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Shadowrun: Missions: Free Taiwan
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 05:55:47

This is a very interesting adventure and would have still been a great product at the usual Shadowrun Missions price point. Given that it is free, it is an excellent opportunity to showcase Catalysts' best game line - and an opportunity they have not wasted.

'Free Taiwan' is a fairly simple module, designed for convention play and the designers have kept the pace moving, the plot succinct and added notes as to which scenes can be dropped if time is tight. For those playing at home, this isn't an issue, but makes the module perfect for a one-night filler.

The plot focuses on a snatch and grab, and offers enterprising and imaginative players a very broad sandbox in which they can play. Whilst the plot is moderately linear (as one would expect), the manner in which characters travel between plot points is surprisingly open. I'd highly recommend though, that a GM have a few contingency plans in place, just in case players freeze when given open choice, and the module does offer some advice towards this.

There is a GM note at the beginning about managing players which I do think is completely unnecessary. Anyone who plays Shadowrun, and is a mature human being shouldn't need to be managed, but I do understand the need to play to the lowest common denominator (especially at conventions).

That said, I'd highly recommend this for any Shadowrunning group with more than a couple of 'runs under their belt (it wouldn't be the best introduction to the game). I can't wait to run this with my group as this sort of freedom is just the sort of gaming they live for. The authors have produced another fine instalment to the series, and my faith in the quality of SR titles this year could not be higher.

The additional pictures included in this module are a brilliant idea. There are some creature and vehicle pictures included that add a lot of value to the story. I would like to see this sort of design incorporated into future modules, as they will come in very handy.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Missions: Free Taiwan
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Dark Heresy: The Chaos Commandment
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2012 23:44:21

'The Chaos Commandment' is, simply put, 40K at its' finest. Out of the three game lines from Fantasy Flight, I have always preferred 'Dark Heresy' for the tone of the game and the fact that the characters are often simple denizens of the forty-first millennium. It is from this perspective that the horror that is core to this system can bubble to the surface.

The first two instalments of this series were lively, spectacular romps through the 40K universe, hinged on classic icons of the setting that lent a feeling of dark gothic sci-fi infused with an almost Cthuhlu-like feeling of dread.

The themes of 'Church of the Damned' are continued in this tome, and any fans of the Eclesiarchy and the cult of the God-Emperor will find plenty to sink their proverbial teeth into. The authors have taken one of the most blasphemous possibilities and made it the focus of the final story arc - anyone truly immersed in their character (especially as an Agent of the Inquisition) will hopefully respond in appalled outrage. The role-playing possibilities are incredibly rich for the final scenes, especially in terms of the mop-up from this operation.

There is a strong action-adventure mood to all three interlocking adventures, from the assault of the Hive world (which offers characters the chance to 'get tactical', take command of squads and hijack vehicles in the service of the Inquisition). Those looking to indulge in high-octane, military/James Bond action sequences need look no further. this continues the tradition of 'Church of the Damned' which opens with a Valkyrie-assisted assault and I get the feeling that the designers have played through this several times before offering a final product - and have obviously made little tweaks along the way to ratchet up the excitement level. This military bent is present in subsequent scenes, especially the final assault, and the cast of units in the battle lend an epic feel to the culmination of the series.

It is a difficult product to review in-depth without giving too much away, but rest assured that Fantasy Flight have capped this series off well. I mentioned in my review of Part 2 that I hoped it would end 'with a bang, and lots of fire' and someone at Fantasy Flight was obviously listening - and delivered.

I've found this trilogy to be much more exciting, horrifying and immersive than the 'Haarlock Legacy' trilogy, despite the high production value and attention to detail shown in the latter. The writers have hit their stride with this newest trilogy, embraced the 40K universe whole-heartedly and added - in my opinion - something which resonates as strongly as any GW canon.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: The Chaos Commandment
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Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
Publisher: M.A.R Barker's World of Tekumel
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2012 01:01:01

Empire of the Petal Throne is a manuscript which anyone interested in old-school gaming, or simply has a desire to revisit older RPGs must have. The fact that this has been able to be replicated (after an original print run of only fifty confidential copies) is fantastic.

