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Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2013 22:13:59

Everyone says my reviews are too long and nobody reads them. So here's my two paragraph summary first:

Want to see an amazing game that nails down a very slippery and specific genre and consistently and effectively pursues it? Buy this game.

Want a game that is mechanically well-balanced and won't lead you into crazy problems? Give it a pass.

Now for the lengthy/verbose/nonsensical analysis.

It seems hard to imagine at this late date, when if you wanted to watch every James Bond movie it would take two uninterrupted days, when the deliberate but tense 1970s Bourne novels have been made into a visceral action series, and when Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can sucker us in with the professionalism of lying, but there was a time in history when espionage and counter-espionage was just coming into pop culture. Of course The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad was a 19th century venture into the popular spy novel (and modern readers will appreciate terrorism as its central conflict instead of the Cold War), but in the 1950s and 60s, the spy-as-hero jumped into prominence, and a good deal of it was an almost countercultural espionage - the spy not as defender of the stodgy status quo, but the swinger, the con artist, Mr. Suave, the femme fatale, and of course, the only person who could tell that the whole Cold War was a sham, a big crazy lie, man.

To some extent this was because the other arm of visible authority, the police officer, was engaged, quite publicly, in a heart-wrenching shift from primarily being concerned with order to primarily being concerned with law. Cops knew as much as everyone else that when they saw fire hoses turned on voting rights activists in Selma that being a police officer had to change. So in addition to the cop who was in touch with the kids, we gained the spy who didn't play by any rules. And sometimes these spy stories were lighthearted action romps - fantasies about what we'd do if we were trained to the top of our abilities and turned loose in the world with a gun, a quip and some cool gadget nobody else had.

It's hard to remember this now when we can count James Bond's genuine smiles since 1992 on one hand, but Austin Powers is a parody not of Bond but of the goofy/sexy spies that blossomed at the same time, but did not necessarily survive. (I have no idea why people chose to parody swingin' 60s spies in 1997. Why not parody balloonist adventure tales or picaresques about travelling to the Mysterious East? Those would be just as relevant. But that's far afield even for my normal rambling review style.)

It's this fantasy that Agents of SWING targets, and hits, dead on. Not the parody (though I guess you could use it for that) - this is not a satire game, this is a game about that lighthearted fantasy.

Your characters are in an implausible agency, given implausible covers, and must battle against implausible villains, while bedding their unbelievably attractive and somewhat reluctant lieutenants and sorting out ridiculous gadgets. All of these things are given a thorough once-over. The quick-moving FATE 3.0 system (with some changes, see below) is a great setup for this.

It's always a matter of walking a tightrope when replicating social attitudes of past times that might interfere with people's enjoyments - Agents of SWING, I feel, does a pretty decent job of emphasizing that players who are women will have opportunities for fun along with those that aren't. Because the agents are beyond the straitjacketed moralities of the (crumbling, it's 1967) square world they protect, they are able to forge their own way. You can even play up the tension by selecting Aspects that will emphasize this conflict - and you gain fate points when they cause problems for you, so you're actually encouraged to think about the issue and bring it to the table with your own spin on it. This game convinced me that FATE's Aspects (perhaps along with The Shadow of Yesterday's Keys) are an excellent mechanic for putting those issues into the hands of the players rather than having them feel imposed-upon by a GM or a group. There are a few examples of women characters who are not well-turned, but even if it's not a bullseye, this game gets a lot of credit from me for aiming at a difficult target and hitting at least within the first ring (to extend the metaphor.)

The game also replaces the normal FATE 3.0 "Spin" with a third "Swing Die" which you can earn, and then spend in future rolls. (It uses the d6-d6 FATE setup rather than Fate dice.) This is a pretty cool way of putting the application of Spin into the hands of the player and prevents something I've seen in other FATE games, which is people scratching their heads trying to figure out how to Spin something that doesn't really fit so that people don't feel like it's wasted. This is a really good solution to that - it shifts the probabilities significantly but doesn't necessarily make it a slam dunk. (You can put your Swing Die on top of your pile of Fate chips too - a nice stack of your player resources that you have available whenever you're planning for a roll.)

There are a number of ways this product could be improved:

For example, the stunt list doesn't hyperlink to the description of each stunt, so the list itself is pretty worthless.

