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Slayer's Guide to Centaurs
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2018 12:21:49

Fascinating and unusual creatures, centaurs - yet although they are well-known members of popular mythology they are rarely encountered when adventuring. Some of that is down to them being reclusive and shy, preoccupied with their own concerns and not really interested in odd bipedal creatures like the average adventurer... but some may be due to DMs and adventure-writers not knowing much about them either, so rarely making use of them. Perhaps this book will make a difference...

Here there is a wealth of information about centaurs from their anatomy and physiology to the way in which they order their societies, indeed everything you might want to know to understand them well enough to present them to good effect in your game as a living, breathing society with which your party can interact. There are ideas for plots involving them, notes on actually playing one - as the DM or as a player choosing one as their player-character - and even a complete centaur settlement to visit... if you can find it and if they'll let you in!

The Centaur Physiology section covers a lot more than just their physiology, although it does describe them physically. They are powerful creatures and always appear in good health, apparently they are very resistant to disease. Some popular misconceptions are debunked. For a start although they are usually described as being part-human part-horse, the humanoid bit is more elf-like as far as the facial features go, although the torso is well-muscled. While they are masters of the woodlands in which they like to dwell, tales of them twisting minds with their magic is far-fetched. They do boast a few druids but most are not, to be honest, smart enough for rigorous study of the arcane.

Their appearance is noted in detail, especially hair colour and distribution. This is vital as they are not given to clothes, although they do like belts and straps to hang equipent or bags upon. Head hair is worn long and loose, although strands may be braided or beaded. They are omnivores, and drink water or goat milk unless they can get hold of elven wine. The discussion moves on to their psychology, which is of particular use if you want to make them come alive as a distinctive race in your game. One thing of note is their almost magical ability to sense any change in their woodland environment, something that only works when they are at home - otherwise their eyesight and hearing is no better than any other humanoid. Normally very peaceful, any attack on an individual centaur or their community is met with vicious retaliation that can be quite shocking to anyone accustomed to their gentle shy manner... including themselves. They detest having to fight, but react instantly when it becomes necessary. The only other time they are not quiet and peaceful is when male centaurs get hold of wine - boy, do they know how to party! Rowdy antics and bawdy songs are the order of the day. Female centaurs won't generally touch a drop.

The next section, Habitat, explains how they prefer deep temperate forests. Given their choice, they'd never emerge. Their villages - they never build settlements larger - exist in harmony with their environment. This is followed by a section on Centaur Society which details their villages at length before discussing that strange beast, the male centaur. They tend to be in a minority, yet are most likely to be encountered by outsiders. As young males get older they get boisterous until it is time for their rite of passage to adulthood, generally around the age of twelve, thereafter they settle down into their roles of a hunter and a protector, defending and supplying their community with food. Females are wiser and generally provide leadership and administration for the community in what is a matriarchal society. Centaur druids usually come from their number, and the leader of a community is usually the most powerful female druid. While there may well be other druids in a community, the others act subordinate to their leader.

After hearing that they pair for life and a little about their simple ceremonies, we move on to the next section Methods of Warfare. While males enjoy physical activity, especially hunting, they do not care to brawl although when moved to do so they are pretty effective. They certainly are not cowards. Preferred weapons are clubs and longbows, both of which are crafted to a very high standard. A 'hit and fade' style of combat is common, thundering in at a charge out of an ambush then wheeling away... to set up another ambush if necessary. In more pitched battles they charge with war lances and shields, a quite terrifying sight.

Next up is a section on Role-playing with Centaurs that is mostly aimed at DMs wishing to use the information provided to make any centaurs the party encounters come to life. As they tend to be good in alignment and interested in things like preserving the environment, there are plenty of opportunities for good-aligned parties to work with centaurs towards a common aim... assuming they can get such skittish creatures to talk! A selection of Scenario Hooks and Ideas are provided to help you set the scene and get the party embroiled with centaurs, even perhaps attending a wedding or helping a stripling male with his rite of passage quest. Or perhaps a sage studying centaurs wants a specimen... that could get messy!

Notes are also provided for those who'd like to play a centaur as their character. It can be quite a challenge to fit a single centaur into a party both mechanically - the racial advantages can unbalance a party - and socially. Can you imagine a centaur even coping with a dungeon delve, let alone enjoying it? There are some ideas here that might make things a bit easier, however.

Finally there's an introduction to the centaur village of Lanhyd. History, everyday life, layout and inhabitants are covered, as well as some ideas for the roles Lanhyd could play in your campaign. Overall it's an excellent introduction to an oft-neglected race. The one thing I'd have liked to have seen is a bit more on their anatomy. How do they actually work? A passing remark in the flavour text suggests they have two hearts, presumably one in the humanoid torso and one where a normal horse would have it; and this is borne out by a sketch of a skeleton that appears to show two rib cages... but how does their respiration and circulation function? Oh dear, you can see they're becoming real in my mind!



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Slayer's Guide to Centaurs
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Slayer's Guide to Hobgoblins
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2018 14:02:50

This, the very first book Mongoose Publishing ever produced, set the high standard that they've continued to this day. In it, there's a detailed analysis of all things hobgoblin. Physiology, society, role-playing notes, material on using them as player characters, ideas for adventure and an entire hobgoblin settlement that will no doubt get raided as soon as your party find out where it is!

The Introduction sets out the stall for the entire Slayer's Guide series as well as for this one about hobgoblins. All the goblinoid races have proven popular cannon fodder, they're fairly weak individually but in a horde can provide good cpposition particularly for lower-level parties. However, armed with the deep background on hobgoblins to be found here, they can become formidable foes. Hobgoblins are, after all, quite large as goblinoids go, and they are a martial race who have learned from more 'civilised' races how to organise their fighting forces to good effect.