Tekumel (the world of EotPT), is clearly a product inspired by the sources of its’ time. On the surface, this seems like a foolish statement; until you use it as a mental guide when reading the manuscript. Tekumel is the result of a utter collapse of an advanced star-faring society, who used science-fiction level technology to terraform the planet, subdue the native races and trade with interstellar partners. The ‘Time of Darkness’ destroyed this testament to progress and over the next few thousand years, humanity regressed technologically until this knowledge was revered myth . Meanwhile, the oppressed and endangered non-human races rose in number and prominence. Slowly, a new regime was established, with the current dynasty ruling from the Petal Throne for over two thousand years.

The writing style is very straightforward, but the history is not onerous to read. Imagined references presented in-text make the work seem like a monastic document rescued from a faraway time and lends some further tools which the reader can use to aid in immersion.

The rules as presented are inspired by the original version of Dungeons and Dragons, and there is a certain unflinching brutality in the manner of their presentation, which anyone familiar with Gygax’s style of writing will find recognisable. Interestingly, Barker makes comments about the superficiality of the alignment system (a discussion continued today), and includes basic stats, rules for hirelings, encounters per hex on the world map, psychic powers (which are the explanation of wizard and cleric spells) and only three classes (Warrior, Wizard and Priest). The in-built Monster Manual shows how much Barker adhered to an idea of internal consistency, with all of the creatures given either a short history, as well as some ecological information. For most creatures, relationships with other monsters are suggested. These suggestions could then be used by the DM to build multi-layered encounters.

Part Two of the manuscript introduces the idea of the Underworld (i.e. Dungeons) and provides rationale for their existence by urban renewal and the idea of rediscovering buildings and civilisations lost to the ‘Time of Darkness’. Creatures native to the Underworld are also presented here and they do range from the annoying to the truly and imaginatively lethal (there are more of the latter than the former). I’d love to export a lot of these creatures into my D&D game to shake up the players who think they ‘have seen it all’. Most are evocatively named, like the ‘Eater of Swords’, the ‘Demon of Bronze’ and the ‘Serpent-Headed One’. To me, a lot of the flavour text felt like a romp through the classic Howard-esque era of fantasy novels.

The spells are easily recognisable to anyone who has played D&D before, but Barker draws in technological devices known as ‘The Eyes’. These are gems left by a previous age which have innate powers (such as the ‘Excellent Ruby Eye’ which freezes people, or the ‘Eye of Advancing Through Portals’ which opens doors or blasts walls to create doors). In a previous note, the authors warns that any creature slain by an Eye generate no experience points for the party – so they can use these super-items to slay their way across the countryside, but won’t get a mechanical benefit for doing so. The merits of this system could be debated for hours. In total there are thirty-three potential Eyes a PC could lay hands on – another excellent part of the book which could be transported into almost any other system with ease. Other magical items certainly exists and are detailed over the next six pages.

The rest of this book is given to advice on running games, as well as linguistic advice and an in-depth examination of the political structures within which PCs should be expected to operate.

The actual layout is very well done, with the text presented in two concurrent pages. On the left of the document, you’ll see the original yellowed and fading scanned manuscript, on the right, a clean typed version (which has used the same font as the original). I simply resized my screen so that I could only see the clean version. Reading the other was enjoyable (and added to the immersion of this experience), but in some parts the text has become too faded to clearly read, or is smudged. I would imagine that this would be the rationale behind providing a clean copy as well.

In comparison to ‘modern’ games, EotPT may not have a streamlined play style, but this is indicative of the game which inspired it. In my opinion, this is part of its’ charm, and I am heartily glad that this game is now coming to light to be appreciated by a wider audience. The amount of setting information and dense detail which has been included in this manuscript is impressive, and one can tell that Professor Barker had a true passion in the design of this world. The only addition to this game which I would like are some detailed maps, but the book clearly points the reader to the Tekumel website (which I will be dedicating some serious leisure time to investigating soon). The fact that the website exists is great, as we may be seeing more material for this wonderful setting.

This was an excellent nostalgic trip through the type of product which littered my youth and my initial foray into RPGs, and for that alone I am grateful. Beyond that, the manuscript does present a world which is engaging and interesting, and whilst inspired by the original D&D already shows points of divergence. I would relish the opportunity to actually play this game, and firmly believe that anyone with an interest in the ‘old school’ should support Professor Barker and pick up a copy of ‘Empire of the Petal Throne’.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
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King Arthur Pendragon: Edition 5.1
Publisher: Nocturnal
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2012 23:02:14

King Arthur Pendragon has always held a special place in my gaming heart, despite the fact that I've not played it often. When I have, however, I am easily caught up in the sweeping grandeur that this game supports so well. It has a number of innovative elements that have stood the test of time, and are still concepts I have yet to see replicated elsewhere.

