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Paranoia Red Clearance Edition
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/29/2017 12:15:18

Starting with the Player's Handbook we're confronted with the friendly invitation "Start with this book to become a proud throubleshooter of Alpha Complex". There's the air of one of those faintly embarrasing and over-eager corporate employee handbooks. The information is aimed at novice role-players and begins with an example of play... which ends up with everyone in soup. Why is anybody's guess. Perhaps we'll find out later. Next, the character sheet is explained, along with everything that goes on it. Each character's stats are Violence, Brains, Mechanics and Chuzpah; and these are used in combination with their Skills - they're listed with the appropriate Stat - when you try to do anything.

That explained, we get down to the character creation process itself, with a neat system of group creation that pre-loads the party with tensions and links between individual characters. Everyone gets to choose their own name, appearance and gender (with a note that gender is basically immaterial, the Computer doesn't care... but heterosexual relationships are treasonous as they mock the Computer's genius at cloning, but the Computer has no programming to understand homosexual relationships so they are neither banned nor condoned!). Then you start picking skills, in a manner such that when you choose a positive rating in one, another player gets a negative rating in the same skill. It sounds weird, and probably is to anyone new to Paranoia, but has a strange logic that fits this addmittedly unusual game well. Stats are generated by adding up the skill points under each one - but then your neighbour at the table gets to allocate the numbers generated across the Stats. It makes more sense (and more party conflict!) when you do it than it does to write about it! There are various other bits - treason points, XP points, Moxie and so on - then we look at Secret Societies and Mutant Powers, both of which are treasonous before we even start! The GM allocates these, no options here.

The core game mechanic used whenever you want to accomplish something involves rolling a number of dice equivalent to the appropriate Stat and Skill - this is your NODE (Number Of DicE). And a Computer Dice (no, this isn't a grammatical mistake, that's what it is called), which is always rolled even if the Stat and Skill combined is not a positive number. A 5 or 6 rolled is a success and the number of successes are added to give your result (with any appropriate modifiers added in). Like all game mechanics, once you've tried it a few times it becomes far less cumbersome than it sounds when written out. Puschasers of the hard-copy version of this set get a special Computer Dice, the rest of us have to improvise - perhaps a different-coloured D6 from the others you are rolling with one number designated as the 'Computer'. When you roll that, interesting things happen. The Computer is your friend, after all.

Next is a description of Moxie, which you want to hang on to because when you run out of Moxie points you freak out. This takes the entire gameplay to new levels of silliness, with some of the suggestions here being quite amusing. Then we get on to combat. This is moderated by Action Cards, which are doled out by the GM in a manner not explained here (but which may be expained in the Gamesmaster's Handbook when I get to that in a bit). You get one action per turn, and may play one Action Card during your action, then follow the directions on the card. Preprinted cards are provided (PDF users have to print them out, of course). Being Paranoia there is also a zany way to determine combat order, called the Dynamic Yet Narrative Action Melee Order system or DYNAMO. Just to add to the fun, combat is played real-time. It all sounds horrendously complex - and it is! - but it transforms combat into something quite unique... pretty much like the rest of this game, actually. It then calms down a bit to tell you how to actually resolve combat.

While the various new game mechanics - from character creation to combat stuff - all add to the flavour that is Paranoia at its best, we then hear about a new concept: the Cerebral Coretech. This is a kind of direct link from the Computer into your character's brain. To model communications with the Computer at the game table, it's suggested you text on your phone... passing notes is so old school. And then we get onto XP Points or Better Living Through Gamification (which is, I believe, the first use of gamification in a role-playing game, she says putting her academic head on for a moment!). These are not what you normally think of as XPs, rather than being used to rise in level or develop your character as in most games, they can be spent to get goodies - equipment or other advantages - to give your character a boost. Or you can increase skills or even security clearance... there's a whole catalogue of stuff to choose from. This book ends with equipment information (fairly general, most is on Equipment Cards) and decidedly treasonous information on Secret Societies.

