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Dark Heresy: Inquisitor's Handbook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2015 09:49:28
This rules expansion delves deep into what it means to be an Inquisitor, providing a wealth of information about the setting of Warhammer 40K and the Inquisitor's place within that setting as well as a host of options to consider in customising your character - everything from new origins and professions to details of different worlds, the religious philosophies he might be exposed to and the nature of life as an Acolyte. There's a lot here, a lot to take in!

Chapter 1: Advanced Character Creation is the home of many of these new options. Building on the core rulebook, there are new homeworlds, backgrounds and character origins from which to choose. Neatly, the Homeworld table from the core rules has been rewritten to incorporate the new ideas so you can just read through (or roll if you prefer a random origin) the one collection rather than having to juggle the information from two books at once! Various sub-options have been provided to allow for even greater variety. This all serves to enhance the rich tapestry of the setting, it's worth reading through the options you don't intend to play just to get an idea of what else is out there!

The chapter moves on to review some unique worlds of the Calixis Sector - useful if you will be visiting, essential if you (or the dice) decide that is where you come from. There are also optional background packages, tailored to suit characters of different career paths and designed to help you give depth and personality to your character - another neat idea. In choosing them other requirements quite often need to be met, ensuring that the background fits your character well.

Next, Chapter 2: Calixian Careers suggests a new career path and offers modifications to existing ones as well as an array of what are described as elite advance packages. First, though, in the male-dominated environment that is the Inquisition, comes the Adepta Sororitas or Daughters of the Emperor, which consists of various orders involved in all aspects of endevour from warfare to diplomacy, teachers to investigators. They're powerful and very straight-laced, unable to tolerate the slightest deviation from orthodoxy or taint of the forbidden. It's not so much a career path as a whole battery of them, driven by faith and providing a wealth of opportunity for those who'd like to play a female character. This is followed by a collection of alternative ways to follow existing career paths, allowing you to customise a character in depth. Interestingly, all the alternatives are rooted in conspiracies, organisations or cults to be found in the Calixis Sector, helping to embed the character deeply into the region in which they operate. You won't change career path, but your advancement through your chosen one will take twists and turns unavailable to others. Each option comes with copious background notes as well as new skills and abilities to apply to the character. Elite advance packages, on the other hand, allow the character to remain on the core career path but take a few non-standard options as they advance, often due to something they've done or experienced along the way.

Chapter 3: Feral and Feudal Worlds begins a look at a vast range of weapons and other equipment that can be found on specific planets within the Calixis Sector. Characters who come from a given world ought to be at least familiar with them and may choose to wield them, others may take a liking to them when they encounter them and go to great efforts to seek them out and learn how to use them to effect. The next two chapters, Chapter 4: Hive and Forge Worlds and Chapter 5: Frontier Worlds and the Void, continue this pattern. Hive worlds are manufacturing centres with high population densities, while forge worlds are also industrial but in the grip of the Adeptus Mechanicus with many things rich and strange (and deadly) to be found there in the shape of the techno-devices that they make. As Calixis Sector is on the edge of the Imperium, there are quite a few frontier worlds which are even more dangerous that one might imagine. And then there is the void. The black between all these worlds and the ships that ply the spacelanes. Naturally, special skills and equipment are needed to survive let alone prosper there. Acolytes often have to travel as part of their duties, sometimes a vessel will be provided but often they will have to find their own way, the details here will help both party and GM organise transportation when it is required.

This survey is followed by Chapter 6: War Zones. There are plenty of them in Calixis Sector (indeed, anywhere in an Imperium which thrives on and is sustained by warfare), and this chapter touches on the weapons and equipment needed to survive there. Properly the domain of the Imperial Guard, there will be occasions when Acolytes' duties take them close to the action. Those interested in military weapons will find plenty here.

Next, Chapter 7: The Holy Ordos takes a look at some of the specialised and rare items used by the Inquisition itself, some are actually unique or extremely specialised for a specific task. Whilst Acolytes are expected to deal with situations using whatever resources they have to hand, it can be useful to know what is available and where to get it if the need arises.

Chapter 8: Religion and Superstition is more philosophical in tone, talking about religious faith within the Imperium. Belief in the God-Emperor is a given - it's not faith, he's actually there, a tangible presence: and he does not tolerate those who do not worship him. However, not everyone is devout, not everyone wishes to listen to preachers, even if they'd say that they venerate the God-Emperor as they should... and here you can find out about the varied roles religion plays in citizens' lives. The priesthood, saints, relics and pilgrimages that may feature in an Acolyte's religious life are discussed here, as well as common heresies that he might encounter. It all helps to add depth and flavour to the setting.

Finally, Chapter 9: Life as an Acolyte gives an inkling of the day-to-day existence that is the character's lot. Threats to overcome, positions to jockey for, the ways to stand out and gain advancement... and how alter-egos and contacts work, both mechanically and in-character. Sometimes an Acolyte does not wish it to be known what he is, hence the need for alter-egos, legends and disguises. And if you are investigating something, contacts always come in useful - as they do if you need something specific to complete the task in hand. Notes on expanded skills and the ability to craft things round out the chapter, and then an Appendix contains collected weapons tables from throughout the book.

There's a lot here, but all serves to contribute to the rich variety of the setting. The sheer scope, the vast sweep, is what makes the Warhammer 40K setting what it is, and this work encapsulates that nicely, bringing information about places and equipment, organisations and ideas, to your hands, and should prove valuable to players and GMs alike.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Inquisitor's Handbook
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Dark Heresy: Purge the Unclean
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/23/2015 10:25:06
This work contains three linked adventures which will take a party of Acolytes to some quite unsavoury corners of the underbelly of the Calixis Sector. They are all suitable for characters of Rank 5 or below, and follow on quite nicely from Illumination, the introductory adventure at the back of the core rulebook, thus helping you to get your campaign off to a flying start. However, they are open enough that it's a trivial matter to retool them to take place elsewhere if you do not happen to want to use the Calixis Sector. Again, although linked, you do not need to run all of them if you campaign takes a different direction, and each provides suggestions for further adventures and special notes for those who want to exploit the various factions or Ordos within the Inquisition.

