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Makeshift Miracle Book 1: The Girl From Nowhere
Publisher: UDON
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2012 23:30:19

“Makeshift Miracle Book 1” is a solid offering from Udon which combines urban fantasy with stunning artwork. This voume should be approached as ‘scene setting’ for a much longer and broader story; introducing the main players (of which there are really only three) and providing hooks to draw the reader further into the story. In true comics style, this volume ends with more questions than answers, and I am keen to see how this develops.
The artwork is marvellous, and the use of colour is very clever to highlight the intensity of the main character and the Girl from Nowhere, contrasting it against the bleakness of the surrounding world. The author offers a little social commentary too, aiming to establish how empty and meaningless the lives of those around the protagonist are.
The story is enticing, mixing emotional confusion, surreal occurrence and danger in almost equal measures. Readers of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ and ‘Neverwhere’ will see brief glimpses and echoes of the themes in those books, yet this comic is able to stand alone and apart from these works.


Overall, highly entertaining and visually pleasing in every regard.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Makeshift Miracle Book 1: The Girl From Nowhere
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V20 Companion
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2012 18:16:49

The V20 Companion is a fine piece of work all round. To me, the mark of a good product is having to shelve it multiple times whilst reading it; because the ideas simply pour out of the pages. I’ve always tried to run games which focus on political machinations and smiling backstabs, as well as trying to grasp the intricacies of the vampiric condition and culture. This book gives me more information on both counts (and more besides).


The first section covers the myriad of titles which the ‘canon’ has accumulated over the years and describes (usually in a paragraph) the function of title. Interestingly, the titles have been drawn from many facets of Masquerade, from table-top sourcebooks, LARP and even the VTES CCG – which gives it a great holistic feel. The breadth of roles is quite invigorating, and when combined with the chapters to come, it guarantees that their application in individual chronicles can be highly tailored. There is also a light set of mechanics to accompany the usage of titles in specific circumstances, and admonition against constantly leaning on title, rather than wits and charisma, to get the job done.
The second chapter focuses on Prestation, and the manner in which Boons are traded and dispersed. This ‘social economy’ is covered in some detailed, including scaling Boons, and how trading and recording of these assets occurs. There is also an interesting section on trading Boons between Sects – something I’d like to explore further in my chronicle to add a layer of politics and consequence that might surprise players. In the past, the lines between Sects has been fairly firm, but I find this interpretation a lot more flexible and realistic.
Next, technology and its’ impact is scrutinised. By far, this was an intelligently written chapter, and one that needed to be addressed. 2nd edition V:tM spoke of the Computer skill in terms of booting up PCs and using floppy disks (or even CDs) – so social media, wifi, smartphones and tablet computing all needed to be discussed in light of not only the Masquerade, but also how Kindred perceive the world and leverage opportunities. It does contain an interesting section about the rights of the Prince in policing the Traditions and whether they extend to a Cainite outside their Domain using technology remotely to commit transgressions. These sorts of questions highlight the archaic, feudal traditions (and Traditions) of the Kindred against the contrast of modern nights.
The last chapter deals with a number of iconic locales from the World of Darkness, from the Cathedral of Flesh, Lodin’s Boardroom, the Succubus Club and even Netchurch’s lab. Each is given a few paragraphs of flavour that could spark chronicle ideas. In all, I found it useful, but not as much as the preceding chapters.
There are a few closing pages talking about design and reflecting on the process of pulling the book together. I didn’t find this superfluous, but others may only find it tangentially interesting. It reminded me of the final page of many of the oWoD sourcebooks which had some anecdotes and reflection – so not out of place at all in a product like this.


Overall, I have a lot of love for this book. I can see it being a ‘go to’ title for any V:tM chronicle I run in the future and $15.00 on this PDF is money well spent, but I’ll be definitely adding a print copy to my shelves as well.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Companion
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Shadowrun: Elven Blood
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2012 23:19:46

‘Elven blood’ is a great product to review on the heels of ‘Land of Promise’ and Elves seem to be flavour of the month for Catalyst. The ninety-eight page book offers five Shadowrun Missions-style modules, complete with Contacts handouts and the requisite paperwork we expect from these modules.


