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Deep Magic: Battle Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2016 03:54:06

The introduction - which must have been written by a mage! - makes great claims for the use of battlefield magic, giving it the pivotal importance that most would attribute to a mastery of strategy and tactics. A good strategist in a world with magic is going to use it to as good effect as he does every other weapon and tactic in his arsenal. However, the good point is made that effective battle magic is a lot more than raining down arcane destruction on the foe. Craft and guile, augmentation of defences through magic and more, also have their part to play.

That's about it for theory: we then move on to feats. These can be used by a battle mage to enhance his own effectiveness or that of his allies. Eight feats are presented, all with some interesting thoughts as to how they can effect the course of a fight on a large or small scale (although the one called Arms Booster somehow changes name to Arcane Infusion in the last line of its notes!). Effect you can create include being able to fight with a weapon whilst spell-casting, directing energy into healing, inspiring your allies, and leaving lingering traces of elemental forces to trap the unwary...

There are also twenty-five new spells at various levels. What's not to like about being able to conjure up some boiling oil? Although it would be even neater if you could create it above the enemy rather than as a pool on the ground in front of them. Maybe you'd rather curse the enemy with incompetence or magically hobble their mounts mid-brawl. You could cause an eathquake with fault line, or create instant fortifications (or siege engines)... there's a lot to play with here. You can even reposition yourself and allies via a limited form of teleportation, or create a walking wall of swinging axe blades that moves at your direction.

Most of these spells and feats are aimed at the battlefield proper rather than small-scale skirmishes, but if you engage in combat at anything more than your party against the next bunch of monsters or the Big Bad Guy's bodyguards there's probably something here worthy of consideration. Perhaps a little specialised but plenty of scope given the right circumstances.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Battle Magic for 5th Edition
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Nations of Théah: Vendel & Vesten (Book 8)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/15/2016 08:23:53

One nation, two names. Two completely different outlooks. Will you honour the traditions of Vestenmannavjnar or favour the new ideas of Vendel? Vestenmannavjnar is a primitive, barbaric land of sagas and communal life, Vendel a burgeoning economic powerhouse. Yet they share common bonds: strength and pride... and therein lies the tragedy of potential missed as the two outlooks war instead of working together.

Chapter 1: Vendel-Vesten reviews the sweep of history, or tries to - the rich oral tradition of Vestenmannavjnar isn't too strong on things like dates! Not to mention the mixing of legend and fact, and each skald putting his own spin on things... The first 'hard' date is the year 818, when Gunnaf the Ravenhaired managed to unite the islands in common cause, with one jarl per island and all working together under a single High King, all under the watchful eye of their deity, Grumfather. That's when the raiding began. By 1510, however, some elements of society tired of a life filled solely with raiding and hunting - and even more of a leadership interested in nothing else. Thus, the carls (middle class freemen, merchants, traders, farmers and craftsmen) came together and began the first steps of what is now 'Vendel'. They began to travel, not to raid but to trade, and soon they prospered and the Vendel League was formed. Recently they came up with the concept of paper money, backed by faith in the government issuing it, and their trading reaches ever new heights.

This chapter also contains details of the different tribes who make up the people of Vestenmannavjnar, and discusses culture, laws, naming customs, religion, and everyday life. Here we find the sharpest divides between Vestenmannavjnar and Vendel, so much so that the two are covered in separate sections that address these aspects for each group. Vendel revolves around a guild structure, and they have abandoned the pagan ways of their ancestors, most embracing Objectionism. Here too are descriptions of the islands that make up this nation (a map would have been nice...).

Next, Chapter 2: Hero presents an array of NPCs, Vestenmannavjnar and Vendal alike. This is followed by Chapter 3: Drama, which - as usual with the 'Nation' sourcebooks - contains assorted new options and rules mechanics to aid in presenting this nation within your game. There is a Rune Drawing system (in place of the Destiny Deck) and also horoscopes (favoured by the Vendel), along with new backgrounds, new skills, new knacks, new swordsman schools (used loosely, one fights with harpoons, one axes, and another with pistols, as well as more conventional places that teach you to wave a sword around) and more magical rules as well. Advantages, equipment and a collection of new rules finish this off.

Finally, Chapter 4: Riven presents material for both players and (mostly) GMs. The player portion explores the dichotomy inherent in the people and how to use it to effect in your role-playing. The GM part looks at rune magic and the Living Runes. There are also secrets and stat blocks for all the NPCs in Chapter 2 (and a few more), plus a monster, 3 templates for your own NPCs or even player-characters, and a sheet depicting all the runes.

