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Shadowrun: The Way of the Samurai
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2013 18:21:45
A large of part of this product will be managing the expectations at the table. According to the JackPoint post which introduces this book, the Options line will be some play-tested experimental rules that aren’t sanctioned in tournaments and may not suit everyone’s game. It’s recommended that you talk with your GM before applying these rules to your character.

As such, the usefulness of this title can be extremely varied.

The product is laid out with a longish piece of fiction at the front (good stuff, featuring Saber – remember him from ‘Dirty Tricks’?), and then leading into a JackPoint discussion led by Slamm0! About a new MMO from Ares. This premise acts as the vehicle to discuss a few of the archetypes commonly found among Street Samurai, with usual sniping, one-upmanship and good humour.

The rules section gives you a single Edge for each archetype; only characters with an Essence of 2.99 or lower need apply. Honestly, the Edges are useful, and I can see players wanting to build characters around these. The next section kits you out with cyberware packages from a range of suppliers, and concludes with some sample NPCs based on each application. It was nice to see the artwork from a couple of SR2 products being re-used in this section, but really, I do question whether the information was all that useful.

I may be missing the point here, but to me this reads like a long gaming article. Yes, there are interesting and useful pieces of information, but you could make the fiction more succinct, drop the stats at the back and you’d have a standard gaming magazine article with some optional rules (which is what this series is). You get this for $4.99, and whilst the concept is good, the price point isn’t. I’d prefer to see a range of roles in SR4 treated to this, but in a more streamlined and aggregated format. A short sourcebook with a range of Options (like White Wolf’s Mirrors series) would be a great format to pursue, and I feel, give more value for money.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Way of the Samurai
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Shadowrun: Montreal 2074
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/03/2013 19:06:47
As far as setting books go, this is a nice follow-up to the Tir Tairngire guide published in late 2012, and goes a long way to establish a new locale for shadowrunners. Whilst there are the north American staples of Seattle, New York and Denver, Montreal has a distinct flavour that makes it worthwhile.

In a scant twenty one pages (including almost two pages of fiction and three pages of stats at the back) the authors do an admirable job of presenting an extremely useful book. Montreal is presented as a city which has seen deep decline, and currently a renewed interest in rebuilding form almost all the AAA megacorps.

Into this mix are thrown the powers of biker gangs (including a local chapter of the Ancients was a nice touchstone), the Mafia and Triads, as well as spy agencies, the local equivalent of Lone Star (La Gendarmarie Corporation) and the NAN. I especially enjoyed reading the section on the Native American Nations, as it answers a number of logical questions about traditional land ownership and how it mirrored the experience of the rest of North America post Daniel Howling Coyote. The evolving situation is both an intelligent exploration of the meta-game, but offers heaps of plot hooks for enterprising runners to exploit (or be exploited by). The threats are rounded off by a discussion of the native fauna (as if you didn’t have enough to worry about without Wendigos and Piasma).

This is a book of exciting opportunities and I’m amazed at the authors’ abilities to present a fully-functioning, intriguing and usable setting into the page count with which they were assigned. Montreal is very much a city on the cusp of significant change, and there are far too many different vested interests for this transition and progress to run smoothly. And, as the Jack Pointers say, turmoil breeds job opportunities.

I’d like to see some modules developed for Montreal, although my immediate desire is for it to be the location of the next season of Shadowrun Missions. Given the scope of events, a group of writers could have a lot of fun using this city as their sandbox, and the Missions-style would allow the fans to see some change enacted.

