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Revelations of Mars
Publisher: Exile Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2015 09:42:56
Revelations of Mars is a nice thick tome. Or it will be when my hardcover comes in next week. The PDF is a healthy 224 pages. Color covers and inserts, but mostly black and white interior. Like it's older brother, Hollow Earth Expedition, this works well for the style and feel of the book. What is that style? Overtly it is Pulp Action, like HEX, but there is a good helping of "Sword and Planet" and "Planetary Romance" action here as well as, and this is fun, 50s sci-fi mentality. In fact while reading this I kept thinking more and more of the staples of 50s UFO invasion movies. I am not sure if that was the author's intent, but it is what I got. I had ideas for this game, but now I am thinking "Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Journey to the Seventh Planet" (ok that was early 60s). The Mars of RoM is closer to the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs than say War of the Worlds.
This book is also a sourcebook for Hollow Earth, so you will need the Core HEX book to play.

Chapter 1 covers Characters which gives more material for Mars based and Mars travelling characters. We get the expected run of Martian nobles, nomads and even robots. There are plenty of new Talents and Flaws. Everything from four arms, dual brains, Vrii-based talents and more Atlantean-based ones. Looks like we are in for a treat here! There are also Robot and Alien creation templates.
The Sample Characters/Archetypes are in beautiful full color and done really, really well.

Chapter 2 Supernatural Powers is another chapter I was eager to devour. This covers psychic powers. Everything from psychic healing, precognitive powers and pyrokinesis. Mix in with the Hollow Earth books and you have quite a bit of psychic powers to cover most situations.

Chapter 3 details more Equipment and weapons. For you fantasy role-players out there here is your list of swords, maces, flails and spears. Everything required by a Sword and Planet story. Not to worry, there are still "blasters" and "ray guns" to be had as well. Naturally. There is even Martian Red Steel that can be used in some weapons.

Chapter 4 Vehicle Combat covers all the new craft one can find on Mars. My favorite are the sky ships. Not a huge fan of pirates, but these are cool.

Chapter 5 is all about Martian Natives. Several races are covered. There is the expected four-armed "green" Martians (the Dheva) but there are plenty of others. There are insect-men (well, beetlemen), Grey Martians which do remind me of "Greys", Apemen, Purple Martians (that new!), dinosaur men, the Vrii, which are like giant crystal formations and finally the Red Martians. In a interesting choice the Red Martians are related to Atlanteans. There is a lot here and I am not doing it justice by any means.

Chapter 6 follows with The Red Planet, background on Mars. Mars is very much a dying world. That is the same story we get in the Barsoom books and even in DC comics, so that much is familiar. There is also a feel of Vance's "Dying Earth" here too. First we cover how to get to Mars. There are your standard weird science rockets, but also projection from the Astral Projector, Atlantean Portals (which I rather like to be honest) and the good old fashioned abduction. The bulk of the chapter details various locations on Mars and the inhabitants. Very nicely detailed.

Chapter 7 Atlanteans details these ex-pats on Mars. Not only their involvement on Mars, but also their involvement in the greater Solar System. Even if you don't want to play on Mars but want more information on the Atlanteans for your Hollow Earth Game then this is a great, must read chapter. Several Atlantean "Gods" are also detailed and how their affairs affect Mars.

Chapter 8 Friends and Enemies covers the various peoples of Mars and what Earthlings can expect. Several unique characters are also discussed.

Chapter 9 Bestiary is exactly that, the beasts and monsters of Mars. We have a number of "Earth-like" creatures, some different sorts of Dinosaurs and lots of insects. There are some near-humanoid creatures as well. There are even "sand worms". There is some more modern influences here as well. The bestiary is more "Avatar" than it is "This Island Earth". There is nothing wrong with that, though with the lack of water and plants I don't see many of these creatures, save the bugs and scavengers, living long at all.

Next is a Sample Adventure, Revelations of Mars. I won't say much (spoilers!) but it is for human characters coming to Mars. That makes good sense really.

The appendix covers some inspirational books of the Planetary Romance sort. The usual suspects are here; Herbert, Vance, Howard, Burroughs, Zelazny and Wells. But there are others worth looking to. Comics, movies and TV shows are also mentioned. As with the other games in this line books are given the most attention.

There is a good index and list of Kickstarter backers.
A few full color "ads" and a full color map of Mars.

Honestly there is so much in this book that you could easily make a completely Mars-based campaign. Just traveling from city to city would be adventure enough. Thankfully the book covers more than just that. Exile really has something nice here and I hope to see more in this line. Could a Venus book be in the future? Hope so.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Revelations of Mars
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Space: 1889
Publisher: Heliograph, Inc.
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/14/2015 11:47:21
Space: 1889 was originally released in 1988 by Game Designer's Workshop. I am reviewing my old GDW hardcover from the time and the new PDF by Heliograph, Inc.. The are identical in most respects, save for copyright information.
The book is 225 pages with covers, ads and maps. The maps are also really nice featuring the three faces of Mars and of Venus.

The book lacks proper chapter numbers, but instead goes with titles.
The Introduction covers the basics of what Space: 1889 is all about. This includes a brief history of the last few years and some of the events of the modern day of 1889.
Characters covers basic character creation. Today a point-buy system is the defacto means of character generation for most games, but in 1988 it was a new-ish idea. Characters have six attributes, Physical attributes of Strength (Str), Agility (Agl), and Endurance (End). Psychological attributes are Intellect (Int), Charisma (Chr), and Social Level (Soc). Like Ubiquity and Unisystem these are ranked 1 to 6. Characters are given a total of 21 points to distribute among these attributes.
Characters also have 24 skills they can train in either via Careers or training aka purchasing extra skills. Also detailed is Wealth, which is a function of Social level and what career you may or may not have.
A few guideline careers are offered with suggestions on what attributes they should have.