The Hobgoblin Physiology looks at more than that. There's a description with notes on not just their appearance but physical and sensory capabilities as well. They have excellent hearing, it appears, and can pick out single sounds even in the middle of a brawl. There's some scholarly discussion about their possible origins (although no definite conclusion) and we also find out what they eat, and learn about their life cycle. Female hobgoblins look very similar to male ones (particularly when in armour), but when they are pregnant they stay out of sight. Apparently the race is not given to long-term relationships, so after birth they are soon active again. Youngsters can hold their own by the age of six and are regarded as adult by eleven or twelve. If they don't fall in battle, a hobgoblin can live to sixty, but this is rare.

Their psychology is discussed before moving on to the sort of habitats they prefer - temperate zones with forests and low mountains, although they can be found almost anywhere if they have a good reason to go there. They prefer to settle rather than being nomadic, although they are prepared to move if necessary, and there's a rather interesting discussion about the procedures followed during a migration. Naturally, lairs are designed with an eye to defence. There's copious material on Hobgoblin Society, which is tribal in nature although sometimes a mercenary warband will be encountered. They are led by a tribal chieftain who is the best warrior, and who probably attained his position through combat. The hierarchy is quite structured and tribal customs are followed diligently. When a tribal chieftain dies there's a quite complex ritual to choose a successor which does, of course, involve fighting. A similar formal protocol is followed if another hobgoblin wishes to challenge the chieftain, something that is not done lightly. Most of the tribe's wealth is generated by raiding, and the proceeds are divided up amongst the tribe according to a defined procedure. When not raiding, they prefer to oversee the labours of subjugated lesser races than actually do the work themselves. The tribe at war (with plenty on their strategy and tactics) and mercenary warbands are also discussed. As for religion, most hobgoblins are not very interested!

Next Role-playing with Hobgoblins helps the DM get under the skin of his hobgoblin hordes. For a start, they are not stupid, they are as bright as the average human. As disciplined and efficient warriors they should pose quite a challenge, particularly for parties who are somewhere upon which a tribe has planned and mounted a raid, or if a visit is paid to a tribal lair with hostile intent. There are even some sample hobgoblin names, should conversation rather than swordplay break out.

A section of Scenario Hooks and Ideas provides a wealth of plot ideas for using hobgoblins in your game, and then there's the interesting twist of how to create and play a hobgoblin player character. As a single hobgoblin might have trouble gaining acceptance in a party - and might struggle to fit in even if they'll have him - a hobgoblin-based campaign with the party drawn from a single tribe might be a more viable option. It's likely to be a military-themed campaign, though, perhaps the adventures of a mercenary band.

Finally, an entire lair - the Graven Hill Border Fort - is presented, complete with history (it was captured by its current occupants rather than built by them) and a plan as well as an illustration. It's a bit of an outline, if you like room-by-room descriptions you'll have to put in some preparatory work, but the general layout and defences are provided well.

If there's anything you ever wanted to know about hobgoblins, chances are that you'll find it here.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Slayer's Guide to Hobgoblins
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Treasures & Trinkets: Gemstones & Art Objects (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/24/2018 09:06:56

This resource provides the busy DM with loads of loot to tempt their party... or, for that matter, to stock residences for the discerning, provide items for an auction house or whatever use you might find for a selection of 'art objects' or gems.

It's divided into two sections. First up are the art objects - these can be any decorative item from paintings to statues, vases, trinkets, tapestries. Most are not so easy to transport due to size or fragility or just plain awkwardness, so if you do use them as loot the party needs to decide what is actually worth the effort of pilfering! They are presented in a series of lists of twenty items at a time (handy if you want to roll at random), with each list containing items of similar value ranging from 25 gp to a massive 7,500 gp apiece. They all sound beautiful - maybe one of the party fancies a pair of purple samite curtains woven with flowers in golden thread for his home, or maybe a painting in a gilded frame depicting a giant's castle in the clouds under attack from a flight of dragons is going to look nice on the wall. Or maybe he'll be hawking a soapstone bust of the dwarven king, Odvin Hammerschlag around a nearby town to raise cash for supplies for the next adventure (or a rowdy night in the best tavern in town!).

Then attention turns to gemstones. Again they are grouped by value starting with 'ornamental' stones at 10 gp a throw and ramping up to 'jewels' worth 5,000 gp apiece. Naturally cut and condition can affect the price. Each is both named and described, so you can give the description and let them wonder just what it is (an Intelligence check DC is recommended if you want them to figure out what they have found and what it's worth).

Finally, there's mention of the reputed magical properties of gemstones - which might inform, for example, which ones you use when crafting magic items - and on special appearances (fancy cuts and the like) or even complications that might affect whoever possesses the stone. For remember, all this stuff may not be mere loot, it may also be part of the plot!

A useful collection of items to scatter throughout your campaign world. Loot, plot items or just make the dungeon look prettier!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Treasures & Trinkets: Gemstones & Art Objects (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Fantastic! Thank you for the review, Megan! I'm glad you enjoyed the book!
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #4 (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/22/2018 09:58:08

In this fourth installment of the Treasure Hoards line, an array of twenty-five substantial hoards belonging to the wealthy (well, they ARE challenge level 17-20 after all!) are presented ready for you to locate for the party to pilfer. The format is as before, with a list of hoards which you can roll upon if you are happy with a random one, or you can read through each one if you'd prefer to select. This time, none of them is devoid of magic, unsurprising at this high level.

