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Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
Publisher: FR Press
by Robert H. (. &. P. G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/22/2009 15:30:10

Instant Antagonists is a new series of mini-supplements by Jess Hartley and Matt McElroy that drop a unique villain or perhaps even a shady ally to plague your players in your modern supernatural or horror game. Each of the supplements will be completely system independent, aiming instead to give you enough background on the antagonists to recreate them in the game system of your choice. The first installment kicks things off with a "Selfish Succubus" who lurks among us by the name of Lily Sinclaire.

The supplement opens with a piece of short fiction featuring our villainess and is told from the perspective of her latest "fling." The scene sets up the hedonistic and predatory nature of our antagonist and starts to get the creative juices flowing. From there we dive into the creature's background, and we are provided with an array of possible origins, powers and story hooks for introducing Lily into the game.

The idea of a temptress who entices men (or let's be fair, perhaps women too) toward ultimate damnation is nothing new or innovative. Lily's background and motivations read exactly like you would expect based on the mounds of modern fiction featuring succubi. She's the life of the party with a seemingly insatiable sexual appetite who prays on the week of will or character, ultimately seducing her prey to give into fleeting and carnal pleasures while manipulating them into somehow damning their eternal souls. This supplement doesn't give any new spins on that basic theme.

However, it does bring some interesting ideas to the table for how a succubus might have found herself (itself?) into your world -- even one that doesn't normally feature creatures from the heights of heaven or depths of hell. The story hooks provide an instant launching point for adventurers starring Lily as either a villainess who vexes the party or a dangerous ally in a fight against something even more sinister and threatening than her. While the six story hooks presented are brief summations of no more than a couple of paragraphs each, they give the game master some great inspiration on using a creature like Lily Sinclaire in their game, and they are the real gold to be found in this supplement.

My Thoughts

The idea behind the Instant Antagonists series is a brilliant one. Many games gloss over these kinds of background and flavor details, and instead they focus on throwing stat blocks at the game master that translate into little more than empty bags of hitpoints. Here is where a product like Instant Antagonists can step in to give the game master some real guidance on how to introduce a captivating villain that his players are sure to remember -- and loathe -- for a long time to come.

I eagerly await the next installment...

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
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Colonial Gothic Rulebook
Publisher: Rogue Games, Inc
by Robert H. (. &. P. G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/08/2009 22:47:32

Colonial Gothic is a pseudo-historical roleplaying game created by Rogue Games and set in 1776 at the dawn of the American Revolution. The players will find themselves in a time where war is brewing and secret societies are manipulating events for their own sinister purposes. Magic and mythology merge with both the horror of the supernatural and the evils of man himself in this unique and intriguing RPG.

The System

The core engine of Colonial Gothic is a light-weight, skill-based system known as 12 degree, which uses two twelve-sided dice exclusively to resolve all actions in the game. The mechanics are simple: roll two twelve sided dice and if the total is equal to or less than the target number needed, then the action succeeds. Target numbers are based on the character’s skill level (1-12) plus his related attribute (1-12) modified by the difficulty of the task, which ranges from "Instinctive (+6)" to "Impossible (-6)." Appropriate to its name, every "degree" of success below the target number improves the results. This system allows for fast paced play. It doesn't try or purport to be a simulationist game, preferring to concentrate on the story and atmosphere of the setting and allow the rules to fade into the background as much as possible.

The game also features some cinematic options for players, allowing the player to choose "Fate Cards," which are special elements of the character’s background or personality. Fate cards help the player by giving him the opportunity to use "Faith Points" to better his chances of success and pull of amazing feats when confronted by a challenge that has to do with something in his background, and it cues the GM in on the types of stories the player is interested in. More interestingly, these fate cards can even be used by the player to weave in elements of his background into the current story, which gives the player the opportunity to participate more collaboratively with the GM in the storytelling process.

The Artwork

The book is almost entirely illustrated with period woodcut images which complement the setting perfectly. In fact, after reading through the book, I would dare say that more modern, full color art would probably not have been as successful at setting the right tone. Only in a few scant sections will you find non-period images, such as the "Monsters" chapter, and the artists do a good job of keeping with the overall style, although you will almost certainly be able to spot the non-period art hiding amongst the rest of the older style woodcuts.

The Setting

The world of Colonial Gothic is set more than two hundred years in our past at the dawn of the American Revolution. The game assumes by default a sort of secret history. Everything that history records as having happened does happen, but there is a hidden story concealed between the pages of the history books. In Colonial Gothic, we find secret and often sinister societies working from the shadows, and stories of ghosts and dark magic which are rooted in truth. Mages work sometimes subtle and often dangerous magic that have left history filled with unexplained mysteries, and creatures that are spoken of in legend lurk in the dark of night, hungry and waiting. Meanwhile, an all-out war between the colonies and Britain is about to erupt. It is no wonder that the authors chose this period to explore. The possibilities for adventure are limitless.