Whilst the intro to the book mentions five or six other sourcebooks that they draw from, I didn’t find any absolutely necessary to run these modules. The only book you might like to look up is ‘Elven fire’ an SR2 module which provides the backstory for the first module in ‘Elven Blood’, but again it’s more for those with a completest bent than actual use in game play.


The five missions take place either in Seattle with the Ancients, or running about the countryside (and Tir Tairngire) working for a Tir Prince. The modules run the gamut from a scavenger hunt (‘Ancient Pawns’), smuggling operations (‘Hopping the Fence’), investigating organised crime (‘Domestic Tranquility’), scouring the land of magical reagents (‘Grocery List’) or the classic ‘hung over and can’t remember the run’ (in ‘The Hung Over’). Each run offers something distinct, and there are in-game expectations about how certain actions will be accomplished, but with plenty of freedom for the ‘runners. ‘Ancient Pawns’ is probably the best example of this, as the PC’s must gather items in competition with another team, but under the loose rules of a ritual challenge. They are encouraged to be as creative and inventive as possible, and thinking ‘outside the box’ will yield dividends at the end. All of the other modules offer similar levels of open-endedness, and this should be a warning to the GM to prepare.

Additionally, there were clear cinematic moments throughout all of the modules (kung fu brawls on top of speeding hijacked trucks, leaping from burning attack helicopters – you get the picture) which support players who like this style of play.


The layout and editing problems endemic in the last few SR Missions products are thankfully absent from this collection, and quality control seems to be back on board. The artwork is an interesting mix of new material and images taken from earlier editions of SR (which is especially fitting for ‘Ancient Pawns’). The developers ta Catalyst seem to have a keen interest in tying the current projects back to Shadowrun’s earlier days, but are doing so in a manner which makes old hands like me smile and reminisce, but wouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of a new player.

Speaking of ealier days, what makes me really want to run this with my group is the elevation of Blackwing to Tir Prince (and one of the key Johnson’s in the modules). My players have encountered him via some of the SR2 modules, and the looks on their faces when they start working for him will be priceless. Just goes to show, no hard feelings, it’s all biz.


This is probably the best value for money supplement Catalyst has released this year, in terms of both price (which has recently dropped) and quality.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Elven Blood
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Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2012 00:27:43

‘Land of Promise’ is a mixed bag of goodies which essentially updates the 2e Tir Tairngire sourcebook. In fact, I’d highly recommend a purchase of that book to go with this one in order to get the best value. This book is a succinct 24 pages, broken up as intro fiction (4pages), travelogue (15 pages) and game information (5 pages).


The travelogue section is written as a Corp-speak advertisement for the Tir which is soon hijacked by the regular Jackpointers. To be honest, part of this is wasted opportunity, as the ‘pointers debate the merits and authenticity of the information and then eventually provide their own overview of the country. Whilst the information is useful, the point that the Tir is glossing over their problems and putting Corp-spin on everything is belaboured. Once the information from the Jackpointers starts rolling in, so does the usable game-worthy data. That said, attention has been paid to giving each of the posters their own evolving personality, and the faux-BBS style is delivered in usual believable style as small arguments occur and general pettiness is revealed.


The game information features eleven one-paragraph story starters to inspire your own ‘runs involving Tir Tairngire, but there is a note that purchasing the new supplement ‘Elven Blood’ would be useful. One questions why Catalyst didn’t just publish this as a larger sourcebook, rather than as two supplements. The information in ‘Land of Promise’ is predominantly for the GM, so adding in five modules wouldn’t have altered the audience. The game information also includes stat blocks for some of the unique denizens of land, a new spell and a new Magical Society.


The main question for me is: what niche does this fill in my SR collection? I’m viewing this as an update to the Tir Tairngire sourcebook I already own, so $5.95 is a decent price for what is involved. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use this book without that sourcebook. Bottom line is that if you wanted to invest in a Tir campaign, you could pick up the original sourcebook ($8.00), this book ($5.95) and Elven Blood ($6.99) and be set for quite a while. I’d consider a five-module story arc plus setting books for around twenty dollars to be good value (given that SR Missions modules are $3.95 each; and that’s dirt cheap), and with this in mind, I have no hesitation in recommending ‘Land of Promise’.