Within each hoard, first you hear about the cash - just gold and platinum pieces at this level and even so the quantities are such as to require some heavy lifting. Next comes a selection of items: gemstones, clothing, jewellry and miscellaneous items. Each has a note concerning value, generally with an Intelligence DC check to work out what they are worth and sometimes to figure out what the item is if it's not readily apparent by just looking at it. (Although I don't think it really takes a DC 20 Intelligence check to know that a promissory note to the value of 10,000 gp is worth... 10,000 gp!) Finally, magic items are listed with a brief description, but no indication of value, or for that matter details of what it does... you'll have to look those up elsewhere.

There's some nice stuff here, and several items could lead to adventures of their own. Why are they here? How did whoever you've given them to get hold of them? What will be the effect of the party hawking around that particular and distinctive item that they've just looted?

One hoard contains five fully-caparisoned heavy war horses! Make sure you use that one somewhere that there's accommodation for the horses. Another includes a complete sailing ship... Moving on to the magic, most is in the shape of potions, scrolls and wands with a few magical weapons and pieces of armour thrown in for good measure.

When you need some loot in a hurry, or some inspiration when stocking the next dungeon, this is a handy resource. The only thing I'd add is a total value for each hoard - there's always a party member who wants to know that!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #4 (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for the review, Megan. I'm glad you found this instalment useful!
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #3 (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2018 06:50:24

This is the third in a series of 'ready-made' treasure hoards that you can use when planning adventures or even right in the middle of a game if your party decides to go on a looting spree and want to know what they've found. There are twenty-five hoards, designed to suit challenge levels 11-16. Four have no magic items, so you can pick them if for some reason the presence of magical things is not appropriate.

Each hoard is presented in a standard format. First up, the coinage, at this level it's all gold and platinum pieces - even in one hoard that consists of a collection of well-stuffed piggy banks. Next are the ordinary items which include gemstones, books, clothing and other items of note. For each, there's an Intelligence DC check to figure out the value (and sometimes to reveal a bit more about what it is, if that's not clear just by looking at it). Finally, magical items are listed. Scrolls and potions predominate, but weapons, armour and a few other items are included.

The one flaw is that you don't get a total value for each hoard. You'd have to add up the cash and the values given for the mundane items... and then go look up the magical ones in the core rulebooks to get their worth! Still, you are going to have to look them up for the precise properties anyway, and at least each one gets a bit of atmospheric description, like the colour of each potion or notes on the condition or appearance of the item.

A neat resource to help you come up with interesting collections of loot rather than merely handing out coins when the party goes robbing their foes.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #3 (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, Megan. Glad you liked this book!
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #2 (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2018 09:46:02

This second collection of pre-made treasure hoards is designed for use at challenge levels 5-10. The idea is simple: whenever you need to provide some loot for the party, pick (or roll for) one of these hoards and have a neat list of items for them to pilfer - coins, gems, magic items and more. There are twenty-five different lists to pick from, so whether they have found a chest during a dungeon delve or are robbing a house, you will not be at a loss when they ask what they've found. A few of the hoards are built specifically without magic items, so if there's a situation where they'd be inappropriate, you can choose one of them.

Each hoard starts with a list of the coins found in it, then there is a selection of items, with magical ones listed last. Each item gets a brief description, and there's a note as to its value along with the DC of the Intelligence check to work it out (and maybe even figure out what the item is, if it isn't obvious).

Items include gemstones, a scrollcase filled with gourmet recipes, jewellry and even a corset! Apparently that's quite valuable... Magic items are quite varied, quite a few scrolls and potions, but there are weapons, wands and armour as well.

This could come in handy when planning adventures, or when the party decides to go somewhere unexpected and suddenly demand to know what they've found. Some of the items might even spawn plotlines of their own... although I'm not sure I want to know who left a corset behind!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #2 (5e)
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Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #1 (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/17/2018 10:02:19

This is a remarkably useful resource for planning dungeons or indeed any location or event when the party is likely to have an opportunity to loot the place. It consists of twenty-five separate lists, each comprising a complete hoard which may be found in one big heap or scattered throughout the area. To facilitate quick picking, they are listed on a table you can roll percentage dice against - or of course you can read through them and select the one that seems most appropriate for your needs. Two are tagged specifically as containing no magic items.

The individual lists follow. Each begins with the cash and then details items of value. In most cases some of them are magical. Many of the items fall into the category of portable works of art, there are also gemstones and complete pieces of jewellry. Each item's worth is listed, along with a suggested Intelligence DC check for being able to appraise its value (this also sometimes enables one to recognise what the item is as well).

Some of the items are more remarkable for their interest value: a child's alphabet book for example. One hoard belongs to someone who likes cooking - it includes a barrel of spices, a cooking pot and an hourglass. There are items of clothing, rings and more. The magical items tend to things like potions and scrolls. Everything seems pretty portable, facilitating easy pilfering.

This is just a neat way of ensuring that whenever the party stops to loot, there's something interesting for them to find. The way it's set up, you could refer to it mid-game if they want to search and steal in an unexpected place, too.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Treasures & Trinkets: Treasure Hoards #1 (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, Megan! It is much appreciated. I'll treasure it! (Did you see what I did there?)
AM2: For Faerie, Queen, and Country Universe Book
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2018 10:49:53

This, the first 'universe book' for Amazing Engine should be used in conjunction with the System Guide, the combination making a complete game.

It opens by describing the alternate history of the setting, a Victorian England where the fey do not only exist, they have seats in Parliament and are invited to all the best parties. This all dates back to Roman times if not before, but at that time the dark powers of the Unseelie Court were defeated in a great battle, and from then faerie blood has mixed with that of human beings throughout the history of Britain. Needless to say, the Unseelies haven't gone away, they've just gone underground, and still cause problems upon occasion although due to their appearance they have to recruit and operate through human allies and agents.