There's a brief introduction explaining all this, then it's on to the first adventure, Rejoice for You Are True. This takes the Acolytes to Scintilla, the capital of the entire Calixis Sector, to investigate a burgeoning new cult called the Joyous Choir. They believe that the main purpose of the Emperor is to ensure that all citizens of the Imperium are happy and hence hold that they should be contented with their lot, whatever it might be, to gain his favour. It's proven popular amongst young nobles and middle-echelon individuals, who seek to become True (as the cult terms it) through attending workshops and individual sessions run by cult Counsellors. Unfortunately, a few members have gone missing, and it is this along with discovery of xenotech devices that has led to the Acolytes being sent to investigate.

The Acolytes will be able to use a variety of routes to investigate, including posing as ‘visiting cousins’ to the noble and thus getting the opportunity to infiltrate the upper echelons of the cult, as well as wandering the streets to find out whatever they can about it. This is definitely an adventure for players who enjoy interaction, investigation and intrigue. There is a lot of atmospheric description to help you set the scene and create a convincing alternate reality for the Acolytes to wander through, and vividly-described NPCs for them to meet. There’s even a pamphlet that the Joyous Choir hands out on the street for you to give them, while there are many unusual rules and customs to catch them out. Make sure you have read the adventure thoroughly beforehand so that you know what they are! There's a lot going on (and a lot for you to keep track of), but there is plenty of advice as to what the Acolytes might do and how to deal with it in their quest to find out what's really going on.

The second adventure is called Shades on Twilight. It's a classic action adventure where the Acolytes are sent to explore a mysterious space hulk that has just emerged heading straight for Scintilla - so they are under pressure to find out what's going on, retrieve anything useful and ensure that it does not hit the sector capital! Pressure indeed, a scant 15 hours are allowed for them to complete their work. There are all manner of threats and downright oddities for them to contend with as they explore. Again, the adventure is well-resourced to enable you to run it to good effect.

The final adventure, Baron Hopes, takes the Acolytes to Sepheris Secundus, a planet where downtrodden serfs live a life that is only slightly less hard than that of mutants. A Baron there attempted - heretical idea! - to better the lives of the mutants but was eventually dealt with, however now the mutants have formed a 'terrorist' group, the Broken Chains, which has been causing trouble - and it seems that even once killed they won't stay dead. Or at least, a recent photograph shows someone believed killed. The Acolytes are sent to find out what's going on in what appears to be another investigative adventure, but which will soon turn to full-blown horror as the investigation turns into an exercise of pure survival!

All three adventures can be summed up with terms like 'atmosphere' - as well as providing plenty of action they also give a real feel for what this alternate reality, the world of Warhammer 40K, is like, highlighting the curious mix of priviledge and constraint that is the Inquisitors' lot within it. They should contribute well to a memorable campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Purge the Unclean
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Dark Heresy: Game Master's Kit
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/20/2015 08:47:23
This product has two components: a Game Master's screen and a book containing an adventure and some additional rules. Depending on whether you've gone 'dead tree' or electronic, you either get a cardstock screen and printed book or two separate PDFs to download.

The screen has some useful tables - the ones you are likely to need most often during combat - on one side and some quite dramatic art on the player-facing side. If you have gone for the electronic option, you'll have to print these out and stick them on card for the full effect, of course. Whilst pleasing to the eye, the art is dark and will use up a lot of ink - it may be best to have it done at a copy shop, or decide that you just want the tables for your own convenience. They are in greyscale, clear and easy to read.

The adventure is called Maggots in the Meat. It's set on Acerage, a backwater planet within the Imperium with a feudal ruling structure and hordes of quarrelsome lordlings perpetually squabbling over who is in charge of what, even more so since the High King died without troubling to name a successor! However, this is of no direct interest to the Imperium as long as tribute is paid and the world's surplus food output supplied...

The adventure itself begins with the party of Acolytes (it's suited to 1st or 2nd rank ones) being sent to investigate reports of 'unnatural' attacks on citizens of one lordling's domain, rumours of 'daemons' and 'monsters' fly around and it's their job to get to the bottom of them. Needless to say, the region in which they will have to conduct their investigations is being fought over at the moment.

There's a lot of atmospheric description of the areas they have to visit, along with people to interact with and rumours to pick up in the course of their investigations. Enough is provided to enable you to steer them in the right direction to the source of the problems, and there are plenty of opportunities to brawl along the way, never mind the likelihood of a spectacular combat with said source once they find it. It's a good open-ended adventure with options for you to take it in whatever direction you please, including suggestions for further adventures.

There's also an Appendix which contains details of a xenos (alien) race, rules for creating your own aliens - which can, of course be a sentient race or 'monsters', alien animals to fight, as you need, and a section on poisons and toxins. This includes a list of 'Infamous Toxins of the Calixis Sector' and their effects.

The adventure is good fun, with plenty going on yet open enough for you to run it in a fairly sandbox style to enable the characters to conduct their investigations however they please. The xenos generation system is excellent, and should come in useful whenever you need an alien monster (or race).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Game Master's Kit
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Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2015 10:22:03
This massive tome launches the Warhammer 40K Roleplaying line, something long-awaited by those who'd watched the richness of the setting unfold around the original minitatures skirmish game. Unsurprisingly, it begins by explaining the underlying concepts of that setting, clearly enough that even those of us uninterested in miniatures can understand. Set in the 41st Century, it paints a bleak picture of galaxy-spanning warfare across decaying worlds where much of technology has been lost, presided over by an undead - or at least, not properly alive - emperor, who is as much deity as ruler.

