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Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2013 20:43:40

If there ever was a university course for Game Mastering, I would probably find Engine Publishing’s Odyssey in the list of textbooks.


The fourth of their series of books to help GMs run better games, Odyssey joins Never Unprepared in taking a look at a facet of the hobby that is often unaddressed in the industry: that of game (and people) management.


It’s not surprising that our hobby is a social one, and it is inevitable that the GM, often the de facto head of the group has to exercise a form of leadership and management to keep the group running. It’s not enough that the game itself is good, but there are steps taken outside of session prep and running the game that makes up for a large part of the enjoyment and experience as well.


This is where Odyssey steps in.


Odyssey is an honestly written book that looks at the real-life issues of managing a group of people to show up and commit to a game. It looks at campaigns from the very start, from concepts and frameworks, and into the management of players, story, people, risk and change. Finally it wraps up with a discussion of ending Campaigns, with a refreshingly frank take on how to end Campaigns in a manner to avoid a “bad” campaign end where players feel unsatisfied and upset.


The book is very well illustrated and laid out, with interesting art pieces that break up the discussion and augment the text. Short fiction pieces help illustrate how games go well (and badly.)


I loathe to pull specific quotes from the book because it’s very, very good. It’s clear that the authors are veterans who have given more than a fair share amount of thought and work into the book. The advice they share is meant to help people, and it shows. There’s a solid sense of “I’ve done screwed up this way before, and here’s what I think can help you avoid making the same mistake.” going on in the book, and it’s a kind of sincerity that I certainly appreciate.


Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management lives up to its name. There’s a lot to learn, and the book makes it easy. I would certainly recommend this book to any GM, and if you’re a player, do your GM a favor and buy this for him. It’ll do him (and your games) a world of good.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management
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Little Wizards
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2013 00:18:29

Little Wizards is the latest RPG from Crafty Games, the same people who brought us Spycraft, Fantasy Craft and the Mistborn Adventure Game. Little Wizards is an RPG designed for kids, and is based on Contes Ensorceles from 7eme Cercle.


Intended as an introductory game to the wonderful world of RPGs for kids aged 6 to 10 or so, Little Wizards takes place in Coinworld, an flat, circular world with two very different faces named Heads and Tails.


Each world has it’s own set of islands that serve as the center of civilization. Heads is a world with an enchanting charm and a friendly environment, while Tails is darker and gloomier, though not much more dangerous.


The trick to these two sides is that it takes magic to travel from one to the other, and thus the reason why Sorcerers and Mages are the central figures to the setting.


The game takes pains to differentiate the two. Sorcery is inherent to a person and is passed on from parent to child. Mages on the other hand are those who develop magic through book learning.


Adventures in Little Wizards are keyed towards kid friendly romps through the setting, and the game doesn’t disappoint. Each of the worlds are detailed in ways to inspire various adventures without being too scary or disturbing for kids.


Character creation is a breeze with the essential choice of being either a Mage or a Sorcerer. This is followed with a whole bunch of fun lists to choose what the Wizard in question looks like, and acts like, and what they’d like to do. The three mechanical traits are Body, Heart and Brain which are ranked according to a scale of Good, Better and Best. Powers are chosen next, with Wizards picking two powers from a list of 3, and getting a Broom Riding Power for free. Powers are ranked similarly to traits, except that they are Good in two powers, while being Better in one of their choice.


The basic mechanics are also very easy to grasp, with a simple 2d6 die roll plus the traits against a target number. It’s possible to get a Disaster if you roll two ones, and a Brilliant Success on rolling two sixes. To help the Narrator on setting difficulties for powers, they also list a bunch of sample difficulties per power set.


The book continues with a lot of useful advice for a Narrator running the game for kids. I’ll admit that the advice is useful even for running for adults and it’s a welcome addition to a game that’s focused on running for a much younger demographic.


The book also includes three Tales, adventures that are ready to run straight from the book, with accompanying material that detail a couple of locations in better detail.



Overall, Little Wizards is a pretty book with colorful illustrations, a unique setting, solid core mechanic, and written in a manner to teach people to run games for the younger age group.


It’s very rarely that I get to see a game that has such a strong focus on usability as Little Wizards. The game guides Narrators in every step in making sure that the end result and adventures for kids are rewarding and fun.


I’ve long held the opinion that Crafty Games are some of the best people at being able to convey the mood of the source material through their work. They were the one group that was able to make Mistborn come alive at the gaming table, and seeing them apply the same clarity to Little Wizards makes it a must-buy for any gamer looking to run for kids.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Little Wizards
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Numenera
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/21/2013 04:39:18

Numenera is one of those few games that knew what it wanted to be and stuck to its guns all throughout. A rules-medium game of exploration and discovery in a gonzo setting set in the far, far future describes the game perfectly.
The rules are easy to understand, and the mechanics introduced are novel and useful, while subconsciously pushing an agenda when it comes to play styles. By rewarding discoveries rather than the killing of monsters, Numenera manages to step away from being just another D&D clone set in the far future to becoming it's own thing.


I will admit that when I first flipped through it, I was afraid that it was just D&D with a different coat of paint, but now I see that there are certain simple, yet fundamental differences that make Numenera its own animal.


That said, mechanics aside, I feel that the setting could still be fleshed out a little more. I'm certain that more books in the future could be used to give a better glimpse of the civilizations in the game, but for now being able to pull from various sources of weird high-technology meets fantasy like Dune and The Incal or even other sources that are further afield like Adventure Time or Thundarr the Barbarian and even He-Man makes for fertile ground for idea mining as a GM.