History has taken a largely similar track to the real world, although a descendant of Napoleon rules in France, a foil to Bismarck in Germany, and the big surprise, America is still a colony of Britain having been defeated in 1812 after their brief flirtation with independence. Fey live openly in Ireland, having an enclave named Tir Nan Og that operates as a separate country - or is that countries, as each sidh or barrow has its own British Embassy! Many challenges face the British Empire at this time. This opening portion, The State of England, is presented as a report suggesting the provision of 'special agents' to troubleshoot any problems... and this is where the player characters come in.

The role of both player characters and the GM are briefly touched upon and then the matter of creating player characters based on the existing player core (as detailed in the System Guide) is dealt with in detail. The first thing you have to determine is whether or not your character has fey blood - there's quite a high chance of having at least some, although full-blooded fey are quite rare. There are usually some visible hints of fey blood such as a greenish tint to the skin, pointy ears - or maybe hooves instead of feet. The more fey blood the character has, the more noticeable it is. Apart from full-blooded faeries, you next need to choose nationality. This determines where you come from and the language(s) you speak - apparently everyone from Wales speaks Welsh, which certainly wasn't the case in real Victorian England (in fact, the Welsh language was discouraged!). Next up in social class and occupation. These choices lead to background and to the skills available to that character. Naturally there is plenty of information to aid an informed decision. Much is (mostly) historically accurate, but magic exists and so sorcerer is an established profession.

Setting-specific notes on awards and experience follow material on wealth and resources. Many genuine Britsh awards and medals are listed here. Next up is magic. In this setting, magic works rather like a recipe, with a magic formular being constructed like a sentence including the action, the target, special conditions and so on. Each part has a range of options, this results in every spell cast having the potential, indeed likelihood, of being unique. The best spells are researched in advance, but they can be created on the fly although the chances of success are lower. A skill check is necessary every time a spell is cast, and it takes a physical toll on the caster. There are guidelines and examples aplenty, but spell-casting is something that the player will have to work at, there's no handy spell list to pick a spell from and just cast it as needed.

The next section, By All That is Holy, deals with religion. Faeries are pagan, it's somehow so deeply embedded in their being that they cannot embrace any other religion. There are various Christian denominations - based on real ones although with different names - and it is in their clergy that divine power is concentrated, although they do not cast spells as such but have certain powers that they can wield. No other faiths are mentioned, not is there any detail on what being a pagan entails.

This is followed by a section on Combat. Here we read about violence and the law, along with a note that combat is by and large deadly and ought to be avoided whenever possible. Much fighting is little more than brawling - mostly fistfights, perhaps a knife. Gun crime is rare, although a prudent fellow may take a pistol when entering a situation about which he is nervous. There's plenty of detail on both firearms and melee weapons.

We then turn to details about the fey, presented as Peak-Martin's Index of Faerie, a series of lectures to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1877. It makes for fascinating reading, categorising the different varieties of fey folk and classifying them... and providing game statistics so that they can be used as opposition! For those who want to know more about the geography of the setting, there is also Crompton's Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain, a quite comprehensive gazetteer. Back to everyday life, The Glorious British Life provides ample detail on what it's like to live in this setting: time, money, incomes, city and country life... and even how much you ought to be paying your servants! Modern conveniences, or the lack thereof, are discussed, along with price lists for the things characters may require and details of transportation - rail between towns, carriages or horseback within them, or out in the country once you have alighted from your train. The current state of knowledge and the policical scene are also covered, along with foreign relations and law enforcement. Much of this is historically-accurate, but with a distinctive spin on things to reflect the differences between this setting and historical Victorian England.

There's a rather entertaining guide on How to Speak Proper, which seems to be mainly aimed at Americans. This covers not just "the Queen's English" but Scottish and Irish dialects and a somewhat bizarre attempt at Welsh (which, it must be said, is my native tongue), claiming that Welsh words are unpronouncable... Best to move on to the underworld slang section. There's also a note about the role of women in Victorian times: strange to modern attitudes but historically accurate. Likewise, provision for the poor and disabled - mostly woefully inadequate by modern standards - charities and leisure pursuits are also covered. Various leading Victorians are introduced, perhaps the party will bump into them, or they will at least know about them.

The setting, then, is well presented with as much historical accuracy as the introduction of the faerie folk permits. Character creation is a bit clunky, but once you have built the characters and formed the party there's an impressive amount of background to set the scene in which they will operate. The GM, however, is left to come up with adventures. Some of the background might suggest ideas, but nothing is provided in the way of suggestion or plot idea, although the setting is good.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
AM2: For Faerie, Queen, and Country Universe Book
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AM1: Amazing Engine System Guide
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2018 09:21:23

The book opens by trying to explain just what it is. Whilst it wasn't the first attempt at a generic ruleset, most people were publishing discrete games that included both rules and setting (or at least, genre) or they'd gone whole hog at the generic concept, put out some rules and left you to it. Amazing Engine was designed from the outset as a two-part system. You'd have the core rules (this book) and then you'd add the 'universe book' of your choice to make a complete game. These core rules contain all that's needed to create player characters and have those characters use skills, fight, and move. Hence, any character can be played in any universe, and experience from one can be applied to another.

The concepts of a 'player core' and a 'player character' are introduced to facilitate this. The idea is that this System Guide is used to create the player core, which is the framework from which player characters are built. The same player core is used from universe to universe. The player character is the actual collection of numbers, skills, and other abilities used to roleplay in a given universe. A player will have a different character in each universe, but these characters may all be generated from the same player core. It doesn't however mean that they're all the same character, just they share the core framework. That's fine if you like playing, say, sneaky and intelligent characters whatever sort of game you are playing... but may be a bit problematic if you prefer to fine-tune even the underlying nature of your character to the setting in which he will exist.