Interestingly, characters are not the iconic 'Space Marines' of the skirmish game, but acolytes of the Inquisition, whose role is to search out threats to the Imperium of Man from within and without. The first part of the book explains how to create your character and shows how the game is played, with later chapters detailing the role of the Game Master, providing a lot more information on the setting, and even an introductory scenario to get things going.

The character creation process is laid out clearly in Chapter 1: Character Creation. It is a six-stage process beginning by determining your home world. You next work out your 'characteristics' or capabilities both physical and mental and then choose a career path to follow. Next you have points to spend on skills (or improving characteristics if preferred) as well as money for weapons, armour and other equipment. That's the main number-crunching part of the process. Then you need to flesh out the character a bit, deciding everything from what he looks like to how he behaves and thinks, maybe even his hobbies or favourite food! Each choice made has a bearing on what comes after, and in the main you have the option of making a choice or rolling random results, although you do have to roll characteristics. Plenty of detail on all the options is provided to help you make up your mind, and it's written in such a way that you are absorbing background on the setting as well - neat!

Chapter 2: Career Paths comes next, giving a wealth of detail about what the path you have chosen to follow has to offer, both now and in the future as your character gains experience. Each is unique, indeed each character on that path can choose a different route, and it is worth studying your chosen one thoroughly from the outset. The entire process of advancement is described here too, it's complex but elegant and quite easy to follow once you get the hang of it. Again, the background is woven in seamlessly so as you read you discover more about your niche within the setting.

The next few chapters continue in similar vein, with detailed examinations of skills, talents, equipment and psychic powers, if you are lucky (or unfortunate?) enough to have any. Throughout, it is explained how each one will work both mechanically and in character, enabling you to use them to good effect in play. The final part of the opening section is Chapter 7: Playing the Game which draws everything else together and gives you the lowdown on how to make everything work. Examples and advice abound, and although there's no substitute for trying it all out, preferably in the company of someone who already understands it, this chapter provides a good start.

Then comes Chapter 8: The Game Master, which seeks to provide aspiring Game Masters with what they need to know to run the game effectively. It is comprehensive, starting from the basics and hence being suitable for someone who has never GMed before, as well as providing system and setting specific information to empower you to run Dark Heresy well. There is a wealth of material here and it will repay careful study (along with the rest of the book, as the GM, of course, needs to have a thorough grounding in rules and setting alike).

The next three chapters provide more detail on the background and setting, looking at life in the Imperium, the Inquisition itself and one part of known space, the Calixis Sector. Unlike many combined rulebooks (i.e. those intended for both GM and player) which divide into a 'Player' section and a 'Game Master' section, these are of equal use to both players and GMs despite being located after the chapter dedicated to the art of game mastering, certainly the chapter on life in the Imperium. The GM may choose to reveal the inner workings of the Inquisition through role-play, if the characters begin as new recruits to its ranks, and likewise may wish to restrict knowledge of the Calixis Sector until the party actually goes there.

Chapter 12: Aliens, Heretics and Antagonists provides a bestiary and details of those whom the characters may encounter in their travels, with particular note - of course - to those who they might be investigating for heresy or who would provide opposition.

Finally, there is a full-blown adventure, Illumination, to get your campaign off to a good beginning. It's a tale of treachery and dark secrets to be uncovered, with action and danger aplenty, showcasing many of the perils that the average Inquisitor faces on a day-to-day basis. A bunch of newly-recruited Acolytes (guess who?) are sent to escort a senior Inquisitor as he heads up an investigation of a barbaric world... but they have to get there first.

As well as providing all the game mechanics necessary to play the game, this richly-presented tome provides an excellent introduction to a darkly fascinating setting. Whether you are a long-time player of the skirmish game wanting to know what else those characters do but brawl or a role-player looking for a vivid and rich setting with depth, this is worth checking out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
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Shadowrun: Street Grimoire
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2015 10:08:30
Magic in the Sixth World is a diverse and fascinating topic. Practitioners range from the studious academic magician who'd as soon write a paper about a spell as cast it to the street mage who doesn't care about theory as long as it works. This book is designed to open the lid on the practise of magic with everything from underpinning theory and beliefs to organisations mages can join and (of course) plenty of new spells. Then there's material about spirits, alchemy and the role of the talismonger as well.

Of course, after the introduction explains what's in the book, the first thing we get is some fiction. It's intriguing, a story about a girl returning home to see her sick mother, with the magic she wields being almost incidental: a nice touch, it is about a person not her magic!

Story told, along comes Surviving Magic, a discussion about what it means to be a full-blown magic capable part of the Awakened world. For some it is a joy, for some something fearful - and for most, a mixture of the two. Much of this is conversational in style, with contributions from others chipping in. It's a wide-ranging discussion beginning with finding out that you are magically-endowed - and how that makes you a target for everyone who wants to use or abuse you - and looking at popular conceptions about mages and so much more. This is useful reading even for those who are not playing mages, because it helps set the scene in which both mage and mundane operate. Many people are scared of magic, whether they can wield it or not. Others seek to exploit it... and in some parts of the world it's illegal. Most schools test for magical aptitude like they test for other potentials and capabilities, and track those who show signs of it, whilst most universities run courses in magic - which interestingly are not just for those who can cast spells, there are programmes for those interested in the underlying theory, the social ramifications - well, you know academics, they'll study a topic from every possible angle! Of course, shamans stand somewhat outside of this, as they rely on a spirit guide rather than book-learning. Corporations and even religions also take an interest, recruiting magic-users and making use of their skills. And then there's the shadow world...

