wolf before them) have let their imaginations run wild with dark satiric material. There are looks at the Occupy effort and how the Wyrm corrupted that, how Pentex influences video games, movies, fast food, and even the World of Darkness’ version of Anonymous. Perhaps the most entertaining part is the entry for Black Dog, where OPP mocks its own product line as well as the entire tabletop industry as a whole. World of Darkness products aren’t usually known for being laugh out loud funny, but you’ll definitely do so here. However, once the mirth has died down, you realize what a source of horror and pure eeeeevil (Indeed!) these bits of comedy relief can be when taken seriously in the actual game world. Still, it’s nice to see that the OGL of the 3.0 era is given a wonderful send-up as pure malevolence here.

Besides Black Dog, you’ll also see companies like Endron Oil, Magadon Pharmaceuticals and Sunburst Computers. Really though, a lot of readers, especially Kickstarter backers, will be reading this chapter for a look at the Board of Directors. Part of the crowd funding effort involves nominating and voting for new board members, and here you get to see the result. You’ll learn about the core board members and the specific machinations and goals they have in place. Each one is a work of art, if you consider art a toxic waste dump where your soul once used to reside. Truly, it is a lot of fun to see the Board of Directors given names, backgrounds and history. It helps a Storyteller make better use of them, as well as let them come to life in his or her Chronicle. The look at the new board members and the entire election process is a lot of fun too. More than any other book in the 20AE line for the Classic World of Darkness, you can really see and feel how much fun the authors had putting the Book of the Wyrm together.

Of course, the chapter isn’t ALL Pentex. You also get a list of cults devoted to the Wyrm, along with who is in them and what their particular goals are. These cults range from a twisted take on P.E.T.A. to a small town’s city council. Everything in this chapter highlights how diverse and cutting edge the Wyrm is compared to the Garou, which are small in number and are often more anachronistic than some ancient Kindred. By the time you are done chapter two, you really do see how the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the Garou losing. It might fill you with a bit of sadness and hopelessness… which is exactly what the Wyrm wants you to feel.

“Chapter Three: The Never-Ending Dance” is all about the Black Spiral Dancers. You might want to read this chapter in conjunction with Clanbook: White Howlers just so you can see the complete history of the Wyrm’s werewolves and how they turned into the servants of corruption that they once fought so valiantly against. You see firsthand why the White Howlers went down into the Black Spiral, how they changed and why they now serve the Wyrm willingly. You see the war from the Black Spiral Dancers’ perspective and how they’ve already won. They’re just trying to prove to the Garou (which they really hate) that the war has been over for a long time and that they just refuse to accept their crushing defeat. It’s an interesting read, and it really lets you see the perverse mindset of a tribe that lies to themselves constantly in order to keep the tiniest bit of sanity that still remains within them.

You’ll get a look at the BSD’s twisted version of the Garou litany, see how the tribe treats and raises its Kinfolk and even how packs are organized. There are lists of dens and specific BSD’s of note that you can throw into your Chronicle if you are an enterprising sort of Storyteller. Perhaps most interesting is the section that shows what the Black Spiral Dancers think of each specific tribe – who is the most dangerous, the most easy to corrupt, their greatest enemies and what they feel to be each group’s weaknesses. Even better, there is a piece showcasing how the BSD and Wyrm corrupt Garou from each tribe to get them to fall and dance the Spiral themselves. Great stuff. The chapter concludes with lists of Gifts, Rites and Totems specific to the Black Spiral Dancers.

“Chapter Four: Feeling the Touch” covers everything else. As it takes up a fourth of the book with fifty-plus pages of content and art, you might find this is where you will spend most of your time when using Book of the Wyrm in an actual game. Within this chapter you’ll get a good long look at various breed of Fomori, and even what happens when they try to possess supernatural creatures like vampires, Garou, mages and Changelings. There is also a section on Banes and another on truly bizarre Wyrm spawnings. Perhaps the most interesting section in this chapter are what happens when other Changing Breeds such as Wererats, Werespiders, Weresharks and the like fall to the Wyrm and become its servants. Each Changing Breed gets several pages devoted to their Wyrm counterpart, and each one is extremely twisted. There are also several “Mockery Breeds” which are Pentex’s scientific experiment attempts to create its own wereanimals. There are the War Wolves, Anurana (toads), Samsa (Cockroaches that are all but impossible to kill but also terrified of everything and extremely paranoid) Kersai (Rhinos) and Yeren (great white apes). Each tribe is as screwed up as you can imagine, but the Samsa and Anurana seem like they can be potential converts to Gaia. Perhaps in your campaign they will!