This is a top-notch source book all round, and the pricing and length similar to ‘Land of Promise’ – which is to say good value. Like another reviewer, it was an opportunity for me to crack open my old Black Dog ‘Montreal by Night’ and there are some great synergies between the two books. When I start my new Shadowrun game soon, I’ll definitely be including a trip to Montreal – and given the quality and depth of content in this book, I’m hoping it will be an extended stay.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Montreal 2074
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Silent Knife
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2013 23:29:55
I tend to judge gaming fiction very differently than 'regular' fiction, but this is due to the difference in use. For me, gaming fiction brings the world alive, moves the game beyond mere mechanics and shows the reader how the game world works. It should show the reader the nuances of the game world and offer a potential Storyteller insight that is useful for future games.
I own almost every oWoD novel White Wolf produced and there was certainly a mixed bag in there, ranging from the truly atrocious ('Masquerade of the Red Death') to very enjoyable ('Clan Novel: Setite'), so this is the yardstick against which 'Silent Knife' will be measured.

I found it to be extremely average. It wasn't a trial to read, there was enough variance between the characters and the overall plot was fine. But that was it. There was nothing that stood out to me as exceptional, but likewise nothing that made me want to walk away either. If you are running a game of Requiem, it is worth looking over, and the characters' motivations and mannerisms will be something worth taking away from the novel.
At this price point the ePub version (which rendered wonderfully on my Android tablet) is a low investment, and the page count long enough to tell the story, but you can knock this over in a day or two. Whilst I can't really fault it, there isn't anything extraordinary about this novel either - hence the clear 'middle of the road' of three stars.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Silent Knife
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-11: Election Day
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/01/2013 19:41:25
'Election Day' is an excellent way to wrap up the current season of Missions, and does continue the general trend of high-quality, value-for-money that I've come to expect from this product line.

Whilst a copy of 'Dirty Tricks' will be extremely useful in running this module (it is obviously no co-incidence that the source book was released just before this module), it's not absolutely essential. I read 'Dirty Tricks' before 'Election Day'; and I found a lot of synergies between the two products.

So why is this synergy useful?

Well, 'Election Day' is somewhat more open-ended than most SR Missions (and indeed most other modules). PCs are given a lot of options and chances to indulge their creativity, wheel and deal and generally pursue their own agenda. Having a book specifically geared towards politics in the Sixth World gives the GM a host of options to keep the mood of the module and really tailor the experience.

With that in mind, the GM will need to do a bit of their own Legwork beforehand, as this does require some prep. Whilst it could technically be run as a stand-alone, I think that the play experience would be significantly diminished by play it as such. The richness of the setting, the emotional appeal of Proposition 23, and the relationships with the Contacts can't be fabricated - so I would strongly recommend playing a few of this season before wading into 'Election Day'.

Overall, the module is well-written, and the Debugging sections have been thoughtfully considered and are actually quite useful. These sections, whilst not intended to railroad the plot, assist the GM to keep the focus of the module.

The motivations of the NPCs are well-documented and believable and there is a strong internal consistency to the behaviour they exhibit. This helps the players become even more immersed in the world. Likewise, there are rationales given for how the election (and voting process) work, especially in the face of a ubiquitously wired world. Interestingly, I think this is the first instance of the word 'app' being used in SR (my sympathies go out to the SR writers who need to try and make this look somewhat futuristic whilst the real world bounds forward).

As I said in my opening, this finished the season with a bang, not a whimper, and promises to deliver an excellent experience at the table.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-11: Election Day
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Convention Book: N.W.O.
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/17/2012 23:00:06
First and foremost, I treated this book as not only an update on the Convention, but an indication of the type of approach that will be taken in M20 during 2013. If this is the calibre of quality we can reasonably expect, then I’m willing to sign up to Mage: the Ascension books form here sight unseen.
The treatment of NWO in this book is nothing short of stunning. In preparation for this, I re-read my first edition Convention books and skimmed the Guide to the Technocracy, mostly to refresh the ideas of a game that was (in my mind) firmly ensconced in the late 1990’s to the turn of the millennium. There is a marked contrast between those classic books and what has been produced for NWO.
There is a depth of development that makes the reader sympathise with this Convention in so many ways, and makes them believable as adversaries and viable as player characters. They are the most inherently human of all of the Technocracy, and this shows in the writing.