There's no real explanation of what the NPCs are for or how you decide what NPC stats should be. The advice is just "try to keep it balanced with the player characters", which is sort of bad advice given that there's likely to be 3-4 player characters for each villain, and player characters may have a HUGE swing in their abilities to face off against the villain, since they can buy their skills all the way up to +8 from character creation. This is fine for the somewhat lighthearted/cartoony source material, but can easily lead to one or two characters walking off with the game and leaving others feeling useless without some clear guidance on how to create opposition (or tighter instructions at character creation).

I'm not super thrilled with the handouts. While it's nice to see them divided up, the monospace font makes it hard to work out/remember where things are. (I guess they're a good starting point and I'm glad they're there because all games should have handouts in their PDFs, what are you gonna do, make me go to your website? My mouse only clicks so many times per game, pal.) Also, the stunt section of the character sheet doesn't really give enough space to explain some of the more complicated stunts.

I actually rated this one a bit lower at first because of the difficulty in getting from the player characters to a workable scenario, but I have to reviewer tilt up one because it chases after something very specific, something rarely seen these days, and comes a lot closer than I thought it might when I first began reading the introduction. All in all, this is a pretty special game and it's one that I've returned to many times.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
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Ocean
Publisher: Atarashi Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2013 15:01:50

Ocean is an example of how simple an RPG can be and still be effective.

In Ocean, the players are all people who have woken up in an underwater Station with no memory of how they got there, who they are, or what the monsters are that are stalking and picking them off. They will try to solve three mysteries involving their situation, and survive to escape to safety.

The mechanics of the game are freeform with respect to everything except survival and mystery. Players develop the mystery through rolling dice to find clues to each of the mysteries (who are we? what are the monsters?) and to find supplies that will help them survive and escape. The supplies (weapons, keys, files, etc.) are described in detail.

As a LOST fan, I really like the "castaway" element of the game. The characters are isolated and must work together to succeed in a situation they don't understand. The deck is very much stacked against them mechanically - it's extremely unlikely that everyone will escape together. But with good planning and skillful play they may have a chance.

This competitive/challenge element is not something you normally see in narrative style games of this kind, and it works very well. It also sets up situations where one character might sacrifice themselves for the group, or might throw someone to the wolves (so to speak) for their own benefit, which are highly dramatic and interesting character actions not normally given mechanical weight.

This is a solid game that you will want to run more than once, to compare what was created across several groups. It's also an ideal convention scenario, with almost exactly enough content to learn and understand in a single session with a tight ending.

The presentation of the material with a comic book style to help people understand the tone and mechanics is also innovative and good (though the really constricted text gets a bit old at times.) Highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ocean
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Monsterhearts
Publisher: Buried Without Ceremony
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2013 14:45:16

I helped kickstart this book. It's better than the game that gave it birth.

Apocalypse World is a game with a very simple system: you roll 2d6, and add a couple of modifiers. At 6 or below you fail, from 7-9 you succeed, though at a cost, and at 10+, you succeed big time. It's your basic postapocalyptic game. Monsterhearts takes this core system and applies it to a messy game of teenaged monsters, and blows it out of the water, because it's tradeoffs like "succeeding with a cost" that make those stories work, when they do.

The players each select a "playbook", basically a partly pregenerated character. Unlike in other games, only one player may select each playbook - you won't have a game with 5 Vampires, you will have a game with a Vampire, a Werewolf, a Mortal, a Chosen, and so on. You then mark a couple of options and you're now ready to start setting up the situation.

The situation is developed using pointed questions about relationships between and among the player characters and NPCs, who can be their fellow students in high school or their families (or substitute families in the case of Vampires or other "infectious" playbooks.)

The characters turn against each other very quickly - this is a game where PVP is part of play, but much like high school, the PVP doesn't necessarily take the form of hating each other. It could be that someone is just SO IN LOVE with someone who would prefer they jump in front of a train.

Play is relatively freeform, but that freeform is organized into "moves" that your character will inevitably end up making in their attempts to get what they want and go after their goals. What's cool is that the mechanics I mentioned above encourage you to try to get as much control of the situation before you go for what you want, but as you seek out that control, you become more compromised and other people get their hooks into you. If you make a gamble without doing that, though, you are likely to have to pay a significant cost for your success.