Next, Magic in the World gets down to the nuts and bolts of how magic actually works. Or at least, as much as is popularly understood. It's not just the laws of magic that are talked about here, it's also the law as it relates to magic: licences to practice or even to purchase magic items can trip up the unwary. You can also find out all about mana and background counts and rifts and other strange manifestations of natural magical power.

Then comes Magical Traditions with a round-up of the myriad beliefs and theories underpinning magic. There are a lot of them, and it depends on your background and upbringing which you'll decide to apply. Most faiths have quite strong ideas on the matter, but if you are not religious there are plenty other paths to follow. Each tradition has its own core style and preferred spells.

This is followed by a section called Magical Societies. People like to band together and it's as true of mages and shamans as it is of anybody else. Some operate openly, others are hidden - and probably find you rather than the other way around. There's everything from religious orders and learned societies to street gangs here. They could provide allies or opponents for the characters, even if they choose not to join up.

The next section is rather ominously titled Dark Magic. Now, those not magically-endowed may see all magic-wielders as being involved in the dark arts but the more enlightened know that magic isn't anything like that, it's a tool like any other and can be used for good or ill... but... well, there really is some nasty stuff out there in the magical world. You may not want to dabble yourself, you may never even encounter it, but it is best to be prepared! Some comes from within, drawing on the worst ideas and emotions that people can have, and some comes from without, from alien entities. Whatever the source, those who choose to make use of it risk their very metahumanity - and quite possibly, yours. The reasons why someone might want to go there are explored, as well as the different paths into darkness that might be followed. All manners of nastiness, most suited more to be used against your party of shadowrunners than used by them (indeed some of the anecdotes and comments suggest scenario ideas as you read them!), and there's plenty of detail such as spirit statistics to enable their use.

Then on to the Expanded Grimoire, which provides a wealth of new spells with which to experiment. They are grouped by nature, so you have combat spells, detection spells and so on. Each comes with a detailed description of its effects and uses as well as the necessary detail to cast it during a game. There's a lot here... but if that is not sufficient, the next section is Shadow Rituals. This is a more detailed look at formal ritual magic than you find in the core rulebook, with plenty of ideas and examples for those who have the patience, discipline and desire to perform castings of this type.

Next comes Secrets of the Initiates. Here, those who wish to expand their powers can find out about different routes they can follow to gain even more arcane knowledge through enlightenment. Not for the faint-hearted, but for those willing to make the attempt the rewards can be potent indeed. Various ordeals may be required, but whole areas of knowledge may be opened up: geomancy, necromancy, psychometry and more. There's even a note about a fascinating career path, that of the forensic thaumaturgist. This role revolves around the use of magic to solve crimes rather than the solving of crimes in which magic was employed (although a good one can probably do that as well). The concept suggests a whole campaign based around a fusion of police procedural, magic and general CSI/forensics... but before I get sidetracked, there's loads more in here, which will be of interest to the more thoughtful mages, those interested in the theory and philosophy of their art as well as the practical applications thereof.

There's another fiction segment, Butcher's Bill, then on to a section called Physical Magic. More goodies for the physical adepts amongst us. Like each section, this begins with a short (page or so) fictional excerpt to set the scene, before launching into detailed material which starts off by explaining what physical adepts are and how they fit into Sixth World society. To give more scope to adepts, several paths or ways for them to follow are presented, each allowing the adept to specialise and focus on a specific area based on their underlying philosophy. There are some juicy new adept powers as well.

The final two sections, The Immaterial Touch and Turning Lead Into Nuyen, deal with spirits and alchemy. The section on spirits delves deep, looking at where they come from, the whys and hows behind the stat blocks we are used to, and should help you make them more of an integral part of your world. Different types of spirit and a collection of new spirit powers round off this section, along with things as diverse as how to create an ally spirit, avatars and more. Finally, the section on alchemy looks at the practice of that ancient craft, providing scope for those who'd like to try it out or for making more rounded NPCs whom the characters might consult. There's a lot about magic items and their manufacture too; and then the discussion moves on to talismongers - what they do and how, and the things they have to offer.

This book reaches down into the core essence of Shadowrun, showing how magic is integral - this is not just a cyberpunk world where magic works, but a true natural revolution, a world changed by the resurgence of magic. Most of us have got that idea already, but the depth and breadth presented here really brings it home and makes it all come to life. If you want the full picture, add this and Run and Gun to your library along with the core rulebook.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Street Grimoire
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Shadowrun: Stolen Souls
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/12/2015 09:55:51
Here we have a wide-ranging and varied text, a mix of immense plot ideas and the tools to help you incorporate them into your campaign, from the broad sweeps to the nitty-gritty of actually managing extraction 'runs... there's a lot here and it repays careful study. Even if you do not fancy the main thrust of the plot, you will find material that could enhance your game.

The whole plotline suggestion is based around the spread of a nasty mental illness, one which is spread disease-like from afflicted individual to afflicted individual. It's causing panic, of course, even in corporate circles... and when corporates panic, there's usually work for shadowrunners! Or your 'runners may know someone with this disease, or actually be motivated to try to save the world from it. To bring this plot into your campaign there's a wealth of resources, even down to patient records (unfortunately, not done as handouts, but possible to manipulate into in-character material if that's what you want to do). Fact and rumour, reports and speculation all work together to build up a picture of what is known about the condition and how various entities are reacting to it. You might choose to let this bubble along in the background, to gauge player interest, before deciding how major a role it will play in your campaign.

One odd side-effect is that there's been an upsurge in corporate extractions. It seems this disease, or whatever it is, strikes at those best suited to actually combat it... and so people with the right capabilities are in high demand just as they are getting scarcer. So much of the focus of the book is on extractions with everything from good locations to snatch people from (with a detailed look at the corporate hothouse of Manhattan) to discussions on the most effective way to perform them and a toolkit of useful equipment. Of course, studying the 'how to' of extraction is just as useful if you earn your nuyen protecting people, suggesting alternate slants if you might prefer to put your characters on the other side, so to speak.

