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Tomb of Tiberesh for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2016 08:39:41

This adventure is based around an archaeological project in the Southlands (or indeed any suitable location in your campaign world - somewhere hot and dry with ancient long-dead cultures to explore, basically). There's plenty of background to set the scene, both notes on ancient times and the present-day excavations, including the group of scholars who will hire the party to explore the tomb. Now, you may say that your group wouldn't hire out like that, well, this was originally a convention scenario, but if you don't care for such constraints you'll have to come up with alternate reasons for the tomb to catch the party's attention - there are some suggestions for characters initially unwilling to sign up. On the other hand, hiring out may prove an attractive proposition for a relatively new group of adventurers (this is a 2nd-level adventure after all), and the first part of the adventure covers getting hired in the first place. For reasons made plain in the background information and throughout, even if the party doesn't choose to work for the group - Golden Falcon Antiquities - you will want to have them around.

OK, once they have signed up (or evaded GSA to undertake their own exploration), the next - and main - part of the adventure comprises the visit to the tomb itself, in two stages (above and below ground). It's a fifty-foot high pyramid with an adjacent mortuary temple which provides the entrance to the pyramid. Detailed descriptions and plans let you navigate your way through, although you do need to study the text closely to make sense of the plans.

The challenges to be faced include traps, puzzles, other visitors and undead... and needless to say, the place was constructed with an eye to dealing with tomb robbers in a permanent manner. And of course there is the odd curse or two as well!

Eventually, when the place has been investigated thoroughly (or the party has had enough!), they emerge into the light of day. If they had been hired by GFA they need to report back on their findings and collect their pay - if they choose not to, or were acting independently, they are likely to be hunted down and brought back to do so. Here it gets interesting, there are several alternate endings to pick from: decide which one works best for your campaign. At least one could lead to a whole campaignful of adventures. There's also some details of notable treasures the party might have acquired and a bestiary to introduce some novel monsters in full (their stat block also appear at the relevant point in the adventure).

This is an exciting excavation of the fantasy equivalent of an ancient Egyptian pyramid, with a good mix of standard tropes and novel ideas to maintain the atmosphere and yet surprise the party. A neat low-level adventure which could set the path for your party for a while to come, depending on the options you - and they - choose.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tomb of Tiberesh for 5th Edition
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Deep Magic: Angelic Seals
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2016 09:11:13

Angels are the most powerful agents in the service of the gods, and the angelic seals and wards discussed in this book provide a means to harnessing their power through knowing the angels' names. Whether or not you subscribe to the Judeo-Christian view of angels - the fellows with wings wearing long gowns on Christmas cards - they apparently only serve good deities, and whilst they are not harmed by someone tapping into their power, they do notice and will object if it's done for evil ends.

Some definitions. A seal is the angel's very name inscribed in such a way as to draw on its power which flows through it into the individual who makes (or has) the inscription, or into a ward. We also have some angelic spells, variations of the seals that function like conventional spells, but which cross the boundaries between divine and arcane magic. It's a rare and specialised area of magic and short of training by someone who knows about them or chancing on a spellbook that explains the processes in enough detail, spell casters will not be able to figure them out on their own.

The best way to get into this form of magic use is to follow the Angelic Scribe arcane tradition, which is described here. There are also two feats which give more limited access. Following the tradition enables the individual to learn the actual seals - the angel's name written in Celestial in a specified format - and there's a list of them to choose from (you start off knowing just two of them). It takes ten minutes to draw one, or eight hours if you prefer to carve a more permanent version in stone. Only one seal can be activated at a time, though. The example seals are complex but beautiful (cruel DMs might make players draw them!) and each provides a different effect - choose wisely which ones you learn.

The new angelic spells presented are few - just one per level and a cantrip - and may be learned by clerics, paladins, warlocks and wizards who are lucky enough to find a written version (or be taught them). There is a mix of protective and offensive spells in the list.

This is an interesting and novel concept, bringing the traditional power of angels as a force for good into game terms elegantly and sympathetically. There's no indication of what an angel would regard as misuse of its power, nor what it would do about it - perhaps that's best left to the DM to determine in the light of divine power structures in their campaign world's cosmology. If the forces of good and evil feature large in your campaign, this is worth a look.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Angelic Seals
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Sanctuary of Belches for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2016 09:08:19

Delightfully described as a 'temple delve' (because the party will be prowling round a temple rather than a dungeon), this adventure sends the party on a spot of tomb raiding. Of course, they are not the first, someone else started excavating first - a mixed bunch of dwarves and giants attracted by rumours of riches to be found in an abandoned temple. Needless to say, they have disturbed that which should have been left alone, and the party will have to pick up the pieces.

Someone - it's one of the giants actually - has found a large horn, and is insisting on playing it. The racket is dreadful and people from miles around are complaining. It's the sort of noise that makes you clap your hands over your ears, and it definitely scares the horses! A local village hires the party to go find out what the din is, and silence it.