The key mechanic in the game is "strings". You gain strings on characters that you have emotional ties to, and those strings make your abilities, both mundane and supernatural, more effective, and give them more impact on the story. Yet at the same time, other characters will be gaining strings on you and manipulating you to pursue their goals and interests.

Advancement comes with discrete, clear steps forward in your character's effectiveness...yet on a broader scale there is a "season" advancement that only kicks in when you play for a while. This includes replacing the teenagery things you can do with more mature versions - "turn someone on" becomes "make someone feel beautiful". This kind of insight into why the characters you're playing are messed up, while still giving them a mechanical way out, is tremendously satisfying.

Do not buy this game thinking it will be a nice generic vampire game. Do not buy this game unless you have some idea why the Twilight series, as a concept, works so effectively for so many people. (You don't have to actually like Twilight to enjoy this game, since Stephanie Meyer can't actually write, just grasp what it's about.) Do not buy this game thinking it will be a Buffy-style team-up fight against monsters. (Just buy the Buffy RPG if you want that, it's pretty great.)

Do buy this game if you like developing complicated relationships between player characters. Do buy this game if you like messy situations and partial victories hard-won. Do buy this game if you want to see the Apocalypse World engine fire on all cylinders. Do buy this game if you want permission from a game system to go after what your character wants with absolutely no boundaries. Do buy this game if you want to try a game that's about your emotions as much or more than your capabilities, and links your emotions to your capabilities in an inextricable way. In short, buy this game right now, you will absolutely, positively, not regret it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monsterhearts
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101 Npc Grudges (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2013 14:20:21

The concept is simple: 101 reasons NPCs will mess with the player characters and 101 ways for them to do so.

What Rite Publishing has done with this core concept, though, is to go beyond that and provide a detailed look at what NPCs with a grudge may do even if they are of a power level far less than the PCs - merchants may use their contacts to get others to gouge the PCs, city officials may send guards to pester them with fatuous demands, thieves may target their storerooms and send pickpockets to target them in the markets, and so on.

The grudges are organized by area (nautical, urban, merchants, and so on). If the PCs in your campaign are active in an area, you'll quickly be able to find appropriate NPCs to start causing problems for them.

A few of the grudge-holders are given full stats, for reasons I'm not really able to discern - it seems like for a product like this, which isn't going to be tied to a specific setting, you would want to give guidelines and maybe a skill total or two, but not necessarily the full stats. (I'm trying to remember the last setting I played in where a city guard gargoyle would fit in. Planescape?) This would help people fit the grudgeholders to their own setting and campaign.

There are no bookmarks, but the work is short enough that it doesn't matter.

I do question the price (currently $6). While it's certainly worth (much) more than a throwaway $1 "list of 101 things" supplement, since it's far more than that, I question whether 101 NPC Grudges is worth six times that. The majority of the grudges, though solid in terms of being hooks, are just a few sentences long. There's little here on how to decide when a grudge is a good idea in campaign terms, nor on how to settle grudges with people who have developed them. It's a good - maybe even great - collection of hooks but has not really been developed into how to incorporate them into campaigns. I tend to see collections of hooks as being lower-priced items.

This is not to say the quality is in any way lacking! If you want to see a new approach to grudges and ways to make opponents of lower combat power level come alive, this is a great place to start.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
101 Npc Grudges (PFRPG)
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Comicworld Ukraine
Publisher: GRAmel
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2013 14:05:16

I've recently become interested in the history of Crimea and the Ukraine, so several months ago when Comicworld: Ukraine was offered as part of a bundle, I was excited. I was a little disappointed that it was not written by someone from the area, but the unique approach is something that deserves a second look.

The United States (and to a lesser degree Canada and the United Kingdoms) have always had nationalist superheroes in several different worlds. The concept of fighting for "The American Way" is central to the idea of many heroes. So we assume that Ukrainian superheroes would fight for "the Ukrainian Way". Comicworld: Ukraine points out that nationalism is only one of many strains of ideology at work in the area, and not necessarily the most powerful one.

The supplement consists first of a description of several strains of thought or ideology that might be at stake in a superhero's life in the area. This is probably the most innovative part of the material. It recognizes that superheroes are really the embodiments of broad, abstract ideas, whether it be "the common man" or "the American way" or "kill the criminals". By tracing out the various ideas at work in Ukrainian culture, this provides a rich background for characters to really be linked to and contending for something significant.