It's all quite fascinating, and the concept of a nation busy reinventing itself is quite unique and rather fun to play with. The place and people really come to life, so whether your party will come from here or just visit, there is loads of useful material in this book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Vendel & Vesten (Book 8)
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Swordsman's Guild
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2016 07:25:47

Do you take swordplay seriously? On Théah, that's probably the only way to take your swordsmanship... so here is an elite organisation that anyone who has waved a sword around ought to be aspiring to join. It's possibly the most 'international' organisation on Théah: it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, you are welcome if your swordplay is good enough and you agree to abide by their rules (which are not onerous). Some say it exists to regulate and control duelling, but perhaps it has a deeper function, maintaining standards amongst those who live - and die - by the sword, and this is how it is presented here. Indeed in many countries where duelling is permitted, oversight has been delegated to the Swordsman's Guild.

In the first chapter, Advance, covers the history of the Guild from its establishment in 1644 to the present day. There is a wealth of detail on how the Guild is organised, the way it ordains that duelling should be conducted, and how to join up - basically, if you study at an accredited Sword School, you are automatically enrolled. There are other routes in for those who do not learn the sword in this way. Note that any bladed weapon used in hand-to-hand combat counts, axemen and the like are also welcomed. It also looks at the state of the sword in the different nations of Théah, how duelling is conducted there, major sword schools, and so on.

Next, Chapter 2: Fleche contains notes on major NPCs in the Guild and from the swordfighting world. Then Chapter 3: Riposte looks at the necessary game mechanics you'll need including new backgrounds, advantages, advanced knacks, and details of the 'sanctioned' schools that have already been published in other books... and, of course, several new ones. An interesting introduction is that of Grand Mastery. Slightly artificially, it doesn't matter how many sword school styles you know, you can only fight using the skills learned in one of them at a time... unless, as a master of several styles, you become a Grand Master. Then you can mix and match styles mid-fight, using anything you know as the opportunity presents itself. The mechanics for achieving Grand Mastery are explained, and for those who aim high indeed, there is also a section on establishing your own School or Fighting Style. Another section details weapon types along with notes on customisation.

Finally, Chapter 4: Coup de Gras lifts the lid a bit, beginning with the 'Great Secret' that underlies the Guild. There are some notes for players on why it is worth being part of the Guild, but the majority of this chapter is for the GM's eyes only. There's an explanation of how (indeed if) you can use the Guild to effect in your game, extra background on the NPCs met earlier on and a few additional NPCs.

That's it, really. In some ways, as presented, the Swordsman's Guild is a bit artificial and you may decide that you'd rather leave it out of your game altogether. But what if you decide to make something more of it? An organisation dedicated to advancing the art - or is it science? - of swordsmanship, that knows no boundaries, perhaps. Or maybe much more of a fraternity, a bond between those who live by the sword that transcends nationality or other allegiencies? These aspects might have been explored, and you may decide to consider them for your own implementation of the Swordsman's Guild.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Swordsman's Guild
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The Montaigne Revolution
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/12/2016 08:09:40

As originally published, the entire 7th Sea setting was presented as it was in the year 1668. A couple of years later, this 'update' book was produced advancing the timeline about 18 months... and of course running into the problem that, if your party pulled off enough epic stunts, things might have gone in a radically different direction! Those beginning a campaign have the option of starting their game in 1668 or using this material and starting in late 1669 instead; those with an ongoing game can consider what's in here in relation to what's happened in their game and adjust accordingly. The intention was to publish a series of these updates, advancing the common timeline a year or so at a time, but for various reasons this didn't happen.

OK, so assuming you want to watch history advance around the ears of the party - and it is an excellent way to remind them of the 'reality' of the world in which the game is being played and even let them get embroiled in world-shaking events if they and you want - what's been going on? It's a time of great change and the title is a bit of a give-away: there is a revolution taking place in Montaigne. This is one of the major events to be discussed with an eye to letting the party participate in events, plenty of opportunity here! Chapter 1: The Fallen Sun deals with it in great detail. Pick the point at which you want to get involved, or if the party is busy elsewhere, the news will catch up with them sooner or later.

The background to the revolution involves a downtrodden peasantry ground down by the wars Montaigne is fighting, the backlash from the Emperor when his daughter fails to present him with the heir he was hoping for and the general poverty and oppression from the 'noble' class. The flashpoint came when a peasant soldier, returned from war, killed a noble who was abusing his wife, a lady the soldier had known and loved before he'd enlisted... and was condemned to death for his crime. A riot erupted and... the rest is, or shall become, history. As things spiral downhill, there are plenty of opportunities for you to weave your own plots around events - perhaps the party will influence them, change them, or perhaps they will merely be witnesses to these momentous events as they go about their own affairs. Left to develop, the revolution results in the overthrow of the Emperor and the establishment of a parliament but all is not as rosey as it might be, power corrupts, as they say and not everyone is content with what is going on. This chapter ends with a 'state of the nation' review which allows you to set adventures in Revolutionary Montaigne, and also lays out the involvement of the various secret societies - perhaps characters who are members were involved in these?