The adventure is located in a remote northern area - any suitable remote place in your campaign world will do. It doesn't even need to be cold, although you'll have to amend some of the descriptions if you choose a warmer location. There's a note as to where it is in the Midgard Campaign Setting if you are using that.

Several encounters are provided for the journey from the village to the temple, there are a couple of basic maps for those and a plan for the temple - which is subterranean (you could probably get away with calling it a dungeon delve actually!), along with relevant descriptions and the basic details you need to run the encounters. Why 'basic'? Many of the monsters are drawn from Kobold Press' Tome of Beasts and while you get the bare bones of what they are capable of in the shape of a stat-block, if you want full details about them you will need to go get yourself a copy. It's a shade frustrating if you like to re-use new monsters first encountered in an adventure.

Once the party gets into the temple, there's a lot going on. Plenty of fighting, of course, but there are also opportunities to figure out what originally went on there, as well as what is happening now, and to talk to some of the beings encountered who may become unlikely allies if not slaughtered out of hand. Hopefully they will figure out enough of what's going on to deal with it... and avoid the belches!

There's a lot crammed in to a few pages here, there's even a history of the temple and a few new magic items as well as the adventure itself. It should prove entertaining, even if at least one of your players probably starts muttering "Gou'ald" at some point - you'll see what I mean when you read it, and they may well have provided inspiration. It's a nice solid delve to toss in at an appropriate point in your campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sanctuary of Belches for 5th Edition
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The Raven's Call for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2016 09:01:17

This adventure takes some staples of fantasy (and historical, for that matter) stories and weaves them into game form. At the core of things, there's a village. It is the party's job to defend them against a veritable horde of bandits who are out for food and other plunder rather than a brawl. It's the sort of thing that will make a successful party FEEL heroic, even if it doesn't contribute that much to party coffers.

There's quite a lot packed in to the adventure, which should occupy but a couple of days total of the party's time. Several hooks are provided to get them involved, interestingly it's best they start a fair way away from the village of Nargenstal, because once they get close enough to see what's going on, fighting is almost inevitable. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for combat, but the adventure works best if the party has scouted and met survivors - they will become much more involved in the outcome if they know why they are fighting rather than operating in 'see monster, hit monster' mode. The range of options provided for ensuring that this happens is quite impressive - use as many as you like, in some ways the adventure is quite a sandbox in which what the party decides to do dictates how you'll run it.

As written, the adventure is located in the Midgard Campaign Setting, but it should be reasonable straightforward to transplant it into your own campaign world, although you might have to leave out some references - leylines, for example - unless you have them in your world too.

Resources are excellent, with lots of background and little snippets to help you bring the scene to life, and notes on how those the party will encounter will react - and fight, come to that. If there's anything novel about the combat, the relevant game mechanics are laid out clearly just where you need them. There's a nice sketchmap of the village itself (without many annotations, so it's player-safe) with a matching numbered list of locations and details, this being clear enough to follow even though there are no numbers on the map, and full floor-plans of the village inn. Some pre=generated characters are provided should you want to jump straight in.

Whilst it might seem a simple adventure, to run bandit invaders out of a village and get the locals back in, the whole thing is presented seamlessly with a compelling freshness that makes it a joy to run.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Raven's Call for 5th Edition
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Doctor Who - The Eighth Doctor Sourcebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2016 11:38:21

The Eighth Doctor was portrayed by Paul McGann, with limited appearances - a movie and a bunch of audio dramas, as well as novels and comic strips. As the original TV show ended in 1989, the movie was made in 1996 in an attempt to rekindle interest... although well-received, it's not until 2005 that the TV show returned to our screens. So you can argue that the Eighth Doctor is the longest serving incarnation.

This regeneration of the Doctor is an effortlessly charming fellow, dashing and romantic. Chapter 1: The Eighth Doctor and Companions provides plenty of detail about him and his role... thinking the Time War is over he revels in scampering around space and time and enjoys introducing new people to it, then when he discovers that it's not over and the Master isn't dead after all, he finds himself unsuited to the situation, becoming somewhat cynical. His companion in the movie was Dr Grace Holloway, a cardiologist committed to her profession and with a strong ethical bent, who was understandibly fascinated by the Doctor's two hearts! An interesting sidebar speculates about whether or not she's become immortal. Two others, Chang Lee and Cass, are also included, all four with full character sheets. There are also notes on the TARDIS, which apparently is a better navigator than it has been.

Next, Chapter 2: Designing Eighth Doctor Adventures provides plenty of resources for those interested in rising to the challenge of running adventures in the era of a Doctor who didn't actually have many adventures that we saw in the show - only his first and a little glimpse of his last were seen! Thinking the Time War was done, he threw himself into exploration, so that can provide a good platform for adventure. Parallels can be drawn with the real world of his time, when the Cold War was over and people worried about things like the Y2K bug that was supposed to bring computers to a juddering halt and predictions that the Second Coming was about to take place. Once the Time War restarted the universe began to unravel, and this could be used creatively to unravel some of the Doctor's past adventures, forcing your party to go and 'refix' things. An interesting thought, and there are plenty more in this chapter.