Up next is the Victorian Age. While I didn't get to play this game much back in the day, I devoured this chapter. It is the Victorian age, but not exactly like the one we know from history. Afterall the British were not fighting on Mars back then.
The chapter is largely Anglocentric, which is to be expected really. There is not a lot here we have not seen before...except that this is one of the first Victorian Sci-Fantasy games on the market. Even Masque of the Red Death would be another year off and Cthulhu by Gaslight was still not everywhere yet.
Note: Those three games, Masque, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and Space: 1889 made up a sort of holy trinity for me back in the late 80s and early 90s. So much I wanted to do with them all as one campaign. College though got in the way...

The Referee section covers basic rules, NPCs, adventures and experience. The system is largely a Attribute/Skill Dice pool vs a Target Number. Not too difficult really, and in fact still playable by today's standards.

Equipment is predictably a large chapter. More so than the Characters and Referee chapters combined. But it also has nice illustrations of various equipment including weapons. Heck it is worth looking just for the picture of the rail gun! This is also one of the chapters that has utility for other games. I have not compared the prices or other stats of the weapons with other versions of the game, but they seem consistent. Indeed, the prices and stats (range, rate of fire) are useful for plenty of other games too. I have not run down the lists in all the games, but it looks like there are more weapons in this version. The PDF and the hardcover includes the original color inserts. I love the designs of the Martian ships. Wery cool.

The follows right into the Science chapter. This one is of course just fun. Flying through the ether and other weird science. This covers building your own equipment and inventions.

Combat covers... well combat. All sorts of conditions are covered, ground, aerial, missile, melee, and heavy weapons. There are even sections on explosives and animal combat. Color inserts here too.

The next two chapters cover Travel. The first is Travel and Exploration and Space Travel. Personally the meat of these two chapters is the Space Travel. Several points of interest in the Solar System are discussed, mostly the inner planets and the asteroid belt.

The next chapters cover the various locations in the Solar System. Luna, Mars and Venus. Each deals with the unique flora and fauna of the planets. The most detail goes to Mars of course.

We end with some useful charts.

The art throughout the book is a mixed lot. Very much a part of the times of the late 1980s. Though I noticed some good Jim Holloway and Jeff Dee illustrations. Judging it by today's standards though isn't really fair.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Space: 1889
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Space: 1889 Core Rulebook
Publisher: Clockwork Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2015 07:32:16
Space: 1889 was always one of those games that I wanted to play, but never found the time or the group to play it. I remember picking up a copy back when I was in college and was...well odd to say the least, but still I loved the idea. It was very much Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells meets Nikolai Tesla meets Weird Science. The book sat on my shelf for years though unplayed.

Fast forward to Summer 2013 and there is a new Space: 1899 in the works, this time as a Ubiquity game. At the same time the makers of HEX are giving us a Ubiquity-based Mars game. Seemed like a good time really to jump onto the Ether-ship to Mars.

Space: 1889
This review covers both the PDF and the hardcover book. The book is 260 full-color pages, with some black & white art. It is a gorgeous book really and one that really captures the feel of the original GDW game. For the first time a Ubiquity book (this time published by Clockwork Publishing) breaks with tradition and gives us some of the background and setting first.

The first few pages, Prefaces, The World of Space: 1889 and Storytelling in Victorian Space, cover a bit of background and set the stage for what it to come.

Now. Let's be fair. While this is a science-fiction or science-fantasy game, a lot of real science is ignored to make it work. Just go with it. Think about this from the point of view of the Victorians. Many who thought electricity still had "divine" attributes.

Earth (there are no proper chapter numbers) covers Earth. In particular it covers the space exploration of the time and the Alt-Victorian timeline. If you are using League of Adventure with this, then you will need to figure out which alternate timeline you want to use. Or just make up your own. It also covers a little bit on adventuring on Earth. But with all this I am sure you are not going to stick around. Stats for various creatures are presented throughout.

Mars is next. This is not Barsoom but the Mars of Space: 1889. It has influences from various Sci-Fi stories, but this is all new to many. This chapter covers Martians, the lands, flora and fauna. I have toyed around with the idea of scraping this Mars in favor of a John Carter version of Mars, but that would really be wasting a lot of good material here.

Venus is our next chapter. This Venus is the lush, tropical jungle filled with dinosaurs. Not the planetary hellscape we know it is today. This I am inclined to keep as is. I read a lot of sci-fi from the 60s and 70s that still described Venus like this, complete with dinosaurs and too me that is just too much fun. Something like Jurassic Park meets King Kong only on a planetary scale. The day of Venus is modified to fit more Victorian understanding of science and is not the 117 day long days we know it to be now.

Mercury is not very long, but still a fun read.

The Ether might be the funnest, and most important, chapter in the book really. This deals not only with the mechanism of space travel, but also the medium. Here we really get into the Jules Verne-ieness of it all. This is fun chapter for me because I can see uses of this in other games. For it's also about having my cake and eating it too. I love RPGs, but my first love was and still is hard science. I think that is one of the reasons I have trouble finding a good Sci-Fi game but can play any fantasy game. The Ether is a way for me to hand wave all the scientific inaccuracies and just focus on the fun.

Next we get into the "rules" section of the book.