In the player core, you have to decide how much emphasis you want to put on four core aspects: physique, intellect, spirit and influence. Just how these are expressed will depend on the universe in which you will be playing. This is done by having two attributes associated with each aspect, and it is these, not the aspects, that are used to describe the player character - and can be quite different for each universe. You start by ranking the core aspects from 1 (the strongest) to 4 (the weakest). Then you begin in on your first player character by picking any four of the attributes - it doesn't matter which aspect they relate to at this point - and roll 4d10 and add them together to get a number. For the other four, roll 3d10. Then you add together the numbers for the two attributes belonging to each aspect - this becomes part of the player core and is used to create each subsequent player character (who are made slightly differently from the first one). It sounds a bit complex but the examples given and just getting some dice and playing around make it all come clear. As is often the case, rules really ought to be written by someone other than the person who created them - they understand how they work already and don't always explain them as well as someone who has had to learn them can!

Many other choices have to wait until you have decided on a universe in which to play. You cannot be an elf in a universe that doesn't have them, after all, nor can you wield magic unless you are in one where it works. Although your skills, too, will have to wait until you know about the universe you'll be playing in, the way tasks are resolved when you use them is standard, and is covered here - along with general notes on how they are chosen and so on. It's a slightly odd feeling trying to understand this in abstract, but again the examples are clear.

The next part of the book looks at experience: how to gain it (or award it if you're the GM) and what to do with it. This is when things get interesting - your player character's experience, gained in one universe, may be applied to your player core (and so benefit every player character you have across all the universes you play in... even though they are different people) or you may apply it to the player character who earned it. You also have the option of using them immediately to boost some ability temporarily as the situation dictates.

Other topics such as movement and the all-important combat are also covered here, again in fairly general terms. Whatever you are fighting with, the basics of how to resolve a hit are going to be the same, and the general overview of how combat works is constant. Finally, there's a note on magic, psionics and special powers. Mostly, it says that they are left to the universe books, which will determine what is possible there.

This isn't a game for shifting genres with the same character, yet it allows for some measure of continuity. That's particularly nice if you don't like starting from scratch every time you begin a new game in a different setting, or if you lose a character during play. More than that, it's a bit difficult to say - this is very much half of a game, I'll need to read a universe book to see how the whole hangs together... but that's a matter for another lunchtime! For now, this shows some promise.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
AM1: Amazing Engine System Guide
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Digging Up Trouble
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2018 08:30:43

A neat little adventure that can be slotted in to your campaign when the party are going about their own business (if their own plans don't take them to the right place, an errand for them is provided), with the opening being an encounter with a dog beset by bandits. Hopefully, like the Good Dogs they are, the party will come to his rescue.

The background provides an explanation about who that dog is and how he came to be there, and tells of who is after him and why. The main NPCs are introduced in detail, and then we're off with the various encounters and scenes explained clearly and vividly, everything laid out so that a novice GM should have little difficulty in running the adventure. Likely player choices - including those that might derail the adventure - are anticipated and dealt with in a way that brings things back on track without it appearing forced. There are at least two good brawls, probably three plus the excitement of finding buried treasure... and a few suggestions for further adventures.

Oh, and there are pirates involved! You never go far wrong with pirates...

Overall it is a nice straightforward adventure for an inexperienced party to get their teeth into. Any Good Dog ought to enjoy it!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Digging Up Trouble
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The Secret of Vinsen's Tomb: A Pugmire Jumpstart
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2018 04:10:47

This 'quickstart' introduction to Pugmire comes in three parts: a rules and setting overview, an adventure, and a collection of pre-generated characters. It opens by explaining the core concept of the game. In a distant future, human beings have vanished and the place has been taken over by anthropomorphic dogs. They live in the ruins of the world human beings have left behind, now having evolved to walk upright on their hind legs, talk, and have developed opposable thumbs so that they can manipulate items and wield weapons. Despite wearing clothes they are still furry, though!

Many dogs deify the long-lost human beings and are driven by the desire to be adjudged a 'Good Dog' by their peers. They scavenge amongst the ruins for the legendary material 'plastic' and attempt to learn to use the things that human beings left behind - even if they consider them to be magic rather than understanding the underlying technology. These are the player-characters of this world.

The first section moves on to discuss the rules. These are based closely on Dungeons & Dragons 5e, with the standard abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma), with Skills and Tricks defining what each character is good at doing. Everything is explained in very basic terms, making this an excellent introductory game for children. Task resolution is by rolling a D20, adding apposite Skills and other bonuses and trying to exceed a target number. There's information about time in the game and about what happens when a fight breaks out, too; and the section ends with some notes on magic and spell use.

Next comes the adventure itself, The Secret of Vinsen's Tomb. This starts with a list of the primary NPCs, then there is a synopsis or overview of the entire adventure. Basically, the tomb in question is that of Vinsen Pug I, the very first king of Pugmire, and the plot concerns the retrieval (or looting if you prefer) of certain artefacts supposedly buried with him. It all starts with an assignment to find a cat who is an informant with criminal connections who has recently vanished. Where has she gone and what was she doing? Rumours hath it she was on the trail of ancient artefacts.

Once you have the information to get the party involved, the various scenes that can take place are laid out in detail. There are loads of helpful hints and tips for the first-time GM, too, so even if this is your first time it should flow smoothly. There's a clear plan of the tomb with atmospheric room descriptions coupled with notes on who is to be found there and what they are likely to do when the party wanders in. It all ends with a few ideas for further stories...