Numenera is a breath of fresh air that manages to prove that there's always space for something innovative in the marketplace. With interesting mechanics, a neat premise and easy to run rules, I can see this being an excellent introduction to the hobby and a must have for any RPG collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera
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Convention Book: Syndicate
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2013 04:04:56

The 4th in the series of Convention Books detailing the sub-factions of the Technocratic Union, Convention Book: Syndicate turns the spotlight to the group grounded in perhaps the strongest stereotypes. Often shoved into the concept of Enlightened Accountants, the Syndicate are portrayed as one of the most powerful factions of the Technocracy in the days after the Dimensional Anomaly.


The book doesn’t waste time getting into a display of the post-DA world, where the Syndicate now has a slew of new things to play around with. Crowdsourcing, the Occupy Movement, Social Media turning reputation into currency… all of these have a profound effect on the Convention, and they are wise to start riding the wave of these changes.


As with the other books, Convention Book: Syndicate moves on to discuss the history of the Convention from it’s origins in Ancient Rome and tracks it all the way to Queen Victoria’s Technocratic Union and finally back to the Post-Dimensional Anomaly modern times.


The Syndicate’s take on all the other factions is always amusing, but their approach to the Traditions is hilarious. Ruining the Tradition’s baseline for mortal belief by commoditizing the things that make their cultures “cool” is brilliant. It’s not as flashy as laser guns and cyborgs, but the effectiveness of drawing away people from the Traditions by giving an easy alternative to mortals is sheer genius.


The next chapter deals with the Organizational Structure of the Syndicate, and goes on to discuss their methods and how they deal with each other internally including Reprimands. The meat of the chapter however lies in the Methodologies of the Syndicate. Among these number Disbursements, Enforcers, Financiers, Media Control… and a side bit talking about the Special Projects Division.


Among all the Methodologies, SPD is considered one of the most notorious to the fandom given their ties to Pentex. There’s a hefty bit about them here, but sadly no hard answers as to what happened to them after the Dimensional Anomaly. As always, it’s left to the Storytellers to decide their fate with a few options and hooks in the book.


The following chapter talks about the movers and shakers of the Syndicate, detailing several luminaries of the Convention, details on how the Syndicate’s Amalgams work, and examples of their holdings. Among these are PAXCorp, a team of lawyers and managers who file lawsuits and close deals to stop alleged infingement… and using bullets and sabotage for the really stubborn ones.


The next portion deals with the Procedures used by the Syndicate, which show a large number of interesting Adjustments including Branding, a procedure that can alter how observers react to the Syndicate agent simply by the way he dresses and carries himself. Another favorite is the Hypernarrative Influence, where a Syndicate Agent taps into sterotypes of narrative to influence a course of action. Such as getting a group to “Split up and cover more ground” despite common sense dictating otherwise.


The book also covers the Syndicate’s unique spin on Prime. Rather than being “the stuff of magic” Prime for the Syndicate takes on the form of Primal Utility, the basic psychological-mathematical junction between reality and human desire… and the very basic unit of hypereconomics. It’s a complex idea, and one that is a little harder to comprehend compared to the “Correspondence as Data” by the N.W.O.


The last part of the book shows off a slew of interesting pregenerated characters that break the standard Syndicate mold. The Microfinance Mogul and Miss J. in particular are good examples of how the new Syndicate works and how their jobs of fiddling with numbers means more than people might think.



Overall Convention Book: Syndicate is an impressive volume and another must-have in the Mage: the Ascension line. They’re much more playable now… but there’s always that undercurrent of malice that swims beneath the surface that makes the book equally useful to the GM using the Syndicate as an antagonist faction their games.


Onyx Path has done wonders with the World of Darkness and continues to do so with this line. If this is the caliber of writing to expect from them, I will have little to no issues with forking over more cash for a Deluxe Edition of the Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: Syndicate
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Convention Book: Progenitors
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/23/2013 19:58:09

The next in the updated line of Convention Books for Mage: the Ascension, Progenitors gives an updated look at the Technocracies masters of Life magics. Much like the N.W.O. and the Iteration-X, the Progenitors have been affected greatly by the Avatar Storm and as such have had to make some adjustments to survive in these modern times.


After the great impression left behind by the NWO book, I was very excited to check out the Progenitors as I knew the least about them. Thankfully the book served it’s purpose to present the new face of the Progenitors very well, and left me with a distinct need to play one the next time I ever get to join a Technocracy campaign.


Like the NWO book, Progenitors is divided into six sections, including the Prologue and the Epilogue, and an introduction to the new post-Dimensional Anomaly status quo. There’s also a section dedicated to the History, Structure and Methodologies of the Progenitor Convention and of course, the various toys and assets available to them.


I have to admit that I was quite amused with the Introduction of the book. I’m usually okay with game fiction in general but there was something about this particular one that drove home the point of how Progenitors see the reckless lack of responsibility and long-term thinking of the Traditions that just worked for me.


chapter One: Patient History gives a snapshot of the Progenitors as they are now, compared to what they were like before. An extended in-character paper talking about the Ethical History of the Progenitors was a nice touch, and I found this take a little more engaging than the one in the NWO book.