Next, Chapter 2: Vodacce and the New Age details the other momentous event of the year: the discovery and opening up of a strange barrier that apparently was the cause of all ships exploring westward never coming home again. There's a whole lot of background detailing the machinations (the Vodaccian Great Game at play, as always) that led to the discovery, and the reactions to it. Just about every nation and society has its own opinion (although they are a bit distracted in Montaigne as you can imagine) and ideas for exploiting the new opportunities. Fundamentally, though, there's somewhere new to explore...

Then, Chapter 3: Elsewhere is a run-through of what has been taking place in the other nations of Théah. No matter where your party's adventures take them, there are events of which you can take advantage, weaving them into your ongoing plots or letting them serve as a backdrop to whatever is going on.

Chapter 4: Adventures and Campaigns is intended for GMs only (assuming that whoever GMs your group's 7th Sea games is but a single person). It contains secrets underlying the recent history that has just been recounted, and possibly the biggest secret of all: what is the 7th Sea anyway? There are notes on creating your own secret society, and a short adventure - 'The Lady's Fate' - to demonstrate how this all works as one is set up during the course of the adventure. There is a fistful of adventure hooks based around the events described in earlier chapters (just in case reading them didn't give you enough ideas). Finally, an appendix provides a wealth of new NPCs.

On picking this up I was a bit dubious, I've never been a fan of a steadily-advancing timeline within a setting. If you are going to do one, however, this is the way to do it! It's detailed yet open-ended, designed with adventure in mind and of course, it's all optional. Pick the bits you want, and write the history of your own version of Théah!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Montaigne Revolution
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Pirates of Drinax: The Torpol Cluster
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2016 11:19:06

Three worlds... yet of strategic importance to both the Aslan Hierate and the old Sindalian Empire, a nodal point in trade routes through the Tlaiowaha subsector linking the Wildeman Cluster and the Sindalian Main. This small cluster of worlds Jump-1 apart receives many visitors, from the Imperium and other places.

The Introduction provides background information on the cluster and its history. There's a note that these three worlds may be located somewhere else in your universe, but it seems better to leave them as intended, as they are well-embedded into their surroundings. There is a partial map of the Sindal and Tlaiowaha subsectors showing the cluster's location within the Trojan Reach sector and in relation to other nearby worlds, followed by detailed notes on each of the three worlds: Torpol, Clarke and Blue.

Torpol is possibly the pivotal world, as both Marduk (and thence the Sindalian Main), Asim and Drinax (linking to the Aslan Hierate) are but Jump-2 away from the Torpol system. A map shows the main trade routes linking through the cluster. Torpol is the only habitable world, with free water, in the system, but there are nine other rocky planets, a couple of asteroid belts and four gas giants in orbit around the sun. Both asteroid belts are home to miners and one of the rocky worlds - although cold and airless - is also inhabited. This planet, Traefar, has a fairly basic starport but an extensive settlement popular with spacers and it's reckoned to be a good place to find crew - or indeed, to find a berth if you are a spacer looking for work... although it is the sort of place that the Imperium raids every so often looking for criminals. Torpol itself is a waterworld but with a sophisticated (and expensive) highport, when no nonsense is tolerated. Down on the planetary surface there are plenty of places where a tourist and his money can be parted in reasonable safety.

The next system to be discussed is Clarke. It's a rather gloomy place, home to a strange religion. The system has two asteroid belts, seven rocky planets and a remote companion star that generally gets ignored. The Clarke Highport is as well-equipped as Torpol's, but has a more functional air. The religion is concerned with death and the guidance of dead souls, their bodies being encased in carbon blocks which are used as building materials.

Finally, the Blue system has twelve rocky planets and two gas giants - and a bunch of Imperium ships hanging around, nobody's quite sure why... it may have something to do with Aslan settlements on a few of the planets or the Bulhai Freeport, in orbit around one of the gas giants (also called Bulhai). This Freeport is run as a legitimate place of business, not a pirate haven, but it's certainly possible to get things you cannot get elsewhere. The people of Blue itself are interested in art and religion, topics they will debate endlessly.

This work presents three interesting systems to visit in your travels, with atmospheric descriptions that help to paint the picture of what the party will find there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pirates of Drinax: The Torpol Cluster
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7th Sea Adventures: Tangled Strands
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2016 07:28:51

How to describe this? A series of encounters, a mini-campaign, an ongoing plotline... basically this book provides four 'episodes' that can be interwoven with whatever else is going on in your game. They concern the ongoing relationships between a Hero, a Scoundrel and a Villain - and at times read like the best quality melodrama! The Hero and the Scoundrel are in love, the Scoundrel did gaol time with the Villain (and they do not like each other)... you begin to get the picture?

Each Episode should be treated as a separate adventure, with concomitent award of experience. The first two can be run back-to-back, but other adventures should come between the following episodes. Unlike many of the published adventures for 7th Sea these ones are quite combat-heavy, and are intended as a breath of fresh air and a bit of exercise for Heroes spending too much time on intrigue and politics.