Finally, the pre-generated characters, complete with loads of background and even portraits to bring them to life. With a two-page character sheet, the entire package for each character runs to four pages. There are six of them in total, all nicely put together and - if you study the backgrounds - ready to work as a team.

Overall it makes a good introduction to the game, and should give you sufficient information and experience to be in a position to decide if Pugmire is for you and your group (or not). Presentation is to a high standard unless you use the PDF bookmarks, which start well in the first section but fail thereafter. The internal hyperlinks are a little hit and miss too. So, are you a Good Dog? Play this and find out!

Update: The bookmarking error has now been fixed (less than 24 hours after this review was posted) - Well done, Onyx Path!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Secret of Vinsen's Tomb: A Pugmire Jumpstart
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I Love the Corps: Mission Dossier
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2018 09:04:24

If you are bewildered by the array of potential offered by I Love the Corps RPG and are not sure quite where to start, this work contain three full adventures jam-packed with science-fiction military action horror to keep your group busy for quite a while! They are distinctly different, so you might like to try them all to taste the scope of the game or pick the one closest to the sort of game that you and your group prefer, perhaps using that to start off your own campaign. Given the differences between them, each comes with pre-generated characters suited to the demands of the adventure in question.

The adventures involve Peacekeepers contending with dark forces behind organised riots, Intelligence Operatives investigating a mysterious lone city on an unexplored planet and a crack Black Ops team with no idea where they are. Each one highlights different aspects of the game from high action gorefests to low action investigation, but all provide opportunities for combat and more peaceful interaction and present moral ambiquities, gruelling decisions and a fair bit of mind-bending horror. Each one is made up of three chapters starting with Personnel Files, where you'll find the pre-generated characters and information on the squad and how they fit into the adventure, along with notes on how to utilise your own characters if preferred. Next, Command Directives gives an overview of the plot and how it might play out, along with ideas for further adventures should this one appeal. Finally, Field Report provides information on specific locations complete with maps, details of suitable hosile forces to drop in, and suggestions for how to utilise game mechanics.

The first adventure, Psychosis, involves Peacekeepers dealing with a riot and starts off by explaining where Peacekeepers fit in to the Marine tabloe of organisation. After detailed character sheets for the pre-gens, including notes on how they view each other and slightly disconcerting mugshots that show (I think) male and female versions of the same character simultaneously (they're composite left- and right-side different images), supposedly to allow the player to choose the gender of the character - given that the ruleset makes no distinctions, you can play male or female as you please - we get on to the mission itself, which involves a planet called Emerald that has only recently joined the Colonial Dominion, not - it is rumoured - by the choice of the citizens living there. There's plenty of background (some of which is not known to anyone except the GM) as well as an exposition of events and likely outcomes. There's quite a lot to take in but everything you'll need is there.

Next, the second adventure is Vultures. This time the squad is Military Intelligence, and this is a very psychological adventure with each pre-gen character having secrets of their own as well as the ones they've been sent to uncover. They have just finished their Military Intelligence training and this is to be their first mission: investigating a mysterious city on what is supposed to be an uninhabited planet that's beeing assessed for its suitability for colonisation. The adventure itself actually opens with those final training exercises to help you bring over the feeling of a squad that has trained long and hard together before they go into the field for real. All is revealed in the background notes, and boy, are the party in for a surprise!

The final adventure is Until The Last Bullet Flies involving a black ops squad so secret that even they themselves don't know how much of what they think they know and remember is true! This can lead to some startling personal discoveries during the course of the adventure. Indeed the entire mission is about perceptions of reality and it makes for a truly mind-bending experience. This is one of the times I hate reviewing, I'd have loved to have played this adventure, but now I've read it!

Any of the adventures can be run as a one-off, but most have scope for further adventures (the second one might be a bit problematic) if you like the situation and the characters provided. They give a good idea of the wide range of plotlines and campaigns that you can run with I Love the Corps as well as providing three exciting missions to run with your group.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Love the Corps: Mission Dossier
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I Love the Corps: Classified Materials
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2018 11:10:18

This, the companion volume to the Marine Training Manual, provides a game master guide to complete the core rules for I Love the Corps. It provides guidance on putting your own spin on the setting (and deciding just why Earth was abandoned in 2200), advice on creating adventures and campaigns based on the squad your players have come up with, premade colonies and monsters/aliens, and rules for designing your own. Plenty to get your teeth into here.

The Introduction lays out the contents in more detail, beginning by talking about the effect the abandonment of Earth has had on the universe as a whole... a bit of a rant and definitely from the point of view of the Colonial Dominion and the more rabid members of the Colonial Marine Corps - you know the sort, maybe an eager young recruit who has swallowed everything he's been told uncritically and with no life experience to balance it, or the veteran pontificating over a beer in a veteran's club to an audience of like-minded souls. It then explains the purpose of the book and how it is made up of three sections covering various aspects of game mastering this game. And there's the obligatory 'Players Keep Out' notice, as if nobody ever both played AND GMed a game they enjoy!

First up is Section 1: Special Operations. This begins by pointing out that the first step in designing an adventure or a campaign is to determine a collective purpose for the party. If your players already have characters, what sort of things are they good at? Or you may decide that you want to run covert ops, deep beind enemy lines (or whatever) and so inform your players so that they can come up with suitable characters. It then runs through various suggestions for squad types and what sort of missions to send them on to get you thinking about the options. Ideas are far-ranging and even include non-Marine options - the residents of a space station, a gang of criminals or a group of mercenaries. Police/security or rebels are also options. As I read through, another one comes to mind: the media.