Particularly of use should any character contract the condition - called Cognitive Fragmentation Disorder or CFD - or if they find themselves looking after a victim, is an extensive section on treatment which discusses a wide range of approaches from physical (anything from psychoanalysis to surgery or drugs) through magical and even use of the Matrix. It's presented as case studies, complete with narrative results. It will be up to the GM to put some numbers to any such treatment characters decide to try, though.

The neat thing is, that virtually all of this book is player-friendly. There's a short section at the back which gives the low-down about the real nature of the condition which explains a bit about what is going on and provides the necessary game mechanics, but the GM should feel able to let players read nearly everything else. Even the details about Manhattan and other corporate information is stuff that good research ought to discover.

Presentation is good, if sometimes a bit fragmented - a read-through is recommended first, so that you know where to find whatever you are after later on. It's really an idea-spawning and planning tool rather than an actual campaign guide, you are going to have to come up with your own campaign arc and individual adventures. In some ways, it is a bit narrow to be the focus of a whole campaign (is defeating a disease really what you're playing Shadowrun for?), yet in other ways it is ideal - a massive world-spanning threat which your characters might, just might, be able to defeat. Perhaps it could serve as a background thing or a sub-plot, bubbling up every so often amidst the other things going on in your shadowrunners' lives, then maybe taking centre stage when you decide it's ripe for a climax. It's thought-provoking, providing plenty of ideas worth thinking about and developing further - whilst the material on extractions is of general use to any 'runner.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Stolen Souls
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Shadowrun: Run & Gun
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/11/2015 10:03:40
This mammoth tome is billed as the 'core combat rulebook' for Shadowrun 5e, and provides a wealth of detail to supplement and expand on what the core rulebook has to say on the matter. A lot of it is gear - weapons, armour and suchlike - but that in many ways is the least important part, however much your characters like shopping. There are loads of new rules too, but again whilst they will enhance combat by giving you more options, these too are ancillary. The best bits are the more thoughtful ones. Advice on tactics, working as a team, and how to use all the new weapons and combat actions to best effect. In essence, it's a graduate school for shadowrunners, how to develop from being mere street scum to a force to be reckoned with.

But as always, we begin with some fiction. A compelling tale of a 'run going wrong fast, how familiar does that sound? Then the first chapter, Fight for your Life, presented as an online discussion of various aspects of combat along the general lines of what you don't know is the thing that kills you. It looks at fighting itself, weapons, armour, hand-to-hand brawling, tactics, teamwork and the creative use of explosives. Some of this you may have considered already, some may be new to you, but study it well. Someday it may save your 'runner's butt. It's the sort of advice that any beginning character would love to have before he steps out into the underbelly of whatever city he's in.

Next comes Arsenal, a massive listing of just about any weapon you can imagine. It's not just firearms either, perhaps you'd fancy a Highland Claymore (it's a sword, not an explosive...) or want to go all Indiana Jones with a bullwhip, and there are plenty others that are even more exotic. The firearms range from tiny holdout guns to heavy artillery. One novel one is the Shiawase Arms Puzzler, which breaks down into component parts that are disguised as items you might legitimately be carrying, everything from jewellry to commlink accessories, so you can take it someplace you are not supposed to be carrying a weapon. Each is illustrated and comes with description, commentary and a stat block.

Then Armour and Protection does the same for all the stuff you need to keep you safe - as it's pointed out earlier in Fight for your Life, it's really rather silly to spend loads on fancy weapons then skimp on protection. That nice shiny weapon is of no use to you if you are no longer alive to wield it. Neat items include several lines of designer combat wear, so you can look smart and stay safe at the same time. Of course, depending on what you are doing and where you are doing it, a full suit of heavy-duty armour may be more appropriate. That's here as well. Then it all gets exotic. People ignore you if you're dead, right? So why not have some armour specially-rigged so that any damage looks like a kill-shot and fall over when you're hit. Let the brawl move away, then get up again... On a more practical note, you'll also find all that you need for environmental protection - be it too hot, too cold or underwater or even out in space that you want to go!

The next chapter is Tactics and Tools, and here we get back to the discussions that make this book particularly fascinating. It's all about taking small-unit tactics beyond that Shadowrun standby, 'geek the mage first'. Building a team, defining roles, communications, and then holding it all together when the lead and spells start to fly, again this is well worth study if you want your team to be truly effective rather than relying on strength through superior firepower. Veterans will recognise a lot of what is here, but it is no great leap to apply basic military small-unit skills to a group of shadowrunners even if they are less disciplined than a squad of soldiers. The rule mechanics to enable you to model these techniques are included to make this section even more potent... and there are more 'tools of the trade' to empower your group to operate at peak efficiency.

This is followed by Killshots and More, which looks at effective combat, the actual delivery of force part. Options to make combat even more deadly, and ways to pursue non-lethal yet effective methods of putting your point across on the battlefield. Again every suggestion comes with the game mechanics to put it into action. Perhaps you'd like to call shots with precision accuracy, or produce devastating effects based on what ammunition your are using. You'll find plenty of ideas here, along with novel combat moves and much, much more.

Next, Staying Alive addresses other dangers that you may face. Environmental hazards, extreme weather conditions and the ills that come with them - dehydration, sunburn or frostbite... you name it, you'll find it here along with the rules to implement it in your game. Man-made problems like pollution and radiation are included as well. Or perhaps you'd rather venture into the air, under the sea or into the blackness of space?

Then there's Blow Up Good, everything you might want to know about the combat applications of explosives. You may think that blowing stuff up looks like fun, but it's dangerous - and not just in the obvious way, for example you might like to consider the legal implications of being caught with a load-out of illicit explosives. It doesn't matter if you want to purchase or make your charges, or if you want to drop a building or a troll, just about everything you need to know is here.