On to the Gamesmaster's Handbook. Slightly saner in tone, this provides what you need to know to run Paranoia games, starting with an explanation of what Alpha Complex actually is like. Then there's advice on GMing Paranoia, including basic advice for those new to GMing at all. There are some revolutionary ideas here, like the GM doesn't roll dice, leave that to the players. It's fine to make things up and decide what happens rather than leave it to chance. It's not abitrary, it is appropriate and in the spirit of Paranoia. But you can roll dice if you really want to. There are notes on setting difficulty levels for players to roll against, and a discussion of what the Computer really is. Explanations of security clearances, mutant powers and secret societies follow... oh, and there are even non-treasonous societies clones can join too. There are cards for Secret Societies which you issue to players, with strict instructions to keep them, well, secret. Even from the other players, but there is considerable more information here. And there's more... computer viruses (which may or may not exist), much more about equipment and how it fails, issuing XP points, the use of the Number 1 Troubleshooter Card, and the all-important Running Combat section. The book rounds up with a bucket-load of good advice about running Paranoia, notes on creating adventures, and some comments about humour in RPGs. And random tables for the Computer Dice and for Losing It (just in case you need some ideas...).

The final book is the Missions Book. This provides three linked adventures all ready to go. There's some basic advice for someone who's never even role-played before and has still been asked to GM, then on to the adventures themselves, each ought to be capable of being run in a single session each. If run in order, they provide a good introduction to the game, and to Alpha Complex. Pre-generated characters are supplied for those who want to dive straight into the action, there's also a bare-bones summary of the rules. Everything is presented very clearly and simply: you could literally pick this up not knowing anything about Paranoia or even role-playing and make a credible stab at running the first adventure provided you follow the instructions. In the first adventure, the characters are Infrared clearance, the lowest of the low, but they ought to graduate to Red clearance, and Troubleshooter status, by the end. The next two build on that, giving more insights and more grief to the party.

Paranoia is back, and with a vengeance! The true spirit, the flavour of the original game, is well-reflected in its new incarnation, with some innovative quirks and new game mechanics that serve only to inhance it. Paranoia's not for everyone, but it makes an excellent antidote to more serious games, and this new edition will not disappoint newcomers or those who have played every previous edition alike. The Computer is your friend...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Paranoia Red Clearance Edition
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The Red Isle
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/28/2017 10:33:54

Throw this adventure in sometime that the party is taking a long sea voyage... it's easy to drop it into any campaign as it is based on a remote and rarely-visited island. The DM's Background explains the situation in which the party will find themselves and provides a neat way for them to hear at least a little of this information: the captain of the ship they are on likes telling tales of an evening!

It all begins with a shipwreck. The characters wake up on what appears to be a remote and deserted island. This survival situation turns into a delve as a long-lost pirate lair is discovered and (presumably) explored. The pirate captain was a bit paranoid, so it's quite well defended, not to mention other creatures that have moved in. There's a clear plan of the lair, presented as a side elevation (it makes more sense that way, but is nicely-done) and each location therein is described in detail, with what (and who) is to be found there and all you need to run the ensuing combat. And combat there will be, nothing there is going to be interested in a chat.

This is a tough adventure: the traps are complex and deadly and so are the inhabitants. Survivors will find a rich hoard... but they still have to figure out how to get someplace that they can enjoy their new-found wealth. Suggestions for further adventures are included, all-in-all this is a nice little side-adventure to catch your players with when they are thinking about the reason they originally undertook that fateful sea voyage.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Red Isle
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Asatania (ASX-4): Rock Point Keep (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/27/2017 11:20:26

This side-adventure serves to wind up the Crashing Chaos campaign, and serves to shed further light on the ancient squabbles between the Windsome Chain islands (where the party is at the moment) and the Farasene Imperium, something the characters are now embroiled in themselves. It also lets the party explore a new part of the islands. Although adding background, it can be left out if you don't wish to include it in your campaign - and even if you are not running the Crashing Chaos campaign it could make a stand-alone adventure with a few changes.

It all begins after a celebratory banquet marking the freeing of Harbourhume from the Kan Demon when Christianos Thixx, the new-crowned king of the islands, asks the party to secure Rock Point Keep, an outpost of his kingdom that has stood abandoned due to a treaty with the Imperium that forbade them from maintaining a standing army. There's a fair bit of background to absorb (mostly stuff that a historically-inclined character ought to be able to ferret out if so inclined), then the party is summoned by the king and given their instructions. They have a choice of travelling by land or by sea along the coast to a point near to the keep, both options are covered here. Those who go by land face a quite eventful 3-day journey, while it takes about a day by sea and this trip, too, is not devoid of interest.