Characters covers character generation. This is pretty much the same as other Ubiquity games and that is a nice plus. I know my League of Adventure characters can now travel to the Moon or Mars.
Now the nice part of this chapter, and something that can be used in other Ubiquity games, is the "Variation on Starting Points". Your core-book standard is known as a "Promising Character" now. But you could also start as an "Unlucky Fellow" with almost half the starting points or as a "Veteran" with a few more points. This is something that the Unisystem game system does in all their games and it works out brilliantly. I expect it would work just as well here.
The Archetypes section includes a nice variety including a couple of Martians. There is no special Talent to buy to be a Martian. Nice change of pace really.

Rules covers rules. Combat, Damage, and Healing cover that as well. Again this is a Ubiquity game so these rules are not very different than other Ubiquity games I have read and played.

The main differences in these chapters is the focus on space travel and the planets characters can travel to.
The Equipment chapter should be noted for the shear number of new items this adds to the Ubiquity body of work.

One of the funnest chapters is the Inspiration one. This is no mere list of Victorian era sci-fi. Books of fiction and non-fiction alike are listed, with an accompanying paragraph on why they are inspiring. Even a handful of comics are discussed. TV shows and movies are just listed. This is afterall, a literary time.

The Glossary is rich and very useful. The Index covers topics and rules.
We end with one of the best looking Ubiquity character sheets I have seen.

In the hardcover the maps of Mars and Venus are on the liner pages. In the PDF they are seperate wide pages. In both cases the maps are gorgeous. They would look fantastic as framed art prints.

This game is a guilty pleasure and I wish I could play it more often.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Space: 1889 Core Rulebook
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Leagues of Adventure - Core Rules
Publisher: Triple Ace Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2015 13:48:10
Leagues of Adventure is a Victorian Steampunk/Weird Science game from Triple Ace Games. Though calling is "Steampunk/Weird Science" is selling it really short. I actually have a lot to say about this game because I really, really like it.

Note: I am reviewing the hardcover and PDF versions of this game. The hardcover is nice with a nice sturdy binding, full color cover with b&w pages and color inserts. The PDF is the same and weighs in at 262 pages.

Leagues of Adventure (LoA hereafter) is the first Ubiquity game I ever purchased. I think what drew me to it was that it was very much a "Steampunk/Weird Science" game which was something new for me. All my Victorian games tend to be Victorian/Magic/Gothic Horror games. Ghosts of Albion, Cthulhu by Gaslight and even Victoriana are ones that spring to mind the quickest. So this is a period I am intimately familiar with; one I really love and enjoy.

Maybe it is my read on it, or by design, but this game is more pulpy, two-fisted action than other Victorian games. Sure it is not pulp to the level that Hollow Earth Expedition is, but the shared DNA is obvious. Even a couple of the archetypes felt similar. So if your idea of Victorian era fun is dark, smog soaked streets at night hunting a lone killer...well this game can do that, but it is also better suited to hunting down a rampaging elephant in the heart of the city let loose by a society with aim opposed to yours. Or hunting down a secret cult planning on releasing a virus in the city.

Certainly one of the many inspirations for LoA is another League, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Indeed, the cover even invokes the movie a bit. Hey. I know the movie sucked compared to the comic, but it was still big stupid fun and I enjoyed it.




If you are familiar with the Hollow Earth books then this is one is set up along a similar idea. Though the chapter titles wonderfully worded and sound "Victorian". A huge plus in my book.

The Introduction is the typical what is this game, what is roleplaying, what is that house, where does that highway lead to? Sorry. That was the Talking Heads. Not really needed by anyone reading my words here, but still nice to have.

Chapter the First: What Has Been & What is to Come, covers a history of events from 1890 to 1899. Dates are listed, wars are discussed and various rulers of nations are listed. Good background information for any Victorian game. The best bit might be the "Who's Who" it includes a mix of real and fictional people of the Victorian age. If you play any Victorian game or have a passing interest in this period then this list has a lot of familiar names. Still, great to have. My ONLY complaint about this chapter is that it would have been better served as an appendix. It is just a collection of lists with no narrative or context.

Chapter the Second: Concerning the Nature of Character & Inherent Qualities. I want to pause to really soak that title in. I am a Victoriana geek. I love that, sounds like a scientific paper that would dabble into meta-physics. But all that aside this is the chapter on character creation. Moreso than HEX this game is focused on Nationality because, well surprise, the Victorians were.
Since LoA is a complete and contained game, the full character creation rules are present here. This is good since the archetypes and motivations are slightly different. Primary and Secondary Attributes are the same with the same point spread. Skills are given the same point spread as HEX but the skills themselves are slightly altered. Talents are also present with more of a Victorian flair. The focus here is very much the "everyman" adventurer. Sure having money or connections help, but these are slef-made men and women. So no supernatural talents just yet. Under Resources we get to real meat of this game.
Characters are expected to be part of a League. It is a great way to get dissperate and often unimaginable types to real Victorians of people together to adventure. Each League can even have a wealthy Patron to provide the gear and expenses. There are a number of clubs and leagues presented. All with different hooks, skills and motivations. It really is a cool way to get beyond the "you meet in a pub/bar/inn". My faves are the Fenian Society, The Hollow Earth Society and the Temporal Society. There are lots more, but making a new one is a breeze. Hellfire Club anyone? Actually this looks like a good way to introduce one I have played around with in the past, The Order of Lincoln's Ghost.
What follows are the color insert pages of the stated archetypes. We got another Big Game Hunter here too, but it is interesting to see the differences between the LoA and HEX versions.
One minor nitpick...There is a pioneering Aviatrix. Yeah I know in a Victorian game a woman would never be around a plane, well that doesn't concern me (watch the Hayao Miyazaki movie "Porco Rosso" and then we can all stat up spunky girl airplane pilots). No my issue that the first plane flew two years after Victoria was dead. Ok, Ok this game also has a "Temporal Scientist" in it. So my nitpick will fall on deaf ears. I fix this by just setting my game in 1901.