The book focusses on giving a history of NWO (‘History 2.0’ as the chapter is called) and does an excellent job of highlighting (through example) some of the key weapons in the arsenal of this Convention. Relationships with other organisations and super-naturals are also explored, as well as an overview of the three main arms of NWO (including the newest, known as ‘The Feed’). In dealing with the leaps of internet technology, cloud computing, crowdsourcing and social media, the authors succinctly explain the concepts, how they fit within the greater goals of the Technocracy and why responses are required. There are a host of small examples throughout and I’d imagine that anyone with only a passing knowledge of such concepts would still understand. This is not an information technology primer, but a highly usable sourcebook which integrates these technologies in a very believable manner.

As a fan of the ‘Technomancers Toybox’, I did find the gear section to be especially rewarding – with everything from ‘The Gun for the Job’ (the existence of this weapon alone tells us a lot about NWO), the ‘Nondescript Van’ and the ‘Enlightened Smartphone’ all became fast favourites. The section on Procedures (Magick) was also great, and the note that younger agents refer to the plethora of Procedures as ‘apps’ brought a wry smile to my face.

The book is rounded out with some notable agents (and the return of John Courage), some legends of the Convention, and a range of pre-generated archetypes.

A lot of care has been taken here to ensure that the book looks and feels like Mage Revised Edition and this attention to detail has paid dividends. It is very easy to forget the number of years between Mage: the Ascension and now; and this book helps blur the time which has elapsed. The art is uniformly good, the layout perfect and the typos minimal (I only spotted one). To be honest, I’ll be ordering my PoD copy as soon as possible and giving it pride of place next to my other printed Mage books. Right now, I can’t wait to see Syndicate (and there were plenty of hints dropped throughout this book as to what we should expect) and of course M20 next year. The fact that this book could be used by both players and storytellers (in the right chronicle) further elevates its’ status in my eyes.

Bottom line: this is a brilliant book which should be on the shelves of every Mage player and storyteller; and hopefully will act as a catalyst to get new blood interested in an old game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: N.W.O.
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Shadowrun: Dirty Tricks
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2012 17:09:13
‘Dirty Tricks’ is a book that I feel SR has needed for a while. A seemingly dichotomous proposition exists in a world like Shadowrun – does anyone actually care about governments or ascribe them power in a world where a triple-A megacorp realistically wields more power? This book answers that question well, and keeps a firm eye on situating the political machinations of the Sixth World at the Shadowrunner’s eye-level.
There was certainly scope for this to read like a bad political science textbook, but instead we are treated to the wide-ranging (yet always on-topic) posts of the JackPointers we all know and love. Before I dive into the review, I will express my hope that the chap on p. 157 is a foreshadow of a future product?

Mysterious masked men aside, let’s take a look at what you get.

The point is though, that whilst the SR American government has outsourced a lot of non-essential functions (police, welfare, etc) to corporations, there is still a role for government. Whilst people are essentially owned by corporations in the 2070’s, their sense of self is often still bound to geographic and ethnic ideals, and the government is one representation of these connected ideals (it’s a nice theory, anyway). Make no mistake, however, the book underlines all of this with the clear reality that most politicians are in the race for personal power, glory and more nuyen – so very little has changed. If you’re after specific examples of this there’s a great little discussion on Seretech decision and how that changed the political landscape. I’ve always thought that this is the case that the SR game world was built on, so it’s only right that it gets some treatment in a book like this.

The opening fiction sets up the fact that Proposition 23 is the main political discussion of the Sixth World (at least in the Americas) and was an extremely enjoyable way to open the book. We’re then plunged straight into a series of chapters covering opposition intel, voter intimidation, bribes, cons, and even the , err, romantic pursuits of those in office. My favourite section was ‘Taking the Bullet’ by OrkCEO. Apart from the interesting side of the character (a former runner who now heads up a private security firm), the rest of the chapter covered all of the practical aspects about security detail ‘runs. Given that the concept can be applied to a range of other settings (ala Queen Euphoria), this is quite a valuable chapter for both GMs and players alike.