Finally, there's a another piece of fiction, Hostile Extraction; and an accummulation in one place of a whole stack of useful tables.

Overall, this takes combat to an art form, with plenty of ideas to enhance the use of violence in your game, coupled with the equipment and rules additions to make it happen. Even if combat is not your favourite part of role-playing, this will make you reconsider joining in the next brawl with enthusiasm!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Run & Gun
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3 Weapon Cards (SR5 Stats)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/09/2015 09:06:59
Whether or not you are using Gun H(e)aven 3, these are handy ready-reference cards for the weapons contained in that book. Each card covers one of the weapons, complete with an illustration and the weapon statistics, so organised players can depict their loadout on the tabletop with the relevant cards - and even better, not have to look through the book or on their character sheets to find the data when they need it. After all, the middle of a firefight is not the best place to be looking something up in a book!

The illustrations are the same ones as in Gun H(e)aven 3, which some people found rather bland and unexciting however I find them crisp and clear... some idea of scale would have been nice, though. The stat blocks are for Shadowrun 5e only, although the book was dual-statted for 4e as well - although a separate set of cards is available for those who prefer the earlier edition. Makes sense, the convenience of the cards would be lost if you had to pick the right stat block out every time you consulted one! If you buy the PDF version, there's a single card back provided if you want to have neat double-sided cards, printed/stuck on card or perhaps laminated - they'd be a bit flimsy else.

If you are using these particular weapons, a handy reference tool indeed. It's a nice additon to the main Gear Cards set released earlier, hopefully the same will be done with the weapons and other items to be found in other supplements (or perhaps as part of that supplement?).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3 Weapon Cards (SR5 Stats)
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Island Keep
Publisher: Ars Phantasia Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2015 09:20:32
If you have need of a well-fortified island settlement for your next game you might take a look at this one. Indeed, if you do take a look anyway, you may find plots spawning as you explore the potentials.

The download is jam-packed with four large JPEGS - at 8.5 x 11.6 inches - offering black and white or colour, labelled or unlabelled versions, plus 2 PDF files (A4 or letter) which have single page copies of the same core versions as well as larger multi-page ones you can print out and stick together.

So, what's the place like? It's a roughly teardrop-shaped island with a rocky shore and an extensive harbour area with wooden staging. Most of the buildings are protected by curtain walls, and the highest point is well-fortified with a central keep surrounded by a wall with towers. Given the harbour provision and the presence (if you use the labelled version) of a Fishmonger's Hall, it's likely that the place makes most of its income from fishing. There's also a Shipwright's Hall, although nothing that really shouts 'shipyard' at you. Looking at the labelled version, there are also two inns - one scruffy one on the docks and a more upmarket one within the walls - and several general businesses to provide for most of your needs. Certain somewhere a seafaring party might find a useful port of call, if not a base.

Visually, it's a neat image with the appearance of being hand-drawn, inked and coloured... it could almost be the work of a local cartographer and so could be used as an in-character handout, as well as being used to inform players of where their characters are.

It's an interesting place with plenty of scope to develop into an important feature of any seafaring campaign.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Island Keep
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River Village
Publisher: Ars Phantasia Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2015 08:01:15
If your plot is going to take the characters to a river village, you could do a lot worse than send them to this one.

In the download you get a wealth of resources. Big JPEG images, and PDF files which include labelled and unlabelled versions of the full map in full colour and greyscale, as well as larger versions that you have to print out and stick together.

The labelled versions number the main buildings, and provide a legend with fairly generic information about what they are. For a small village there's quite an impressive array of shops, but apart from a baker no food shops - maybe people mostly grow their own. There's a mill, complete with a mill race to drive the wheel, and the river seems to be fairly fast-flowing (judging by the white water around the odd rock in it).

Naturally, if you prefer you can label up the unlabelled version of the JPEG (colour or black and white as you like) with your own designations. The unlabelled versions are also good for showing to your players as they won't know what everything is until they have explored a bit.

The JPEGs are huge - 8.5 x 11.5 inches - and could be used with a virtual table top or printed if you have access to poster-printing facilities. There are four, labelled and unlabelled, colour and black and white. There are two PDF files, one in A4 and one letter size. So however you like to present things, there will be one to suit you.

The art style is that of a neat hand-sketch inked and water-coloured - quite the sort of thing a good, careful cartographer might prepare and so making a good in-character handout as well as something to show the players where their characters have ended up. It's nice, and good-looking.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
River Village
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Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/05/2015 08:09:52
If there's one thing virtually every shadowrunner is obsessive about, it's his weapons. So here is a catalogue of some 34 new firearms to delight every gun nut wanting to tool up for the next 'run.

No messing about, either: after the usual webpage simulation, it's straight in to some rules - a couple of new weapon traits for the old-schoolers (although I cannot imagine actually wanting to handload ball and powder mid-firefight) and notes on using these weapons with either the 4th or 5th editions of the Shadowrun ruleset - and then the weapons themselves. Page on glorious page, with pictures, sales blurb and commentary from the typically irreverant 'runner community.

Starting small, there are holdout pistols, fancy ones perhaps more suited to display than use (with a neat anecdote about how a corporate executive kept a pair on display but loaded, and used them to save himself when an assassination team came a-calling), machine pistols and submachine guns, right up to assault rifles for those with more military needs, as well as shotguns and even sporting rifles. There are even some reproductions of historic weapons (hence rules for cap and ball), for those who want 'collector's pieces' without the price tag. The way they are presented, this can almost be used as an in-character catalogue (if you ignore the stat blocks tucked neatly in one corner of the page).