Chapter the Third: The Mechanisms of the Known & the Unknown. AKA Game Rules. Here are introduced (or reintroduced) to the Ubiquity game system and dice. I appreciate simple mechanics in my games and Ubiquity really is about as simple as you can get it. Check your dice pool, roll the number of dice and add up the successes. This works great with the pulpy-style of HEX. In LoA you get a more action-adventure orientated Victorian game.

Chapter the Fourth: Fisticuffs, Firearms & Falling With Grace. or Combat. Again. Love these chapter titles. This is our combat chapter. Truthfully if you have read and understand Chapter 3, then this is the logical extension of that. There are other issues, but really it reads smooth and easy to follow.

Chapter the Fifth: Trappings, Necessities, Weapons & Conveyances. Equipment. Like it's older cousin this chapter has huge list of equipment. I am pleased to see that the prices are given in British Pounds, schillings and pence (as any proper Victorian age game should) but also there is a listing for cab fare. Read Sherlock Holmes sometime; the many kept several cabbies in business all by himself.

Chapter the Sixth: Of Physics & Metaphysics. Ah. The chapter on steam punk weird science. We start with what is the most important for this game; Inventions. The Victorian time is often seen as a time of wild inventors, well you can do that with this game. The invention creation rules are really fun and simple. We follow with gadgets (smaller items), weapons, vehicles and moving on to the "living creations" aka your Frankenstein's Monster. There are plenty of sample inventions to give you ideas or at least an end goal. I say as a GM don't make an Ornithopter available to characters just because you have the stats for it. Make them invent it.

Chapter the Seventh: A Guide to Navigating the World of Adventure. or the setting. We start by talking about the style of the game. Will it be gritty, adventurous, pulpy or cinematic. There are tips on how to do all of these. Personally for this game I prefer the pulpy action. This chapter also covers adventure ideas, goals and hooks. All of this against the backdrop of a world during the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th. The "modern" world is coming.
This also includes guideline on creating a "Villainous" league. Every Justice League needs a Legion of Doom. A few detailed examples are given.

Chapter the Eighth: Of Travel & the Unseen Marvels of the World. The is the world overview for LoA. It is a pretty healthy chapter too. Lots of places are covered from around the world, both known and mysterious. As well as factual and fanciful. I found this to be fascinating reading to be honest and really it makes this book worth the price to any GM running any sort of Victorian game. It may or may not be compatible with what other game you are using but the ideas are a gold mine.

Chapter the Ninth: Stalwart Friends & Fiendish Adversaries. The chapter of Mooks, NPCs and some creatures. We get some generic mooks, "Thug", "Cultist" and so on as well as some named NPCs. Notable, Col. Sebastian Moran and James Moriarty of the Holmesian Canon. Lo Peng, Dr. Moreau, and The Mad Monk. For monsters we get a nice collection; Intelligent Apes, Gill men, and some dinosaurs. We round it off with some normal animals.

There is a list of Recommended Reference Materials. A Character sheet and a good index.

What can I really say about this book. I am inordinately fond of it. There is no magic worth a damn in it (normally a deal breaker) but I still enjoy the hell out of it. There is a feeling in this game I can only describe as the "Thrill of adventuring". In Ghosts of Albion people adventure because there has been some terrible murder or other crime committed by magic. In Cthulhu by Gaslight it is because of some terrible, unknown horror lurking in the shadows. In Leagues of Adventure the conversation is more like this:

Scientist: I do believe there are dinosaurs in the Amazon.
Big Game Hunter: What's that you say? Geeves, pack my trunks and guns we are going to South America!
Aviatrix: No too much, I am still working the issues out of my airship. Better just take the guns.
Big Game Hunter: I like the cut of your gib girl! Geeves, just the guns then!
Scientist: There is a chance that the Explorers Club might beat us to it. Though their scientist was at University with me, he can barely read ancient Cuneiform let alone a map.