The second is a very broad-brush but solid history of the area, more a primer than a textbook. Each section also contains adventure hooks related to things that happened in that era. Third is a collection of a few simple characters, one heroine and several villains. Finally there's a section on Slavic mythology, which I had not been exposed to before, although it doesn't follow in the footsteps of previous sections and provide assistance in incorporating the mythology into a campaign.

I'm reviewer tilting this one up one star because I absolutely love the approach and the subject matter. Looking at things in a more international way is a benefit of the Internet and supplements like this, which could simply never survive in a print-only RPG world, are ideal for an electronic supplement. Not to mention the price is right!

However, there are many typographical errors (including of place names and (gulp) in the OGL), no bookmarks, and the odd background images make the material difficult to print out. If the formatting were improved, this could be a four-star supplement for sure. Other comic book RPG creators should take note of the "life of the mind" portion of the supplement - you're not just dealing with super-strong people, you're dealing with larger-than-life people, with larger-than-life motivations.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Comicworld Ukraine
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Wargames 2: Superspies and Commandos of the Cold War
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/06/2013 13:18:09

Vigilance Press has been dedicated to bringing cross-system materials out in a way that few other companies have. This requires an understanding of many different game systems, and more importantly, a core concept that remains consistent, so that each game or supplement can express that core concept in the "language" of their own game. Wargames 2, reviewed here in its Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition format, is a good example of how that can be done successfully.

Wargames 2 posits a superheroic world that has been plunged into the Cold War, and focuses primarily on the 1980s. The Cold War is interesting in comic book worlds. During the actual 1960s and 70s, comics were going through the Silver Age, a time frame we associate with innocence and wonder. However, when we look back on the Cold War period in the post-Soviet-collapse world we live in, we see a great deal of moral ambiguity and even tragedy. Wargames 2 tries to walk this line closely. Although there are goofy world-spanning conspiracies like the SPECTRE-a-like PHANTOM, there are also darker groups like the Fourth Reich and more "realistic" situations portrayed, like providing counterintelligence. In general, though, it tries to make espionage seem more effective in a comic book world, looking to exceptionally well-trained and well-outfitted superheroes for its inspiration rather than mutants or gods, and looking at heroism like a job or something you enlist for rather than a calling.

The overwhelming majority of the book is worldbuilding, describing the bases, personnel, key leaders and agendas of national agencies and independent organizations operating during this alternate 1980s. It's very thorough and keeps to that line between goofy and serious as closely as it can.

The stats of the characters are well-thought-out, though there are a few oddball things that require you to have the Ultimate Power sourcebook to really figure out. (These are minor and easily altered, though, and at this late date who hasn't picked up Ultimate Power in one sale or another?)

If there is something I could suggest to improve this book, it's that there's not a clear direction for me on how I should run this game differently from my normal Mutants & Masterminds game, which assumes a much broader variety of characters that are brought together by the "superhero team" concept rather than the "1980s espionage" concept. What techniques still work and which ones need to be changed?

In general, Wargames 2 is a solid attempt to look at the Cold War time frame through a superheroic lens and bring some excitement to a superheroic field that's (nowadays) well supported in the comics but much more rarely so in comic book RPGs.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames 2: Superspies and Commandos of the Cold War
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UNSanctioned: The Dream Corrupted
Publisher: Team Frog
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/04/2013 11:55:39

It's always fun when a game takes a position and sticks to it. UNSanctioned does not go the route of replicating an existing comic book company's expansive super-world, carefully calculated to be close enough to our world to absorb brand new comic book readers but wide enough to encompass every possible thing a comic book writer might have thought of in the last fifty years. Instead, it creates its own mythology and its own themes, and pursues them relentlessly.

Set in an alternate 2003 in which electric cars are the norm, super-beings are empowered and controlled by the law, and the United States pushes the world towards global hegemony, UNSanctioned has as its central conflict power vs. justice. Real-life poltiicians, celebrities and organizations are used, albeit in altered ways since the world they grew up in was very different. The metahumans who work for the Peacekeepers, a souped-up, sinister UN organization, get celebrity, money, admiration and a license to hunt their own kind down. The renegades who fight against the system are vilified in the press, targeted by law enforcement, and must disguise their identity and struggle with questions of guerilla tactics and terrorism.