My review, however, is going to focus not on the game (which is fantastic, and every gamer should have a copy on their shelf; 'nuff said), but rather on the Print On Demand delivery of the product. This was one of the very early titles in the POD stable. When my copy arrived, I could not have been happier. The softcover has a fine, glossy finish and the quality of the printing is excellent. The binding is tight and has lasted the twelve months since purchase despite being carted about in my backpack and being read several times over. I honestly couldn't tell the difference between this and any other softcover RPG book on my shelf. A professional and quality job all round.

To me this is a perfect marriage of an excellent classic game, now in a print format that is equally as good. From this experience, I'll be gladly plugging holes in my collection with other DrivethruRPG Print On Demand titles



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
King Arthur Pendragon: Edition 5.1
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Shadowrun: Jet Set
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2012 21:12:00

‘Jet Set’ from the outset is a GM book only. Whilst the first chapter may be of interest to players, I’d suggest that they stop reading there. The book aims to introduce the concept of the ultra-elite, those with the wealth to literally change the course of human history. Whilst traditionally, Shadowrunners wouldn’t be calling these folk omae, they certainly do offer the temptation of ‘the one big job’. The first chapter gives an overview of the jet set from a Shadowrunners’ perspective, as moderated by FastJack. It covers some of the key personalities and offers some setting-enhancing material (spot the SOPA reference) with echoes to our world. This in particular is quite well-done and continues SR’s fine tradition of making the world a lot more than just rules – there are diverse agendas being explored, and the writers have paid careful attention to ensuring that each NPC offers something distinctly different from their counterparts. A ‘run working for the Villiers should be different to working for Johnny Spinrad, and it does show in the flavour text.

The rest of the book is given to a new format of story ideas, and there are plenty of these to suit the palate of almost any shadowrunning group. The basic structure is a BBS-style intro with a little backstory, followed by an overview and a series of plot points. Each point serves to walk a GM through the key events occurring in the story, and does so in a very loose fashion. Strung together, the plot points do tell a story, but it does require some planning and fleshing out by the GM to work properly. As said, there are a wide variety of scenarios from Matrix-runs, to mad aeroplane bombers to a story which makes use of the material in the Shadowrun War! supplement. On the whole, the writing for these is concise and again attention has been paid to making these distinct experiences for the characters, and keyed to a range of play styles. However, the link between the jet set and the plot points in some cases was quite tenuous, and I felt that some had a much more generic SR feel than the authors may have intended.

On the note of War!, the introduction to the book does note a few titles which would be useful if you intend to use the material in Jet Set. I’d agree that whilst those books are not absolutely necessary, you will have a better feel for the source material if you do own a copy. I’ll leave it up to individual readers to determine if this dependency is a problem.

The final section of the book contains stats for all of the major NPCs mentioned in the book, and whilst interesting, isn’t an essential part of the book. I might refer to it from time to time, but the preceding chapters is where my attention will be firmly placed.

In summary, Jet Set does offer up new material and background for the Sixth World, but it may not be to everyone’s taste. The Plot Point structure is interesting and I could see some solid development work which could be done to extend this through other titles. My main gripe was that I would have liked to see less of these ‘adventures’ and more of the type of setting information found in the first chapter. If the book had focused exclusively on setting info, with a GM Advice chapter on designing games revolving on the influence of the Jet Set, this would have been a stronger product.

That said, I certainly enjoyed it, and this title has more than enough ideas for me to loot and pillage for my own Shadowrun game.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Jet Set
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-07: Burn
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/11/2012 17:46:05