This is a game about big adventure. Frankly I get excited every time I open the pages.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Leagues of Adventure - Core Rules
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Perils of the Surface World
Publisher: Exile Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2015 12:03:02
This is a collection of adventures that takes the characters around the world. Adventures are harder to review than games in general since the real proof in both is the playing. Adventures only more so. This book contains four separate, but loosely connected adventures.
Each one also contains some added crunch or rules to the game. We get Faith and Miracles, Horror, Infection and Sanity, New Sorcery Rituals, Artifacts and Vehicles and lastly (what might be the most fun) some Martial Arts powers.
No spoilers, but if you need some ready to go adventures then this is the book you want.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Perils of the Surface World
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Mysteries of the Hollow Earth
Publisher: Exile Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2015 11:41:04
Like Secrets of the Surface World is for well, the surface world, this book is all about the Hollow Earth. Create native characters from all over (under) the Earth.
Chapter 1 again deals with Characters. At this point you know how this all set up. New Archetypes include Barbarians, Beastmen, Guardians, Healers, Mystics, Natives, Outcast and Warriors. One thing should be pretty obvious now, not only can you use this for a Pellucidar-like game, but it sets up a Barsoom game nicely or even a Conan/Hyborean Age game. A Pulp game in a Pulp setting, how nice is that! There are some new motivations, and plenty of new talents. There are also some new flaws. This book feels more like a true supplement rather than a book of "left-overs"; some thought and research went into this. I was reading through it all and mentally substituting things I had read from Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard. That's a good sign. Plus you can mix and match talents to create Panthermen, Hawkmen, Reptile-people (always a plus in my book) and dozens of others.
The pre-gen Archetypes are great. The Amazon Warrior makes me want to play a Xena like game now.
Chapter 2 takes us back to Supernatural Powers. We start with more details on sorcery including more modifiers. We also are given Shamanism and Alchemy which is really cool. This chapter plus it's twin in Secrets of the Surface World gives me no end of ideas.
Chapter 3 covers Natives. This is a great and fun chapter to be honest. If anyone asks me why run a game in the Hollow Earth I am directing them to this. It is an odd mix of Pulp, post-Victorian occultism and fringe science. I love it. I have seen other games take the same elements, but the assembly here is fantastic. Is it the only way to do this? No, the same elements appear in many other games (Amazons, Atlanteans, lost titans...) but here it works rather nice.
Chapter 4 Beastmen covers the others living in the Hollow Earth. Natives are largely human, beast men are something else. The usual suspects are here; Apemen, Gillmen, Lizardmen, Molemen (natch), and Panthermen (or at least a cat-like humanoid race) but there are some great newcomers like the not often seen Hawkmen (should be more Egyptian in my tastes but hey, happy to see them) and some insectmen and the new for this genre Green Men which are more plant like.
Chapter 5 covers the Hollow Earth. It includes some basics (healing, getting out) but mostly devoted to various locations. Atlantis for example is here, as is El Dorado (the City of Gold), Shangri-La, and Blood-Bay where the Pirates hang out. That is enough to keep you going for a while really.
Chapter 6 adds a more monsters to the Bestiary. There are more dinosaurs here (always welcomed!). There are prehistoric reptiles that are not dinosaurs, such as the Archelon and the Plesiosaurus among others. The science geek in me appreciates the separation. We also get a great collection of prehistoric mammals. Giant insects, giant apes, and other creatures fill this section. There is even a guide for creating your own creatures. Which is good, because the one monster I wanted wasn't there. The book has plenty of pictures of Dimetrodon, but no stats. I might have to make my own now.
We end with a sample adventure, Fate of Atlantis and an Index.
There is so much here that any half-decent GM could find hours and hours worth of game materials for their own Hollow Earth games.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mysteries of the Hollow Earth
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Secrets of the Surface World
Publisher: Exile Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 16:30:49
I won't lie. I really, really like this book. I am reviewing the PDF at 167 pages.
Secrets of the Surface World is the guide for all characters really. There is a lot going on *on* the Earth without ever having to go *in* to it.
Chapter 1 covers Characters. Here we have a host of new archetypes, motivations and skills for your characters. The big add here is the inclusion of Martial Arts and Brawling skills. So now you can make your own "Kwai Chang Caine" character. Though for me the jewels are in the Talents. Here we have Magical Aptitude and Psychic Ability. Personally I think these should have been in the core book, BUT I do see why they are here. HEX is really more about science, or more often SCIENCE!, and magical powers don't really help that. But I am sorry I just love to see magic in my games. Don't worry, fans of Weird Science have plenty to look at here as well. There are more Resources as well. Flaws are also covered, but so are Severe Flaws. These are obviously worth much more. We are also given Mental Flaws. Plenty of Role-playing fun with these.
Chapter 2: Supernatural Powers is why I got this book to begin with! Yeah, I like a certain kind of game and this chapter turns HEX into that kind of game for me. The Supernatural powers are divided up into Psychic Abilities and Magic. The system is pretty straight forward to be honest. Psychic abilities are divided into various talents, each one must be purchased separately. Magic is a single talent, though there are different Traditions, and a skill. Spells and Rituals must be uncovered or found. Not a lot of magical traditions and spells are given, but there is enough for me to take it and run with it.
Chapter 3 Secret Societies continues where the HEX core left off. Everything from the Thule Society to the Mafia are covered here. Like the core some NPCs are also presented here. My favorites are Aleister Crowley and Edgar Cayce. It is a great contrast to see the two different supernatural styles together.
Chapter 4 The Surface World covers more parts of the world not touched on in the core book.
Chapter 5 T. F. Arkington's Lifestyle Emporium covers more gear. A lot more gear.
Chapter 6 Weird Science. I said there was going to be more for the fan of Weird Science and I meant it. Want to send giant Nazi mechs against your characters? Ok. We can do that now. Really.
Chapter 7 Vehicle Combat continues the material from the Core book. Though more detail is given. In truth you might not ever need this chapter since the core covers it so well, but it is nice to know it is here.
Finally we end with a sample adventure Prisoner of the Reich.
All in all a satisfying book. I can't help but think that some of this should have gone into the core book, but the magic stuff is so different than the rest thematically I see why it wasn't. I got this for the magic, so I am pleased with that.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets of the Surface World
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Hollow Earth Expedition RPG
Publisher: Exile Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 12:26:27
The Hollow Earth has always been one of those fringe theories that always sounded like a lot of fun in a game. I loved the Jules Verne tale "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and the movie based on it. My exposure to the idea for a game came originally from the old Mystara campaign set, The Hollow World. Later I discovered the "Shaver Mystery" and the Pellucidar series.
While I know there is no basis whatsoever in scientific fact for a Hollow Earth, it is a lot of fun. I have even contributed to a Hollow Earth book myself.
So it was with much excitement that I picked up Hollow Earth Expedition.
Full Disclosure: I did write a Hollow Earth book for a different publisher. I avoided looking at or reading this book till long after my own ms was sent in.
Full Disclosure 2: I am reviewing both the Hardcover and PDF versions of this game.