It all starts with a nice lunch in a good Castillian restaurant, but soon sweeps the party into a tale of remorse and love and a brawl with some bandits. Neatly, whatever the party decides to do with the initial set-up, all options lead to the same place... and matters proceed from there. The NPCs are well-constructed with complex natures and backstories, designed to be woven seamlessly into the world you are creating... and suck the party into the next episode of this adventure, taking them to Montaigne-occupied territory and as far afield as Vodacce and a surprising revelation!

It's all very nicely put together, the sort of low-key long running plot arc that makes the world seem very real. These NPCs have lives of their own when the party isn't around, but remember what has gone before and involve the party as appropriate. Each episode will involve a brawl, but there are still opportunities for those who prefer more peaceful methods to practise those as well. Ideas for further character-driven adventures involving many of the key NPCs are included at the end.

Overall, a very pleasant and entertaining sequence of events to blend in with whatever else is going on in your campaign. Well worth a look!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: Tangled Strands
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7th Sea Adventures: Mightier than the Sword
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2016 07:38:49

In this book are two complete adventures for 7th Sea, both of which promise some entertaining escapades for your party.

The first is 'The Music of the Spheres' and it is intended to give the party a range of things to engage with - mystery, intrigue, politics, exploration, and combat. This is good if you either have a mixed bunch who like different aspects or people who like a rounded adventure with plenty to exercise the mind and voice as well as the sword-arm. It takes place in the Montaigne capital, Charouse... so someone who can at least speak the language would be useful. The matters to be dealt with reach to the level of the Emperor himself, so Montaignian nobles may be glad of the opportunity to please him - or regret it if everything goes wrong. If the first encounter - a bandit attack - goes well, the party will get invited to court and may even attend a magnificent masked ball. Stir in a missing beautiful young lady and the adventure is soon afoot...

The second adventure is 'The Golden Head of Korlak ur-Nagath'. It's based around an ancient legend that most well-educated Théans will know (much as you have probably heard of Odysseus and the legends surrounding him). There's a lot of background, but basically this adventure is a treasure-hunt. You can play it straight and serious or in a more lighthearted manner, depending on your tastes and the sort of campaigns you like to run. It all begins with a swivel-eyed loon who swears that he's seen the head of a massive gold stature that sounds just like the one mentioned in the legends. Of course it isn't as simple as following his directions and picking the thing up...

They are both cracking adventures that capture the flavour of 7th Sea and are the sort of thing that most parties ought to be able to take on without too much difficulty. Plenty of background and evocative descriptions are provided, and both adventures are suitably cinematic in scope. Go and swash your buckles...



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: Mightier than the Sword
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7th Sea Adventures: Freiburg (Boxed Set)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/07/2016 13:35:07

This boxed set (or bundle of PDFs) provide all the information you need to visit Freiburg, widely considered to be Théah's most dangerous city. Eisen is in a mess, battered by war and this material doesn't just let your party go there, it puts you in a position to shape its future. There's an entire mini-campaign as well as the normal details you'd expect in a city sourcebook. The set consists of three books, one of which is an in-character guidebook your party can buy in the course of the game! A neat touch...

The main book, City of Freiburg, is aimed at the GM. It's got a history of Freiburg, random encounters for different parts of the city, notes on government and law (including, of course, the punishments for those who fall foul of it), loads of NPCs, new rules (including resources for creating characters native to the city) and the local swordsman school. It also has the campaign, Hammer and Tongs, should you decide to run it.

There are three options to consider: a party new to Freiburg, one made up of locals, or a group of established characters for whom this visit is but the next adventure. If you are starting a new party of folk who are strangers to the city, a few hints are given as to useful guidelines for character creation. The campaign itself involves the party becoming owners of a propery in town... a manor house with some interesting secrets, then things get even more interesting when the party tries to exploit what they have found. The campaign is built around four 'hard points' (which are essential to the plot) and a host of 'soft points', which are optional depending on how long a campaign you want, what else is going on, and what the party decides to do. Each comes with plenty of detail to enable you to run it to effect. The first hard point provides for the manor house coming into the party's possession in the first place... and then you can take it from there. It's an entertaining and exciting campaign, well worth the running... particularly for a party that enjoys being embedded into their surroundings rather than just passing through.

The second book is The Sights of Freiburg. This resource contains a complete location-by-location description of the map that's included in the box (or download). There are also building maps and plenty of ideas to spawn plots other than those of the campaign provided. It is full of wonderful detail that makes the place come to life, and invaluable for any visit to Freiburg whether or not you decide to run the campaign. It just about takes you building-by-building, with loads of local colour to make your descriptions vivid and atmospheric.

The final book is Welcome to Freiburg, being a guidebook hawked on the streets to the unwary. Sometimes it contradicts information elsewhere in the boxed set, in which case, assume that the guidebook is wrong! The Sights of Freiburg, which the GM should keep to himself, is the accurate version.