I think that whilst the writing could have been tightened up, and perhaps a little more substance to the information presented, it is still worth the price tag. This is also a region of the SR setting worth keeping an eye on, as there were plenty of hints about future shake-ups in this country. We might see more supplements emerge next year about the Tir.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-10: Romero and Juliette
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2012 23:12:19

Call me naive, but I went into this episode with very different expectations. Given the title, I expected a tale of tragic, doomed love (and possibly a corporate extraction), but nothing could be further from the truth.


The plot hinges on some familiarity with a convention exclusive module offered a few years ago, which is not easily accessible anymore. To be fair, there is a sidebar summary of the events in that ‘run, but it is no substitute for the full module. I’d still like the opportunity to run the preceding module to give this story more context, and the release of this SR Missions instalment would be a good case for a ‘reprint’ (or whatever the correct term is for digital publishing). I noted that ‘Assassin Nation’ suffered from poor editing, and this is even worse. There are a lot of typographical errors and there are some layout concerns which make the end product look less polished. As with ‘Assassin Nation’ I’d like to see Catalyst invest some time into rectifying these errors and re-releasing a better copy.


That out of the way, let’s look at the plot. To be honest, it is very simple and straightforward, and it does lack the flair I’ve come to associate with this season of ‘runs. The plot meanders through various scenes, and the general story is disjointed by two scenes in particular which seem to offer a new direction, but fail to deliver anything meaningful to the resolution of the game. The choice of antagonist, whilst billed as ‘creepy’ by the authors, actually has more potential to turn the game into a slugfest more reminiscent of a first person shooter than an RPG. It felt at many turns as though this was a missed opportunity for highlighting the really sinister nature of the magic-infused Sixth World.


An enterprising GM with time on their hands can turn this around, though. The structure exists for a basic plot which could be reworked and remixed to create something memorable. Given the framework is there, plus NPCs, stat blocks and some interesting locales, it is worth the $3.95 as ideas fodder. I’d never consider running this ‘as is’, but have covered my printed copy with sticky note alterations for when it does see play. I’m not a fan of writing ‘runs from scratch, so even though this isn’t ideal, it does give me a starting point, and for that, I’m happy to pay the nominal price tag.


Shadowrun has a lot of potential to showcase the horror genre without resorting to zombie hordes. There are far richer sources of more intelligent, sinister horror, and I’d encourage any GM with this module to seek them out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-10: Romero and Juliette
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-09: Assassin Nation
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2012 22:08:52

‘Assassin Nation’ continues the fine season of Shadowrun Missions and manages to offer something new, exciting and engaging (as the season is winding up). The metaplot for the season has focused on the passing of a Bill to create a new district in Seattle – the Ork Undergorund. Obviously this is not as cut-and-dried as a zoning permit, and every man, metahuman, and corporation has a stake (and something to lose) either way the Bill falls.


As real progress is being made, the runners are hired for a simple job. Good money, short job, easy pickings. Null sheen, what could possibly go wrong?


I won’t go into details as a lot of the plot does rely on a lack of spoilers; but the module offers treachery and betrayal, break and enter, investigation and detection and some serious consequences for the team if it all goes wrong, or they make bad choices. The main advice I’d give any group is to try and keep thinking a few steps ahead – the scenes are mostly written to be played at a brisk pace, so the chance of ‘acting in the moment’ is quite high. This will lead to a lot of ‘roleplaying challenges’ and will affect the outcome of the scenario drastically if they stack up.


A lot of old characters return, with plenty of opportunities to develop those relationships which players of the previous episodes in this season will have come to rely upon. It also introduces a brand new, and interesting, villain who I hope will appear in later modules.


The writing is uniformly good, the layout lends itself to quick reference and my ‘fast and loose’ style of GMing, although the number of typographical errors have multiplied, which do detract from the reading enjoyment. It would be nice to see these fixed and new, higher quality (in terms of editing) version released soon.


That said, this product is well worth the $3.95 pricetag. Catalyst have been very canny about the price point and this is – by far – the best value for money product the company produces. I have mixed feelings about this season now – whilst the direction of this module has me excited, I’ll be sorry to see such a great season come to a close.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-09: Assassin Nation
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Shadowrun: 2050
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/24/2012 00:35:07

2050 was going to be an easy sell for a nostalgic grognard like myself. Most of my memories are of cutting my teeth on SR2, with an overly large dose of conversion between the SR1 books and modules. I was entering this book with the idea of a trip down memory lane, but there is a lot more to this book.