The next block covers the political landscape in Seattle, the UCAS, the South (CAS), Tsimshian and the UK. Whilst each section is individually interesting, I’d recommend taking a break between each chapter. There is a lot of information in here, and despite being well-presented, it is a lot to take in over one sitting. The only major surprise here, was the Proposition 23 results, which I honestly thought would have been in ‘SR Missions’ for continuity, rather than here. But still, the decision does make sense. Of particular interest was the section on the UK, but that’s only because I’m hoping to run a campaign based out of London in the near future. A political run might be just the thing to drop the runners in the drek and see what happens.

It closes out with a discussion of the main power groups such as the Black Lodge, Human Nation, and Illuminates of the New Dawn; followed by a few pages of plot hooks in the style that we’ve come to expect. Basically, there is no wasted space here, with solid value offered in terms of the hooks (although there would be a significant investment of time to make them into full ‘runs).

The approach taken to the writing is consistent with the mood of the book. I read these types of sourcebooks to be immersed in the Sixth World, and the reliance on fiction and Jack Point posts to deliver the information is a very effective choice. The little touches (such as the note on the Jack Point log-in page that you’re ‘registered to vote in 5 different locales with 3 different SINs’) situate the book in-world and show the sorts of (appropriately) ‘dirty tricks’ which are employed. The artwork is consistently good (one of my favourite pieces is on p. 128), and gone are the typographic errors present in many earlier products this year.

I know almost nothing about US politics (mostly as I don't live in the States), and I did feel a little trepidation about my lack of knowledge going in. However, the authors haven’t delivered a treatise on the inner political workings of the US; but rather a functioning sourcebook for fictional game world that is easy to read and could potentially be used at any table.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Dirty Tricks
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Shadowrun: Sacrificial Limb (Boardroom Backstabs)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/29/2012 16:47:18
It’s always difficult to write a module review without spoilers, so consider yourself forewarned. ‘Sacrificial Limb’ is an extremely strong follow-up to the first ‘Boardroom Backstabs’ offering (and in my opinion is a superior product). Reminiscent of the SR2 module “Missions’, the characters are approached to undertake undercover work with Knight Errant – by becoming recruits. Obviously, there is a lot more going on than just gathering intel on Knight Errant training methods, tech and evidence of incompetence on the rising megacorp. The proximity of the training grounds to a certain city means that it’s only a matter of game time before bugs start crawling out of the walls; and they don’t disappoint.

The design of the module allows for both a linear experience, and one that could be tailored to become a full-blown campaign, so it represents excellent value for money. The current cover price (USD 8.00) is double the cost of a regular ‘Shadowrun Missions’ module, but has so much more, despite a count of 48 pages. The plot is very straightforward, with opportunities and advice about expanding the scope of the run, developing NPCs and introducing subplots littered throughout all sections. I couldn’t honestly see a GM using all of the material, but the ideas are good enough that you could cross-pollinate into other ‘runs, or design your own ‘side-trek’ style one-shots from them. Additionally, sidebars discuss how to make scenes more challenging, by adding an interesting depth of complexity that will challenge even seasoned groups. There is a mix of both combat and social/investigative scenes, but as you’d imagine, there is a definite lean towards the combat (especially in the later stages of the module once the truth of matter comes to light).

This is a sensible design strategy, as some groups will simply undertake the run, tick the boxes and achieve the goals. Other groups, however, will relish the relative open-ness of the mission parameters, and use of the scene complication sidebars will encourage co-operative and imaginative play.

What had struck me with the last few months of Catalysts’ SR4 offerings is that the quality (including editing) has been steadily rising, and the current pricing schedule is sound. If a GM was to purchase ‘Sacrificial Limb’ and ‘Elven Blood’ they would be set for modules for quite a while (I worked out that my group would take about twenty game sessions to get through all the content in those two books – that’s a year of gaming at my table).