Whilst all these options suggest appropriate campaign themes, the discussion moves on to look at wider themes like conspiracy, corruption or attempts to answer questions such as Is humanity worth saving? Are aliens manipulating us? Are psychics a threat? Or perhaps this squad are soldiers not of the Colonial Dominion but of another national power. Propaganda. Experiements gone wrong. Pirates... or even a dark comedy. High action or gritty reality. Out-and-out horror survival. There are so many choices, so choose wisely. This moves on to discuss creating the right atmosphere by the way in which both Action Scenes and Narrative Scenes are played out. Maybe you want to induce paranoia or force the squad to make difficult decisions.

Then we get down to the rules and how to use them to best effect in creating the story you'd like to tell with your group. This also covers deciding how lethal (to player-characters) you want your adventures to be, delivering mission briefings, even running the squad through at least part of Boot Camp before the adventures proper begin! Within a campaign, will the squad travel the galaxy, or are they stuck on an unpromising lump of rock and have to defend it or merely survive?

Next, Section 2: Intelligence Report explores how the game is designed so that each GM can fine-tune the setting to suit the stories they want to tell. For a start, why did Humanity abandon Earth? That's up to you, but if you find that a scary proposition there is advice and guidance to help you decide on what happened in your universe. Even once that is decided, there is plenty more to figure out... like how much the average Colonial Dominion citizen knows about it. Dark secret, something uncomfortable that people just don't talk about, or just another historical fact? If they were driven off by an alien invasion, what happened to the aliens? Do they still pose a threat? As you can imagine thinking about these considerations raises a lot of questions which you are going to have to answer, preferably before your group starts asking them. Fortunately there are lots of ideas to pick through. Meteorites. Infections or mutations. Environmental destruction. A massive solar flare. If you choose one of the proffered options there are notes on how that will affect the rest of the setting.

The discussion moves on to how to describe the different environments in which the squad is likely to have to operate. Everything from orbital habitats to jungle villages are given a few paragraphs on which you can build. The next topic is the creation of entire colonies from scratch. There's a wealth of detail here to help you come up with varied, interesting and vivid colonies for your Marines to visit. This is basically world-building, you'll need to decide everything from what the planet is like to the people who live there and what they do and what the indigenous wildlife is like. Sample colonies and story ideas are provided to get you started. Finally, there's a lot about equipment, especially vehicles for air, sea, land, and space travel.

The final part, Section 3: Threat Assessment is all about creating opposition for your Marines (and allies as well, of course - not everyone they meet wants to kill them!). There's a huge amount here of how to set them up according to your needs - human combatants to monsters and aliens that will freak out the most grounded and balanced Marine. It's all constructed around the core ruleset, so a vast number of Aspects are provided to make truly horrific adversaries that work according to the same game mechanics as the Marines facing them. The names may be a bit silly at times, but the flavour is there to build opposition that's scary, unstoppable or whatever you want to make them be. Psychic abilities are included, of course, and there are notes on novel forms of armour and weapons - and other tech - that you can use to make aliens really... alien.

Overall, this book enables you to take the core rules and shake and bake them into a kick-ass game of military adventure in a science-fiction universe, with layers of horror that may be applied as you see fit. The amount of customisation that you can do to make your game really your own is awesome!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Love the Corps: Classified Materials
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I Love the Corps: Marine Training Manual
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 13:53:43

If you want to play a game that combines science fiction, military action and horror (but doesn't take itself TOO seriously, without being annoyingly comedic) this could be what you are looking for. This book is the player's handbook, so both GM and players need to be conversant with its content.

The Introduction begins with an overview of the current situation. It is now 2450 and Earth has been uninhabitable since 2200. Former colonies near and far flourish, some have joined the Colonial Dominion. These have contributed to the formation of the United Colonial Marine Corps, the military arm of the Colonial Dominion. Extraterrestial lifeforms are known to exist but only one alien sentient race is officially recognised as an ally. A brief explanation of what a role-playing game actually is follows.

The rest of the book is made up of three sections. The first, Mission Briefing, elaborates on the background and setting of the game. Next is Boot Camp, which runs through the character creation process and basic rules, and finally Rules of Engagement goes into much more detail about how to play including loads of hints and suggestions about how to play well, using your abilites to best effect.

Mission Briefing opens with the underlying concepts of the setting, on the grounds that to role-play a Colonial Marine well you need to sound like you are familiar with the universe in which your character lives. Different colonies take pride in different things, and many cling to vestiges of Earth culture even though their homeworld is long gone (the reason why being left to the GM, by the way). Some colonies refuse to join the Colonial Dominion, but they are regarded with suspicion at best if not classed outright as rebel scum. The Colonial Dominion is not a centralised government, but a federation of independents. We also hear about communications, space travel and various kinds of human modifications... and 'dupes' (mechanical humaniod duplicates, or androids). There are mecha pilots, psychics and sensitives, too.

Next this section covers everyday tech, the stuff most people know how to use even if they don't know how it works. Holoboards and holoterminals replace computers and telephones, artificial intelligences and artificial gravity, all these and many, many more. Space travel is also covered here, along with stasis pods and other devices.