The basic premise is simple – this is the sourcebook for those folk who want to explore shadowrunning during the year 2050. By the current timeline, that’s about two and half decades ago. What becomes immediately apparent is how much work the respective companies who have worked with SR have put into the setting throughout the publication history. This showcases the roots of the setting and is an excellent yardstick for how different the setting of SR4 is from it’s beginnings.


The book gives an overview of the world at this point in future history, covers the ‘Big Eight’ MNCs, law and order, popular culture (Maria Mecurial, Jet Black, Queen Euphoria all make an appearance), followed by an almanac of three sprawls (Seattle, Chicago and Hong Kong). The rest of the book covers the types of jobs available to runners in 2050 (handy for any timeline, really), and the rules for creating a character for this period (bearing in mind the lack of commlinks, Technomancers and anything more advanced than an Ares Pred II). The nice touch here is that the authors took all of the archetypes from SR1 and gave them an SR4 update. You’ll see little nods like that throughout the whole book, and they are tastefully done – that is, neither cheesy, nor inaccessible to the new reader. Slang, magic and gear round off the book – but the depth of material here is great.


Weighing in at 144 pages, this is a cleverly designed book overall. It is jam-packed full of content from rules to setting information, and the writing style is uniformly excellent. It is very clear that a lot of work went into pulling this book together, and it deserves to become a fan favourite. The art is great throughout with some recycled pieces (which is very appropriate given the topic) and the layout of the book makes it a pleasure to read.


I’d highly recommend the purchase of this supplement just based on the nostalgia factor, but after reading through the book, it is clear that 2050 has so much more to commend it’s purchase. If you’re new to the setting, this might inspire you to check out the back catalogue of material, and pick up a few of the classic modules. Whilst those will require a bit of conversion work, it’s well worth the effort.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: 2050
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Shadowrun: Mil Spec Tech 2
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/19/2012 21:40:04

MilSpec Tech 2 continues to fill the need experienced by most SR GMs and players - a resource which gives access to more guns, drones and vehicles. For some reason, no matter how many previous books including variations of these three types of gear you read, you’re always open for one more. MST2 is presented as a file hacked from Ares, complete with CorpSpeak and a running commentary from the usual suspects which makes a book of equipment stats much more readable.
The highlights for immediate insertion into my campaign are:



  • The Tan Dem, a humanoid shaped drone deployed at dangerous sites as security, or in areas where a corp is too stingy to pay for flesh-and-blood troops. Given that they come with weapon mounts as standard, a GM can have a lot of fun building unique variations on this theme.

  • The Nizhinyi BMV-3, a 2.9million nuyen troop transport that is also spawning an Ares-funded MMO, and the GD Longstreet, the preferred LAV of the CAS military. Both have a cool visual signature, and more than enough firepower to make a hot zone a very unpleasant place to be (or turn a perfectly liveable area into a hotzone).

  • The Ares Pulse Fire reminds us that this is a futuristic setting and that lasers are still coming a long way from their roots in SR1.


There are plenty of warships, submarines, planes, helicopters and rocket launchers to round off the catalog, and it feels as though not a single page is wasted material. This is several steps up from what a regular team will be able to afford; but is the perfect accompaniment to recent books like ‘War’, ‘Hazard Pay’ and ‘Spy Games’ and provides a lot of new opportunities for militarised mayhem in your SR4 game. It is reasonably priced, and production values remain at Catalysts’ usual high standard.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mil Spec Tech 2
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curse the darkness
Publisher: Growling Door Games, Inc.
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2012 01:22:34

I’ve wanted to let the ideas and mechanics of ‘Curse the Darkness’ rattle about in my head for a while before posting a review – I think that the game deserves nothing less than measured consideration. It is one of those games that appears (especially given the relatively slender nature of the volume) to be very simple and straightforward. In many ways it is – and then you start to start to actually think about what is being proposed.


The setting for the game is one in which an unknowable entity has decided that ideology (whether political, religious, economic – any excuse humans have concocted to delineate ‘us’ and ‘them’) will be outlawed. Any ideological expression will be noticed by Him and He will send Them to mete out justice of a particularly brutal kind. ‘They’ are the shadowy creatures which exist in a world that is accessed by any shadow in the world – a place simply called the Between. People can travel through the Between, making civilisation quite mobile.
In order to show that He was serious, His power was exercised; wiping entire cities off the map and punishing those who disobeyed His will. The net result is a massive loss of human life, a disaggregation of human civilisation and a single rule ‘look after each other’ which is lethally enforced.
The default setting for the game opens ten years after His decree and asks whether characters will take a stance (and ‘light a candle’) or will submit (and ‘curse the darkness’).