Whichever way they come, eventually they reach the Keep itself. It consists of a small tower in a walled courtyard, a plan and room descriptions are provided. At a first glance, the place seems neglected but that doesn't mean that nobody's home... or that they are friendly. Expect several brawls to punctuate exploration. Oh, and it's haunted as well. This provides curious characters with an opportunity to discover more of the history of the place.

It's a neat adventure with a lot going on which all serves to make the place come alive. Successful characters who are in the King's service (rather than merely having hired out to undertake this task) will be granted land in the vicinity, which provides opportunity for further activity. The mix of physical and supernatural encounters is handled well making it all the more believable - the flesh-and-bones residents of the keep are scared of the ghostly ones! There are also some links to what has gone before. All in all, if you are playing the Crashing Chaos campaign with the intent of continuing on to the next story arc, you ought to run this cracking little adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (ASX-4): Rock Point Keep (5E)
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Asatania (ASX-3): The Prisoner of Spur Rock (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/25/2017 07:52:42

This 'side adventure' is an optional addition to the core adventure The Rebel Prince, you may choose to run it at a particular point - it's all about staging a prison break on behalf of said Prince of someone he reckons will be useful in the fight against the Kan Demon. If you don't want to run this, provision is made for him to turn up anyway (either he got out on his own or never got banged up in the first place, it's not really mentioned). Many parties won't baulk at breaking someone out of gaol anyway, but if yours worries about the ethics of it all, well, here's another of those tough choices this campaign is full of!

The individual in question is one Roger Blodgett, a seaman and explorer whose 'crime' was to sail out into the open ocean to find out what was over the horizon, something forbidden by the Farasene Imperium of Tere. The gaol of Spur Rock is located on a tiny spit of land twenty miles off the eastern coast of Tere and pretty far from anywhere. It contains a mix of political prisoners, criminals from important families, and a few souls unlucky enough to know something they shouldn't... and the guards are not much better, the absolute dregs of the Imperium army exiled here, probably at least as deserving of being behind bars as the inmates they guard. This adventure, perhaps with a few name changes, can also be run as a part of any campaign or as a stand-alone.

The adventure opens with the party being asked to undertake the prison break, and being provided with a little background including the useful information that there's a smugglers' cave underneath the prison building that is said to connect with the cellars. They'll be taken there by sea and will be collected once they signal that they want to be taken off again. The adventure is written with the assumption that the party will use it to gain access, but there's sufficient information about the place that you ought to be able to cope with other plans if the party proposes them. There's a plan and room descriptions - and the place is every bit as dire and dreary as you might imagine. One or two of the guards might be worth talking with, although there are no details on the prisoners (save Blodgett himself) except that they are in poor shape, you might want to add some detail here.

This is a neat prison break adventure that ought to occupy your party nicely for a session or two. It's one where stealth rather than brute force is probably the best course of action, although the guards are possibly a bit under-powered if the party takes the approach of all-out combat... perhaps that is to be expected of the dissolute dregs that they are supposed to be. With atmospheric writing, it's a good way to gain the favour of a prince.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (ASX-3): The Prisoner of Spur Rock (5E)
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Asatania (ASX-2): The Ghost of Jarvis Island (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/23/2017 08:08:12

This, the second 'side adventure' of the Crashing Chaos campaign, slots in after events in Muscle, Sinew and Wood when the party leaves the doomed town of Bray's Bay aboard ship. Jarvis Island is midway between Bray's Bay and the Windsome Chain, which is the party's intended destination. Several ideas are provided for reasons why the party should investigate the island instead of continuing the journey - and there's even a note that this adventure could be lifted clean out of the Asatania campaign world and slotted into your own campaign instead!

The Introduction lays out what is going on, and then the adventure proper begins... with an attack at sea! If you are using one of the alternate hooks - and so have a party visiting Jarvis Island on purpose - you may wish to leave this out, but you may choose to have a fight at sea anyway if your group enjoys them. The information gained from this encounter pertains to the on-going campaign, so if you are running this adventure as part of something else you'll need to change it to suit. Then it's on to the island itself.