The section on how the Progenitors relate to the rest of the Technocratic Union and how they perceive the Traditions is a goldmine of plot hooks and is a refreshingly honest assessment of the good, the bad and the ugly side of working with and against the various other Mages (and supernaturals) in the Classic World of Darkness.


Chapter Two: Residency discusses the organizational structure of the Progenitors. I liked the mention of the sub-methodologies that work on less glamorous projects for the convention, including the Agronomists, who work on botany and agriculture, and the Shalihotran Society that works on veterinarian sciences. Both of these are very important to the overall picture even if they don’t necessarily bring in the usual reputation of the main Methodologies.


Each of the primary Methodologies is given screen time as well. Among them are the FACADE Engineers, the Genegineers, Pharmacopoeists, and the surprisingly “Action-scientist” non-Methodology: Applied Sciences, who have quickly become my personal favorite of the bunch.


Chapter Three: Prescriptions is a grab bag of sorts, offering some mechanical support in the form of notable NPCs, interesting places and plot hooks, Progenitor Fronts, a sample Amalgam, and the various toys ranging from Body Modifications, new Procedures and even Genegineered creatures.


The chapter finishes with a few sample characters, ranging from the usual labcoats and DNA sequencer types to more… ass kicking sorts like the Damage Control Operative.



Convention Book Progenitors is an excellent follow up to the NWO book. There’s an abundance of enthusiasm with the book, and more than it’s fair share of neat little easter eggs for some people. I had to chuckle after reading about the Clark County Forensics Department’s amazing amount of privileges, and the mention of a child genius being part of something called the Howser Project.


That said it’s a great book which provides an excellent insight to the nature of the Progenitor Convention, and is probably the best of the 3 Convention Books of the Revised Edition so far.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: Progenitors
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Deadlands Noir Companion
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2013 21:27:13

One of the things that I really, really enjoyed in Deadlands: Noir was the amount of work that the team put into building New Orleans as a playable setting. The setting was extremely thorough, breaking down the various locations, NPCs and plot hooks that the players can run into and can easily fuel several campaigns.


The Deadlands: Noir Companion takes that aspect of the game, and spins it off into FOUR new settings, each one taking place in a different point in time. With Chicago (1927), Shan Fan (1939), Lost Angels (1946) and The city of Gloom (1950).


Each of these settings is complete, with discussions on life in each setting, notable locations, a random location generator, Savage Tales, a Plot Point Campaign and the Men and Monsters of each city. Needless to say, this is the book that will give Deadlands: Noir the kind of legs it needs to fuel years of gaming.


But aside from the settings, the book also introduces a few new elements to the Deadlands: Noir game. Fans of the Arcane Backgrounds will be pleased to see that The Blessed and Sykers coming back into play. Meanwhile, martial arts fans get something to enjoy with the Kung Fu Edge tucked into the Shan Fan chapter.


Needless to say the same infectious enthusiasm from the Deadlands: Noir corebook is present in the Companion. While most of the material is more useful for the GM as opposed to players, the few mechanics invovled do present new avenues for players to try different characters from more unique backgrounds.


The idea of each setting taking place in a slightly different time period is also an inspired decision, as it shifts the tone of the games from the Prohibition to World War 1 and even post World War 2.



The Deadlands: Noir Companion is an excellent expansion to the already amazing core book. It expands the setting through both time and space, giving pleny of opportunities to run the entire gamut of sordid stories that Noir is known for. I'm constantly impressed by the quality of the books for the Deadlands line, and I have to admit that now I'm secretly hoping for a Hell On Earth Reloaded Companion sometime in the future.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir Companion
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Call to Arms: Avatar
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/30/2013 00:04:00

The Avatar is one of Fantasy Craft’s latest releases in the Call to Arms series. As a Master Class, it represents concepts that are open to the higher level characters in the game.


In the Avatar’s case, we’re looking at characters that are living embodiments of faith, the pinnacle of religious unity between man and god. It’s an interesting concept, and is a recurring theme in a lot of Fantasy fiction, and I’m eager to sink my teeth into what this class can do.


As with the other classes, the Avatar can take a myriad of specific concepts. From a reincarnated master to an offspring of the gods come to further the agenda of his divine parents. This is the kind of flexibility that I’ve come to expect from Fantasy Craft and I can already see how this can be useful in a Wuxia campaign, for example.


Unlike the Base or Expert classes, the Master Class does not begin with a Core Ability.


The Avatar begins, appropriately enough, with an ability called Alpha. Each teammate that can see or hear the character, and any other character who shares the same Alignment who can see or hear you becomes immune to negative morale penalties and Morale effects. These characters all automatically succeed with Knowledge checks made to recognize the Avatar.


While this doesn’t seem like much, immunity to negative effects is always handy. The added value of being able to be recognized on sight by those of your faith is a nice touch.


So it was Written… allows for the Avatar to reroll a failed save, attack check or skill check a number of times in a session equal to the Avatar’s Class Level.


Path of the Devoted has the Avatar take a Step in their chosen Alignment.


Sliver of Divinity is an interesting power that allows you to bestow your teammates a Step in a chosen Path. It might not sound like much, but this means that the entire team gains extra abilities or powers by virtue of having the Avatar among them.


…So it is Done allows the Avatar to apply the So it was Written… rerolls for their teammate’s failed rolls. I can imagine Avatars being everyone’s best friends at this point if they aren’t already.