I couldn’t be happier with Catalyst over 2012, the only major complaint I have is a lack of gaming time to enjoy this line more often. If you look over the product list from this year alone, you’ll not be starved for choice.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sacrificial Limb (Boardroom Backstabs)
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Deadlands Reloaded: Blood Drive 2-High Plains Drovers
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2012 20:45:10
‘High Plains Drovers’ succeeds as both a stand-alone module and as the second part to this series. Whilst some minor adjustments will be necessary to make this work for a group of greenhorns, the prior knowledge which is absolutely essential is minimum, and can be easily imparted through the relevant NPCs.

As with Part 1 of the series, the PCs are still part of a group herding cattle across States to a parcel of land. The promise of a decent wage and a little excitement are paid in full during the adventure. Attention has been paid to make the scenarios in here quite different to the first installment, the developers clearly understand that there is only so much you can do with an adventure about herding cattle – and have worked quite hard to make it a worthwhile play experience.

What does work very well is that the Western motif is front and centre in every scenario, and the blend of ‘weird’ into ‘Weird West’ is done in a manner so as not to overwhelm the players. There is enough attention to the core genre that the supernatural elements are woven in effortlessly. There are supernatural bugs, mad scientists, bound ghosts, and the odd undead or two to keep the story ‘weird’ enough.

The challenges presented are interestingly pitched. I can see that the types of decisions made in the first volume of this campaign were mostly straightforward and would suit a new play group; but this adventure calls for a little more finesse. I’m sure that even new players who had worked their way through the first instalment would now have the confidence to tackle the problems they’ll face in ‘High Plains Drovers’. The set piece combat scenes should prove challenging, with plenty of scope for inventive characters to shine, but this is balanced against investigative and social scenes.

In all, it is a fine piece o’ work, and I now really want to see how this all ends.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Reloaded: Blood Drive 2-High Plains Drovers
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Dark Heresy: The Lathe Worlds
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2012 19:22:45
In many ways, ‘The Lathe Worlds’ is an essential book for all of the 40K-based RPGs, not just Dark Heresy. The Adeptus Mechanicus are well-deserving of their own book, given that there are a number of cultural, perceptual and even theological differences between those adherents of the Machine Cult and the rest of the Imperium of Man.

The developers for this product have done an excellent job in creating a resource which will see a lot of use at any table, with a clarity of writing, and clean layout which to which I have become accustomed when dealing with materials from FFG. Divided into four sections, the book covers in detail:

The history of the Adeptus Mechanicus, their hierarchy and how they are viewed by the general populace of the Imperium. It provides some interesting social norms about the role of machines and their appointed guardians and how this plays out in day-to-day life; which is invaluable for the GM, but also provides inspiration for players. It concludes with a section on tech-heresy, which firmly roots this book into the Inquisitorial ideology and provides a wealth of ideas for adventure design.
The second chapter is, by necessity, the rules-heavy section. IT deals with alternate career paths, skills and talents and the armoury (providing a host of new toys for your campaign). Overall, the quality of the Career Paths is high, and wargear section doesn’t contribute to an ‘arms race’ mentality which is rife in the 40K tabletop game, so this is a nice divergence for the tabletop RPG to take.
The penultimate chapter deals with the establishment of the Lathe Worlds, the power groups and planets. The planets in particular are given a lot of attention, and fleshed out quite well. The challenge in approaching a subject like mapping an entire system of planets is to balance the amount of detail. FFG handles this very well, providing enough information to spark the imagination and give a unique feel for each locale, but not so much that the reader becomes bored with the level of detail.
Lastly is ‘The Light of Reason’ an adventure which utilises the information and ideology of the book very well. It shows, in practical terms, how tech-heresy and the Doctrines of the Mechanicus are interpreted and what occurs when these teachings are blatantly ignored. Obviously, to get the best out of this adventure (and the book as a whole) you’ll need a Tech Priest in your party, but I can see this book of use to those who have yet to succumb to the lure of the Omnissiah too.