Chapter 3: The Eighth Doctor's Adventures examines the TV movie, with a thorough synopsis, notes on running it as an adventure, further adventures you could run based on it and notes on NPCs and gadgets. The short adventure The Night of the Doctor, which was the Eighth Doctor's final adventure, is covered in like fashion.

To make up for this paucity of material Chapter 4: Doom of the Daleks is a full-blown campaign you can run, no matter what sort of group you have. The Doctor has fallen victim to a Temporal Exterminator, a rather nasty weapon wielded by the Daleks that unravels your complete timeline. The Doctor asks for help - to save him, the party has to travel through his timeline and stop it unravelling before it comes completely apart and the Doctor dies. A prologue (which sets things in motion) and a full twelve adventures are provided. Most draw on the Doctor's previous adventures - this could prove an interesting way of running games for a group of players well-versed in Doctor Who!

The real gem here is the campaign, and that's well worth getting, even if you think there isn't enough material about the Eighth Doctor to justify a sourcebook, or don't regard the movie as being quite as canonical as the regular TV show. Revel in it, but don't let it all unravel!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who - The Eighth Doctor Sourcebook
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Doctor Who - The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/25/2016 07:42:54

This book focusses on the personality, companions and adventures of the seventh incarnation of the Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy. Some dismiss this Doctor as a mildly insane lightweight, others speak of hidden depths, of a sharp intellect and someone who tests and challenges everyone, enemy and ally alike. Read on and decide for yourself.

Chapter 1: The Seventh Doctor and Companions looks at the people and personalities involved. The Seventh Doctor himself is a mystery, mad professor (if you're being kind) on the surface, bumbling along and talking to himself, but this unprepossessing exterior hides an incisive mind with a deep understanding of space, time, and whatever situation he's got into at the time. He also has a novel approach to companions: they are fellow-travellers, expected to pull their weight, rather than assistants or strays he's picked up along the way. He sees, better than they do, what they can grow in to and 'encourages' them along the way. The companions discussed are Melanie Bush, Sabalom Glitz, and Ace (complete with homemade Nitro-9 explosives, of course). This chapter also contains full character sheets for this Doctor and the three companions. Finally, there are notes on the latest TARDIS.

Next, Chapter 2: Tools of the Trade rather oddly starts by analysing the sort of companions the Seventh Doctor prefers, with an eye to empowering you to come up with your own (if you don't want to use Mel, Glitz or Ace, that is). There are also ideas for alternative campaigns using this era as a basis - even ghost hunting and a crime spree are considered! We also get some new traits (good and bad), and of course new gadgets. Nitro 9 is mentioned, but mostly with a strong warning about leaving it well alone! There are no concrete game mechanics for it, it is just too powerful for its (your?) own good. There are some quite detailed notes on designing your own artefacts too, excellent if you fancy dreaming up some remarkable device to urge your plot along.

Then Chapter 3: Enemies takes a look at the opposition. Cybermen and Daleks, of course, there's also Fenric, the Master, and the Rani. Plenty of background detail, food for many a plot, and appropriate character sheets.

This is followed by Chapter 4: Designing Seventh Doctor Adventures. A wealth of advice here ranging from themes to the role of UNIT, adventure structure, getting scary, and general game mastering snippets.

And then we are on to Chapter 5: The Seventh Doctor Adventures. Here we find the standard pattern of adventure synopsis, notes on running the adventure, details of significant characters, monsters and gadgets involved, and finally suggestions for further adventures. Some may like to see how their group of players will cope with the actual adventures, others may prefer to use them as a jumping off point, perhaps using the suggestions for further adventures or drawing on something else that takes their fancy. Others will just revel in remembering past episodes (or discovering them for the first time depending on age and viewing habits back then!), but there's plenty here to enjoy whatever your intentions.

Again a comprehensive, definitive word on the Seventh Doctor. Sit back and be swept away once more...



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who - The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook
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Doctor Who - The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/21/2016 08:32:26

This book covers the tenure of the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), detailing the adventures that he had and the companions that he shared them with. This was a flamboyant Doctor from a flamboyant time, with adventures involving Daleks, Cybermen, at least one of his earlier incarnations and culminating in his being put on trial by the other Time Lords on Gallifrey.

Chapter 1: And Not A Moment Too Soon! takes a look at the style, the look and feel of this Doctor's adventures. In personality brash and over-confident, the Doctor could be quite difficult to get along with, frightening even. He viewed the universe as a place that was getting darker, and wasn't sure whom he could trust, perhaps not even his companions. This could make him difficult to run as an NPC. This wasn't helped by discovering that his own people were as bad as the rest of the universe's inhabitants, corrupt and meddling: all the things the Doctor has stood against. There's plenty of discussion here to help you get everything straight, and even a few adventure seeds that might spark ideas.

Next, Chapter 2: The Sixth Doctor and Companions presents character sheets for the Sixth Doctor, Peri and Mel and, of course, the TARDIS... a pretty wilful beast in this incarnation. There are a few new traits and the like as well.