Let's begin. What is Hollow Earth Expedition? HEX, as it is known, is the first Ubiquity powered game on the market (as far as I know). The setting is "Pulp-era" which I have always roughly translated as the time between the two world wars. Others might have a more nuanced view on this, but this has served me well enough. If gumshoes walk the streets, Indiana Jones is still working at the University and fighting Nazis and cults then this is the time.
HEX is two things to me. It is a new game system (Ubiquity) and a new game setting (Hollow Earth). I will deal with each in turn.

The HEX hardcover is a gorgeous book. It is 260 pages, mostly black & white (which I want to address) and some color inserts. The PDF is set up in similar fashion. Ok, so the interior is black & white. You know what else is? King Kong, Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Tod Browning's Freaks. All the movies I associate with this era are in black & white as well. Save for Journey to the Center of the Earth and Raiders of the Lost Ark. To me, along with the fantastic art, it really sets the stage for the story I want to tell. So giving the book "the flip test" ie just flipping through it, it has passed well.

Chapter 1: Setting sets us up for the rest of the book. We learn a bit about the Pulp Era, the time; it;s 1936, the obligatory "what is Role-playing" section and a brief overview on the book. Then we get right into it with the setting. We start off with an overview of the last 25 years or so from the character point of view. In particular I rather like the section on what characters would know and the speed of information in 1936. Case in point, one of the films mentioned in the game, Becky Sharp, was considered one of the highest tech films made at the time. I can look it up and learn it was a landmark of cinema. I can even watch it at my leisure. But not everyone in 1936 saw it, and not everyone or indeed most people knew what a landmark it was. A lot of people knew it was special. It was color after all, but that was it.
The chapter continues with some great overviews of the world post WWI with WWII looming large and frightening on the horizon. There is enough here for a game it's own right and indeed there are many games, good games, out there that never go beyond this. But for HEX this is stage dressing. The real setting is yet to come.

Chapter 2: Characters covers what you expect. Character creation. This is where we are introduced to the Ubiquity system for the first time. Character creation is a point-buy affair like many games. In this though they recommend you begin with an archetype in mind. Not a bad place to start really. To me Pulp is about two fisted action. So, and I mean this in the best possible way there is, the characters are often well...stereotypes. "Big Game Hunter", "Gumshoe", "Silver Screen Starlet" and so on. This is Pulp and here it works. Not to sound to cliched, but the difference between a character and caricature is the player. So choose that archetype and embrace it. We are doing more next. Next step is choose your motivation. This is your character's reason for adventure. Quite literally their raison d'être. Next are your Primary Attributes. There are the customary six and you have 15 points to spread between them. These are very similar attributes you find in Unisystem. They are even on a similar scale. The names are different for a few, but the translation is one to one. Ok, to be fair, there is not of a lot things you would call these and it could be said that they are the same as D&D too. So it gets a pass, but I am watching you Ubiquity! Secondary attributes, which are derived. Skills, which are bought with another 15 points. The max is 5 skill levels at character creation. Like d20 (but unlike Unisystem) skills are tied to a particular attribute. You can then choose a Talent or a Resource and then a Flaw. A Flaw gives you a Style point. You are then given another 15 points to spend on Attributes, Skills, Talents or Resources.
I don't mean to do this much, but "point wise" this puts a starting Ubiquity character right around the same level as a starting Unisystem character. This is good if you like to move from system to system like I do. (NOTE: I ran a Ghosts of Albion adventure using Ubiquity characters and system and it worked great.)
What follows are archetypes and motivations. There is a lot here really and it works well.
Attributes are next. Attributes are scored 0-6 with 1-5 as the range of normal humans, 2 being average.
Skills are discussed at length. Ubiquity has 30 skills with some having many specialities.
Talents are something special about your character, so aptitude in a particular skill, or a natural ability. Resources are something you have.
The section ends with the color pages of various archetypes. If you are short on time you can grab one of these as a your new character. There are plenty of great choices to be honest.

Chapter 3: Rules does exactly what it says on the tin. Covers the rules. This is where we are introduced to the Ubiquity dice. Now normally I shy away from games that require me to buy a another set of special dice. But these dice are the most part just d8s. Some are numbered a little differently since they mimic the rolling of 2d8 or 3d8 on one die. The mechanic is simple. Roll a given number of dice (dice pool) and then each even number is a success. So in this respect you can roll anything, d6s, d12s, flipping a coin. The number of sides needs to be even. The successes are added up and compare to a difficulty level. "Easy" would be 1 success, "Average" is 2 and so on. Impossible is anything higher than 9 successes.
How many dice do you roll? The number of points in your Skill or Attributes + Skill. So if I want to check the authenticity of a scroll I could use Academics. I'll say I have a 5 in that. Let's say I am a nerdy academic type (yeah real stretch I know) and I have specialization in this, I add +1 so I can roll 6 dice. But say my GM has set the difficulty at 4. I would need to roll 4 or more successes in order to pass it. If I didn't have this skill then I base it on my Intelligence and then -2. There are other modifications to my dice pool. It's sounds difficult but it plays fast. There are also situations where I can "Take the average"; if a situation will result in a success 50% of the time the character can take the average and succeed. There is no style or flair in this, but not everything is a deed of derring do.
Like many simple mechanic systems it does fade into the background with play.
There are also degrees of Success and Failure. So if you gain 3 successes over what is needed then that is a "Major Success". These extra successes or failures are typically role-played.
Style Points are also gained and spent here. Style Points can be added to pools. You gain style points in various ways. My favorite is "bringing the treats". Hey. Every little bit helps.

Chapter 4: Combat covers a very specific sort of ruling of the rules presented in Chapter 3. The basic mechanic is the same, but there are other situations. This chapter could have been folded into Chapter 3, but I see why it is seperate.

We take a brief intermission for an Example of Play. This is rather handy to be honest to see how everything comes together.