Besides all these potential antagonists and cannon fodder, the chapter ends with a small section on Taints. How one becomes Tainted, the difference between physical and mental Taints, along with information on the Path of Corruption. It’s worth noting that this chapter ends with “Redemption for the Corrupted,” which means the book itself ends with a light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness. It’s this same little gasp of hope that will lead the reader to believe the Wyrm is not as all-powerful and unstoppable as it (and this book) would like to believe, as well as mirrors that bit of hope that keeps the Garou fighting for Gaia, even in the face of certain defeat. Perhaps this wasn’t intentional, but the critic in me likes the analogous poetry in it.

The last few pages of the book are the Appendix. Entitled, “Rotten Baubles,” this is a potpourri of various odds and ends. Fetishes and Equipment? It’s here. Some example Tainted products, like Lycanthrope: The Rapture 17th Anniversary Edition? It’s in here. Some Tainted alcohol or especially evil vehicles? Here you go. After that, it’s THIRTEEN PAGES of Kickstarter backer thank yous and the book is done. Huzzah!

So there you go. Book of the Wyrm is easily the best release for W20 besides the core rulebook so far, and it’s also the best release by Onyx Path Publishing this year. I loved nearly every page of the book and was thoroughly impressed by the time I was done with it. If you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse or the Classic World of Darkness in general, this is a definite must-buy when it becomes available to the general public. It’s fantastic.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Book of the Wyrm
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The Strange (corebook)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2014 09:54:43
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/11/10/tabletop-review-the-str-
ange-core-rulebook/

Back in August of this year, I reviewed The Strange Player’s Guide. I gave it a positive review, which is no surprise considering I liked Numenera so much. At the end of the review, I said I’d have a review of the Core Rulebook up by the end of the month. Nearly three months later I’m finally getting to post my review of the book. What happened? Well, time mainly. I’ve written forty-eight articles since the Player’s Guide review, so The Strange just got bumped because I had already done the PHB. In my mind, I wanted to spread my time amongst some small releases that might otherwise not get attention. It also didn’t help that D&D 5e, Warhammer: The End Times, Robotech RPG Tactics and the digital version of Horror on the Orient Express came out in that time period. So something had to give, and unfortunately, it was that review. Still, I feel a little better noticing most reviews for this game didn’t come out until late October, but I know I’m generally super timely with my reviews so I wanted to explain why this is so late compared to everything else I’ve done over the past few years.

The Strange is a massive tome compared to a lot of core rulebooks these days. Weighing in at 418 pages with eight parts, twenty-three chapters, two appendices and more, it will take you a long time to really go through this book and learn the system. The good news is that if you already have either NumeneraThe Strange, Player’s Guide, you’ll be familiar with a lot of the mechanics and/or concepts in the game. In fact, The Player’s Guide is the first seven chapters of the Core Rulebook, so I suggest reading my review of that to prevent recovering already trod ground. Besides, it’s been three months. Even if you’ve read that review, you’ve probably forgotten it. In a nutshell, Character Creation in The Strange is almost identical to that in Numenera. There are a few term changes like Nano/Jack/Glaive becoming Paradox/Spinner/Vector and that your character Foci will change based on which of the three core realities you are currently in. Essentially creating a character in The Strange is almost the same as in Numenera, but as I mentioned in my review, there are a lot less Foci available in The Strange so it’s a little more limiting in that respect. Otherwise it’s a fantastic character creation system. Heck, I have the Numenera app and sometimes just piddle away creating random characters when bored or waiting in a line. It’s a lot of fun and the same is true with The Strange. Again, read the Player’s Guide review for an in-depth look at these first two parts/ eight chapters of the Core Rulebook. Now let’s tackle the rest.

Part 3 is “Playing the Game” and consists of two chapters. These are “Rules of the Game” and “Rules of Translation.” “Rules of the Game” lays out the mechanics of The Strange which are about 99.99% the same as those in Numenera Both use the same Cypher System after all. When you roll, the difficulty of the task is rate from 0-10. Each step higher on the difficulty ladder adds another 3 points to the target number you are trying to roll. So a Level 1 Task need a 3 on a d20 to be successful, a level 6 Task requires an 18 and a Level 10 requires a roll of 30 or higher. So you’ve probably noticed that levels 7-10 can’t actually be accomplished with a d20 as it only goes so high. Well this is where the stats that came about in character creation come into play. If you are trained in a skill, you can lower a task’s difficulty level by one. If you are specialized in a skill, you can lower it by two steps. So if I’m trying to climb the Murderhorn which is a Level 10 difficulty task, but I’m specialized in mountain climbing, that task is lowered to a level 8 difficulty. As well if I have an asset which in this case could be exceptional climbing gear or maybe something that negates my weight so I am lighter and bouncier, the task can drop another level. Now this Level 10 task has dropped to level 7. Finally, I can apply points from my Effort pool (See character creation; again, read the Player’s Guide review.) Let’s say I spend 5 points of effort to lower this task two steps. Now all of a sudden because I am well prepared and spent effort this impossible level 10 task which needed a 30 on a d20 is now a level 5 and all I need is a 15 or higher to succeed. Sure the odds are still against me, but at least it’s now in the realm of possibility!