'Burn' is the latest instalment in the Season 4 of Shadowrun Missions and acts as a way of starting to tie-up the Ork Underground plotline which you'll find through most of the other S4 modules. It is primarily investigative in nature, with minimal chances for combat (unless the runners take rather foolish actions) and will best suit a team that has a wide range of Contacts and a Face. Any Hacking skills will also be useful. The module deals with the repeated firebombing of key areas in the Ork Underground, and this time the targets will be enough to get even the most jaded Shadowrunner involved. As I mentioned, there is a lot of legwork which needs to be accomplished, and there is definitely the feeling that the story will be finished elsewhere. This will be a challenge if you're running this outside of a convention as a dogged group without the pressure of a convention timeslot deadline may spend a lot of time chasing down leads to try and 'close' the module. The GM will need to put some serious thought into how their group would approach the job and how to wind down the module without meta-gaming. That said, it is consistent with Catalyst's high standards for Shadowrun Missions. The pricing if perfect, the writing strong, the modules engaging and the art is usually of a good quality. As I have mentioned before, the SR2 part of my gaming soul rejoices to see the module format has been kept and this sense of familiarity (in all SR products) always makes me comfortable when cracking open a new title. This module taps into those nostalgic leanings even more by the nature of the Johnson in this run - but I shan't ruin the enjoyment by saying any more.

I'm extremely interested to see the next module and look forward to the resolution of the current storyline.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-07: Burn
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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2012 20:30:13

MWP's iteration of the MArvel RPG represents an intertesting method for running games in general, not just this one. As with other product lines (most notably Smallville), there is a massive responsibility for all of the players and the GM to reach accords, discuss gameplay rationally and also look to the the 'bigger picture' rather than remain selfishly introspective - which may not suit all gaming groups style of play. That said, the game is about playing superheroes, so the premise that you need to work together, think about the whole plarty and have fun aren;t at odds with the chosen genre. I'm very keen to use this game with my group as it does offer a conceptual challenge, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

Character creation is a process which will require some thought, but it is relatively streamlined and essentially revolves around picking descriptive aspects of your character and assigning a dice value to them (as a side note, if you don't want to play your own character, there is a datafile in the back with a lot of recognised heroes ready to play). These are Distinctions (what your character is well-known for) and Specialities (the skills at which you are adept). Different modes of play are supported by the Affiliation stat which governs whether your character is best at Solo, Buddy or Team play. The only downside to this, is that I can see those characters with Solo rated the highest being a little frsutrated given that most scenes will be a co-operative team effort, so the dice will let them down a little in those circumstances. However, this is something the GM will need to consider when deisgning play opportunities for their group.

The Power Sets are quite well-developed, but the GM should take a guiding role in development at this point, as it is easy (as with most supers games) to build a character with a single, extremely over-powered speciality. I was glad to see that most of the powers I'd expect in a supers game to be here (including sorcery so I can play Stephen Strange!).

Gameplay, as I mentioned is highly collaborative, and those with experience in the Smallville RPG will feel right at home. The dice mechanics will take a bit of time to fully grasp, and in a newer group you should expect that any event requiring dice rolling will take time due to the number of variables that can be assigned to the roll. I would have liked a much more streamlined system (like Serenity) as this would support the 'fast and furious' action that comics represent. Only time (and a lot of play) will see if I can move my combats at the optimum speed. Outside of Cortex, I can't think of any parrallel experience to which players will be able to relate; as each set of variables is assigned at the point of rolling. Add to this that you can be rolling upwards of seven different dice which contribute to your pool for very different reasons and you can see what I mean.

The layout of the book was great, and it was nice to see a collection of Marvel art running thorugh the book. Marvel has (for me) very much a 'hit or miss' with their art of late, so it was good that MWP hadn't hinged the entire book on one artists' output.

Finally, game comes with the ubiquitous and expected 'module in the back of the book'. This two-act adventure is based on the first few issues of Bendis' run on The Avengers and I'm not convinced that designing a module around already printed comic plot was a good idea. Those familiar with the first few issues of this comic won;t find too many surpirses in store. I would have preferred to see something original in this place instead.

Overall, I've not had a lot of experience with supers RPGs, mostly because the systems for these games are almost uniformly complex. I'm not sure what it is about the genre that incites mathematical complexity in game designers, but Marvel seems to be at the lighter end of the spectrum. Given its' high attention to story, drama and coi-operative play, I should be able to sidestep my initial feelings about the system and play it with great excitement - and I recommend you do as well.