The Avatar’s final ability, Omega is literally awe-inspiring. Once per session they can reveal the full glory of their Alignment to unbelievers. Those who do not share the Avatar’s alignment must make a Will save or immediately be sprawled and frightened for 3d5 rounds. Thankfully this power does not affect teammates.



As a fan of support classes, I’m pretty pleased with what the Avatar brings to the table. Combined with some of the earlier Base or Expert Classes, this can be made to simulate all sorts of divinely powered Chosen Ones. They might not be the damage dealers, but their ability to supplement their team and bestow immunities and even rerolls are incredibly useful for a broad range of situations.


Of the three Call to Arms classes in this wave of releases, I think that the Avatar is perhaps one of the most interesting in terms of story potential. Already I can see how the Class works to simulate a Bodhisattva or other enlightened beings.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Avatar
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Call to Arms: Crusader
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2013 23:27:35

The Crusader is the iconic Holy Warrior. Unlike the Priest, the Crusader expresses his devotion to his religion through martial skill. Of course, this being Fantasy Craft, the Crusader Class encompasses a huge amount of possible concepts. Anything from the iconic Paladin to a vicious zealot to witch-hunters all fall under the purview of the Crusader class for as long as we’re talking warriors with religious fervor.


The Crusader’s Core Ability is Purifier, which allows the character to spend 1 action die to boost an attack or opposed skill check targetting a character with a different Alignment. This pretty much is a microcosm of what the Crusader is all about, smiting heathens, which is a perfectly awesome thing to do.


A Crusader also starts off with Called to Arms, a chain of Class abilities that tie into the Subplot mechanic from the Fantasy Craft core rules. While pursuing this Subplot, the Reputation reward for the adventure increases, and completing it grants 1 rank of Renown in a track of their choice. The Crusader also gains their Alignment’s ritual weapon at no cost. I love this particular series of Class Abilities as it emulates the Questing nature of the Crusader. Whether it’s to liberate a holy land, cleanse witches or find a sacred artifact, it’s a neat way to fold in mechanics with a compelling story that further motivates the Crusader and makes him a force of change rather than just someone that is content to wait around a tavern until some mysterious stranger hands him a map.


Starting from the second level, the Crusader also gains access to Battle Chants, another chain of Class abilities that allow for them to grant beneficial effects to themselves. These range from bonuses to attacks, Defense or various resistances. As the Crusader gains further levels he can access more chants and grant their benefits to a comrade as well. It’s a great way to emulate the prayers before (or during a battle) that make playing such a character more flavorful and rewarding.


The Path of the Crusader chain represents how the Crusader moves along his Alignment’s Paths, gaining abilities relevant to the Path that the Crusader is pursuing.


The ever-popular Smite power is here, allowing the Crusader to lay down divine wrath upon their enemies. The Crusader chooses the type of opponents that suffer from his wrath. When the Crusader spends and rolls an action die to boost damage, they may replace the action die’s result with half their Career Level. This is a neat little safety built in so that there’s never a point where the action die is “wasted” by a bad roll.


Sword of Faith is another interesting power as it infuses sacred weapons with divine power. When wielding their ritual weapon, the Crusader can bestow an Essence (aka magical effect) upon it. The further abilities on this chain allow for additional effects to stack, creating truly fearsome (and customized) weapons.


Divine Virtue allows the Crusader to grant immunity to baffled, fixated or frightened conditions as long as your allies can see or hear you. Furthermore, all of them are considered to share your Alignment. Advanced applications of this power grant further immunity to shaken, sickened and slowed as well.


The game-breaker of the Crusader Class is the aptly named Wrath of God. Once per session, a Crusader can opt to use the ability upon hitting an opponent with an attack. If the target is a standard character, it dies. If the target is a special character, then they get to make a Will Save or die.



As a big Paladin fan, I find the Crusader to be downright awesome. It takes on the role of a divine warrior and plays it to the hilt. The high standard of quality when it comes to Fantasy Craft classes shines through in the Crusader, and as always it gives options without restricting player creativity.


The fact that it is actually possible to play a divine sniper of sorts as a Crusader, or to run around as a Solomon Kane-ish character with the Class is all the more reason to like it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Crusader
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Call to Arms: Inquisitor
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2013 23:26:12

The Inquisitor is the newest Expert Class to be released in the 4th wave of Fantasy Craft’s excellent Call to Arms series of supplements. As always, the Class is not a specific thing, but covers a wide variety of interesting character concepts ranging from the classical Church agent that hunts down heretics to cruel enforcers that protect the powerful from popular disapproval.


It’s an interesting class that is essentially a Religiously motivated Spy. If the Crusader is a warrior with zeal, the Inquisitor’s methods don’t always involve combat, but are more focused towards ferreting out secrets by both social and covert means.


I love that the Core Ability of the Inquisitor’s core ability is Disconcerting. It’s a great way to make an entrance or a dramatic reveal, as the character may declare their affiliation with the Inquisition to spend and roll an action die. They may then choose a number of characters equal to the roll’s result that become shaken until the end of the scene or until the start of the next combat, whichever is first.


Yes, there’s an opening right there for a Monty Python reference.


Hammer of Heretics bestows ranks of Noble Renown and bonuses to Intimidate and Investigate checks equal to the character’s Noble Renown. This ability increases with levels, allowing the Inquisitor to gain the Menacing Threat quality as well as a passive ability to counter attempts to lie or conceal the truth from you.