Then the main body of the book is given over to Chapter 3: The Sixth Doctor's Adventures. Starting with a comprehensive synopsis there are sections on running the adventure, new creatures and game mechanics introduced during it, NPCs and gadgets; finishing off with further adventures (in quite brief outline) that could spin off from the actual one being discussed. As always, it's slightly strange. Do you want to recreate an adventure directly from the show? At least some of your players may have seen it. On the other hand, many of them are cracking adventures and even if your players did see it they may not have perfect recall. The follow-up adventures will need quite a lot of work to become playable. Yet this chapter provides a marvellous account of what happened during the Sixth Doctor's tenure, and makes fascinating reading for that alone.

Chapter 4: The Trial of a Time Lord covers, in extensive detail, the pivotal time when the Doctor was placed on trial on Gallifrey. There's loads of background and details of four complete adventures... and then ideas for where you can take your campaign next. This section is jam-packed with ideas about how you can weave elements of this story into your own plots (or, of course, make use of it entire).

Finally an Appendix looks at The Sixth Doctor and the Time War. This overarching event has its beginnings in the time of the Fourth Doctor and rumbles on even up to the present-day show. You may choose to ignore it, taking each adventure in isolation or you may prefer to weave it throughout your storyline. Here you will find plenty of ideas for doing just that - even if the Doctor, at this point, doesn't know much about it.

Full of ideas for adventure, this book should keep a group interested in this era, Gallifreyan politics or the Time War busy for a long, long time.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who - The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook
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Deep Magic: Ley Lines
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/20/2016 08:01:57

Ley lines are channels of magical energy that criss-cross the land - many people in the real world believe they exist, so it's reasonable to suppose that you can find them in worlds where magic is real! Here, they are accessible to casters of both arcane and divine magic. Details of where they are to be found (along with a note on their presence in the Midgard Campaign Setting) and how they are detected are accompanied by notes on how they are actually used - basically, a caster taps into ley line energy to provide a burst of power to the spell he is casting at the time. The effects can be a bit unpredictable, but a caster can 'lock' a particular ley line to get rather more consistent results.

If you do use the Midgard Campaign Setting there's a map showing where the ley lines are. If you don't use it, the map will serve as an example of how to distribute them across the surface of your chosen campaign world.

Tapping in to a ley line requires specialist knowledge, provided by taking the appropriate feat (or by studying with a geomancer during downtime), and a die roll to measure the level (if any) of success. Random effects can be obtained even from a 'locked' ley line if the roll to tap the line is not very good. Several tables, based on how powerful the ley line is, are provided to supply the random effects... and if the roll is really bad the caster can suffer backlash effects!

There are two feats to choose from, as well as the geomancer arcane tradition for those who want to immerse themselves in the study of ley line magic. Unlike many traditions, it is not a specialisation of itself, but intensive study of how to use ley lines irrespective of what sort of magic is being cast. Some practitioners of magic rather look down on geomancers due to the nature of their studies - but I can see how it's a potentially useful discipline, especially as they appear to be the only people with the ability to lock a ley line to themselves.

We then come to a collection of ley spells, which are available to druids, sorcerers, warlocks and wizards. Apparently despite the 'pure energy' nature of ley lines, other spell-casting classes do not have access to these spells - it's not clear whether or not they can access the ley lines themselves given the appropriate knowledge. Each spell has a full description and the necessary game mechanics to use it.

This is an interesting and nuanced exploration of ley line magic, which should make it straightforward to introduce it into your game.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Ley Lines
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Deep Magic: Illumination
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2016 08:40:03

Invented it is said by the shadow fey, illumination magic mixes astrological observation with an elemental-style manipulation of light and shadow to track the paths of fate and control light and the absense of liight. At its most practical level, it uses the stars to predict when danger is near, and then draws on the power of darkness to attack their foes. It's an obscure school of magic, barely known outside the shadow realms.

The work opens with the abilities granted to practitioners of this school of magic. Whilst it is necessary to be able to see the stars frequently to gain various powers, many of them actually work best in total darkness. There's a single feat - Star and Shadow Reader - which enables the mage to track and interpret what's going on in the stars, and a spell list followed by details of each spell and the game mechanics necessary to use them to effect. Spells are practical and in the main offensive, as in designed to be used in combat. There's quite a necromantic flavour as well, which some people may find off-putting.

A fully-developed NPC illuminator (as practitioners of this school of magic term themselves) is also provided. She's quite intriguing and an encounter with her would make a good way to introduce illumination magic into your game.

It's quite an inventive form of magic with considerable potential. There is little background to how it came to be and how it interacts with the rest of magical knowledge, you will have to figure out how it fits into your world and its cosmology, but it is a neat way to combine the concept of reading fate in the stars with some practical in-game application.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Illumination
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Deep Magic: Void Magic
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2016 07:24:18

Many creation myths speak of the universe coming into existance when some all-powerful being spoke words into a void - what if that void's still there and you can find out some of the words that will bestir it into doing something? That's what void magic is all about. Sounds tasty... but those who look into the void tend to go mad, so beware!