Supposedly uninhabited, there used to be a tin mine here which is now played out. There's a map of the island as well as copious background notes including details of the mine, the settlement that served it and a lighthouse. Although the place is deserted, there are a few signs that someone's been there... and then an odd ghostly figure appears! This leads to the meat of the adventure, as the party tried to find out what is going on and deal with it. The truth of the matter may or may not be discovered, but should the party get it wrong the consequences could be quite bad!

This is a cracking little adventure in its own right, and it adds an interesting twist to the Crashing Chaos campaign, with the potential for adding a long-running NPC that will continue to bedevil the party (and indeed anyone else) for a long time... it's suggested that an escape is engineered if the party figure out what is happening and look likely to take steps to avoid it, just to keep this intriguing side-plot going! Deliciously devious.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (ASX-2): The Ghost of Jarvis Island (5E)
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Asatania (ASX-1): The New Mine Masters (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2017 07:13:39

This is an optional 'side adventure' that may be run between Face Down in a Muddy Road and Smoke on the Horizon, the party getting the choice in-game to continue straight on to Bray's Bay or to follow up on a map they might have found. If you don't want to run this adventure, just don't let them find the map! However, this is a lot more than just an opportunity to poke around a mine and beat up a few Kan Demon, so it's worth considering its inclusion.

The Kan Demon raiders have gone, according to the map, to Argot Hill after demolishing the settlement at Siver's Mill. Here there is an iron mine and the basic objective of this adventure is to chase them out of it. Naturally, there's a bit more going on... explained here for the DM, with background detail about clan politics and different factions within the Kan Demon. There's also advice on how to let it be the party's decision whether or not to go to Argot Hill - the campaign is designed to present the party with tough decisions, this is just the first one.

The trip to Argot Hill is unpleasant - a muddy track with plenty of insects to plague the party - and once there a map of the settlement and descriptions of key locations are provided. Once the party has dealt with matters there, they can move on to the minehead - again a plan is provided - and venture underground (also mapped out). Everything is well-described in a fairly realistic description of a typical mediaeval mining operation. Clearing that is relatively simple, but with a neat twist in the tale. The locals are likely to be pleased at the party's intervention, and this adventure goes some way to cement them as the 'good guys' in the invasion.

Although simple, everything is put together neatly and it makes a nice addition to the ongoing plot, even if not being strictly necessary for its advancement. It introduces some minor goodies - there's more than iron ore down there, shall we say - that won't make much of a difference to the overall game, but which are rather nice from the story point of view.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (ASX-1): The New Mine Masters (5E)
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Dawn of the Serpent
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/21/2017 10:06:16

This adventure provides a neat interlude sometime the party is travelling through wild-enough terrain that a night in the open will be involved, as it opens with them spotting what looks like a welcoming camp fire ahead one chilly evening...

Of course, they won't get the rest, warmth and companionship they might have been expecting. The DM's Background points out the main hazards of travelling: inclement weather, roving bandits and occasional monsters - and this adventure includes all three. The adventure is set in the Gloamwood Forest, which has of late gained a bit of a reputation for being dangerous, although the road that goes through the forest is quite well-travelled and relatively safe. This forest can be placed anywhere in your campaign world where a largish forest with a road through it is appropriate. It's best run in winter, but if you prefer to run it in another season, that's fine.

Various rumours may be heard before the party actually reaches this stage in their journey (particularly if you like foreshadowing), and then it's straight on with the action. Investigating the camp fire leads eventually to a lair that needs cleaning out. It's all quite straightforward in a way, but there are traps and monsters to defeat on the way to solving the adventure... and some neat ideas for what might happen afterwards.

As a way to enliven a journey, this makes for an interesting challenge - especially if you have carefully prepared your party to expect a covivial night around a campfire on a cold night. The various elements of the story combine well together to make an entertaining interlude with potential consequences that might haunt the party for some time to come.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dawn of the Serpent
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Gottheit
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/20/2017 07:43:04

Travelling through a dark and misty night, the party is looking forward to finding a place to stop for the night... but when the town of Gottheit comes into view, the settlement appears deserted and derelict. Or is it?

Designed to accompany Alderac Entertainment Group's Undead sourcebook, the adventure seeks to answer the question, what happened to the people of Gottheit? The DM's Background explains why a peaceful (if somewhat over-religious) community has turned into the dismal wreck the party arrives at, and prepares you to run the adventure. It has an interesting structure, in that although it appears to the players that it's a location-based adventure as they wander the town, it is actually event-based, with a series of events that occure in a set sequence with it not mattering just where the party is when each event occurs!