Condemn allows for the Inquisitor to levy a pronouncement with such force that you can make the target suffer a morale penalty with Charisma-based skills equal to the Inquisitor’s Wisdom Modifier. Higher versions of this power inflict Stress damage equal to the Inquisitor’s Class Level. While this doesn’t seem like much at the moment, given the context of Fantasy Craft’s system, this is as harsh an attack as you can make in a social setting. The penalty to Charisma-based skills equal to the Inquisitor’s Wisdom is pretty crippling for all but the most suave of characters, and could very well lead to a spiral of doom as their attempts to assert themselves in the scene only result to further ruin.


Phoenix Wright fans will definitely enjoy using that power.


Incorruptible is a nice touch as it grants Damage Resistance against an Alignment of choice. However, I was wondering if it would break in any way if I allowed the Inquisitor to change their choice of Alignment where Incorruptible would apply if they ever complete a Subplot that invalidates their choice.


Path of the Devoted allows the Inquisitor to proceed along the Steps of the Alignment they serve.


Agent of the Church is a nice touch, as the Inquisitor suddenly gets extra Reputation that they can spend to get Noble Favors. This represents how the Inquisitor’s patrons pave the way for the character to get whatever they might need to pursue their investigations.


And finally, one of the most amusingly named game-breaking abilities for the Inquisitor: Torches and Pitchforks. I don’t think I need to go into that much detail, but this allows the Inquisitor to whip up a frenzied mob hostile towards characters of your chosen Alignment and immune to negative Morale effects.



The Inquisitor is a prime example of just how Fantasy Craft is more than just a game of combat (even if it does that really well.) Having a Church Spy works for a lot of interesting concepts, and brings me happy memories of a character I once played that served in this regard.


While it might not seem so powerful outright, the Inquisitor’s abilities focus on information gathering and control, as well as the use of said information to gain necessary leverage. While it might not be an optimal class choice for a dungeon delve, many of the more political games can benefit greatly from having the Inquisitor in play.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Inquisitor
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Only War: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2013 19:38:24

Only War is the latest RPG out for the Warhammer 40k rpgs released by Fantasy Flight Games. After tackling the Inquisition, Rogue Traders, Space Marines and Chaos, the series finally pays attention to the true backbone of the Imperium's endless war: the men and women of the Imperial Guard.


In many ways I was looking forward to this book the most. While there's some kind of glamour associated with the Space Marines, the true heart of many stories set in war come from the front lines. The Imperial Guard are the ones who see the fight first, and suffer incredible losses in their days at war. They are the ones who stand to lose the most, and are most vulnerable to the enemy but they don't back down despite the horrors of war, because that is what they do.


Most of all, this is the game that allows you to really tell more well-rounded, human stories rather than the laser focus of just plain hating on the Xenos, the Mutant, the Daemon and the Heretic. (I know I'm oversimplifying things here, but bear with me.)


In any case, those familiar with the rules for Dark Heresy will find that Only War uses the same system, with some intresting new mechanics. One of my favorites is the Regiment creation system, where a group (or the GM) can plan out what kind of Regiment they want to play if they don't want to use any of the ones provided. That said, there's a lot of interesting Regiments to choose from, starting with the Cadian Shock Troops to other iconic Regiments like the Catachan, the Mordians and the Tallarn.


Players can take on the roles of more than just Guardsmen as they get to choose specialties such as Heavy Gunner, Medic, Operator, Sergeant and Weapons Specialist. Furthermore they have Support Specialists as further options including the infamous Commissar, Ministorum Priest, Ogryn, Ratling, Sanctioned Psykers, Storm Troopers and Tech-Priest Engineers. The sheer variance provided is a very nice touch as it helps dispel the impression that everyone essentially plays a grunt with a helmet and a lasgun.


Another interesting mechanic is the generation of Comrades. These are special NPCs that fight alongside the player characters. Mechanically they're sort of like familiars, as each player has direct control over their Comrades by the use of Orders. This doesn't mean that Comrades are expendable by any stretch as certain abilities rely on having a Comrade, and it is to a player's best interest to keep their Comrades alive as long as possible.


Vehicles also a large part in an Imperial Guard game, and vehicle rules account for movement and combat, including some interesting systems critical hit charts that go a long way to simulate the harrowing nature of taking a critical hit while inside a vehicle. Repair rules are also present, giving more opportunities to simulate the "less than ideal" world of living with vehicles that have been patched together by field repairs.


As with all the books in the Warhammer 40k line, the artwork is solid and the layout is readable. I'm glad that the fonts they chose for this are readable while retaining the whole Warhammer 40k vibe. Also of note is the fact that the PDF has been cross-linked, making rules look ups as painless as possible.


Overall, I feel that Only War is a product that shows just how used to the system the team is already at this point. Furthermore, they have a very strong vision as to what the game should be about and aren't afraid to push that agenda via the rules. There's a lot of fluff discussing the nature of the war and how it grinds humanity down, but it never comes off as too depressing as to be utterly unplayable. There are real opportunities to live (and die) as heroes in the war. It's admittedly not the easiest thing to do in the context of RPGs, but in this case Only War deserves a Medal.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Only War: Core Rulebook
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The Book of Earth
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2013 19:31:44

Second in the series of elemental-themed sourcebooks for the timeline-neutral 4th Edition, the Book of Earth is the latest release on PDF.