Overall, it is a fine work, capped off by a module which is thoughtfully written and offers a great experience at the table. I would have liked to see an Index included in this book, especially given the new content, but the information is generally well-laid-out, so FFG can be excused for this. The artwork continues to impress, with enough smatterings of established artists to aesthetically link the book back to the wargaming supplements. Whilst Mechanicus characters appear in a few Black Library books (such as the Shira Calpurnia novels) and audio dramas (most notably ‘Red and Black’), they do require a book like this to give them more defined substance. Given that Games Workshop is releasing Chaos equivalents of the Tech Marine for the new Codex, there is scope for this book to be used to develop adversaries as well.

I can see this becoming part of my ‘essentials’ for Dark Heresy and it is proof that sometimes the inner workings of the Imperium are far more strange and compelling than that which lurks on its edges.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: The Lathe Worlds
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Hero Kids - Fantasy Supplement - Coloring Book - Heroes
Publisher: Hero Forge Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2012 18:24:05
I downloaded this for my children, as we're always on the lookout for colouring pages. Whilst there are a range of free sites which I regularly use, not a lot of them offer PDF and most require a little work to make them usable. This book offers 11 pages of fairly simple, clean images based on a range of 'Hero Kids'. You'll find the fighter, the mage and a host of others ready for use.
This came to my attention when the price was dropped to free, and as such, I see every reason to recommend it.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hero Kids - Fantasy Supplement - Coloring Book - Heroes
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Deadlands Reloaded: Blood Drive 1-Bad Times on the Goodnight
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2012 18:17:32
‘Bad Times on the Goodnight’ acts as a good introductory campaign for Deadlands, but I would recommend that both the players and Marshal have a few games under their belts before taking it on. The basic premise revolves around the characters being employed to help move cattle long-distance and the challenges against which they must prevail in order to do this. There is enough fodder here for a decent number of sessions, and the information is presented in a very readable manner, which will help novice and experienced Marshals alike. There is some variety in the types of encounters from roping panicked longhorns, to wrasslin’ with railroad thugs, and even a strange encounter in Roswell. The adventure boasts an action-packed finale, with plenty of room for players to spend time strategisin’ (and probably cussin’ by the time it’s over).

The major challenge in running this adventure is two-fold. Firstly, there are a few NPCs who are recurring travelling companions (or adversaries), and if the Marshal runs the other adventures in this series, some effort really needs to be spent to make each NPC shine. The PCs should care about (or hate) the main NPCs and playing on this will provide further motivation, and a chance for some good roleplaying opportunities. This isn’t made explicit, so the Marshal needs to consider how to build this rapport into their game. Secondly is the nature of the job for which they are employed. Basically moving cattle from Point A to Point B doesn’t sound too exciting, and can be a downright linear, mechanical process if you’re not careful. Whilst the premise is quite simple, running this adventure does have a number of subtle complexities. Marshals should consider this as they are planning their session.

That said, it’s a good start to the series, offers a range of situation types from investigation, to combat, to fast-talkin’ and this should make it widely appealing to Deadlands enthusiasts.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Reloaded: Blood Drive 1-Bad Times on the Goodnight
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Makeshift Miracle Book 1: The Girl From Nowhere
Publisher: UDON
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2012 23:30:19
“Makeshift Miracle Book 1” is a solid offering from Udon which combines urban fantasy with stunning artwork. This voume should be approached as ‘scene setting’ for a much longer and broader story; introducing the main players (of which there are really only three) and providing hooks to draw the reader further into the story. In true comics style, this volume ends with more questions than answers, and I am keen to see how this develops.
The artwork is marvellous, and the use of colour is very clever to highlight the intensity of the main character and the Girl from Nowhere, contrasting it against the bleakness of the surrounding world. The author offers a little social commentary too, aiming to establish how empty and meaningless the lives of those around the protagonist are.
The story is enticing, mixing emotional confusion, surreal occurrence and danger in almost equal measures. Readers of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ and ‘Neverwhere’ will see brief glimpses and echoes of the themes in those books, yet this comic is able to stand alone and apart from these works.