The system of UNSanctioned is a point-buy system similar to the many point-buy systems superhero RPG fans have used for years. You buy three core stats, then add or average some of them to get things like hit points and perception rolls. Skills and superpowers are also purchased out of this pool. The system uses two ten sided dice and you try to roll under a target number that's modified by the situation and your abilities. It seems solid, and tries to avoid the point inflation that some other supers RPGs suffer from.

Most of the book is taken up with descriptions of the setting, including fake news stories and advertisements. These give a real flavor to the world and provoke lots of ideas about the core theme.

One interesting thing about UNSanctioned's format is that it comes on smaller 6" x 9" pages, with a single color "cover. It's clearly made to be printed out and stapled or bound into a 168-page booklet. There's no "printer friendly" version, though, and the graphics-heavy nature of the pages make it so that actually doing this will be quite difficult.

There are no bookmarks in this material - a very serious omission given the wide variety of things presented in this book, the lack of an index and the need for reference during play. However, I'm reviewer tilting UNSanctioned up one star because it really strongly pursues a core concept and expresses it well - this is a setting I want to explore and have adventures in. It really raises a lot of cool questions.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
UNSanctioned: The Dream Corrupted
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Wild Talents: Essential Edition
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/03/2013 18:30:49

After having played in one campaign of Wild Talents and run another, I think it's fair to give my view on it. Spoiler alert! I was in two campaigns of it. It's really really good.

Wild Talents is the (slightly) generic version of the One Roll Engine for superheroes that has powered the WWII supers game Godlike. It allows for a single roll to resolve whether a character succeeds at their task, how well they succeed, and even hit location in combat.

The Essentials Edition is the most stripped down version of the game, but even it contains a great deal of content, including pre-built characters and powers that can be pulled out and used.

Wild Talents is not the best One Roll Engine game (that's A Dirty World, by the way, you're welcome.) But it is the most comprehensive in terms of its breadth and flexibility. You can run any sort of people-with-powers game in Wild Talents. A caveat to this is important, though. In Godlike, the characters were very fragile. A single gunshot could ruin a superhero's day. This reflected well the themes of war and sacrifice that Godlike pursued. However, it does mean that until you develop some skill in the One Roll Engine, you might find yourself with some dead Talents on your hands. It does have a learning curve, and if you're really not sure of the system yet, you absolutely owe it to yourself to TAKE ONE OF THE PREMADE CHARACTERS. Play it first until you get some idea of the various types of dice that will be filling up your die pool (and those of the enemies). Make sure you understand how they're able to shoot you in the head and kill you.

Once you have some skill in avoiding that (or if you don't care whether you avoid it or not because fragile supers is what you want) then Wild Talents will shine.

The Essential Edition is priced amazingly cheaply for such a tremendously thorough and well-tested product. You shouldn't pass it up - just be aware of the learning curve and TRY IT FIRST before you play it "for real". You will be glad you did.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wild Talents: Essential Edition
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Skreyn's Register The Bonds of Magic Vol 2: The Faithful
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2012 17:52:11

In my continuing attempt to bring some of the best stuff in the back catalog forward, it is only natural that I would end up talking about Malhavoc Press' 3e material. This material was uniformly well-produced, thorough and interesting, and the second volume of the Bonds of Magic series is no exception.

This is a collection of characters: NPCs who can provide aid to or oppose the player characters. There are 25, and they are all divine spellcasters of varying sorts.

Each character entry is solid, and provides what I feel are the gold standard for Pathfinder/3e D&D character entries in many ways. Each of the one-page summaries includes a full stat block that includes equipment and magic items, a brief history, a brief sketch of the personality and appearance, and most importantly, a description of how the DM may use this character in a campaign and what tactics the character is most likely to use.

These last two elements are key, since with just a personality and history there's always a sense of "so what"? Why should the characters ever interact with or invest in knowledge about this character? By describing many very specific uses for the characters, the material helps ground them in a campaign world.

Interestingly, while the characters' alignments are not defined (except for the paladins), this nod towards being a generic supplement falls apart a little when looking at the divine sponsors of these characters. The gods are given names, and not really names that come from D&D3. It's a simple thing to substitute "divine entity of your choice", but it also separates the character concept from the core of what makes a divine spellcaster unique. This is the only area that I could improve with the book.