A town plan and location descriptions are provided, then the encounters are presented in the sequence in which they should take place, leading the party inevitably to the climax in the temple in the centre of town. It's recommended that, despite the party being free to wander as they please, they should not visit the temple until the end but no clear advice on how to manage that is provided.

It's a fine creepy adventure that maintains suspense well, although I think the recommened character level (9th-11th) is a bit too high... slightly lower level characters should find it appropriately scary and a bit more of a challenge.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gottheit
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Asatania (AS-4): The Rebel Prince (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/19/2017 08:28:50

This final adventure of the Crashing Chaos finds the party already reeling: they've been ambushed, seen their homeland thrown into chaos, and been forced to abandon Tere altogether... assuming they fled Bray's Bay in the ship so thoughtfully provided! Now, if they can but rally some forces, they get a chance to strike back as the Kan Demon have stretched themselves rather thin and are, truth be told, getting a bit cocky about how easy it's been so far for them.

The Introduction lays it out. The last episode ended with them at sea, heading for the Windsome Chain, off-shore islands where they'll meet various people who can help with a counter-attack. Indeed, if you want to add in the side-adventure The Prisoner of Spur Rock, they'll need to bust one of their potential allies out of gaol first! There's some background on the islands and their history, as well as on the people to be found there... and on the 'wild magic' storms that periodically hit the islands and the superstitious ways of the islanders.

Then the action begins, the party is aboard the Calm Seas sailing towards the islands (with a detour if you decided to run the side-adventure The Ghost of Jarvis Island). A neat minor event is that anyone who is on deck at night may notice subtle changes in the constellations overhead... and then its time to arrive at their destination. There are loads of people to meet and the climax of the adventure is to join with them to liberate a township on the islands from the Kan Demon. This involves a magnificent urban guerilla action that hopefully will provoke an uprising to send the Kan Demon packing. It's beautifully-handled, with a whole series of events and encounters to build the pressure on the party who are, of course, spearheading the action, sneaking through the occupied settlement. Detailed notes on locations and people place everything you need at your fingertips.

The end of the adventure caters for all possible outcomes, although it's hoped that the party succeeds... even if the 'Rebel Prince' tries to take more than his fair share of the glory. He does have some neat rewards in mind for the party, however... and if you see fit, a final task in the shape of the side-adventure Rock Point Keep. The main plotline is due to continue in the next campaign arc, Darkness Surges, but in the meantime, the party can sit back and enjoy all the festivities of a coronation.

This adventure is put together extremely well, especially what in my infantry sergeant days I would call 'Fighting in a Built Up Area' - as fine a representation of urban military action on the tabletop as I have seen. It's always quite hard to ensure that your party stays in the spotlight when armies clash, here it's done magnificently.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-4): The Rebel Prince (5E)
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Asatania (AS-3): Muscle, Sinew, and Wood (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/18/2017 07:42:53

The last adventure (Smoke on the Horizon) ended with the party viewing Bray's Bay from a hilltop, and finding that it is being beseiged. Now they have to do something about it! The Preface talks about the growing realisation of just how bad the state of affairs is, something that is not going to improve. It also touches on other events that will transpire and how this influences the campaign as a whole, putting everything into context for the DM. The party will learn more about the Kan Demons and their capabilities.

The Introduction explains how the Kan Demons have invested the settlement in quite some detail, most of which the party ought to be able to figure out with careful observation. A detailed map is provided to aid you in describing the situation. It is rather assmued that they'll try to enter Bray's Bay even though it is under siege, this can be done with a modicum of stealth although there are some delightful notes should it come to combat - 'remind your players that combat is loud' being a prime example. In a startling note (remember, even though player-characters can be spell-casters, magic use is virtually unknown here) the Kan Demons are conducting a massive magic ritual involving rune stones which they've brought with them prior to mounting an assault on the town's defences. Should your party decide to go for help rather than join in the brawling, that's been catered for as well... which provision neatly lands them back in town anyway!

Once they have sneaked or fought their way in through the pallisades (and several options are provided for doing this), the people they encounter there are well-detailed, and this makes the growing realisation that the settlement will not survive all the harder... although the party will be urged to take ship to spread a warning of the Kan Demon incursion - far more than last year's raids already. Whilst there are other options, various NPCs have convincing arguments against taking them. As they go, this is a suitable point to run the side adventure The Ghost of Jarvis Island.