Overall, highly entertaining and visually pleasing in every regard.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Makeshift Miracle Book 1: The Girl From Nowhere
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V20 Companion
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2012 18:16:49
The V20 Companion is a fine piece of work all round. To me, the mark of a good product is having to shelve it multiple times whilst reading it; because the ideas simply pour out of the pages. I’ve always tried to run games which focus on political machinations and smiling backstabs, as well as trying to grasp the intricacies of the vampiric condition and culture. This book gives me more information on both counts (and more besides).

The first section covers the myriad of titles which the ‘canon’ has accumulated over the years and describes (usually in a paragraph) the function of title. Interestingly, the titles have been drawn from many facets of Masquerade, from table-top sourcebooks, LARP and even the VTES CCG – which gives it a great holistic feel. The breadth of roles is quite invigorating, and when combined with the chapters to come, it guarantees that their application in individual chronicles can be highly tailored. There is also a light set of mechanics to accompany the usage of titles in specific circumstances, and admonition against constantly leaning on title, rather than wits and charisma, to get the job done.
The second chapter focuses on Prestation, and the manner in which Boons are traded and dispersed. This ‘social economy’ is covered in some detailed, including scaling Boons, and how trading and recording of these assets occurs. There is also an interesting section on trading Boons between Sects – something I’d like to explore further in my chronicle to add a layer of politics and consequence that might surprise players. In the past, the lines between Sects has been fairly firm, but I find this interpretation a lot more flexible and realistic.
Next, technology and its’ impact is scrutinised. By far, this was an intelligently written chapter, and one that needed to be addressed. 2nd edition V:tM spoke of the Computer skill in terms of booting up PCs and using floppy disks (or even CDs) – so social media, wifi, smartphones and tablet computing all needed to be discussed in light of not only the Masquerade, but also how Kindred perceive the world and leverage opportunities. It does contain an interesting section about the rights of the Prince in policing the Traditions and whether they extend to a Cainite outside their Domain using technology remotely to commit transgressions. These sorts of questions highlight the archaic, feudal traditions (and Traditions) of the Kindred against the contrast of modern nights.
The last chapter deals with a number of iconic locales from the World of Darkness, from the Cathedral of Flesh, Lodin’s Boardroom, the Succubus Club and even Netchurch’s lab. Each is given a few paragraphs of flavour that could spark chronicle ideas. In all, I found it useful, but not as much as the preceding chapters.
There are a few closing pages talking about design and reflecting on the process of pulling the book together. I didn’t find this superfluous, but others may only find it tangentially interesting. It reminded me of the final page of many of the oWoD sourcebooks which had some anecdotes and reflection – so not out of place at all in a product like this.

Overall, I have a lot of love for this book. I can see it being a ‘go to’ title for any V:tM chronicle I run in the future and $15.00 on this PDF is money well spent, but I’ll be definitely adding a print copy to my shelves as well.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Companion
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Shadowrun: Elven Blood
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2012 23:19:46
‘Elven blood’ is a great product to review on the heels of ‘Land of Promise’ and Elves seem to be flavour of the month for Catalyst. The ninety-eight page book offers five Shadowrun Missions-style modules, complete with Contacts handouts and the requisite paperwork we expect from these modules.

Whilst the intro to the book mentions five or six other sourcebooks that they draw from, I didn’t find any absolutely necessary to run these modules. The only book you might like to look up is ‘Elven fire’ an SR2 module which provides the backstory for the first module in ‘Elven Blood’, but again it’s more for those with a completest bent than actual use in game play.