Finally, an appendix with some new feats, magic items and spells are included, though these are really not necessary and neither add nor detract from the experience. What the characters gain in new capabilities, the supplement as a whole loses in simplicity of use.

There is a bookmark index, though since it's organized by name of NPC in alphabetical order, it's not that helpful.

All in all, this series was a tremendous boon, the gold standard of NPC books that some are still not catching up with. I highly recommend it, especially at today's bargain-basement D&D3-supplement prices.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Skreyn's Register The Bonds of Magic Vol 2: The Faithful
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Into the Future: Derelict Starships
Publisher: Tabletop Adventures, LLC
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2012 12:35:58

Since Halloween's come around again and this product went on sale, it's the perfect time for me to write a long-overdue review of this interesting product.

Systemless products have had a checkered history in the hobby. Most people want some way to mechanically represent the material they have paid for. Yet the fictional content of a world need not be connected to a mechanic to be compelling. Nowhere is that more true than in horror. Creepy situations are creepy not necessarily because of the tension of a die roll or card turn or Jenga pull, but because a vivid description can excite the imagination. Derelict Starships provides 100 of these descriptions, some outlining a full situation (a section of the ship appears to be intentionally voided of air), other times a mere implication in a simple object (a laser rifle is smashed by some unknown powerful force.) Each description is a full paragraph, with some commentary on how the GM might incorporate them into a situation.

Normally I would not rate a "list of 100 things" this highly even if they were fleshed out and well written. Horror requires that there be rules - if anything can happen at any time, there's no suspense, no feeling that you know what's coming. So a random collection of 100 scary paragraphs is not in and of itself that useful. Where this product shines is in the organization and additional material.

I have to say I NEVER expected to see a solid three-page description of corpse decomposition and how it might be changed in a spaceship environment, but this is exactly what's in the supplement and exactly what's needed to provide the structure onto which you can create a horror situation. And the index, in which the 100 scary situations/paragaphs are arranged by what kinds of things they contain (debris, bodies, dangerous environments, etc.) is an amazing innovation for this type of product. It should be in absolutely every single one of the "list of things" products out there.

Finally, there's a .rtf version in the zip file in case you want to copy/paste the description into your notes. AND there are card versions of the scary text that you can print and use for your own purposes So basically every possible thing that can be done with this product (other than internal hyperlinks) has been done.

This product presses every single one of my reviewer tilt buttons. The list alone might have only been three stars. Yay, some scary stuff, but so what? So what is: extensive structure on which a horror GM can build tension, exceptional organizational tools, and a .rtf version to help with customizing electronic play aids. And thus, having had all my hobby horses petted, spoiled and groomed like Rafalca, I have no choice but to give this one my highest marks.

Happy Halloween 2012, everyone!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Future: Derelict Starships
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Mistborn Adventure Game Digital Edition
Publisher: Crafty Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2012 23:57:32

I recently got this in hardcopy, and was happy to review it here as well. I should note up front that I've never read the Mistborn series and honestly don't really read that much fantasy. So I came into it as an experienced roleplayer but a complete Mistborn noob.

The system presented is a solid system using six sided dice, similar to the classic d6 system from West End Games, though with some updated material to assist in improvisation and encourage players to use descriptions and environments for dynamic, vivid play. Characters roll a set of d6s and sum the result, trying to beat a target number. It gets the job done.

The setting is described succinctly and evocatively in a chapter or two, with a few more more dedicated to the magic system of the setting, which is unique. Magic in this world is connected to different sorts of metal and they have unique properties.

For example, one sort of magical effect permits people to offload their memories into magical pieces of copper, for later recall. What's important about these effects is that they are expansively detailed not necessarily in their capacities, but in how they've impacted the setting. What does it mean when a mage literally can carry a library in his pocket - what kind of personality would it create to know nothing until they need to know it? (No smart remarks about smartphones and wikipedia apps.)

Characters are part of a "crew", with a shared agenda, from the beginning. This selection helps games find direction, which is definitely needed in a fantasy world that you might not know anything about.

The ultimate test of a "new fantasy world" RPG for me is whether I want to play it, and the answer is yes, yes, I really, really do. This game makes me want to play a Mistborn game right away.