Character creation is very simple, yet the impact of a single character on the game can be quite deep. The basic character generation is a points-buy system against four traits and a single Scope. A Scope defines something about your character that you can call upon to influence the success of your activities. For example ‘spent five years in Scouts’ might give you a bonus to if you need to start a fire; or ‘professional baseball player’ might be called upon if you have to sprint a short distance. During game play, you can define up to four more Scopes. This helps you design and explore your character through actual play, and lends a humanistic, dynamic sense of narrative.
All of the action resolution is based on decks of cards to represent fluctuations in your traits and also to resolve any opposed actions. This relies on the GM and the players setting up a series of agreed outcomes, assigning cards and then storytelling the end result. What evolves is a game which is highly collaborative, story-driven and imaginative.


Character death is quite common, and this impacts the game in two ways. Firstly, the GM should be ready to offer an NPC forward to write a player back into the game with minimal fuss. Given how quickly characters can be generated, this shouldn’t be a problem. Secondly, fallen characters can trigger Memory Conversations in the survivors. This occurs when one of the survivors starts a conversation focused on remembering the fallen, offering details about their life. Others can join in, and the experience generates Memory Points (which have a number of uses). In this way, characters are encouraged (and rewarded) to not only find out about each other, but to mourn those who have been lost.


I said the game appeared simple mostly because of the ease of character generation and the straightforward mechanics but it does have layers of hidden complexity which emerge through play. The single unifying idea of the game – His destruction of ideology and a commandment to ‘look after each other’ – can create a lot of debate. Is this actually a bad idea? Is there anything wrong with a society which abandons all of the beliefs which divide us in order to simply ‘look after each other’? If you knew that deviating from the rules could be fatal, would you still do it? These are the core concepts with which players of this game must grapple, and there are no easy answers. In this, I think every group will react differently, and that level of personalisation for the game is strong selling point.
Likewise, the mechanics, whilst simple, offer almost limitless opportunities to tell a good story. Players have to be committed though to telling stories of failure and sacrifice as much as heroism and success (if anything a lot more of the former). They have to be prepared to take chances, tell a good story, make decisions which are sound for the narrative, and take the hard knocks on the chin. It is a gritty, hard setting and this is reflected in the stories which are told.


Aesthetically, it succeeds in supporting the genre. The layout lends itself to a sparse look, interspersed with graffiti (the product of some of the Kickstarter backers) and black-and-white photos (which fit the mood, and are shot with an eye for detail and quality). The sections are logically presented, and the example of play is not only much-needed, but well-executed. There is a range of good GM advice sprinkled throughout and the reader can tell that this is a very practical book.


This game will not be for everyone. The collaborative storytelling won’t work for every group, but the subject matter should spark some interesting conversations. Even if you aren’t sure that your group is up to this type of play, I’d highly recommend that you give it a try. The only game that this comes close to for me is ‘Summerland’ which is a similar rules-light, post apocalyptic story-driven game. ‘Curse the Darkness’ is an imaginative and intelligent piece of quality work and I’d urge every role-player to try it at least once. Like me, though, you might want to read it cover to cover and then let it rest in your head for a while. You’ll be glad you did.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
curse the darkness
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Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, & Thieves
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2012 20:48:38

‘Hitters, Hackers & Thieves’, like ‘Grifters & Masterminds’ is a splat book to round off the main roles in the Leverage RPG. It follows the same format for each of the roles, namely:



  • an overview of the role and the history which has shaped it

  • at least 20 new talents (all of which offer versatility for your character. The Talents offered in all three sections were excellent, with strong attention to the thematic elements of the role)

  • a completely unnecessary grab bag of potential NPCs (36 pages of them)

  • and a few elements unique to each role.


With the clear exception of the NPCs, this book wasted no opportunities to add something valuable to the play experience in Leverage. The writers were ‘spot on’ in their ability to channel the style to emulate the mannerisms of the TV characters (I could hear Hardison in the back of my head all the way through the Hackers chapter). This level of skill should be acknowledged and congratulated.