Excelsior!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
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Dresden Files RPG Preview: Nevermore
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2012 04:25:16

I've been a fan of the Harry Dresden novels for a few years and Evil Hat's RPG has piqued my curiousity. After reading the free taster, I'll be investing in the whole game. Whilst other reviews I've read have pointed to the system being extraordinary, I'll focus on the section available for download here. This is part of the RPG book, and provides an overview of Baltimore. At 39 pages, it contains an awful lot of informatio including an overview of Baltimore, the mundane community, the source of supernatural conflict in the city (a Ley Line of great power), and an indepth look at the supernaturals. The White and Black Courts are covered as are renegade wizards (proving that not all wizards need conform to the White Council), the Fae, a mortal secret society (dedicated to the supernatural knowledge of Edgar Allen Poe) and the White Council.

As well as a host of NPCs with full stats, the authors have included three potential PCs which could be played straight from the page. They are well-developed enough to build some in game relationships and attention has been paid to forging some links that will keep them together.

However, what truly shines is the reparte between the fictional authors of the section. There are side notes which poke fun at NPC names, reveal that Thomas (Harry's brother) is a goth LARPer (whilst also ridiculing some stereotypes of LARPers), running supernatural political commentary, Star Wars references and some other insights which make reading this a very pleasant experience, and cementing it as pure Dresden.

The last section is a more comprehensive narrative of the locations in Baltimore likely to create interest and tension in your chronicle. There are clear links back to the NPCs in the previous section showing that the authors have invested time in planning the chapter. The linkages are logical and interesting, and could be transferred to almost any other supernatural-themed game.

As I said, I'm going out and buying the RPG as soon as possible, and I'll look forward to collecting (and hopefully playing) the entire Dresden product line. Even if you don't intend to get involved in RPGs, this is worth getting just to read.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dresden Files RPG Preview: Nevermore
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Shadowrun: Another Rainy Night
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2012 04:11:00

If this is the quality of product we can expect this year from Catalyst, then 2012 is Shadowruns' year (as it should be). The last month has seen a wide array of titles released (all with a different focus) for the line, and this is the first novel/game tie-in I've read for SR20.

The design is very simple. You recvieve a fifteen page novel, with appendices covering the stats of the main characters, NPCs, equipment, spells and vehicles. If you want to incorporate the material into your game it couldn't be easier. The story is well-written, actually better than some of the older SR novels published by FASA and leaves the story on a cliff-hanger. To be honest, I'd love to see this developed out to a full-length novel. I shan't spoil the plot for readers beyond mentioning that it is a good treatment of vampires in Shadowrun and gives a great 'jumping off' point for a campaign (although I did like that the author managed a Lord of the Rings reference in a vampire novel).

The only low point was the character art - it is a type of quasi-photography which I found incredibly unappealing. The rest of the art was the same quality as the SR4 core book; which I've found quite pleasing.

The title is perfectly priced, and I'd have no problem in recommending to any Shadowrun fan, player or Gamesmaster alike.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Another Rainy Night
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The Compass of Celestial Directions, Vol. VI - Autochthonia
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2012 23:59:07

Exalted has a reputation for being able to deliver fantastic locations and civilisations, but none can hold a candle to Autochthonia. This enormous Realm cast in brass and shadow is nothing less than the clockwork body of a god with an expanse large enough for eight nations. The description throughout the whole book lends itself to a dangerous, over-industrialised semi-lit place of constant noise, smoke, steam and claustrophobia.

It is easy to imagine how this place will stand a firm place in a gamers’ memory. Added to this is the descriptive of the highly ordered, structured and caste-based civilisation which is a commonality to all of the eight kingdoms (with some differences, as I’ll discuss later). The reader is given a great sense of how organised and efficient their society is, and this structure is the lens through which all threats to the already dying Realm must be viewed. On the surface the Voidbringers, as the greatest threat are named, seem to be innocuous – until you realise the enormity of their heresy. The book does challenge our ingrained individualistic mindset and invites us to wear another psyche and skin for a while – which is exactly what I want to do in an RPG. From this point of view the book is a massive success in my mind.

The interesting point about the societal baseline which is established in the opening chapters is that subsequent descriptions found in the eight kingdoms show how each locale takes the baseline and applies it in a slightly different manner. In this way, the reader is shown true diversity, but one grounded in a single cultural experience. My hat is off to the writers who managed to achieve such a clever feat. I came out feeling that it is not just the geography and architecture which differs in each kingdom (check out Ixut for the best example by far), but the differences in belief, social interaction, work, values and law. This made it a pleasure to read, and entices me to set my next Exalted game here.