Other notes worth mention is that the GM never rolls; only the player. This is a subtle but neat aspect because it means the GM is pure storyteller and arbitrator. He’s not hiding his rolls behind some screen and fudging the dice in one way or another. There’s also the return of GM Intrusion where the GM can handout two experience points to throw a monkey wrench into the story. This could be anything from a weapon breaking in a fight to coughing during a moment where stealth is key. The player can either accept the change and keep the experience points (giving one to another player) or they can reject the intrusion by giving up the experience points bribe and spending one of their own accumulated XP to boot. In this respect, the players and the GM are coming together to tell a story. There’s no GM vs players. It’s simply everyone is involved and invested in telling a good story. It’s just the GM writes most of it and plays the NPCs. It’s a wonderful experience for everyone involved and it prevents players from feeling picked on or like the GM is trying to kill their characters 70s style. The rest of the chapter discusses basic rules, how to get experience points and character advancement. Standard stuff, but well written, easy to follow (especially for Numenera fans), and it’s a lot of fun to read.

“Rules of Translation” talks about what happens when a character travels between recursions. Recursions are the different planes of reality in the game. Some might be a pocket dimension 100 square feet in size, while others might dwarf reality as we know it. It all depends. “Rules of Translation” gives us the mechanics behind transferring your character’s conscious mind from a body in its core reality to a newly made one in the recursion it is entering. This process is called translation as reality tries to make you fit into it. Here you’ll see how long a translation takes, what one has to do in order to make it successful, and how player characters can make the process easier and faster by working together. It’s a pretty short chapter but it’s full of both substance and mechanics so you get a very good idea of how translation works. Since this is a huge part of The Strange, make sure you re-read this chapter enough times that you know the basics by heart.

Part 4 is “The Setting.” It consists of six chapters and is by far the longest part of the book. It is mostly background information as well as a detailed history on recursions and the core three worlds of The Strange: Earth, Ardeyn and Ruk. In fact, each of these four concepts gets their own chapter devoted to it and by the time you are done, you’ll be full of ideas for adventures, characters and what you want to see in your own Strange campaign.

Chapter Ten is “Recursions” and it gives you a basic overview of the concept in addition to teaching you how to craft your own demi-plane (Of Dread?). It’s exceptionally detailed and offers some good advice and an incredible amount of options, so anyone who plans to GM The Strange will be spending a lot of time in this chapter. Chapter Eleven is “Earth” and this might seem like a self-explanatory chapter. At this point in your life, you should be very familiar with Earth after all. What you might not know about are organizations like The Estate which police the planet from The Strange and recursions filled with hostile life forms. “Earth” is all about the Estate and other groups like it. You learn about its objections, sample missions, the type of people it recruits and so on. Most of the other groups only get half a page to a page of detail, where the Estate gets the bulk of the chapter. However, if you want to run a campaign where the PCs are Butterfly Objectors or Recursion Miners, you can! It’s your game after all.

Chapter Twelve is “Ardyen” and it is the base fantasy style world in The Strange. It has dragons and wizards and contains many fantasy tropes you love and/or hate. Ardyen was made by humans and is based off of a (in-game) MMORPG. Although it is relatively recent in terms of coming into existence, the world has thousands of years of history so you can create rich back stories for NPCs and even characters that come from this world. This chapter is exceptionally detailed with maps and in depth looks at locations (both building, region and geographical). There are even several pages of magic items. Hurrah!

Chapter Thirteen is “Ruk,” which is a dark dystopian world filled with mad science. Think Terminator meets Shadowrun for a quick mental image. This chapter is just as detailed as “Ardyen,” but it’s not human-made. Rather some other reality spawned this plane of existence. Perhaps one of the previous worlds if you are using The Strange in the same continuity as Numenera. Perhaps they are aliens from the same universe who had nowhere else to turn but in creating a recursion. Whatever the reason you choose, Ruk is a dark mirror of humanity and its residents don’t care much for us. It’s a much smaller world compared to Earth, but here there is technology and cyberorganisms far different than you would find on our own world. It’s an extremely alien world, but one worth reading about because there is a lot of story potential for adventures and/or campaigns in it. Heck, maybe a player will want their character to be from Ruk.

Chapter Fourteen is “The Strange,” and it gives more of an overview of what is called “The Strange” in-game. It’s not just the name of the franchise after all. In-game, The Strange is dark energy and matter that intersects with our own universe and causes things like recursions. The Strange is also know as the Chaosphere which was constructed billions of years ago by highly advanced aliens to help them in intergalactic travels. Something went wrong though and the Strange became what it is in modern times. Unfortunately, much, if not all, knowledge about these Precursors is lost, so you can’t really ask them. Again, this background information works as a great link to Numenera if you are familiar with that game. In this chapter, you will learn about how the Strange works and can be accessed by those aware of it. There are a whole host of locations to visit listed in this chapter along with some idea of what happens if you spend too much time in The Strange. Exploration has its dark side.