Overall, it is a wonderfully-detailed city, with a campaign that will draw your party right in to the centre of affairs - and the resulting danger! Thoroughly recommended!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
7th Sea Adventures: Freiburg (Boxed Set)
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Crescent Empire
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2016 08:50:18

When 7th Sea first came out, the Crescent Empire was the mysterious unknown. Eventually, though, this book came out and we could all get a glimpse behind the curtain. It's a land of legend and mystery where few explorers have dared to tread, monsters and myths and riches... and endless deserts.

The First Scroll: The Crescent Empire looks at the history and geography of the place, east of Vodacce and south of Ussura. The Empire of the Crescent Moon, to give it its full name, is ancient indeed, said to be the very cradle of life. Its origins lie in nomadic tribes, each of which has legends about its foundation which are given here... ripe for telling around a camp fire. Believers in signs and portents, myths surround historical events throughout their long history. The Second Prophet of the Théan faith came from somewhere deep in the desert, a place where he proclaimed Theus himself dwelled (hence people should make pilgrimages there...). His teachings and ultimate demise led to years of Crusades, invaders from the west. Time past and the tribes unified under a sultan, continuing to be wary of their neighbours. Perhaps now the times are changing, perhaps not.

The scroll continues with discussion of the government as it stands today (structured and bureaucratic) with national and tribal systems to consider... and then there are the Eyes of the Peacock, a vast and all-pervasive secret police who give the impression of knowing what everyone is up to. Military organisation, trade and even slavery (which is a significent element in social structure) are also covered, and the position of women in the Empire is discussed - something little understood by outsiders (or indeed the mind of the modern gamer... but it's not all harems and sex slaves!). Taxes, culture, customs, the arts, food and even their attitude to animals are also discussed here. As for religion, they worship a Great Creator, whose message has been revealed through visions granted to a simple herdsman. And there's more including geography (and a map, I'm glad to say!).

Next, the Second Scroll: Prominent People introduces a host of NPCs, just about any one of which could make your visit to the Empire really exciting. This is followed by the Third Scroll: Drama, which contains assorted rules-related material, beginning with resources for creating characters from the Crescent Empire. The usual collection of new skills, knacks, etc., follows, along with new swordsman schools which include the use of the scimitar and an acrobatic form of knife-fighting. You can even learn horse archery if so minded. Magic, the zodiac and other such esoterica are also covered, along with poisons and equipment unique to the area.

Finally, the Fourth Scroll: Veils and Whispers contains player and GM sections. The player bit discusses the differences in culture between the western nations and the Empire, GMs get various useful materials including cults and magic, NPC secrets and monsters. To round it all off, a scenario - The Emerald Scimitar - for beginning Empire characters, although it might be adaptable to visitors from other lands if they have been able to gain acceptance amongst the tribes. There are also some adventure seeds to get you started on your own plots... and there is a game, Ajedrez, widely played across the Empire, a chess-style game you may wish to have going on in the background.

It's a magnificent sweep across novel and uncharted territory, mixing themes from the Sahara and Middle East in true 7th Sea style into something that feels familiar but is new and embedded into the game world. For those who likeexotic adventures, definitely worth acquiring.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crescent Empire
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Nations of Théah: Ussura (Book 7)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 07:58:03

Ussura is a vast nation in the north, cold and filled with tradition (some say rather superstition). Looking east as much as west, people here follow the First Prophet claiming that they need no more... except perhaps their own deity, Matushka, whose faith they meld with the teachings of the Prophet. It's untamed steppes, vast forests, places where monsters still lurk and superstitions can come true. Yet it is by no means as backward as the rest of Théah would have you believe.

First Ussura covers the history and geography of the land, covering the story of Matushka herself and the sweep of history from the earliest times up to the present day. It also explains the local style of magic, Pyeryem, which is a gift of Matushka and unlike most magics is not found exclusively in those of noble birth. Formed out of a fusion of five fiefdoms, Ussura is ruled by a 'Gaius' chosen personally, it is believed, by Matushka who signifies her choice by turning the individual's hair snow-white... but more remarkably, the chosen one is almost always a peasant despite the noble class, the boyars, being otherwise a significant part of the country's government, with the heads of the five kingdoms providing a ruling council.

Discussions follow on the governance of the land, its social composition and more. It's a stratified society with each layer secure in its positions and responsibilities. The discourse moves on to the land itself - and this time there's actually a map showing where the places discussed are to be found! This is a great help as the five kingdoms are discribed. Read here about the ruling families, about the towns and other notable features. And then of course there's religion. Ussuran Orthodoxy recognises but one Prophet, the first one. Culture is also covered, much of it being either religious or practical. Ussurans have great respect for the law and a fondness for giving gifts. Outsiders forget this at their peril.