The nice thing is the range of weapons: not just the sort you want for serious work, but some 'fun' weapons for the hobbyist, collector, sportsman (be it hunting or target shooting) and even one suitable for youngsters learning to shoot. It speaks of a prevalent gun culture, of course, where firearms ownership is commonplace and widespread... but that's the kind of impression the whole Shadowrun setting gives anyway. Some mention is made of suitability or adaptations for different metatypes, and yes, there is a flamethrower in there as well!

Most 'runners reckon you cannot have too many guns, throw this at them and give them a few more to choose from.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Gun H(e)aven 3
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Shadowrun: Coyotes
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/04/2015 10:09:06
Widening your horizons from the underbelly of Seattle, the iconic home of the shadowrunner, Coyotes looks at how you cross borders from one region to another, particularly if you lack the papers or resources to just take a flight to your next destination. With the published adventures becoming more and more world-spanning, this is a useful and timely addition - and it can be fun to include in your game (she says, remembering how a certain were-tiger character was smuggled across a border in a crate...)

Beginning with a fluff page of mock activity on a 'runner website and three pages of atmospheric fiction to set the scene, the main body of the work describes - mostly in-character - how a Coyote or people-smuggler operates in the Sixth World. It's dangerous but can be lucrative as well... perhaps your 'runners will want to try it as a trade, or at least need to organise a border crossing as part of their 'run. Or it may be that they need to be somewhere that they are not welcome so more orthodox means of travel will result in an arrest at the airport. Or they may need to leave undetected after stepping on the wrong toes...

Costs can be significant, and there's a handy table to give an idea of how they are calculated (with a note that it is merely a guide for Game Masters), and there's also discussion on the resources that the Coyote needs to ply his trade, and how he defends himself from his 'cargo' as well. Corporates too sometimes have need of a Coyote, and some even have them on the payroll, although that's one of those things they are unlikely to admit.

So now we know a bit about how they ply their trade, where do you find one? Most people use a fixer when they need to engage the services of a Coyote (and that's where aspiring Coyotes tend to look for work). That's discussed as well, so once a need has been determined the deal can be struck.

The discussion then moves on to the borders themselves, looking at the various challenges of trying to get through a checkpoint and of trying to cross the border elsewhere - that is, someplace you should not be crossing at all. Security will involve physical, magical and Matrix elements; and there are notes on how to hide that which you do not want discovered (like were-tigers in boxes...). Borders can be classified as easy, normal, hard and very hard; and details are provided about typical border guards, procedures and security (of all kinds) at each level. So what do Coyotes do that's worth paying them for? A few ideas are provided here, to go along with what has been mentioned before. Six sample Coyotes, fully statted-up, are provided in case you need one in a hurry or just want to look over a typical one's build before creating your own.

Finally, there's a short border crossing adventure, Piping Hot. Drop it into a campaign when you want to introduce your 'runners to the fine art of border crossing. A distraught fixer needs some people moved and his regular Coyote isn't answering. Can the 'runners help? Particularly as said Coyote left detailed instructions on his preferred route just in case he needed rescuing...

All good fun with plenty of scope to make travelling to the job as entertaining as actually doing it; whilst the adventure is quite fun and lets you test the water of the border crossing game with ease.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Coyotes
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Shadowrun: Spell Cards, Series 1
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2015 08:09:49
This is the kind of product that has you kicking yourself and wishing you'd thought of it first... that said, whilst it is useful it could have been so much better!

In any game with combat spellcasting, you either need the memory of a wizard or spend ages thumbing through books to find what you need to roll and what the results are each time you want to cast a spell. Ready-reference cards are an obvious solution (ever since I spent ages transcribing Dungeons & Dragons 1e spells onto 5x3 index cards), and if it's the numbers that give you trouble, these ones fit the bill.

Each one is very simple: name of spell, a brief phrase that describes what it does, and four boxes that tell you type of spell, its range, duration and drain. Combat spells have a fifth box to show the damage you do as well. They are colour-coded: orange for combat, blue for detection, red for healing and so on; which makes it easy to look for a spell of the suitable type - but could let others meta-game by seeing what you are about to do.

What's missing is anything descriptive. You will have to remember that, or go look it up - at least each card has the page number for where that spell appears in the core rule book. The other thing that is missing is an image for the card backs, if you are using the PDF version. Most people like their self-printed cards to look good as well as serving a purpose.

Neat idea, but there's the nagging feeling that it could have been done better... and prettier.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Spell Cards, Series 1
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Adamantine Arrow
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2015 08:37:01
Opening with a strange piece of fiction about death and beyond, Why We Fight, this supplement seeks to dig deep into the very soul of the order of mages called the Adamantine Arrow. Mages of this order are not just warriors but more, they wish to dig deep to understand the philosophy of conflict, and fight with weapons and their arts, seeing combat as the way to truth and enlightenment. Hence members of this order do not merely Awaken, they are then forged into potent weapons, combatants with a burning desire to win... or die trying.

Chapter 1: The Smoke from Distant Fires looks at the history of the order from the earliest times right up to the present. Like all warriors they have many legends of past glories to recount. It sweeps from the days of Atlantis itself, developing the core theme that existence itself is conflict. Wherever there is conflict, there you will find Arrow mages. Some say they have formented wars through the ages, others hold that they have just taken advantage of something ordinary mundane mankind is pretty good at engaging in for itself. One thing though, they detest cannibals. They'll always seek to stamp out that vile practice wherever they encounter it. Throughout the sweep of known history, often written in blood, you will find the Arrow.

Next, Chapter 2: Sown From the Dragon's Talons seeks to explain the philosophies, beliefs and practices of the order. Here we read of the Admant Way - symbolised by a hand grasping a thunderbolt - which speaks of great power and the universe as a weapon wielding by a mage's trained hand. Understand this, and you begin to understand what makes this order tick.