The Book of Earth focuses on the facets that are relevant to Earth, as broken down to a look into War, the Court, Magic, Enlightenment and the Setting. Like the Book of Air, the Book of Earth also provides a self-contained setting that can be dropped into any campaign. For those looking for new Mechanics, they follow the same format as Book of Air, and have it all on the last chapter of the book.


I find that the approach of showing off each of elements as part of a greater culture and further subdivided per clan is a unique one, and the Book of Earth has some very good insights. My favorite section would have to be a discussion on armor, and the focus of Shiba Artisans creating ornate and functional armor for the bushi of the Phoenix was a very insightful touch.


I'm certain that Crab Clan fans will be very happy to get this book due to the focus and attention it gives to Heavy Weapons as well. There's also a quick section that shows how to use non-standard Skill / Trait pairings that focus on Willpower and Stamina, some of the most underused traits that get some interesting new combinations for both combat and non-combat characters alike.


That said, all the Clans get something from the book. The discussion on armor, castles and sieges for example, apply to all the clans. GMs and Players alike will find inspiration and plot hooks dripping from nearly every sentence, and I can see how this can be an inspiration for character concepts that go beyond the usual Bushi-Courtier-Shugenja trifecta. Sumai Champion bushi? Why not. Shiba Artisan focusing on Armor? Absolutely.


Those who are looking at the spiritual side of the element need not fear as there's a discussion on Earth magic, as well as the families that excel in it. The Tamori family for example is given some spotlight time here, as well as the infamous Chuda family. New Earth spells will make many shugenja players happy, and the Monks get their own set of kiho to shake things up.


Again the Book of Earth is a great addition to the L5R 4th Edition line. Much like the Book of Air, the book manages to expand the depth of culture and history of the setting while still remaining iconic and accessible to new players. Solid writing, combined with L5R's always excellent artwork make this one a winner.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Earth
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Champions Complete
Publisher: Hero Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2012 21:21:10

With all the choices right now for superhero gaming, why would anyone want to pick up Champions Complete? Personally, I'd get it because it is reliable, consistent, and clear.


Powered by the HERO system's 6th Edition, Champions Complete is a cleaned up corebook for superheroic gaming without having to chew your way through the original 6th Edition release's massive dual corebooks. The author, Derek Heimforth, dives right into the challenge of presenting Champions without fat and fluff while retaining the clarity of the original.


Champions Complete narrows down HERO's massive potential to cater specifically to superheroic gaming. As expected, the entire HERO system is here, with leaner examples, clarified power descriptions and a friendlier text for getting people to understanding the system without being intimdated.


The Book goes into all the standard parts of the HERO system, from character creation to power creation, combat and equipment. For those wondering about it, Champions Complete lives up to it's name. You'd be hard pressed to find what's missing in this book.


Derek also goes into the examination of the superhero campaign, detailing what superheros are all about, and dealing with the various tropes found in the genre from secret identities to the conflicts common to superhero stories.


I suppose the only thing that's missing from the book is the lack of a dedicated setting. This is covered in another HERO Games product of course, but having one here wouldn't hurt. The example characters and references at the end of the book are very helpful and any experienced GM with his own vision of where to set his superhero game will have no problem getting a game up and running with this.


Champions Complete is an excellent way to get into the HERO system. The friendly and approachable methodology to present HERO in it's native superhero environment for new players is a move that I find to be very useful and well worth picking up if you're still looking for a superhero game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Champions Complete
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Deadlands Noir
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2012 01:18:29

If there’s a genre that seems like a perfect fit for Deadlands, it’s the Noir setting. Taking place after the default Western-genre setting of Deadlands: Reloaded! but not quite as far in the future as Hell On Earth, Deadlands Noir presents a new and exciting spin on the 1930′s.


In an interesting twist, the game takes place in a much smaller stage. Rather than the Weird (or Wasted) West, the game takes place in the setting’s take of New Orleans. I find this to be a good choice, as the Noir genre is inherently bound to the city. There’s a sharp focus involved in the honing of this supplement, and one that shows in all the design decisions. Everything from the skill list to the sample character concepts oozes style and substance appropriate to the genre. Some are also cleverly renamed from their Weird West counterparts, such as the Patent Scientist, and the Grifters.


The highlight of the book for me is the chapter on New Orleans, which includes a gorgeous and very evocative map of the city, and a detailed look at the various locales. The chapter is practically dripping with plot hooks, and I can see a campaign of Deadlands Noir going for a long, long while.


In a nice touch, the book goes on to discuss the nature of Investigation in the Deadlands Noir setting. This is the kind of information that is golden to GMs, as it helps those who aren’t quite so familiar to the setting to adapt accordingly. Rules on interrogation, patter and even tailing a target are all presented in an easy to understand fashion.


The GM section makes up a huge chunk of the book, and for good reason. It goes into great detail on the secrets of the setting, as well as providing advice for running games in true Noir fashion. The GM Guide to New Orleans presents NPCs and the current state of New Orleans as it relates to the people that inhabit (and control) it. An extra section for how to create Mysteries is particularly inspired as well, helping those who are new to this particular style of storytelling to create one with little difficulty. It takes the form of a random generator with multiple lists involving Hook, Event, Perpetrator, Motive, Evidence, Location and Twist. It’s very nice and I can see it getting use even outside of Deadlands.