The school of void magic hinges on being able to master void speech. It's pretty dangerous, after all the void is a big nothing, oblivion... and by using void speech you give oblivion a form. It's pretty nasty even when not mixed with magic, and the written word is not much better. Expect bleeding eyes and the very paper degrading in front of you. Even when used with the best intentions, void magic tends to nasty consequences. It's hard to learn although apparently aboleths are quite good at it. Void magic spells are also hard to learn. You don't pick them from a list, you have to be taught them by someone else or find them in a scroll or captured spellbook. For those using the Midgard Campaign Setting there are some notes on the best places to find those who can speak void speech and who might know some interesting spells.

Still want to dabble? Only wizards are able to learn void magic, and there are a couple of feats to aid them. There's also an arcane tradition,, the Void Speaker, that you can follow. Next we get a very short spell list, a couple of cantrips then one or two spells at 1st to 9th level, followed by their full descriptions and necessary game mechanics. That's pretty much it, although Void Speakers have the ability to weave a few words of void speech into any spell and cause temporary insanity as well as whatever the spell is supposed to do - nasty.

It's an interesting concept but one possibly best confined to your NPCs (until someone steals a spellbook and starts leafing through it...). It reads a bit like a hasty summary of an idea that has been better developed, more is needed if you want to make void magic an integral part of your game. For example, what are the effects of studying void magic for any length of time? A mechanism for staying sane would be helpful after all the vague threats of it being dangerous to use, although the effects on other people are covered adequately. Even just wandering around muttering in void speech can make people frightened of you. (Wonder if that works on students?)



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Void Magic
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Pirates of Drinax: Theev
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2016 12:58:40

In the middle of the Sindal Subsector you'll find the three systems that make up the Theev Cluster. Strategically important, it has a bad reputation as a pirate hotspot that encourages many merchants to go the long way around to wherever they are going. They are also remarkably hostile towards the Imperium. For most Traveller players I've met, it's their kind of town!

The Introduction gives the history and background of the cluster along with a map of part of the Sindal Subsector to help you get located. It winds up with a discussion of the Imperial Navy's dealings with the locals.

We then move on to the first of the systems, Vume. It's probably the least hostile system, but that doesn't mean it's a very welcoming place - and that's not just because the main planet is an airless, waterless rockball of a world! Most life is found on the orbital highport, although people venture to the surface to explore some ancient ruins... billed as an Ancients site although nobody is really sure if it was them or some other long-lost race who built the ruins. They are now inhabited by some quite peculiar folks.

Next we read about the Theev system. Now a bit of a backwater if not pretty much abandoned altogether, it used to be part of a major trade route. Their highport was bored out of a moonlet artificially placed in a geostationary orbit around the main world. It is not recommended to break the law here, as they don't go in for the nicities of law courts and endless appeals - perpetrators are merely shown out of an airlock... and that's the official law enforcement by a black-robed bunch called the Widows. Travel to the downport is discouraged, and as the world is arid and very dusty, people generally only go there on business - or hunting for rumoured treasures outside of the controlled environment that protects the one inhabited city that has grown up around it. The place is ruled by the Pirate Lords, and the Widows enforce their rule at least in the Upper City. The Lower City is darker and meaner...

Finally comes Palindrome, the third system in the cluster. It's a run-down backwater, even the highport is scruffy and half-abandoned, even though it still claims to be Class B. The planet below is uninviting, with a thin atmosphere and little surface water and a single domed settlement called Astrogo which is run as the personal property of a retired pirate, the Lady Yemar. Here, the standard of living is high, supported by a TL of 12, and the community is quite insular and inward-looking. It is a good place to find those 'special' items not on sale elsewhere, and a haven for fugitives. The place is quite welcoming to outsiders provided they don't strut around in Imperial uniforms.

This is an intriguing group of worlds likely to prove popular with the ethically-challenged. Each is brought to life in the concise notes provided, although you will have to provide even the notable inhabitants and any maps you might need, even the rest of the systems are not well-developed. When your party decides to go 'shopping', send them here.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pirates of Drinax: Theev
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Deep Magic: Rune Magic
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/14/2016 07:45:05

The assumption is made that you have a reasonable grasp of what runes and rune magic are, and already know that they are associated with people from cold northern realms (think Vikings in the real world), it dives straight in by explaining that you need a Rune Knowledge feat to use them at all, and a Rune Mastery feat to develop your skills. Thereafter, though, the contents are excellent with a lot of material to get your teeth into.

First up, the Rune Knowledge and Rune Mastery feats are given in full detail, then there's a fascinating run-through of the runes themselves. This makes it clear that learning rune magic is a slow and painstaking process: when you learn Rune Knowledge you get to choose just TWO runes which you can use (and Rune Mastery enables to use a single rune you know at a higher level)... fortunately you can take both feats multiple times. For each rune, you get a specific bonus just because you know it, and then you learn the effects of tracing that rune (standard and mastery levels of knowledge) - and there's an image as well so you know the shape to trace.