Moving on, Boot Camp opens with an overview of the rules, so that you can make informed choices when creating your character. It begins while explaining that characters are defined by their Abilities, and that the game itself is made up of Action Scenes and Narrative Scenes. Each scene is made up of Beats - three for a Narrative Scene and as many as the GM sees fit for an Action Scene. In each Beat, a character may do two ability-related things. It sounds a bit mechanical, but it actually flows a lot better than it sounds on paper once the group gets used to it. There are two ways of using Abilities, Active and Passive. Active uses are resolved by rolling 1d6 and adding the relevant Ability statistic, Passive ones by adding +3 during a Narrative Scene or +1 during an Action one, and may only be attempted using an Ability that you've actually put points into. Either way, your total is matched against a Target Number (which can be an opponent's total if it's an opposed action - fighting, or untying a knot someone else tied, whatever) and if you exceed it you gain Success Levels, the more of these the better you do at whatever you were attempting. Of course, there are a whole bunch of modifiers and conditions that may be applied, but that's the core of the system.

Then we get down to the business of creating a character. There are eight Abilities and each covers a broad array of thematically-linked actions. The actions include just about everything you'd expect a soldier to be able to do, although the Ability names themselves are a bit silly - 'Drop and Give Me Fifty' is the Ability covering physical endurance and athleticism, for example. There are also Aspects, which can have various modifying effects, and help you hone a character to the particular image you have in mind. To decide your Ability stats and any Aspects you decide to have, you get twenty points to spend. Abilities range from 0 to 4. There's a huge amount of further detail to explain just what everything is and how it works in game, as well as an armoury-full of gear. Some is part of your standard load-out, other stuff you might need to pay for. There is an array of sample characters to either pick up and play or to use as templates for creating your own. Each is 'named' for the defining nature of that character, you will need to come up with your own name and background if you want to use them. There's more: ranks, physical and mental trauma - and if you like reading tables of horrible outcomes you are in for a treat - and more.

The final section, Rules of Engagement, gets into a lot more detail about how the game actually works in play, starting with social situations and how you can use apposite Abilities to navigate your way through them. Plenty of examples here and throughout, so by the time you've finished you should be conversant with all the things your character can do and how to use them to best effect during play. Want to search a location, or defuse that bomb you just found? This is where you find out how. There are plenty of ideas for combat here too, and you can even pick up some tactics ready for the battlefield. The aim of the game (apart perhaps for survival, but do you really want to live for ever, Marine?) is to achieve glory in some manner. When you do that you earn Glory Points, which are used to develop your character's abilities later on. That doesn't necessarily mean being super-courageous, although that certainly counts (and might earn you a medal as well), it can also be for advancing the plotline, coming up with good ideas or even making the GM laugh!

This book provides an extremely comprehensive introduction to the game and how to play it, essential for anyone wanting to play I Love The Corps... go on, you know you want to have a go at being a Marine!

"Watch those corners..."



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Love the Corps: Marine Training Manual
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I Love the Corps Quickstart
Publisher: Psychic Cactus Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 07:44:34

The Introduction begins by letting you know what you are getting into (if it is a bit of a shock to be called a 'maggot' in the opening sentence, be glad you haven't really enlisted!). In this work, there's enough of an overview of the setting and rules to let you play through the scenario provided, and six pregenerated characters with which to do so. It's a good way to find out if you like this particular science-fiction action/horror game before parting with any money.

The setting is familiar to anyone who's watched the Alien movies, especially the second one (Aliens). Characters are members of the Colonial Marine Corps in the year 2450, in a future that saw Earth abandoned in 2200 (for reasons that are left to the GM to determine, but you don't need to worry about that now. Some of the former colonies have banded together to form the Colonial Dominion, of which the Colonial Marines are the military arm. The rest are rebel scum, of course! Only one lot of sentient aliens has been encountered so far, or at least that's what official reports say.

Then Chapter 1: Rules and Setting begins with a collection of terms and concepts, a ready-reference for Corps jargon and current technology, followed by 'Basic Rules and Regs' which summarises enough of the rules to let you play the game. It's all based around Abilities, of which there are eight. They've been given rather silly names but boil down to describing how smart, strong, tough, good with weapons and so on each character is. There are also Aspects, which put an individual spin on things for each character. He also needs a Gear Loadout, the equipment and weapons that enable him to survive.

There are two sorts of scenes: action scenes and narrative scenes. Narrative scenes are descriptive, often covering large periods of time, and there is little or no need for recourse to the game mechanics. Action scenes occur when danger is about, and can get fast and furious... and then it's time to get the dice out. Outcomes are determined by rolling a d6 and adding the appropriate Ability, with - of course - a range of modifiers as appropriate, and comparing what you get with a Target Number - which, if you are fighting, will be what your opponent rolled. Of course there's more: range, weapon effects and such like need to be taken into account. There are some summary charts and tables that come in handy when you actually start to play.

Next, Chapter 2: Personnel Files presents six ready-to-play Marines. As well as their statistics (which have notes about what they mean right there beside them, very useful), there are similarly-annotated gear lists and some background to help you get a feel for the character. Although they have been named, only a first initial has been given so you may choose whether the one you play is a bloke or a bird. Interestingly, all have led troubled lives and messed up somewhere along the line, and have now been drafted into a penal legion... beats gaol time, I suppose!

Finally, the adventure 'Trial by Fire' builds on the fact that all the characters have a criminal record. After basic training, the squad was shipped out in coldsleep for 'advanced training' - an automated facility where they, and others, will be tested. In essence it's a puzzle dungeon designed to test teamwork and reliability - something the Corps wants to know about this squad before sending them into REAL combat. The map is for the GM alone, 'cos it shows all the traps. And the nasty things that might be unleashed...

The system suits fast and furious action, and the GM is supplied with tracking sheets to keep on top of everything. The adventure itself is an artificial situation, but it's intended to be one... and the GM has considerable leeway as to how to use the resources provided against the squad. Keep things moving, this scenario isn't much of a one for character development and interaction: play it for what it is and have a blast!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
I Love the Corps Quickstart
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