Next, Hero introduces a gallery of prominent NPCs (stats and secrets about them are found later on in the GM's section). This is followed by Drama, home of new rules. There are new Pyeryem knacks and boons to acquire, new backgrounds and skills, and new swordsman schools... er, sort of, one teaches fighting not with swords but with hand axes, whilst schools dedicated to archery and wrestling are also available. There are also rules for busking, in case you can perform but are short of cash!

The final section is Lifeblood, which is divided into Player and GM sections. The Player section has a discussion of the nature of Pyeryem, a sorcery in which the practitioner literally becomes another animal, and more about the Usurran 'style' of life, useful when playing one. Meanwhile the GM gets the lowdown on who Matushka really is, NPC secrets and a few new monsters.

Again, a rich background exploring part of the fascinating world that is Théah - some may say 'too much' but if, like me, the joy of role-playing is creating an alternate reality, this is a mature and well-developed one you can imagine visiting.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Ussura (Book 7)
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The One Ring - Adventurer's Companion
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2016 13:04:50

In the world of The One Ring, not everyone is cut out to be an adventurer. Many of those who do tread that path feel that it chose them rather than the other way around. This book brings a wealth of new ideas, new systems, and new cultures aimed primarily at players, but Loremasters will find plenty that is of use to them as well. The Introducion explains the five parts that make up this work.

Part 1: Characters is concerned with the process of and options available when creating a character, beginning with an overview of the process. Then there is a section that looks at the choices that can be made as a character is crafted to ensure a unique and memorable character, with ways to tap into the inspiration many get from characters in literature and other good ideas, also material on forming a group in ways that seem natural rather than forced. Most of this part of the book, however, is jam-packed with no less than thirteen Heroic Cultures from which your character might come. Revel in them, they make fascinating reading.

The next part contains New Rules. Want to be a Leader? There's a new calling to let you do just that. New combat rules and expanded masteries give new ways to use your skills to good effect both on and off the battlefield. There's also some neat ways of handling a party of mixed experience.

In the third part, Between Adventures, there is a focus on what you do when not adventuring. There's an excellent and clear explanation of how the Fellowship Phase works, and a comprehensive list of the things you can do, collated from all the material published so far. Handy to have it all in the same place. There's also a collection of potential patrons and some famous companies who have achieved renown in Wilderland - maybe characters will want to join them if not emulate their exploits. There's also discussion of the passage of years and the concept of multi-generational campaigns.

Then, part four - Curious Diversions - contains an odd assortment of things, from ranomised travelling gear to musical instruments and the things you might find in the average adventurer's pockets.

Finally, part five is For Reference. Here are things like the steps Loremasters and players go through when engaged in combat, giving ideas for turning a brawl into an exciting narrative not just a lot of die-rolling and table-consulting. Another section does the same for journeys, a pivotal part of this game. There's also a detailed account of how an encounter should play out. All this material is designed to enhance the role-playing and story-telling aspects of the game, to embed them into everything that occurs on the table-top.

This is not only a book worth reading, it's worth dipping into again and again. The rules here are in the main optional, but without exception they enhance an already good game, elegant and nuanced. If you play The One Ring, you should really get this.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
The One Ring - Adventurer's Companion
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Nations of Théah: Vodacce (Book 6)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2016 08:38:18

Vodacce can be summed up in terms of manipulation and deceit. It's a place where you need to watch your step, yet it's welcoming... if on its own terms. It's a land of wealthy merchants, fierce honour and convoluted plots, beautiful architecture, treachery, passion and pride. The Introduction explains this and introduces the rest of the book.

First up, Vodacce starts with the history of the country from ancient times right up to the present day... and I mean ancient, apparently scholars believe Vodacce to be the cradle of sentient human life on Théah. Seat of a world-spanning empire, this began to be disrupted by the arrival of the First Prophet on Vodacce's very streets, leading to the establishment of the Vaticine Church. From then on, Church history was closely entwined with the nation's - particularly as most of the ruling noble houses practised sorcery, something the Church condemned. However a thousand years later, the Third Prophet announced that the new home of the Church would now be in Castille, not Vodacce, which led to a bitter war between the two nations in which Castille was ultimately victorious. Undaunted, the nobles in Vodacce resumed their power struggles, the nation remained stauchly Vaticine in belief, and both art and science flourished. In the present day, it's still prosperous but divided with seven merchant princes all hoping to rule a united nation.

These princes are then detailed, along with all the intrigues and facets of the Great Game they delight in playing. Of significance is the number of bastards - with public acceptance of courtesans and mistresses, genealogy is a nightmare, yet everyone is very proud of their bloodline. There are also a couple of families not now in contention for rulership, but still hanging around on the edges. We also find out about notable places - and in the next chapter, Heroes, people - that the party may get to know if their travels take them to Vodacce. There are a couple of quite good maps of the nation's islands, but an overall map would have been helpful, particularly as the locations descriptions start by talking about there being eight provinces - OK, but where are they? That aside, there's loads of material to help the place come to life in your game, and that's before you get to the culture and religion notes at the end. Music and opera are popular but there's an odd thing... very few women learn to read, not even (especially?) noble ones.