Overall this is a good action-packed adventure, bringing elements of warfare in without completely swamping character autonomy... although the party is somewhat railroaded into first entering the besieged town and then fleeing it. Resources are provided to help you make it feel like these are their own decisions, with many good and valid arguments put into the mouths of the NPCs. Additionally, an appendix details some of the more common things that players might do and how to cope with them without breaking the plot. Still, it's exciting and lays the groundwork for what is to come.

[I really wanted to give 4.5 stars, but the system doesn't allow that!]



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-3): Muscle, Sinew, and Wood (5E)
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Asatania (AS-2): Smoke on the Horizon (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2017 08:15:53

This is the second 'core' adventure in the Crashing Chaos campaign, and can either follow directly after Face Down in a Muddy Road or be run following the side-adventure The New Mine Masters if your party decides to investigate a map they might have discovered. The Preface explains where it fits in the scheme of things, and how - as low-level characters - the party will be concentrating on survival amidst the turmoil, but even now should be beginning to realise that there's a bit more than a few raids going on. Throught this adventure (and following ones) they will meet many NPCs, and the sort of impression they make will colour how they are viewed later on in the campaign.

The gist of the adventure is that the party will discover just how much damage the Kan Demon raiders have done as they continue their journey to Bray's Bay. It's assumed that they still will go there, due to a combination of the reasons they had for going there in the first place and the encouragement of various NPCs. The action takes place on the road from a hamlet called Siver's Mill that is not far from Bray's Bay and includes a visit to a manor house that belongs to the governor of the area and another farmhouse that is under attack. Plenty to keep the party occupied.

This is a fairly short adventure and probably will occupy but a single session, unless the party gets into a lot of brawls. It's a bit of an anti-climax after the last core adventure, appearing just to be to get the party from one place to another... but even though the party may not realise it, some of the encounters are of considerable significance and will prove worthwhile in hindsight. There are a few notes to aid you in dealing with wayward parties who refuse to travel on the road and a couple of handouts, along with monster notes and NPC statistics.

This is definitely a 'mid-campaign' adventure and would be no use on its own. It ends on a hilltop looking down on Bray's Bay... all ready for the next adventure. One wonders just why this and the next one (Muscle, Sinew and Wood) were not combined - even the next side adventure is supposed to occur later, if you choose to use it. Yes, it moves the plot along. Yes, it introduces at least one important person who'll feature later... but there's a question as to why it has to be presented as a separate adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-2): Smoke on the Horizon (5E)
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Asatania (AS-1): Face Down in a Muddy Road (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2017 08:10:31

The Preface lays out the slightly awe-inspiring point that this adventure sets the scene for the entirety of Asatania campaigning. In it the characters are introduced to the world and to the major threats that it faces... and they'll soon find themselves making tough choices, the sort that have no 'right' or 'wrong' decision, just ones that will have an effect, often a profound one, not only for the characters themselves but for the world which they inhabit.

There's also some fascinating background about the inspiration for the whole campaign concept: an insular nation that feels protected by the seas around it, to the length of prohibiting exploration beyond its shores, and how it copes when others come a-visiting in a disruptive manner. Fascinating stuff, to see how that single idea has spawned an entire world setting and series of adventures. Moreover, the author recognises 'success' by player response, citing deep in-character discussions about courses of action as a marker of a campaign that has really caught the group's imagination. (It's good when that happens, I still recall fondly a Cyberpunk game in which the characters debated, for over 15 minutes, the pros and cons of the use of torture as a valid business tactic... perhaps you don't want to meet some of my players!)

With a few notes on helpful resources (like the Asantania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide, recommended but not required), on keeping the challenges appropriate to your group if it varies from the five first-level characters intended, and even on using a ruleset other than Dungeons & Dragons 5e, we reach the Introduction. This covers some of the interesting features of this world like the apparent lack of magic. Yes, you can play a spell-caster, but such a character will feel themselves to be unique because anyone else who uses magic keeps very quiet about it... and you will have probably found out the hard way that it's best to be discreet about what you can do! This moves on to a plot overview covering events in this adventure and a discussion on helping your players come up with appropriate backstories for their characters, as the action starts with them travelling by public cart (or Traveller Wagon, as they are known) to the settlement of Bray's Bay. By the end of this adventure, they ought to be second level and will be faced with their first choice... one option available means that you'll need to run one of the side adventures for them (The New Mine Masters).