The book also includes Red Harvest! A campaign-length mystery that will suit any group, and features a ride through a lot of New Orleans’ set pieces, and with plenty of opportunities for getting into trouble. If that’s not enough, there are also a smattering of Savage Tales, mini-adventures that can be incorporated to Red Harvest! or any Deadlands Noir campaign.


Finally the book finishes with a thorough Rogue’s Gallery and a series of excellent maps of various buildings, a cemetery and other interesting locales for encounters.



Few supplements hit all the right spots in the same way that Deadlands Noir does. It has literally everything you could need. An evocative setting, excellent GM advice, interesting and varied Character concepts, an adventure, gorgeous maps, all with an easy to read layout and excellent artwork to go with it.


Savage Worlds is a very popular system, and books like Deadlands Noir are an example of just why that is. I think that Noir continues with the trend of excellence that Pinnacle has been known for.


Definitely a must have for any fans of the genre, the system and the setting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir
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Second City Boxed Set
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2012 20:22:21

It's been quite a wait for us who rely heavily on PDF copies of rpg books, but the Second City Boxed set that was released earlier this year has finally made it to electronic format.


I have to admit that I've been curious about this product for a while now, as I'm not entirely caught up on the canon storyline of L5R. Making a whole boxed set placed in what can be considered to be a very new development of the story is an interesting choice, as it does help people like me understand what is actually going on.


The Boxed set download is actually a group of PDF files for easier downloading. These include:


The Pillow Book
A Map of the Second City
A "for printing" version of the map
The Campaign
The City
The People
The Journal of Yogo Tanaka


It's a hefty download, but that's par for the course in L5R pdf books. Besides, most of the time the gorgeous production values and layout are always worth it.


The Maps


Both maps of the Second city are in full color, showing the massive scale of the city in question. It's impressive to look at and gives you a good idea as to just how many people can fit in this place. The difference between the files is just that the for-printing version is cut up into 8 pages, while the other has the entire map in one big image.


I did notice that there didn't seem to be any labels of any sort, so it's really a collection of buildings with some farmlands and a walled city in the middle with a palace in it. I'm curious as to why there weren't any labels, or if the files will be updated later.


The Pillow Book of Ide Arahime


The Pillow Book is a 20 page work of fiction meant to serve as an in-character guide to the Second City as written from the point of view of Ide Arahime, a Unicorn Clan author. Presented as a journal of the author's travel and experiences in the Second City, it presents an interesting "outsider's" view of just how different the Second City is compared to traditional Rokugan, and perhaps to the more astute L5R fans, just how many concessions were made to exist there.


The Author touches on all aspects of life, from the look and feel of the place, to the stranger customs, artwork, and architecture. There's a lot to be learned through the fiction, and I found it to be interesting reading and a good way to slowly introduce the differences to those unfamiliar with the colonies.


The Journal of Yogo Tanaka


This second journal is another in-character account, but serves as a record of Yogo Tanaka's investigations and how it slowly gets out of hand. The writing is well done, and I have to admit that it works well for it's purpose, which is a supplement to the Campaign included in the Boxed Set. I'd rather not go into too much detail with regards to the contents lest I spoil any pertinent information, but the book makes for an interesting prop for the campaign.


The Campaign


This pdf contains the rather... plainly titled, "The Campaign" which is a full length campaign meant for characters using the Second City setting. It's an extensive campaign, with interesting characters and a compelling villain go to after.


The campaign itself is fairly broad, starting from Rokugan proper and spinning off into a tour of the Second City setting itself. It's a strongly investigative campaign that lends itself well to characters and players who are more interested to mysteries than pure combat, though there's enough of that as well to show the unique dangers posed by the new setting.


I'm glad to see the variance of plot hooks in the campaign, and it suits a good mix of characters from different clans as the varying points of view and approaches to solving a problem can come in very handy.


The Campaign ends with a bestiary of the various monsters in the Second City setting, including the Destroyers and stranger creatures that can threaten even the most stalwart of samurai.


The City


This book is the one that provides the meat of the setting. Starting off from the History of the Second City as the Rokugani understand it. There's some mention of the Ivory Kingdoms, but the section starts from the rise of the Cult of Rhumal, and Kali-Ma the Destroyer and how Empress Iweko I proclaimed the colonies as territory of Rokugan.


The book also goes on to discuss the layout of the city, complete with sections of the map as presented in the PDF complete with the annotations I was looking for with regards to the important locations in the city. I'm starting to understand that the maps are the ones that can be provided to PCs who are new to the city, and they can be free to add their own notes as necessary, while the GM has this for reference.


Each district is covered in great detail, with all the locations given a thorough treatment and notable NPCs scattered throughout. The RPG team of L5R is known for being thorough, and it shines through in this book.


The last chapter of the book goes into the smaller details, including the routes by which people travel to and from the colonies, and a discussion of the culture and mannerisms of the Second City and how they differ from Rokugan main. A mini-Emerald Empire supplement, if you will.


The People


This PDF goes into the detail of the various social structures in the Second City, including the Ivory Court, the government of the Colonies. This is a great way to preserve the political / intrigue feel of Rokugan in a new setting. With so much to be discovered and explored, this is new territory even for the political characters as they try to push the influence and control of the Second City for their clans.


The next chapter discusses the movers and shakers of the setting including Otomo Suikihime, the notorious Imperial Governor and the various ministers of the setting. While strongly tied to the colonies, those who don't plan to use the setting can always transplant these characters into their own settings with little to no trouble.