Of course, the biggest impediment to running a game like Colonial Gothic would be the sheer amount of information the game master might feel compelled to absorb to get the historical details right. Fortunately, the authors have done a lot of work upfront for you. The core rulebook goes a long way toward compiling and giving you the absolute essentials for running a game set during the American Revolution, including crucial details about the colonies, religious sects, politics, the economy and even what traveling between colonies was like. This is, in fact, the first RPG book that I have ever read that actually has a bibliography in the back of the book – and a rather extensive one at that. It was this attention to detail and all of the research the authors did putting this together which really make this book such an enjoyable read.

Nonetheless, the background provided in the core rulebook merely scratches the surface. Unless you are a history buff, you are going to have to be willing to fudge quite a bit or do a lot of research into the sections of history that you’ll be using in your game. This is really unavoidable considering the sheer amount of information there is to be had about the revolutionary period. Fortunately, there is a plethora of splat material (aka. history books) readily available both for free on the internet and at your local library to help you along. It's also important to note that while the book does a good job at setting the right mood for a secret society game, it leaves the particulars largely up to the game master. (I have not read it yet, but if you're looking for more inspiration for secret societies of the revolutionary period, Colonial Gothic: Secrets is probably a must have.)

My Thoughts

This is a game where history finally gets interesting. The world of Colonial Gothic is far and away from the dry history of yesteryear that you may remember from your high school days. It drips from the pages with tales of dark magic and even darker, more sinister plots. It is set in a world that is about to witness a war which will have a profound effect on everything that comes after it. The period of the American Revolution and the wild and untamed nature that surrounds and threatens to overtake the colonies is rife with storytelling possibilities. The core book leaves a lot untold, but it is a game that has an awesome premise and a lot of potential to be a springboard for your own stories of horror and suspense.

(As an aside, I really enjoyed the short story tucked between the chapters! And what a fitting end for a horror story, I might add.)

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Colonial Gothic Rulebook
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Fantasy Craft Second Printing
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Robert H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/23/2009 01:31:10

When I first cracked open Fantasy Craft, I expected to find a rehash of Dungeons and Dragons in some form or another. I was able to keep up this illusion throughout the opening chapter by telling myself that while the classes were different and there were a few unusual races in the lineup, this was still basically the game that I was already familiar with. The further I read, the more I knew that what Crafty Games had put together was actually something very different than ye ole D&D.

Nestled within its four hundred pages, you will find everything that you need to play the game, including eleven playable races (with a boatload of splinter races), twelve base classes, six expert (prestige) classes, a gallery of NPCs, a bestiary, and all of the rules you will need to start playing the game. Since Fantasy Craft is built on top of the d20 Open Gaming License, the core engine of Fantasy Craft won't be anything new to anyone who has ever played an OGL game. Where Fantasy Craft noticeably departs from the usual mold, though, is the way that it merges concepts that are seen more typically in modern genre games, such as a system for reputation, contacts and allies, looser management of character wealth, and an all around more cinematic approach.

  • Races of Fantasy Craft *
    Fantasy Craft has a respectable list of playable races, including ones typically only thought of as monsters, such as ogres, orcs and giants, along with some that are alien enough to provide an interesting roleplaying challenge to the hardened fantasy roleplayer, such as rootwalkers (treants), drakes (smaller, less powerful kin of the dragons), and unborn (living constructs such as golems). Each of the races have has its own unique list of advantages and disadvantages to playing them that goes beyond the simple plus two to this attribute, minus two to that. Even humans got a lot more attention with a generous list of "talents" to choose from, making them a lot more attractive to play than I have seen in other d20 based games.

In an era of RPGs where other systems encourage GMs to find a way to say "yes," to their players, banned actions seem a little harsh. This rule makes it difficult or impossible to play a character that goes against its racial stereotypes. For instance, ogres can never attempt to take a diplomatic approach and make influence checks, and dwarves can never learn to swim. I would have preferred to have seen a system that gave them a penalty to skill checks instead of banning the race from making an attempt outright. The player experience could also be improved by giving the player options to effectively buy off the penalties with feats.

  • Classes of Fantasy Craft *
    Core classes include the assassin, burglar, courtier, captain, explorer, keeper, lancer, mage, priest, sage, scout and soldier. Right away, it is evident that these aren't simply reprints of the d20 SRD classes. In fact, the only classes that strongly resemble a 3.5 SRD counterpart are the mage and burglar. Each class also features a "core ability." For instance, the assassin's core ability, "Heartseeker," improves the assassin's base attack bonus when he is attacking what is known as a special character -- basically, this is anything that actually has hit points and isn't part of the masses. These core abilities are only gained from your first level in your first class. This is an effective mechanic that allows Fantasy Craft to provide a nice boon in a class right from level one, without opening it to being abused by acquiring multiple "core abilities," via multi-classing.