Then Chapter 3: Among Warriors delves into what it is like to be a member of the Arrow. To start with, unlike most orders, constant study and a 'mystery cult' approach does not apply here. No secret handshakes or constant initiation rituals... the idea is that members ought to be out there doing rather than reading or performing ceremonies. This is the underlying difference in philosophical approach, and it's key to understanding the order. Of course, mages still have to be accepted for membership, and to remain in good standing once in. There's an interesting discussion about Awakening - who is likely to Awaken and what sort of events provide the opportunity - which raises some interesting possibilities, and a look at what the order seeks at different stages of a prospective member's career as a mage. Initial initiation, whether sought when newly-Awakened or later on, is quite a lengthy process and both mage and order will have a good understanding of the other by the time it is concluded. It's detailed at length, sufficient to play out if desired although generally a fully-generated character is regarded as having already joined the order of their choice. Alternatively, some groups may want to play 'recruiters' and oversee the initiation of other (NPC) mages. Like any organisation, once in members can gain rank and recognition, and this is laid out in detail. There's also quite a lot about the principles on which the order is run and how they are handled on a day-to-day basis, complete with examples: everything you need to construct Arrow society in a meaningful way in your game. For Storytellers, this is useful even if no character wants to join the order, you can make NPC members come to vivid life. Notes on how to handle cabals that are all or partly composed of Arrow members, or have a single one, and Arrow relationships with other orders and other kinds of supernatural beings are also included.

This is followed by Chapter 4: Factions and Legacies which talks about the various groups with which a member of the order can ally and the different paths that he can follow. The preceding chapter rather gives the air of a unified purposeful order and whilst that is mostly true there are of course a multitude of ways in which individual members group to pursue common aims... and even add in aims of their own into the mix. There are three main factions, but each contains several cults (as they term legacies) that faction members may adhere to. Plenty of detail, plenty of choice.

Chapter 5: Magic discusses the ways in which the Adamantine Arrow uses magic, based on the underlying principle that existence itself is conflict. Tactics, new spells and ideas on the practical application of magic to further the order's aims are to be found here, with the discussion ranging from the philosophical ideas to actual rotes ready to be learned and used. Artefacts and relics are included as well.

Finally, an Appendix contains a goodly collection of ready-made Arrow mages - friends, rivals, or foes as appropriate. There is a wide range of different folk, you will be fairly certain to find one who meets your needs.

Overall, this book gives an excellent look at the Adamantine Arrow and is essential reading if you want them to feature in your Chronicle, or have characters wanting to join the order. There's the usual confusion, that this is far more knowledge than most characters will have, even those who are members (unless very senior ones), but provided players are good at keeping in-character and out-of-character knowledge separate, or the Storyteller doles out information as needed, it should not cause a problem. An entertaining and informative read, broadening your knowledge of the world of Mage: The Awakening.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adamantine Arrow
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Firefly: Smugglers Guide to the Rim
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2015 08:32:57
There's a lot here: new rules, new places to visit and two complete adventures to play. Primarily aimed at game masters, there is a wealth of material to enhance an existing campaign or spark off a new one. It's all presented in the casual conversational style that has characterised all releases in the Firefly line, jarring for some but somehow fitting to the style of the original show.

The rules stuff is mostly to do with Reputation. What are you known for? And how well are you regarded? There's plenty of detail about how to get a good Reputation... and how easy it is to lose it. Note that Reputation only affects how NPCs view you, fellow player-characters are free to make up their own minds, no matter what the numbers say. The four 'factions' found in the 'Verse are also introduced: Alliance, Browncoats, Corporations and Criminals. Each one is a collection of assumptions (right or wrong) about the folk lumped into that category, and most people do not actually view themselves as belonging to one anyway. It mostly serves as a mechanic for determining how NPCs will react, but there is a lot of detail here to help you get a feel for how different groups think and feel. Some of it's useful, some of it may come over as rather too mechanical - but it can serve a use, perhaps as a 'rule of thumb' for determining reactions or even bringing out just how polarised society can be in the wake of a civil war. As examples, the Reputations of the characters from the show are analysed in detail. You can do the same for your own characters (or if you've chosen to play the show ones, well, it's done for you!).

There are also twelve new archetypes for those looking for new characters to play. They are grouped by faction, which may influence your choice. The notes take you through the steps from archetype outline to full-blown character, and then each one gets a full page including basic statistics, a run-down on what makes them tick and even a portrait. There are a lot of new Distinctions to choose from as well, and it is even possible to retrofit existing characters if you want. The process of adding Reputation to them is also covered here. If that wasn't enough, there are also a whole bunch more of Signature Assets that you might wish to have.

Once characters are dealt with, there's a similarly copious array of material for your ship. Different classes of vessel, history, signature assets, distinctions and customisation options - everything you need to make your ship a whole lot more than a means of transportation. There are some ready-made examples too.

Next comes the Good Shepherd's Run, a route through ten planets which are all described in sufficient detail to make a visit interesting. Notable people, what the different factions are doing, places to go... even ideas for adventures to be had there. A wealth of snippets of information to make each location come to life in your game.

This extensive section is followed by two complete adventures, All in the Family and Circling the Wagons. These are laid out in the pattern established by earlier published adventures, and both give plenty of scope for profit and trouble... or maybe that ought to be the other way around. The stakes are high. They are beautifully detailed and easy to run, although you have to edit a bit on the fly if your players have their own characters rather than the ones from the show (mine always want their own characters!). Resources are provided to help you deal with characters who do something other than the intended, seamlessly and without derailing the entire plotline. Nicely done.

There are several Appendices, including a whole lot more Chinese, some rules FAQ (and answers), maps and charts, colourful phrases typical of the various sorts of folk you might encounter, summaries of personal and ship Distinctions and a regular army of NPCs all ready to use (complete with complete character sheets).

There's a wealth of stuff here that will enhance your game - who could want more than that?"

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Firefly: Smugglers Guide to the Rim
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