Finally we end Part 4 with Chapter Fifteen, “Other Recursions.” This is exactly what you think – a whole list of several other recursions to explore or perhaps even generate characters from, coupled with some artifacts that can be found there. I was quite amused that one of the recursions is called Innsmouth. Monte Cooke Games really does love to put Lovecraftian references in their games.

Part 5 is “Characters and Creatures.” It consists of two very cut and dry chapters. Chapter Sixteen is “Creatures” and Chapter Seventeen is “Non Player Characters.” You get nearly fifty pages of creatures, many of which are completely unique to this game like Cypher Eaters and Gnathostones, but you also get pretty standard creatures like Dragons and Giants. There are also some takes that straddle both extremes. The Hydra here uses the classic fantasy name but oh man, is it far more horrifying than the kind Hercules fought in Grecian lore. “Non Player Characters” is a similar chapter. You get a whole host of characters from different recursions and our own reality to throw into a game instead of making your own. It’s a much smaller chapter, consisting of only seven pages, but it contains everything from guards and generic Recursors to Professor Moriarity. Very cool.

Part 6 is “Running the Game” and this is where the GM of your group will spend the bulk of his time planning and reading. Chapter Eighteen is “Strange Cyphers” and it is roughly two dozen pages of cyphers (the equivalent of magic or special items in the Cypher System games), along with an explanation of what cyphers are, how they work and how to use them in your game. Chapter Nineteen is “Using the Rules.” Here you’ll find some dos and don’t for how to run a Strange campaign successfully. Right off the bat you are hit with a reminder that story is the most important part and that the rules are there to help you tell the story. They are guidelines, not set in stone facts. So neither The Strange nor Numenera are for ruleslawyers, thank Cthulhu. You’ll also find a discussion on setting task difficulty levels, how to be consistent, what to do when you’ve made a mistake and ways to use GM Intrusions without abusing it. The whole chapter is a great read, even if you are a veteran GM, and it’s worth reading for the advice on damage, mechanics and storytelling in general.

Chapter Twenty is “Building a Story” and it focuses primarily on creative a quality narrative, be it a one shot adventure or throughout a long running campaign. Within these pages you’ll learn about teaching the game to others and helping them through their first few gaming sessions as well as StrangeDungeons & Dragons to GUMSHOE. From the play example to a discussion on how to advice on preparing for an upcoming gaming session, this is actually my favorite chapter in the book

The final chapter of Part 6 is “Running a Strange Game.” Chapter Twenty-One continues the same line of thinking and advice as we have seen in the previous ones. The chapter begins with advice on an intro adventure for new PCs and how to ensure that The Strange lives up to its name. This brief chapter is primarily odds and ends that they threw together to finish Part 6. There is a talk about creating new recursions, which was covered earlier in the book, and adventure outline, which better off in Part 7. Things like that. It’s a very disjointed chapter and the weakest in the book to the utter lack of cohesion. Still, there’s stuff in the chapter GMs will want to read.

Part 7 is “Adventures.” Here you get a short thirteen page adventure called “The Curious Case of Tom Mallard” and the next chapter consists of two pages of story hooks and adventure seeds. I won’t spoil the adventure at all, but it is a decent one, especially for an intro adventure. Likewise there isn’t much in Chapter Twenty-Three, but it’s nice to see a bit of story threads for GMs that aren’t ready to homebrew their own adventures yet.

We come to the final part of the book with Part 8, aka “Back Matter.” Here are the odds and ends that don’t belong anywhere else in the book. Appendix A: Resources gives you a list of books, films and TV shows that inspired the creation of The Strange. Appendix B is a six page list of Kickstarter backers. The Glossary and Index are exactly what you suppose they are. The book then ends with a Character Creation Walkthrough and some character sheets. Both of these sections can be found in the Player’s Guide I keep mentioning and as such there is no need to talk about these for a second time. Suffice to say the character creation walkthrough is well done though and will really help out newcomers.

All in all, The Strange is another fantastic release from Monte Cook Games. I’ll admit I prefer Numenera‘s setting but that is 100% subjective. The Strange really is a fantastic game that came out in this summer of consistent top notch products. As such, I’m glad I’m covering it a little later than I normally do, because otherwise it might have been lost in the shuffle of all the big releases that came out around the same time. So if you missed the game in August when it first came out, here’s your chance to add it to your winter holiday of choice wish list and hopefully receive a copy of it in December. In many ways, The Strange reminds me of the old game Lords of Creation mixed with Numenera rules and trust me when I say, that’s a pretty big compliment.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Strange (corebook)
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