The additional elements I found most interesting included:



  • [Hackers] new rules called ‘Exploits’ which provide an extended narrative for many of the hacker-related electronic activities. Having played games with this component before (Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun in particular), I was glad to see that the writers acknowledged that sometimes playing a Hacker-style character can be dull and dice-heavy and have taken some steps to make it more interesting.

  • [Hitters] the opening section to this chapter is excellent and should be required reading for all gamers. It explains very simply why gun-enabled violence is never a good idea, why murder should be off the table in almost every circumstance and why people who use guns are cowards. It fits perfectly with the mood of Leverage and backs up the section with rules to support a player being ‘one of the good guys’. The Talents in this section are a good mix of the Fighting Styles and RP elements.

  • [Thief] this presents some new rules for designing neat locations and the security elements, backed up by two lists; ‘Cool places to break into’ and ‘Cool things to steal’. Both lists are well-developed and any GM should be able to grab the examples given and run a full Job with them. The variety here is pleasing (from faked DNA to expensive art to a special recipe for fried chicken) so there is something to please everyone.


The book is then rounded out with three differently-themed Tech Jobs and a section on Troubleshooting in Tech Jobs. The Toubleshooting section, whilst only one page, covers all the common-sense elements concisely and is good value.


Overall, this is a good book and well worth the investment to own. The writers for this supplement have shown a solid grasp of the concepts and have endeavoured to offer something unexpected for all roles. The layout and art (with the exception of the NPCs) is extremely pleasing, clear and easy to read. What is great to see is that at the moment, you only really need the core book to play – but these extra books have transcended ‘splat’ and offered something meaningful to make the game deeper rather than simply broader.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, & Thieves
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SAS Support Kit (interactive version)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2012 23:22:56

This support kit is a highly useful product in that it offers players and Storytellers alike the opportunity to structure their work (and characters) in the same format as other formally published SAS materials.
Overall, I found the interactive portions of all pages to be in working order, and the clean layout that SAS provides will be a welcome addition to my usual scrawled notes.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SAS Support Kit (interactive version)
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Leverage: Grifters & Masterminds
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 22:04:18

‘Grifters & Masterminds’ is really a sourcebook which does what is says on the tin. In many ways, combining the two roles (a trend continued in ‘Hitters, Hackers & Thieves’) into one sourcebook keeps the material focused, rather than writing unnecessary content to spin out a splat book for each role.


The book is divided into three sections, as such:


‘Grifters’ covers all of the basics of what the role should achieve in any story and the basic emotional and psychological traits of those who are involved in this trade. It offers twelve new talents (with no dead wood – I can find a use for all of them), descriptions of long and short cons and a host of cover identities. Whilst everyone playing this role will find something useful, I think that those trying out the system for the first time will be especially pleased. The nature the Leverage RPG (from a mechanical and conceptual viewpoint) is quite divergent from how most mainstream RPG experiences work. Having some articulated tools and ideas to fall back on will be greatly appreciated by both players and Fixers alike.


‘Masterminds’ is a smaller chapter but no less useful. It gives an overview of the role again, and provides some very practical tools such as the ‘Plan Framework’, a section about when the job goes horribly wrong and a range of new talents (again no wasted space here). As with the ‘Grifters’ chapter, this is doubly useful for the Fixer and the player. The ‘Mastermind’ is – in my opinion – the hardest role to play in the game and this goes a long way to equipping players of all ability types to undertake the role.


‘Fixers’ is the tail-end chapter and ties everything together nicely. The authors tackle plot twists, designing long-running games (‘season by season’ as they name it) and even a quirky section on running Leverage in other settings (such as medieval England, in Victorian Steampunk or even a sci-fi setting). This was tucked away in the chapter and I feel a great little gem for the sourcebook. The alternative settings even went so far as to create concise alternate-Leverage crews to showcase each genre. It concludes with a section on Fixer-less games – which are actually achievable, though not for the faint-hearted.


The only criticism of the book was the sample NPCs. There are twelve per role, each taking a full page. I think that twenty-four pages (one quarter of the book) could have been used far better, and the photography chosen for these section clashes very badly with the aesthetic of the rest of the book. All was not lost in these sections, however, as you could mine them for the Assets described in each write-up and import those into your game.