Next, there are several rune rituals to perform. These are associated with specific runes and there's the rather cryptic comment that once you know the appropriate rune, you can eventually master the appropriate ritual - no indication of how long that takes or what you have to do to master it. The rituals themselves are full of Norse flavour, fitting that mindset.

Then there are rune magic spell lists (for all spell-using classes) followed by the detailed spell descriptions themselves. Many again have Nordic themes or deal with cold, curses, and similar concepts, although there is no real connection with runes themselves otherwise. They do fit in well with the general themes of the magic in this book, however, so could work well for spell-casters of appropriate origin or as spells used by a character who also has the rune-using feats in his build.

These are followed by a couple of neat magic items. The nithing rod is rather fun, it's a kind of landmine you set for an enemy whom you'd like to curse. Once you have created it (and you have to know the individual, it's not a general purpose weapon) you set it up someplace you think your enemy is likely to pass, and when he does it not only casts bestow curse on him, it keeps on doing so until he fails his saving throw! They also curse anyone who tries to tidy them away, although then they only cast the curse once.

There's also a couple of conditions - snow blindness and hypothermia - and a couple of monsters which relate to the rituals earlier, which summon them. It helps if you have the full statistics of whatever is conjured up, after all!

Overall, this is a nice selection of material to bring a northern flavour into your game - it's good on the crunchy bits, the actual effects you can create using your rune magic, but a little short on the flavour that would put it all into context.



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Deep Magic: Clockwork
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2016 07:14:27

The concept of 'clockwork magic' first arose in Zobeck and then in the Midgard Campaign Setting, both published by Kobold Press, but of course the almost-magical qualities of clockwork go back to very early times - China about 2500 BC or the Greek 'Antikythera mechanism' that is nearly as old. Often used in temples to impress worshippers with their deity's power, or for navigation and timekeeping, it's still a bit mysterious if you don't know how it works. And of course, in a fantasy game we can add magic in as well. It's a plausible mix of magic and technology for the sort of cod-mediaeval worlds most of us use for our campaign settings... many of which have lost ancient empires to loot for inventions that have been lost as well.

Clockwork magic, then, has its origins in time manipulation, precision craftwork and machining, constructs and mechanical devices. Opinion is divided as to whether it was a devotee of a god with a suitable sphere (craft or time perhaps) or a tinkering mechanic who added magic to the steam or water power he was used to using to power his machines that first hit upon the concept. You may wish to establish your own origins for it, or just assume that it is known in certain circles in your world.

For clerics, and others of a religious persuasion, there are details of a Clockwork Domain and a couple of sample deities for whom it could be appropriate. Warlocks may seek out the Great Machine as a patron, and gain suitable abilities and access to spells from that connection. Wizards may choose to become clockwork mages, studying the school of clockwork magic. Each of these provides a framework for the individual character to begin to practice clockwork magic in some manner.

The rest of the book is filled with an array of spells that are in some way associated with clockwork or time in general, often with links into the fascinating world of constructs. There are other snippets scattered throughout: clockwork creatures you can summon and a nasty disease called rust that affects both flesh and bones and constructed beings.

Overall, it's an entertaining collection of magic. It could possibly have done with some items and gadgets to go along with the spells, but apart from that this makes a good starting point for adding a novel form of magic to your game.



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Deep Magic: Clockwork
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KOBOLD Guide to Plots & Campaigns
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2016 12:39:08

This book is for those who want to take their adventures to the next level: a collection of essays with titles like "When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroes", "Action Scenes: More Than Just Flashing Blades" and "Using Cliffhangers Effectively" suggests that it's about adding a bit more zing and cinematic flavour to your plots... but there is more with other essays touching on using oral traditions, tone, plenty on adversaries and more. It's fascinating just to read through, but the layout makes it easy to return when you want some advice on a particular topic as well.

Appropriately, it starts off with James Jacobs on "Beginning a Campaign". This isn't so much about the plotting and planning that goes into starting a new campaign, it's more about what can start the actual playing of that campaign with a bang that makes the players sit up and take notice: this is no ordinary campaign but something really special. Thinking cinematically, start by building anticipation with a few teasers, a trailer if you will, for the game that you intend to run, and give your new campaign a compelling name. You may wish to release sufficient information to at least allow for sensible character choices after all. Discussion then moves on to that all-important first session. You want them to be panting for more. It's good to really understand both the characters and the people who will play them - indeed you may use the first session for character creation and not actually start play until the next one. Then there are more good ideas for how to actually get the game rolling as well. All excellent stuff and well worth reading however many successful campaigns you have under your belt.

Next up Jeff Grubb addresses the matter of "Other People's Stories". Even if you like writing your own materials, there's nothing to be embarrassed about using published material. Jeff is full of good advice about how to pick the right adventure module for your campaign, then how to file the serial numbers off and weave it seamlessly into whatever else is (and will be) going on. (Check out my adventure reviews, this is the way I approach them, as resources to enhance your own campaign, not a substitute for having one of your own). Or you may just appropriate elements for reuse in your game.