The penultimate chapter gives the Storyteller yet more tools to set this apart from the rest of Creation in terms of environmental hazards which make the journey through Autochthonia a memorable (albeit potentially lethal) experience. The last chapter acts as a default monster manual and again there is rich flavour to be had here (and I was glad to Ixut given some special consideration here too).

I haven’t read the Autochthonians sourcebook before this, but I am hoping that it will be a fine companion volume. Even without this knowledge though, I found no concept in the book difficult to grasp. Admittedly, setting a chronicle here would require the character creation and Charm rules in the aforementioned book – but the thematic and descriptive elements of this book will make the storytelling much easier. Also, I am glad to see this released as a single title – I originally read it in tis’ serialised version and it did not have the same impact as the full book did. In any case, this should be a ‘must-have’ on the shelf (virtual or otherwise) for all Exalted Storytellers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Compass of Celestial Directions, Vol. VI - Autochthonia
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Shadowrun: Harlequin's Back
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2012 17:11:45

The original ‘Harlequin’ was a fine module, so it was an ambitious undertaking to offer ‘Harlequin’s Back’ and expect similar results. However, after re-reading this, I’m sure that the sequel stands up just as well as the first iteration, almost twenty years after its’ release. It is also worth noting that Shadowrun books from this era are becoming increasingly difficult to locate in good condition, so hats off to Catalyst for allowing the fans access to PDF copies of the older editions.

‘Harlequin’ was written in a modular format so that it could be play around your existing campaign – but ‘Harlequin’s Back’ is designed to be played one module after the other. Make no mistake, this is an extremely dense campaign that will offer a lot of gaming time. The format is five interlocking modules, each penned by a different author (Carl Sargent and Nigel Findley each write a chapter, much to my pleasure) which form a single unified story. The modules need to be played in order to make the most sense.

Where the developers have truly excelled is in making each module stand alone in terms of the feel, mood and theme. Players will find themselves embroiled in a Post-apocalyptic sci-fi, a Western, a Fantasy and a story with abstract philosophy before the end of the journey. There is a great blend of play experiences, but this does stand apart from the usual Shadowrun fare due to the philosophical and metaphorical elements woven into the plot. The authors have done an excellent job of conveying a sense of gravity to the plot, enabled by the imagery and the choices offered during each story. There is ample opportunity for most of the archetypes to shine, but there are some caveats which are openly discussed at the beginning of the book.

In terms of Gamesmaster support, it follows the format Shadowrun fans will recognise and is liberally sprinkled with advice throughout. I’d definitely not recommend this to a group or GM new to the setting, but rather for those with a decent amount of experience. As the style of module, and links to a grander metaplot are quite different, I don’t feel that it would be a great entry point to Shadowrun. Likewise, the group does not need to have played through ‘Harlequin’ beforehand, and there are notes for the GM to adapt the play experience if this is the case.

This deserves, quite rightly, to be seen as one of the best Shadowrun books produced by FASA. I’d highly recommend buying ‘Harlequin’ as well (which is also available in PDF) and reading the two back-to-back (as I did). I you play, or run Shadowrun, these two modules need to be part of your play experience at some point.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Harlequin's Back
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Queensguard
Publisher: Chaosium
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2012 23:35:43

If you are looking for either a diversion from your regular Cthuhlu chronicle, or interested in a small, self-contain campaign, then Queensguard is the right title for you. Queensguard takes place in an alternate America, one in which the British Monarchy, having lost Europe has transferred the seat of power to Manhattan. Around them are a swirl of Norse raiders, the war with the Central Asian Empire rages and there appears to be dissent and madness even in those meant to be the closest advisors to the Crown. The two new societies introduced are the Philosophers and the Queensguard. The first are a scholarly order, responsible for many of the steampunk themed inventions of this age, from airships and electric carriages to augmented goggles and alchemical fire. The second are the Queen’s personal guard who are a blend of bodyguard, elite military unit and national police force. Both orders are given enough treatment to make characters drawn from either to be playable and interesting.

The overview of the Kingdom of America, character creation, new magic and descriptions of the orders take in only twenty-seven pages and it is an incredibly compact, yet satisfying section. The remainder of the book (fifty-five pages) is given to a two-part module-style story. The running time asks for around four hours per module (for eight hours total), but I’d be keen to see this tested as I believe that it would be easy to drawn this out to double the length with imaginative players. In either case, it offers a good length of play experience and an interesting (albeit sparsely developed) campaign setting. If you did intend to pursue a longer-running story arc, the Keeper would need to invest some time to further develop the setting.