Overall, I think that this book (NPCs aside) is an essential addition to the Leverage RPG and the wealth of practical advice it offers pitches the product to both the Fixer and players.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage: Grifters & Masterminds
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Elric of Melnibone
Publisher: Mongoose
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 20:58:12

This newest iteration of the Elric is definitely based on a keen love of the books, and the attention to detail comes through in the writing and in the thoughtful approach to how this type of game differs from standard 'sword and sorcery' fare. There is extensive information about the world at large, timelines and gazetteer-style entries for major cities, and plenty of cultural information which can be mined to make this a unique experience.
Where possible, the authors have backed up their descriptions or commentary with excerpts from the novels, which cleverly uses Moorcock's excellent grasp of language and imagery but also tethers the discussion firmly to the source material. Realistically, this is the only Elric sourcebook you should need if you are a fan of the novels too. There is plenty of campaign advice sprinkled throughout and care and attention have been paid to giving the games master the right tools for the job.


The only let-down was the layout and art. The art is a very simple black-and-white style, and is not used very often (often six to seven pages of straight text at a time); which for a 'modern' sourcebook is quite out-of-step with the other publishers I know and read. However, if this was a deliberate attempt to emulate old-school supplements, then the feel is certainly evoked well. I haven't been able to find any information on the design aspect of this book online, so I can't make an informed decision on this aspect of the production qualities.


On the whole, the writing is good, the homages to the original sources are cleverly done, and the book stands very well on its own as part of the Elric mythos.


EDIT: The price has been dropped on this item significantly, and at current price ($9.99) I would see no reason to delay a purchase if you are even a casual fan of either older versions of the game, or the novels.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Elric of Melnibone
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Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2012 17:56:14

‘Used Car Lot’ is a supplement which I can see having a great longevity on my bookshelf, in the same way the ‘Riggers Black Book’ has stood the test of time. The main premise here is that sometimes runners either don’t have a lot of nuyen to throw around, or simply need a vehicle for a single purpose or run. In those times, cheap and (generally) reliable are the watchwords and the vehicles in this catalogue deliver.


There are twenty-six vehicles in the first section to choose from and cover the opulent (like the Rolls Royce Phaeton), the sleek and fast bikes (such as the older Yamaha Rapier, and its armoured and awesome big brother the BMW Blitzen 2050), off-road campers (the Ford Bison and the more luxurious Rolls Royce Prairie Cat) and those that simply scream ‘action chase scene’ (take one look at the Lockheed-Chenowth Light Strike Vehicle – you’ll see what I mean). Land rovers, pickup trucks, sedans, armoured assault vehicles (including a win for DocWagon) and a moped for the environmentally conscious runner round off the section.


‘From Across the Pond’ then deals with a selection of Eurocars, and opens with a Troll-sized motorcycle guaranteed to make it onto your players wishlists. The rest is certainly interesting and well worth including; although the Eurocar President looks a small conversion job away from becoming a Batmobile (and has halfway decent armour to back up this imagery).


The art is all appealing, the layout clear and designed for quick reference and the content extremely practical. For the (re)usability of this product, the pricing is excellent, and so it deserves richly all five stars from this reviewer.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
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Promethean: The Created Demo
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2012 00:49:27

I looked into this after repeated references to the game on the 'Darker Days' podcast, and it intrigued me - especially given that it is a limited-run product line like Geist.


This does give you almost all of the tools required for a decent understanding of the game. It provides you with all of the base World of Darkness rules, a full set of pre-generated characters and a module which should give a full nights' play (if not more).


The core themes of 'Promethean' are articulated clearly, and it does present as a very dark game that may not suit every table's tastes (much like Geist). The demonstration kit pulls few punches, and asks for a number of moral choices from the characters as they try to unravel the plot. There are a couple of forced choices, but this is cast in the light of being typical to the setting, and I don't feel that mature players will take exception to them.


I wouldn't recommend this for every group, but I do get the feeling that this is a sleeper success from white Wolf Studios. The types of games you can tell with this do require a depth of emotional maturity, and after reading through this, I feel that chronicles would be best when well-defined in terms of play length and also require a lot of forethought by the Storyteller. That said, it is the sort of play experience which has the potential to be immensely rewarding at the same time.


I'll definitely be looking to trial this with my regular gaming group, and have placed an order for a physical copy of the rulebook - I really want to learn more about this game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Promethean: The Created Demo
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