As stated, the adventure begins with the characters on the road. There's some concise 'read aloud' text to bring them up to speed without you having to hold forth for hours - there's a Player's Guide available (free if you choose the PDF option) for those who want to delve deeper. This is also an opportunity for the characters to get to know each other - sitting in a cart for hours on end gets pretty boring, as well as hard on the rear end! NPCs are extremely detailed and really come to life - there are a few sharing the journey with the characters - so there is ample scope for role-play. And then, the fun starts...

Throughout, there are useful snippets of information that you can weave into the story as appropriate. The NPCs are also categorised as being there for flavour or ones intended to be recurring participants in the campaign, and they are all extremely well-rounded with quirks and personalities - even the 'throw-away' ones. In the Campaign Guide it was suggested that you could either award XP in the conventional manner, or level up the party at appropriate points, and both methods are supported, with neat tables showing what XP is available as appropriate for those going down that route. Likewise you are well supported with suitable skill checks being noted when appropriate, along with the results of success, which makes it easy to both use the right ones and remember to call for them at the correct moment! There's an overview map and detailed maps for each encounter along with descriptions of what and who you'll find in each location (and what they are likely to do when the party turns up). Appendices cover the Kan Demons in considerable detail and provide NPC stat blocks, as well as copies of the encounter maps (and the overall map) to give to your players.

This is a splendid introduction to what promises to be an exciting campaign. As DM, you should feel well-supported to cope with whatever your players do as the amount of information provided will equip you to be able to react appropriately. The in media res start coupled with the way background material is provided should get you off to a flying start... in short, this is an excellent example of a 'campaign starter' adventure!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania (AS-1): Face Down in a Muddy Road (5E)
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Princes, Thieves & Goblins
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2017 06:57:45

The Player's Background paints a picture of a small but prosperous kingdom that was happy up until the previous year, when a succession of goblin raids caused havoc... but worse was to come. The King summons the party to a meeting at his country retreat, and requests their help - his baby son has been kidnapped! Evidence points to the goblins and the King will throw his resources behind the party...

All this has been dealt with, through a mix of narrative and role-play (although you can role-play the lot if you prefer) before we even get to the DM's Information. This explains some quite epic confusion on the part of the goblins and lays out what is going on and why quite clearly. Assuming the party agree to accept the task, they soon are on their way. The journey to the goblins' lair is glossed over, you may prefer to make it more interesting.

The lair itself is clearly mapped and detailed, with room descriptions along with notes on who might be around, all necessary game mechanical information and their likely intentions. From here on in, it's a fairly straightforward delve, with traps and monsters to deal with. Although it's supposed to be the goblins' lair, it's a bit difficult to envision them actually living there given the set-up. At the end of the dungeon, there is an opportunity to negotiate a solution should the party choose to take this option. The adventure rounds off with a new type of goblin and a magical item which plays quite a major role - more as an object than because of its powers, interestingly.

In a way, this adventure promises more than it delivers. The set-up is intriguing, but the dungeon itself quite pedestrian. The way in which a negotiated outcome is possible is excellent, but resolving it is left very much to the DM's discretion... and there is nothing concerning any consequences or follow-up adventures. With some work, this could prove a good adventure, as is it's a bit unsatisfying.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Princes, Thieves & Goblins
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The Ice Caves of Azinth
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/13/2017 11:31:49

Just what any group of up-and-coming adventurers trying to make a name for themselves would like: a summons to a consultation about a 'matter of some urgency', from a local monarch, no less. Amid rumours of impending war between Azinth (the summoning monarch's kingdom) and an aggressive bunch to the south, the party travels to this small but prosperous kingdom which is backed by a massive mountain range to the north. That's where the problem is: for the past five years solid it has been snowing on those mountains and all the passes are frozen solid, cutting Azinth off from its allies to the north. Now a stranger has arranged a meeting in a deserted inn, claiming to know how to deal with the situation, and the king wishes the party to attend to the matter...