In the Drama section we learn about new Sorté rules - the prevalent form of magic that warps destiny - as well as new backgrounds, skills, a single knack, advantages and equipment. And of course more swordsman schools. Note that duelling is accepted practice in Vodacce unlike most of the rest of Théah, so it's all the more important to be able to handle a sword. Given the artform to which intrigue has been raised here, I suppose it's inevitable to also have some new poisons...

Finally, Cunning provides details of the Great Game for players and GMs alike. There are also pieces on how Vodacceans view honour and the place of women. For a start, only women practice Sorté magic. Playing one is challenging at times, but can be extremely rewarding especially if you like behind-the-scenes intrigue and manipulation. For GMs there are dark secrets and stat blocks for the NPCs introduced in Hero, notes on Fate and a couple of new monsters.

Another book that gets you thinking of reasons to send your party to the nation described, because reading it makes you really want to go there as it comes to life on the pages.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Vodacce (Book 6)
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Nations of Théah: Eisen (Book 4)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/01/2016 08:03:37

The Introduction paints the picture of lands reeling from a generation of wars, seemingly no family untouched, awash in mud and blood and destruction yet still proud. Desperation and hunger are side by side with those who do good and seek to serve others.

First, Eisen tells about the country itself. Ancient history tells of a race of intelligent reptiles, the Drachen, that founded a civilisation but then disappeared. There are still 'drachen' in the land, smaller (still impressively big, though) and not at all intelligent. Perhaps they are related to the ancients, nobody knows. Centuries passed and men came, fierce tribesmen to begin with, then sweeping empires, but always a land fragmented, with tribe immediate and important, more important than a distant empire. Then the marvelous metal known as dracheneisen was discovered... Faithful to the teachings of the church, Eisen sided with Castille when the Third Prophet arose there, but a bit over an hundred years ago, a freethinking monk called Matthias Lieber promulgated ideas that led to the Objectionists: people who believe in the faith but do not think the established church is doing the right things - concentrating on amassing political power rather than caring for people. This led eventually to a vicious civil war that has wrecked the nation, and caused the leading barons to split it into a confederacy of seven self-ruling kingdoms. Now people are attempting to rebuild the shattered nation.

Next, Hero introduces some of the movers and shakers of the land - people who could make useful contacts, powerful patrons... or the deadliest of enemies. Here you find descriptions, personalities, objectives... if you want stat blocks or to find out their secrets, these are in the GM section at the end of the book. This is followed by Drama, where new rules material is introduced, including backgrounds, equipment, skills and of course, swordsman schools. This includes clearly-diagrammed ways of using the distinctive zweihander sword. You'll also find rules for mass combat here, should you wish to stage a full-blown battle.

Finally, Courage comes in two parts. The first contains information in playing an Eisen character to effect, useful for players wishing their character to come from Eisen and to GMs needing to manage Eisen NPCs. Next, GMs are regaled with secrets including the fate of the Drachen and the nature of dracheneisen, as well as those of the various kingdoms and the NPCs introduced earlier. There's a map of one town and some building plans - a map of the entire country showing the various kingdoms would have been nice - and assorted monsters, too.

Overall, there's a lot packed into this and should your adventures go near Eisen it will prove an excellent resource. Indeed should your party want to head in that direction, there's plenty to spawn ideas for plots there!

There are enough differences between the kingdoms that they appear to be completely separate nations, yet they are all clearly part of Eisen as well. Each is described in considerable detail, complete with interesting places to visit, local customs and laws, organisation and so on. And then there's Freiburg. A sprawling city-state with a very laid-back ruler and minimal law, a refuge for many, a cosmopolitan free town (and one worthy of its own supplement!). There are notes on general culture and on dracheneisen, including the secrets of its forging (or at least, details of who has those secrets!). Sculpture, opera, and literature are the prevalent art forms. You can also read how Eisen does war, learn of the mercenary warbands, or look at Eisen science and religion. Nationally-observed customs are also included, along with legends and notes on the 'monsters' that plague more remote corners of the land.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Eisen (Book 4)
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Hammerfast: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2016 13:05:12

Hammerfast is a strange place. Originally a necropolis or city of tombs for the dwarves, it is now a regular settlement with people living and working here just like anyplace else... except ghosts not only walk the streets, they are full citizens just like everyone else! This book provides detailed information on places and notable individuals (alive and dead) to enable you to run your own adventures here. It's full of ideas that spawn plotlines as you read through it, thus making it an ideal sandbox setting - wherever the party chooses to go, you can come up with something for them to do.

As well as the ghosts, there are traces of its former state as a necropolis in the shape of tombs. Of course, just as citizen ghosts are protected by local laws from assault, so are the tombs supposedly protected from the depredations of tomb raiders - but since when did that stop most parties? And the loot to be had, say the rumours and legends, are rich and magnificent in the extreme. For many parties, that is enough reason to visit Hammerfest. Others may arrive on more mundane business, yet may not elude the allure of such adventures.