Chapter 5: Equipment covers all the gear and weapons your character needs. This is a pretty robust chapter to be honest. If you never play HEX but play other Pulp games then it is worth having a look at this chapter anyway. The costs of weapons alone is very helpful.

Chapter 6: Gamemastering details the setting. Ah if the previous chapters were the meat then this is the...well...other meat with more gravy. Ubiquity is a fine, but a system without a setting is an experiment or an SRD. This setting is what makes the system shine. They could have cleanly split the book in half at this place.

Chapter 7: The Hollow Earth covers the setting in detail. There is a great mix of all the myths, legends and stories of the Hollow Earth here. Regardless of your familiarity with those myths there is enough here to get you going and get you playing. Let's be honest, you have always want to hunt T-Rexes while running through the jungle with a shotgun. Suspend your logical 2015 mind and take on an adventurous 1936 mind and load up.

Chapter 8: Friends and Enemies details what is going on on the Surface World and the Hollow World. This covers the world and presents some important NPCs and their organizations. Yes. You get to kill evil Nazi cultists and Interior Sea pirates. If you are lucky in the same adventure.

Chapter 9: Bestiary is our manual of monsters. We have dinosaurs (and a proper Brontosaurus, no Apatosaurus), Ice age mammals, giant versions of nearly everything, sea monsters, and killer plants. There are no "magical" animals or monsters; no dragons, no centaurs and the like. This is 1936 and magic has given away to reason and to science.

Another break for a Sample Adventure.

We spend the last few pages with an Appendix on Pulp Resources and Inspiration.
Lots of great resources here including books on the Pulp Adventure Era. Yes, Lovecraft is present here, but there is not much in this game that is "Lovecraftian" as it typically defined. This is a good thing in my mind. Books get the most treatment. Comic Books, Movies and TV series get lists.

There is also a rather good Glossary and Index. There is a character sheet for your use as well.

All in all a great game. I have played it a few times and it is really, really fun.
The setting is gonzo but without the crazy. I could have a lot of fun with this.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hollow Earth Expedition RPG
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CJ Carrella's WitchCraft
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 21:38:10
This is less of a review and more of a testimonial.

WitchCraft is the best game ever made. At least, for me.

WitchCraft is, hands down, my favorite game. Period. Picking up a copy of this book back in 1999 was just like picking up a copy of the Monster Manual in 1979. Everything I ever wanted in a game was right there.
Everything.

WitchCraft had such a profound effect on my gaming that I can draw a rather clean line between what came before and what came after it. Granted a lot was going on in 1999/2000 both gamingwise and personal that may have added to the this effect, it was an effect all the same.

Back in 1999 I was really burned out on D&D. I was working on my own Witch netbook and reading a bunch of different games when someone, I forget where, must have been the old RAVENLOFT-L that TSR/WotC used to run, told me I really need to check out WitchCraft. At first I balked. I had tried Vampire a couple years ago and found I didn't like it (and I was very much out of my vampire phase then), but I was coming home from work and the my FLGS was on the way, so I popped in and picked up a copy. This must have been the early spring of 2000.

I can recall sitting in my office reading this book over and over. Everything was so new again, so different. This was the world I had been trying, in vain, to create for D&D but never could. The characters in this book were also all witches, something that pleased me to no end, it was more than just that. Plus look at that fantastic cover art by George Vasilakos. That is one of my most favorite, is not my favorite, cover for a game book. I have it hanging in my game room now.

WitchCraft uses what is now called the "Classic" Unisystem system. So there are 6 basic attributes, some secondary attributes (derived), skills and qualities and drawbacks. Skills and attributes can be mixed and matched to suit a particular need.

WitchCraft uses a Point-Buy Metaphysics magic system, unlike Ghosts of Albion's levels of magic and spells system. Think of each magical effect as a skill that must be learned and you have to learn easier skills before the harder ones first. In D&D for example it is possible to learn Fireball and never have learned Produce Flame. In WitchCraft you could not do that. WitchCraft though is not about throwing around "vulgar magics". WitchCraft is a survival game where the Gifted protect humanity from all sorts of nasty things, from forgotten Pagan gods, to demons, fallen angels and the Mad Gods; Cthulhoid like horrors from beyond. WitchCraft takes nearly everything from horror and puts all together and makes it work.


The Eden Studios version was the Second Edition, I was later to find out. The first one was from Myrmidon Press. I manged to find a copy of that one too and it was like reading the same book, from an alternate universe. I prefer the Eden Edition far more for a number of reasons, but I am still happy to have both editions.

The central idea behind WitchCraft is the same as most other Modern Supernatural Horror games. The world is like ours, but there are dark secrets, magic is real, monsters are real. You know the drill. But WitchCraft is different. There is a Rekoning coming, everyone feels it, but no one knows what it is. Characters then take on the roles of various magic using humans, supernatuals or even mundane humans and they fight the threats. Another conceit of the game (and one I use a lot) is that supernatural occurances are greater now than ever before. Something's coming. (dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria).

It is most often compared to World of Darkness, but there are things WitchCraft does that I just like better. Unlike (old) Mage there is no war between the (good) Mages and the (evil) Technocracy. There is a war certainly, but nothing so cut and dry. Unlike new Mage there are rarely clean divisions between the factions. Yes, yes Mage players, I am being overly simple, but that is the point, on the simple levels new Mage dives everything into 5 because that is how the designers want it. There are factions (Associations) and there are different metaphysics for each, but also overlap, and sometimes no clear and defined lines are to be found or given. It feels very organic.