The People of the Second City discuss the Great Clans and the Imperial Families. Again these are a host of NPCs that can be used to populate any campaign, and help paint a vibrant (and well populated) location.


Not to be forgotten, the minor clans and wave men of the setting also get their own chapter, discussing the opportunities and nature of their presence in this brave new frontier.


Fnially the last section discusses a smattering of new Paths for the Great Clans and Basic Schools for those native to the Ivory Kingdoms.



The Second City Boxed set is huge. It's also an impressive body of work to bring to life a new and exciting development to the L5R universe outside of traditional Rokugan.


While I have to admit that I was initially lukewarm to the idea of this sudden shift outside of the borders of the Empire, I do appreciate the advantages of changing the status quo in such a traditional society. The NPCs and locations presented in the Second City are all done by a team whose enthusiasm shines through, and I'm glad that the team has managed to make sure that none of these characters are mere caricatures.


The usefulness of the set for those who don't plan to use the Second City is still high, as even if you don't end up using the setting, the NPCs alone are worth the price of admission.


Those GMs who wish to have a campaign get their wish, and it's certainly one that spans the length of the Second City and the empire, with equal opportunities for politics, investigation and combat.


The two books are nice for flavor, and the journal makes for a great prop for the campaign. I'm ambivalent about the pillow book however, but it can still be useful for new players who aren't in the mood to slog through The City book.


Is the Second City Boxed Set worth the price as a PDF product? Definitely. There's a ton of detail here, and one could easily run a full campaign with just the contents of this box and the corebook and never look at another supplement again.


The Second City Boxed set continues the winning streak of the Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition supplements and I'm more than happy to say that it can certainly add tons of value to anyone's L5R Collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Second City Boxed Set
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Convention Book: N.W.O.
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2012 20:10:42

The release of the N.W.O. convention book is perhaps the surest sign of the return of the classic Mage: the Ascension line to me. I'm a big fan of both Mage lines from the world of darkness, and I was also a very big fan of the Technocracy as well. Having the NWO as a favorite convention, I welcomed (and secretly worried) about the release of this book. Was it going to be good? What if I've put up too many expectations on it that I'd be disappointed?


Now that I've had a chance to read through it, I'm glad that it wasn't a disappointment at all.


Anyway, onto the review:


For those familiar with the Revised-Era Tradition and Convention books, the NWO convention book retains the standard format. It's a familiar and welcoming thing to people who are coming back to M:tA like me, and still fairly accessible to those new to the game.


The book is divided into 6 main sections, which include a fiction Prologue and Epilogue, as well as an Introduction to the current state of the NWO given the events that have taken place since Revised left off, and a discussion of the convention's History, Organizational Structure and Methodoloties and finally the Assets of the New World Order.


The Introduction is a great piece, talking about the big picture and what the NWO is involved in given the shift in society. This is crucial in my mind to haul M:tAw out of the late 90's and into the present day. There's no doubt that the accelerated pace of adoption of technology and societal shifts over the past decade should impact a group so firmly entrenched in humanity as the NWO and it shows.


The History section is told through the lens of a lengthy academic paper written in-character with annotations from a superior. It's a big section, and details many of the pivotal moments in the formation of the NWO. I found the section to be pretty helpful in terms of appreciating the origins of the Convention, but I can't help but feel that it may have gone on just a little too long. The annotations and sidebars help in providing further information, and a presence of a group in the NWO focused on Gender Studies was a nice touch.


Division of Labor breaks down life in the NWO to digestible chunks. From the overall heirarchy to the the means by which they advance up the ranks, this chapter is the most useful to GMs who are looking to run a game which offers an in-depth look into NWO operatives. The Methodologies, or sub-groupings of the NWO are all excellently written, with each having a valid reason for their existence and their own specialties within the Convention. From old favorites like the Ivory Tower and the Operatives to the brand-spanking new Methodology focused on Information Technology called The Feed, each one is full of interesting hooks to make a character from.


Assets brings up a host of things, from interesting NPCs to a treatment of Data as Correspondence, complete with it's own chart for determining sympathy for Data Procedures. These Data Procedures replace Correspondence ones for NWO operatives, and it is surprisingly useful for the convention to have a focus shift towards an increasingly wired society. Interestingly it's not exactly exclusive to the technocracy, and the Virtual Adepts are also capable of taking this view of Correspondence on their own spells.


My favorite section of the Assets chapter is one that deals with the Technocracy's toys. From the Enlightened Smartphone to the iconic Mirrorshades, and the amusingly named Gun For The Job I get happy warm fuzzies at the idea of actually employing these devices on the field both as a player and a GM. The chapter also wraps up with several NWO Procedures.


As with the tradition / convention books, the NWO book wraps up with several sample characters, including a Processed Traditionalist, which I found to be a great angle to work with if I were to play.



Convention Book N.W.O. is an excellent way to kick off the return of Mage: the Ascension to active publication once more (though arguably the fact that the books are all available on PDF meant that they never really left.)


The New World Order has finally made it's long desired comeback and I think the fans are going to be very happy with what they're getting. Aside from a much-needed upgrade to a modern paradigm, the NWO convention book shows off all the neat details (and dirty secrets) of the faction, and more importantly makes me want to play it


Convention Book: N.W.O. is available from DriveThruRPG for $13.99 or roughly PHP 574.00



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: N.W.O.
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