Just about everything you might need is here, starting with the surrounding area, for which you get a map and information to support wilderness adventuring. Once the party arrives in town, resources are at your fingertips so that they can visit taverns, go shopping, fall foul of the law and do most anything adventurers tend to do in town. There's a map of the town to put in front of them as well as a floorplan of a two-storey inn, the Foundation Stone (complete with a chandelier should anyone be moved to swing from it in a fit of swashbucking!). You can also find out about the local guilds, a cult that threatens the place and much more.

It's suggested that you can use this setting in a number of ways from building a campaign arc to take characters from 1st to 10th level, mine the NPCs for adventure ideas (an easy task, the ideas jump off the pages as you flick through) or as a detailed background in which you can set your own urban and wilderness adventures, providing a richly-detailed place that they can explore between adventures.

If you have the original publication, the town map comes as a poster with the floor plans for the Foundation Stone inn on the other side. In the PDF they are spread over two pages each (you'll have to print them and stick them together if you want to spread them out on the tabletop) whilst in the print-on-demand version they are bound into the book, still spread over two pages, along with the surrounding area map. The print-on-demand version is mostly good as far as internal text is concerned, crisp and clear. Unfortunately the cover and the surrounding area map have been printed from too low-grade an image. One can survive a cover that's a bit pixelated, but the surrounding area map is of low quality and quite difficult to read the names of features. Fortunately you can track it down online in better quality versions if you need better resolution.

Overall, though, it's an excellent product whichever version you have: a fine example of a place in which adventures happen (rather than an adventure with a place built for it to happen in), yes you will need to create your own adventures but the ideas here should enable you to do so readily.



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Hammerfast: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site (4e)
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Nations of Théah: Castille (Book 5)
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/29/2016 09:39:09

Castille, an abundant country full of contradictions, home of the church yet with a thriving scientific community despite church opposition, friendly and welcoming people unless you happen to be a foreigner, full of celebrations and fun amidst cruelty and hardship. Here you find passion, loyalty and devotion to duty. Cherishing tradition, the people of Castille embrace life to the full... but now they are at war, and everything seems to be teetering on the brink of destruction. The Introduction sets the scene before launching you into four sections designed to present Castille as a living, breathing element of your game world.

First up is Castille. Here you can read about the nation's long and noble history, with culture and government, noble families and interesting places all covered. Its history is one of repeated conquest, just about every civilisation that lays claim to greatness has invaded at some point (and now Montaigne are trying to do the same...). We meet the eight great noble families and a whole slew of lesser ones - plenty to conjure with if you want your character to come of noble blood. The regions are explored with concise yet informative notes (a map might help, here...) and there's plenty of culture too, dance in particular. Liturature, painting and music also play a major role in the Castille cultural scene, while festivals and celebrations are part and parcel of everyday life. Less pleasant, perhaps, to outsiders is the local love for bullfighting... although the practice of injuring or killing the bull has been mostly eliminated from the sport. Daily life, clothing, etiquette and even food are also covered here.

There is also an extensive section on the Vaticine Church in this chapter. For some six hundred years, the Church has been based here and it looms large in virtually every aspect of life. There are tales of the Three Prophets (and mention of the Fourth, who is yet to come), church history and more. Intellectual and scientific events are also covered - partly because they annoy the church so much.

Then Hero presents a gallery of the great and good, the movers and shakers from many walks of life, starting with the Good King Sandoval himself - a 16-year old boy who had never expected to inherit his throne but is doing remarkably well. Nobles, churchmen, military and others are also well-represented with descriptions of who they are and what their aims in life might be. Plenty of people to meet, influence, toady... as the party chooses.

Next, Drama is the 'rules bit' with new backgrounds and skills, new swordsman schools, new advantages and more. There's also a new (and destructive) form of sorcery called El Fuego Adentro, if you want to try that out. There's also some neat new equipment (did you think a cloak was just for keeping warm?) and some rules for building, defending and attacking fortifications.

Finally, Brotherhood contains information on role-playing Castillians, be they a cherished character or a slew of NPCs encountered in the course of the party's adventures. Life, a Castillian's very existence, revolves around your family and passion. Approach everything, large or small, with intensity and gusto. Live large. There's also material for the GM alone. This includes all those dark little secrets the fellows in the Heroes chapter would rather you didn't know, full stat blocks for each of them, and a couple of new monsters - one of which is a bull, should anyone wish to try their hand at bullfighting. There is also a map of the city of Altamira and a couple of ships.

This work is full of flavour, packed with information to bring Castille to life in your game should the party decide to visit - or to give a character from there a good feel for his homeland. A map of Castille would have been an advantage, so you could see how the various places relate to each other, but that's about the only quibble. If the plot heads for Castille, have this work to hand.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nations of Théah: Castille (Book 5)
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