Then Wolfgang Baur writes about "Choosing an Ending First". Even the most sandbox campaign needs an objective, or it ends up more of a never-ending soap opera game than a plot-driven campaign. Goals are important, whether set by you or by the players, and some kind of a climactic event is always a good way to end a campaign properly, rather than just let it peter out. Plenty of good ideas to chew over here as you start to plan that campaign.

The next essay is "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" by Robert J. Schwalb. This is a thoughtful exploration of the thorny subject of running an 'evil' campaign, preferably without the characters turning into complete psychopaths. The main key seems to be open dialogue with your players to determine the precise nature of the game, what will and will not be acceptable behaviour. Another is that all actions have consequences... Interesting and thought-provoking reading, with plenty of ideas if you want to try out playing the bad guys.

Steve Winters then looks at "Otherworldly Visions" - ways in which to make it clear that the world of your game is not the real one outside your window. (Just in case the presence of dwarves and elves and dragons - or galaxy-roaming starships - hadn't already given it away, that is.) It's all about mood, images, conditions and events... and if you follow Steve's suggestions you might end up with some very weird worlds indeed!

Next is "When Last We Left Our Intrepid Heroes" by Clinton J. Boomer, in which he muses on how to steal...er, be inspired by... the tricks TV shows use to keep our attention week by week (or even during the ad breaks in the middle of a show). It's more than that, though, with ideas about using episodic formats, about building on things that happen (even, especially, when they are unexpected - just as showrunners pay attention to what the fans think and may even amend stories, bring characters back and the like in the light of what they say). And there's plenty more to glean from this essay, too.

This is followed by "Tricks from the Oral Tradition" from Kevin Kulp along much the same theme, only here it is traditional storytelling that's being picked apart for good ideas to apply as you devise and run your game. Pacing and timing, improvisation, presentation and more are discussed. Of particular note are the comments about making NPCs come to life by the way you have them speak - with hints and tips that will empower the least actorly of GMs to handle them with confidence.

Margaret Weis then discusses "Action Scenes: More Than Just Flashing Blades", beginning with the perhaps startling thought that they need to have a purpose, not just be there so as to have a brawl. Using examples from well-known novels, films and TV shows, Margaret shows how to use 'action' - by which she means combat most of the time - creatively to enhance or advance the game, actually contributing to and driving on the plot. Other types of action are also covered, however.

Then Wolfgang Baur is back with "Tone and Bombast" in which he discusses the relative merits of realistic and cinematic approaches. Above all, he says, don't be cautious, or small in your ambitions. Make things personal and visceral, perhaps even unfair, then make the imaginary headlines even worse... how would the events in question come over on the main evening news?

If you like adding complexity, a busy-ness that reflects the real world, try Ree Soesbee's "Branching Storylines and Nonlinear Gameplay" for size. Role-playing, after all, has always been about interactivity and character agency, so here's how to design plots that actually work well with that freedom of action. One of the saddest moments in role-playing was when a player asked me after a game "Did we do what we were supposed to do?" Ideally, there should be no pre-determined course of action, just a setting and events to which the characters respond, and which in turn respond to what the characters do. Find ideas for making that happen here.

One of Ree's suggestions is using NPCs creatively, so the next essay - "Crooked Characters: A Simple Guide to Creating Memorable NPCs" by Richard Pett is a timely one. It runs through the process, concentrating on what that NPC is like rather than what his stats are and providing several tables to roll upon to aid you in teasing out each NPC's nature. As example there are some dozen NPCs described in a few vivid sentences, many spawn plot ideas just by reading through them.

Next, Ben McFarland looks at "Fashioning the Enemy" and delves deep into the art and craft of creating memorable and believeable Bad Guys to oppose the party and drive the plot along. Start with what that villain wants to accomplish, and from there hone him into what he needs to be to achieve his goals - players lavish time on planning their character's development, and you should do the same with their antagonists. How did he come to be like he is? And what is his life like now? Who does he look up to, or fear? A good villain is worth his weight in gold to creating a good plot, oh, and don't forget the minions.

Wolfgang Baur again with "Pacing, Beats, and the Passage of Time" which looks at keeping a game moving at a speed that's just right for whatever is happening at the time, with a particular emphasis on the campaign level rather than what is happening around your table minute-to-minute. Fascinating stuff with ideas you may have never thought of before.

Then Kevin Kulp is back talking about "Complex Plotting". It's all about turning the player characters' actions into ripples that travel through that world, with unintended consequences, and keeping track of all those changes they've caused in a dynamic, living game world. Strew plot hooks about and let the characters choose which ones to follow up, perhaps even have several complete plotlines... I recall one game I ran where there were five plots, the characters concentrated on two, dabbled in another two and never even noticed the last one. The trick is not to develop anything further than an outline until you need it (else you get swamped).