The five missions take place either in Seattle with the Ancients, or running about the countryside (and Tir Tairngire) working for a Tir Prince. The modules run the gamut from a scavenger hunt (‘Ancient Pawns’), smuggling operations (‘Hopping the Fence’), investigating organised crime (‘Domestic Tranquility’), scouring the land of magical reagents (‘Grocery List’) or the classic ‘hung over and can’t remember the run’ (in ‘The Hung Over’). Each run offers something distinct, and there are in-game expectations about how certain actions will be accomplished, but with plenty of freedom for the ‘runners. ‘Ancient Pawns’ is probably the best example of this, as the PC’s must gather items in competition with another team, but under the loose rules of a ritual challenge. They are encouraged to be as creative and inventive as possible, and thinking ‘outside the box’ will yield dividends at the end. All of the other modules offer similar levels of open-endedness, and this should be a warning to the GM to prepare.
Additionally, there were clear cinematic moments throughout all of the modules (kung fu brawls on top of speeding hijacked trucks, leaping from burning attack helicopters – you get the picture) which support players who like this style of play.

The layout and editing problems endemic in the last few SR Missions products are thankfully absent from this collection, and quality control seems to be back on board. The artwork is an interesting mix of new material and images taken from earlier editions of SR (which is especially fitting for ‘Ancient Pawns’). The developers ta Catalyst seem to have a keen interest in tying the current projects back to Shadowrun’s earlier days, but are doing so in a manner which makes old hands like me smile and reminisce, but wouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of a new player.
Speaking of ealier days, what makes me really want to run this with my group is the elevation of Blackwing to Tir Prince (and one of the key Johnson’s in the modules). My players have encountered him via some of the SR2 modules, and the looks on their faces when they start working for him will be priceless. Just goes to show, no hard feelings, it’s all biz.

This is probably the best value for money supplement Catalyst has released this year, in terms of both price (which has recently dropped) and quality.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Elven Blood
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Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2012 00:27:43
‘Land of Promise’ is a mixed bag of goodies which essentially updates the 2e Tir Tairngire sourcebook. In fact, I’d highly recommend a purchase of that book to go with this one in order to get the best value. This book is a succinct 24 pages, broken up as intro fiction (4pages), travelogue (15 pages) and game information (5 pages).

The travelogue section is written as a Corp-speak advertisement for the Tir which is soon hijacked by the regular Jackpointers. To be honest, part of this is wasted opportunity, as the ‘pointers debate the merits and authenticity of the information and then eventually provide their own overview of the country. Whilst the information is useful, the point that the Tir is glossing over their problems and putting Corp-spin on everything is belaboured. Once the information from the Jackpointers starts rolling in, so does the usable game-worthy data. That said, attention has been paid to giving each of the posters their own evolving personality, and the faux-BBS style is delivered in usual believable style as small arguments occur and general pettiness is revealed.

The game information features eleven one-paragraph story starters to inspire your own ‘runs involving Tir Tairngire, but there is a note that purchasing the new supplement ‘Elven Blood’ would be useful. One questions why Catalyst didn’t just publish this as a larger sourcebook, rather than as two supplements. The information in ‘Land of Promise’ is predominantly for the GM, so adding in five modules wouldn’t have altered the audience. The game information also includes stat blocks for some of the unique denizens of land, a new spell and a new Magical Society.

The main question for me is: what niche does this fill in my SR collection? I’m viewing this as an update to the Tir Tairngire sourcebook I already own, so $5.95 is a decent price for what is involved. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use this book without that sourcebook. Bottom line is that if you wanted to invest in a Tir campaign, you could pick up the original sourcebook ($8.00), this book ($5.95) and Elven Blood ($6.99) and be set for quite a while. I’d consider a five-module story arc plus setting books for around twenty dollars to be good value (given that SR Missions modules are $3.95 each; and that’s dirt cheap), and with this in mind, I have no hesitation in recommending ‘Land of Promise’.

I think that whilst the writing could have been tightened up, and perhaps a little more substance to the information presented, it is still worth the price tag. This is also a region of the SR setting worth keeping an eye on, as there were plenty of hints about future shake-ups in this country. We might see more supplements emerge next year about the Tir.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
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