  • Artwork *
    Other than the cover art, the rest of the book is completely illustrated in black and white. Nonetheless, the artwork is high quality and compelling with lots of little subtleties to hunt for. (Get a preview of some of the art in this P&PG review: [...]) The bestiary section, however, could have used more art and would have ideally had a visual representation for every monster listed.

  • The MasterCraft Engine *
    Fantasy Craft is the first game to feature Crafty Game's new adaption on the d20 engine called MasterCraft. MasterCraft is described as a lighter, faster, and sleeker version of the Spycraft 2.0 mechanics. Having never looked over the Spycraft game in any detail, I can't really comment on how complicated Spycraft was. What I can say is that the system in Fantasy Craft brings a lot of great innovations to the gaming table by doing away with things that complicated or slowed down play in d20, and simplifying other things that were always confusing to players and GMs alike.

  • Armor Works Like It Should *
    Although this is a subtlety of the system that few might consider to be all that important, one of my gripes with d20 has long been the way the system handles armor. It doesn't make sense that wearing a heavy suit of armor somehow makes a character more difficult to hit. In Fantasy Craft, armor works more like I would expect by providing its wearer with resistance to certain types of damage instead of helping the character avoid damage outright. Instead, the game gives every class a new "defense" score right alongside of the typical saving throws that represents the character's skill at avoiding physical attacks. Perfect!

  • Quicker Recovery and Less Dependence on Healers *
    Fantasy Craft features two hit point pools -- vitality and wounds. Vitality is explained to be a "mixture of endurance, luck and the will to fight." This is what your character gains every level as he becomes a more experienced combatant, whereas wounds represent actual physical damage. Although the system provides a couple of sneaky tricks that can bypass vitality and immediately do wound damage, most of the time the character is going to lose all of his vitality first before taking any real damage. This gives the game a more cinematic feel where the character narrowly avoids hit after hit until his defenses are worn down and he finally suffers a serious injury.

Vitality recovers very quickly -- pretty much one night's rest will recover all vitality. The game also provides a means for players to heal themselves in and out of combat using action dice. All of this means less down time and less reliance on having a healer in the party.

  • Streamlined Skills *
    The skill list of Fantasy Craft is noticeably slimmed by combining like skills with each other. Each of the skills then has multiple uses. For example, the skill Acrobatics merges three skills found in D&D 3.5 into one for balancing checks, jump, and tumble. By combining them, it is much easier to have a more diverse selection of skills, especially given that Fantasy Craft is very generous with skill points to all classes. The game also completely does away with knowledge skills in favor of a single unified knowledge check.

  • Abundant Feats *
    Fantasy Craft features a long list of feats that players are sure to enjoy. My favorites among these are the weapon feats, which finally give players a reason to choose a weapon for something other than just whatever does the most damage, but these aren't just a bunch of combat feats, either. True to its theme of supporting everything from a very tactically-oriented game to a heavy roleplaying and social game, Fantasy Craft delivers an expansive array of feats for whatever type of character you are trying to build.

  • Modular NPC Design *
    Fantasy Craft features a wide array of prebuilt NPCs and monsters to challenge your party, and the game takes a unique approach by making all of the stat blocks modular. In other words, any monster you'll find in this book can be used at all levels of play. They simply plug in at whatever level your group is currently at and are ready to go. You'll need to do a little math and cross-referencing of charts to determine the NPC's actual scores first, but fortunately, this process is easy and quick enough that you should be able to do it on the fly at the gaming table with only minimal downtime. This also comes with the huge advantage of being able to use modules more easily regardless of what level of play they were designed for.

While you're perusing the NPC section, you'll also find a rather exceptional NPC Generator for stating out your own cast of NPCs and critters. This system goes way beyond the scant advice typically given in other games and provides a very precise way for building a creature's attributes, special abilities, attacks, defenses, et cetera, and determining exactly what the experience reward for such a creature should be.

  • Campaign Qualities *
    Although this section is a mere five pages or so, it packs a lot of punch. Essentially, campaign qualities are a list of optional rules that the GM can apply to his game depending on the feel he wants for his game. For instance, the "Doomed Heroes" quality makes it far more likely that critical hits will be confirmed against the player characters, whereas the "Iron Heroes" quality makes it much more difficult for characters to die from massive damage. Campaign qualities are one of the things the authors have already mentioned that plan to expand on, so I expect we'll probably see a lot more of these as new products in the Fantasy Craft line are released.

  • "Your Dungeon, Your Dragon, Your Way" *
    This is the slogan emblazoned on the back of the book, and it is one of the key goals of Fantasy Craft. It is obvious throughout the book that the designers put a lot of time and thought into providing a framework that could support whatever type of game the game master imagines. With options like campaign qualities, a comprehensive NPC builder, and a book chock full of options for tactical and roleplaying heavy games alike, Fantasy Craft delivers on that promise.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Craft Second Printing
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