Steve Winter next with "Sharpening Your Hooks", an in-depth look at the ways you can use adventure hooks throughout a campaign, not just to introduce the next adventure and convince the characters that they are actually interested in whatever's going on. Of course, it's not really a hook but the bait that attracts them in... and the adventure that each hook refers to need not even exist until some interest is shown, especially if the party is busy about something else at the time.

So far this book has been jam-packed with ideas for making a campaign go with a bang right from the start. What if despite all that advice and your best efforts, it doesn't? Zeb Cook to the rescue with "The Art of Letting Go" - a treatise in a few short pages on how to improvise, casting aside all that careful preparation and just wing it. It comes naturally to some people, but if you're not one of those, this gives you a starting point to give it a go. I know my best games have been no more than a few bullet points and a lot of outlines... and the worst the ones that were all written out ahead of time (it's almost the complete reverse when it comes to writing an adventure for publication, of course!). Improvisation at the table works best with a fair bit of planning in advance, which is then set aside once play begins.

Back to the plotting with the next article by Ben McFarland, "Plotting a Generational Campaign". This discusses games that last for years, even centuries... in-game, I mean, not in real life (although games that last for years are a possibility). I did once design a Vampire: The Masquerade campaign that spanned time from before the birth of Christ up to the present day (never got the chance to run it, alas), but here you'll find ideas to make these long-lasting time-spanning games work effectively. Plan ahead, and know where you are going, yet keep flexible enough to let the characters take over and affect their futures. Relationships, alliances, deeply-felt emnities, all play a part, and remember to weave these into the characters' own histories.

Next is "Using Cliffhangers Effectively" by Amber E. Scott. It's jam-packed with ideas for using cliffhangers to effect in your game, making your players hungry for more... and back next time, eager to continue. You need to keep track of where everything (and everybody) was when you stop, and to make sure that all that anticipation is adequately rewarded when play resumes.

Finally there is "An Improv Adventure: The Journey from Here to There" by Zeb Cook. In it, he provides a complete framework for a simple adventure making use of many of the concepts discussed in this book, particularly his own notes on improvisation, of course. Use it as an exemplar - or even run it sometime.

So, there you have it. A book which any GM, irrespective of the system(s) they prefer to run, ought to have. Read it, study it, keep it to hand to dip into. If there was a degree in role-playing, this would be a set text for the GM module!



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Imperial Mysteries
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/06/2016 07:57:15

A newly-Awakened mage might feel that their new-found power is limitless, but they soon learn that it is not... but can it be? This work looks at those who push the limits, treat the 'rules' as mere guidelines if not challenges. For some, this may be a step too far, it certainly is for many mages as the opening story tells. Others, though, prefer to pursue this quest. Even if you don't want to take your game that far, your cabal may encounter the odd will-worker who has - as an ally or an enemy - and here you will find the resources to make that happen.

Here we learn of the archmasters, those who have smashed through the rules and forged their own, carved their own parth through the mysteries, understood the Imperial Practices, learned to control the fundamental forces of the fallen and supernal worlds... maybe even ascended... It's not an easy road to tread, it's not just a matter of acquiring more and more knowledge and adding more spells to your grimoire. The transition to archmastery is called the Threshold Seeking, and is so shattering to one's worldview that it is rightly described as a second Awakening. The accomplished mage suddenly realises that all the knowledge they've been gathering so painstakingly since they Awakened doesn't remotely describe what's really going on... and then they set to and begin to find the truth. The theme is that there is no going back, the mood is how dangerous it is to meddle in such matters. Even more dangerous are the others of similar power that are encountered: old gods, deathlords from the underworld and beings only dimly guessed at until they burst forth in contention.

The Introduction explains all this, and comments on how you might link in material from other books in the New World of Darkness (now Chronicles of Darkness) game lines. Then Chapter 1: Threshold talks about how one makes the transition from regular mage to archmaster and provides the rules necessary for developing magic power up to a mind-blowing (and character sheet wrecking) NINE dots, complete with example spells.

Then, Chapter 2: The Invisible Road looks at the world archmasters inhabit, the strange realms open to them to explore and the alliances they might forge - or conflicts they may enter into. This is continued in Chapter 3: The Supernal Ensemble, where we meet example archmasters from a range of factions in the Ascension War that's raging unbeknownst to most ordinary spell-slingers, never mind sleepers... along with plenty of equally-powerful beings that may be their adversaries.

Finally Chapter 4: Ascension looks at what this actually means and an appendix Imperium provides a system for playing archmasters in the Supernal World... where what they get up to can affect the very nature of reality. This super-high-powered stuff isn't for everyone, but if it appeals, there's plenty of Storytelling advice to help you make it happen in your game - whether your mages seek archmastery for themselves or just encounter one - or even the ripples in reality left by one - during a more conventional chronicle.

I'm torn. The academic side of me wants to delve ever deeper, but this whole concept is a bit of a game-changer. Do I want to bend my chronicles quite this much? I'm not sure. But archmasters can make excellent plot devices...



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Imperial Mysteries
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