In my opinion C. J. Carella may be one of the best game designers out there. WitchCraft is a magnum opus that few achieve. I took that game and I ran with it. For 2000 - 2003 it was my game of choice above and beyond anything. The Buffy RPG, built on the Cinematic Unisystem took over till I wrote Ghosts of Albion, which also use the Cinematic Unisystem. I mix and match the systems as I need, but WitchCraft is still my favorite.

WitchCraft paved the way for so many other games for me, not just in terms of playing but in writing. If it were not for WitchCraft then we would not have had Buffy, Angel or Army of Darkness. Conspiracy X would have remained in the it's original system. There would be no Terra Primate or All Flesh Must Be Eaten and certainly there would be no Ghosts of Albion. The game means that much to me.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Eden Studios will let you have it, sans some art, for free.
Download it. If you have never played anything else other than D&D then you OWE it yourself to try this game out.

My thing is I wish it was more popular than it is. I love the game. If I was told I could only play one game for the rest of my life then WitchCraft would be in my top 3 or 2 choices.

You can read more here:
http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2015/06/why-i-love-r-
pgs-c-j-carellas-witchcraft.html

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CJ Carrella's WitchCraft
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Seven Leagues roleplaying game of Faerie
Publisher: Malcontent Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 15:40:17
A lot of games take on faerie tales. A lot of games deal with the lands of faerie too. But this is one of the very, very few games that takes place in and about the land of faerie. Seven Leagues is a simple game (mechanics wise) for playing in all sorts of faerie tale situations. I say it is simple, only because the mechanics are. Roll a d12, add or minus appropriate modifiers and get a 13 or better for a success.
There are a few attributes, called Virtures (Hand, Heart and Head) and the rest are like qualities or Charms (in this game), "Strong as a horse", "Tough hide", "can't be hit" and so on. You can play an ogre, a sprite, a magical tree or even a talking animal. You also take a negative "Taboo". Your high concept or class as it were is called an Aspect.
Browsing through this beautiful 126 page pdf I saw influences from Greek myth, Grimm Fairy Tales, folklore from all over Europe and elements they all have in common.
There is a heavy role-playing and story-telling element to this I really like. You are encouraged, by way of your character creation, to get invested in your character.
Honestly this is a great game to teach kids or use it as a primer on how to run a Faerie-based game for any other system.
For the price it is a steal.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Seven Leagues roleplaying game of Faerie
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LFNE Goodie Bags #2: Baba Yaga's Children
Publisher: FunSizedGames
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 15:07:45
A supplement for the Little Fears Nightmare Edition game. Little Fears has always been one of the games people talk about more than play in my opinion. Though that could just be my experience about not getting to play it as much as I like. This book is 15 pages, but only about 9 of it is content. Don't get me wrong, the art is great and really sets a good tone. Baba Yaga's children are a "Creeper" or a child turned into a monster. The monster in question of course is Baba Yaga.
I love the idea for LFNE, but I REALLY want to try this out in D&D and other games too. The rules of Little Fears are easy enough that conversion is really a breeze.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
LFNE Goodie Bags #2: Baba Yaga's Children
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Folkloric - Baba Yaga, the First Setting in Rassiya
Publisher: Dog Soul Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 14:21:03
This 67 page book (minus covers, OGL and table of contents) is simply packed full of material for playing Baba Yaga. First we have some background on the witch herself including stats. We are also treated to a number of NPCs that have entered the witch's stories over the years. The book is written for D&D 3.0 edition, but the stats are so few that it could be easily used with any edition, or any game really. And you will want too because there is a lot here. This is book has guides to her hut, the lands that surround it, what happens to those lands and those that come into them. There is even tips on role-playing the witch.
This really is an indispensable guide.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Folkloric - Baba Yaga, the First Setting in Rassiya
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Lost Treasures: Curiosities from the Dancing Hut
Publisher: Pantheon Press
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 09:45:40
This was written for the Fortune's Fool RPG, but is written in such a way that it can be easily adapted to any game. This gave me some great ideas for using the D&D version of Baba Yaga's hut. Plus I also want to check out the Fortune's Fool game as well.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Treasures: Curiosities from the Dancing Hut
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Baba Yaga's Hut
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 09:37:38
This is not an adventure or a book but a papercraft model. One of the first I have gotten from Fat Dragon.
This was an easy-ish little model to build and it really looks quite nice. I love being able to display this with the minis while we are playing. When we are done with our Baba Yaga adventures then this is going on my shelf with my little witch minis.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Baba Yaga's Hut
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S5 The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 09:33:40
This is the official/unofficial continuation of the famous S series. I picked this one up because it was about Baba Yaga and my kids have gone through all the S modules now.
This module is for 2nd Ed AD&D and from the earlier days of that system. I "feels" like a late 80s adventure instead of a mid 90s one (1995). I think in part this has to do with it's origins and that the Roger Moore Dragon magazine (March 1984) article about Baba Yaga's hut was still on people's minds at the time.
This adventure is more plot driven than the other S series adventures. Baba Yaga is more of a defined character than say Acererak or Drelnza. In fact she is presented in much of the same manner as Strahd was in Castle Ravenloft. Though there is the assumption that the PCs wont be so stupid as to attack her. Could the right group do it? Sure, but that is not the fun of this adventure. The fun here is investigating her magical hut and finding things that might be unique in your world.
The Hut itself is almost a mini-campaign world, complete with it's own rules of magic and control over the daylight and nighttime hours.
Each level of the hut is designed for different level of characters. It does recall some of the "funhouse" dungeons of the S series in terms of what is being offered but there is some logic applied to most of the rooms. Others unfortunately feel like filler.
It is a fun adventure, but not one that really lives up to the S legacy or the potential of Baba Yaga herself.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
S5 The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga (2e)
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