My main criticism was that the elements I’d associate with steampunk weren’t immediately apparent in the book. To me it felt like a blend of 19th century technology with magic, but lacked the same feel I get from Deadlands, or Iron Kingdoms. It almost seemed as though the word was used to give the product a genre and nothing else. That said, a Keeper familiar with the genre would be able to narrate the setting as they saw fit and make things a little more industrialised, smoke filled and mechanical – with that touch of magic thrown in for good measure.

The module is well-written and would be an enjoyable experience to run as Keeper, but does require some preparation. There is some solid advice in the ‘Contingency’ sections (in case the players make choices that aren’t explicitly covered) and also notes on scaling to be found in the end of the book.

Queensguard, whilst not living up to my expectation of steampunk Cthuhlu, is still a good read and the module would play enjoyably. I could honestly see this as an alternate Cthuhlu experience that you’d be tempted to revisit (and write your own material for) every now and again – and in that it succeeds admirably as an imaginative RPG title.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Queensguard
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Shadowrun: Safehouses
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/15/2012 19:29:08

We've all had it happen in a Shadowrun game when the stakes are simply too high, the Johnson has lied, we've been double-crossed or simply need to drop out of the line of fire for a while. 'Safehouse' is a great little supplement (at eighteen pages) which gives you new rules for Boltholes and Safehouses which allow runners to customise their home-away-from-home. Narrated by FastJack, the supplement brings back a sense of the quirky and dry humour of the Shadowrun world and is told in tandem with the much younger runner /dev/grrl. The interwoven story is a good backdrop for the explanations given and the segue from descriptive narrative to hard rules is done well. It gives, as mentioned, new rules for constructing these establishments, but also a good list of 'must-have' gear for the safehouse, new qualities (as per Runners Companion) and some sample safehouses. Overall, it is quite a lot of information given the brevity of the page count. If nothing else, it will give your runners something to plan for and add to the somewhat paranoid edge that should be present on all runs. Highly recommended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Safehouses
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Adventure Seed 1b: To Burn a Witch
Publisher: Final Redoubt Press
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2012 18:54:16

If 'To Burn a Witch' is an indication of the general level of FRP's work, then they should be charging for this (and I'd gladly pay). The Adventure Seed is a an incredibly versatile and practical addition to a GM's virtual bookshelf. The writing is strong (and has a wry sense of humur) and the reader is left with a sense that there is no wasted space in the product (which weighs in at 13 pages). The underlying rationale for the product is a system-agnostic stats-less module which can provide an entire adventure. Whilst it does fit into the broader 'Moving Shadows' campaign, it can easily be played as a stand-alone experience.

Each segment is well-presented and I quite enjoyed the 'Dramatic Purpose' sidebars with each step of the module. The work as advertised - explicitly stating the purpose of each scene and what a GM should try to achieve with it. I feel that this is of use to novice and veteran GMS alike. The actual story of the module could be played out in a night or two and balances roleplaying and combat and has plenty of opportunities for the GM to personalise the experience. There is an unexpected twist which can be can be a source of great drama if foreshadowed well enough. Beyond that, I can't give too many other details without ruining the adventure.

I'd highly recommend this title, and if it is indicative of the general quality fo the Adventure Seed line, then I'd be keen to try them too.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Seed 1b: To Burn a Witch
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Free Free Oriental Weapons Pack
Publisher: Action Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2012 17:22:48

I don't know an awful lot about martial arts, so I can't attest to any level of accuracy in this product (but my argument has always been - do we necessarily want historical accuracy in a fantasy game?). However, it is a very useful additioonal document for any game using the D&D 3.5 rules. It is seven pages long (one page of which is the OGL) and it covers in some detail a range of shuriken and war fans, with combat rules for the variant weapons, their uses outside of combat and a few feats linked to the weapons. Overall, it's good advertising for Action Games as it shows (for free) the types of work they can produce. I'd love to see this expanded out into a fulsome sourcebook (maybe only 30-50 pages) with a broad array of Oriental Weapons, feats and storytelling hints. I'd highly recommend downloading this if you have even a passing interest in adding this type of weaponry to your campaign.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Free Free Oriental Weapons Pack
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