So runs the Player Introduction, and the DM Background opens with a note that the DM should change names as necessary to put events in an appropriate corner of the campaign world. There's a lot more detail about what's going on in and around Azinth (or whatever you rename the place), and explains the real nature of the problem the party is tasked to solve.

And then we're off, with a chilly journey up into the mountains - don't worry, it's only going to get colder - and plenty of action to keep the party on their toes. At least fighting ought to keep them warm! Eventually they meet their contact who explains what they need to do and leads them onward to where they need to be. Eventually they reach the 'ice caves' which are mapped out and described, and shall we say, darn chilly! And, of course, filled with those who wish intruders ill... and even as they obtain their objective, a massive brawl breaks out.

It's an excellent if chilly adventure with an exciting climax, in a setting that could prove fruitful for further adventures. Successful parties will be rewarded well, there's even a medal from a grateful king (plus cash for those of more mercenary inclinations) and other rewards to be had. There's a new monster and a new magic item as well, indeed the party even has a chance of keeping the magic item. A good adventure to add to your collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ice Caves of Azinth
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Asatania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide (5E)
Publisher: Fantastic Reality
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2017 08:50:08

Subtitled 'A Game Masters Guide to Asatania', this work sets out to provide all that you need to know to run the Crashing Chaos campaign: setting background, loads of NPCs and outlines of all eight adventures that go to make up the campaign.

It opens with an inspiring appeal to the potential GM, that their primary role is to make the setting come alive for the players, forging connections between player and character, and character and world. This work will aid tremendously, providing a clear sense of the world in which the adventures take place and of the sometimes subtle relationships between the NPCs the party will encounter. It's not just about a series of adventures, or even an ongoing story, it's about inhabiting a shared alternate reality that, for the duration of play, ought to feel real to those playing the game. This has always been what I've tried to create at my table, and it is quite delightful to find it spelled out so clearly.

There is an overview of the entire Asatania concept, a linked series of story arcs of which Crashing Chaos is but the first. This consists of four story adventures and four side-adventures (which are optional as far as progressing the main plot, but recommended for those after the full experience). Notes on timings and on different ways of awarding experience - the conventional points for killing and looting, or by milestones achieved - are included. Indeally, characters should be no more than 6th level by the completion of Crashing Chaos (or they will be a bit overpowered for the next bit).

We then start delving into the ancient history of the setting, with wars between elves and demons some two thousand years ago... wars which by now have faded to mere myth and legend in most people's minds. Wind forwards to the present and we find ourselves in the Farasene Imperium, the dominant nation on the continent of Tere. Last summer, they suffered a series of raids by strange humanoids from over the sea. Over the winter, when the raids ceased, the Imperium prepared to defend itself by forming an army. That army is mustering in a coastal town called Bray's Bay and the campaign opens with the characters travelling in that general direction for whatever reason they choose to come up with.

Next come the adventure outlines, followed by information to aid you in advising the players on character creation. Magic, for example, is unknown, yet that should deter anyone wanting to play a spell-caster. They may have the full powers of their chosen class, they just have never let on to those around them what they can do. Religion, on the other hand, has a strong influence on society despite the gods having a very hands-off approach, neither answering prayers nor speaking to the faithful. Notes on the races available (most of the core ones apart from dragonkin, tieflings, and half-orcs) are followed by a run-down of the places where each is found, to help in creating a backstory for each character that brings him to the point at which the first adventure begins.

We then settle down to a more detailed survey of the campaign setting, with a note that further campaign guides may be published as the party travels further afield. A delightful conceit is the way in which the constellations in the night sky reflect events in the story that will be told. There's information on all aspects of life from the calendar and major festivals to the sort of jobs people have, coinage, trade, education and even the Imperium's foreign policy. Then there is a vast array of vividly-portrayed NPCs. Each one comes with notes on how to play them, stat blocks and loads of background... and even the Emperor himself is there although it's unlikely that the characters will meet him (yet). There is also an indication of which adventures each NPC may turn up or otherwise be referenced in. Their appearance is described and many are illustrated. It makes for an excellent resource.

Finally, there is information on religion and deities, and on the raiders - known as Kan Demons (because they are believed to come from the mythical continent of Kan far over the sea). Overall, this is an excellent preparation for running this campaign and all GMs should have a copy and study it well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Asatania Crashing Chaos Campaign Guide (5E)
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