Because of the compelling, clear setting, the unique magical materials and the solid, well-explained system, I'm giving this game my highest marks.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mistborn Adventure Game Digital Edition
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#30 Rings of Defense (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2012 23:42:21

This is a collection of rings for Pathfinder/D&D3.*, so this review already assumes that you want one of those.

As advertised, this is 30 different magic rings, aimed primarily at defensive applications. They have a great deal of diversity and flavor, with solid mechanical descriptions of each of them. They vary from rings that project protective auras to allies, to those that deflect or absorb particular sorts of magic attacks. The mechanics are (for the most part) well integrated into the Pathfinder/D&D system, and are based on already-existing magic items. This is good because it means that the mechanics are not going to alter the balance of your game too dramatically.

An early designer's note gives the one example of mechanical deviation, but it's a bit of a doozy. The note indicates that fixed-DC magic items are difficult to balance at different character levels, and therefore these rings become more powerful as the user rises in level. This dramatically increases the power of the rings - and for casters, the increase is even more dramatic. One thing that D&D3 doesn't need is more powerful/versatile spellcasters. The drain on resources in creating level-appropriate magical rings is an important part of balancing that system. Because of this, several of the rings have costs or effects that are out of proportion. Characters at different levels are supposed to wear different rings! I have to mark it down one star for this.

The rings are indexed alphabetically, and bookmarked alphabetically, and I can't think of a better way off the top of my head to do it. A table in the front allows GMs to roll randomly for a ring, which is great, and oft-overlooked in treasure books.

So speaking generally, this is a good starting point for rings, but the mechanical changes in some of them make it so that you need to pay close attention to what you're using. Give it a go, it's a solid work, just be sure that you know what kind of mechanics you're introducing into your game.

I almost forgot, the work comes with a printer-friendly version, which has no graphics. This is a welcome addition. Weirdly the printer friendly version has no bookmarks. I would almost suggest that the printer friendly version, if it's meant to be printed for handouts, should instead focus on making item cards for the rings, so descriptions are not split between two pages.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
#30 Rings of Defense (PFRPG)
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#30 Haunts for Ships and Shores (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/21/2012 23:27:33

This is a supplement full of encounters for Pathfinder/D&D 3.. I'm reviewing it on that basis - if you're looking for D&D3. encounters, is this one a good one?

It's certainly unusual - far more atmospheric than your typical collection of monster encounters. The "haunts" described in the PDF are more like traps than like monsters - mystical or occult effects that can confuse, damage or dramatically change a situation at sea, causing mutinies, ships to run aground, or be lost. It gives an approximate "caster level" of the magical effect to see if PCs are powerful enough to overcome it, and each haunt has a way to "break the spell".

CR is approximate in D20, so there's no real use in quibbling over it. There's a weird "XP" entry for each haunt (it's not clear why you would use this rather than CR for a party's appropriate level.) They seem to be more or less right.

The haunts are organized by the type of sea voyage hazard that they express. This is actually very effective - more horror games of all kinds should frame their monsters/ghosts by this classification. What anxiety is created by the haunt? What fears does it provoke or embody? Horror stories make our fears concrete. It's a great help to making my own atmosphere with these.

There are a few missteps in the work - some of the haunts can be destroyed by what would seem like their normal operation. For example, one haunt that provokes a mutiny is permanently destroyed if a sailor that mutinies is killed in the process. It seems like this should instead fuel or preserve the haunt.

However, in general, this is a unique addition to a different sort of "puzzle" encounter, highly creative and very atmospheric. Bookmarks are very well-used, with links to jump to each and every haunt (there are several per page.) Because of the creativity of the work and the innovative organization, I'm giving it high marks.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
#30 Haunts for Ships and Shores (PFRPG)
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FOE FACTORY: MODERN
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2012 12:51:24

Although I really enjoyed d20 Modern's attribute-based character creation rules, they did exacerbate the preparation problem that all d20-era games had, that it was difficult to quickly create adversary NPCs or villains for the players to face. The Foe Factory attempts to address this while still acknowledging the complicated nature of a lot of d20 Modern systems.

Foe Factory's approach is to focus specifically on things that will be rolled against the player characters, like initiative, attack bonuses, and equipment. The idea is that rather than a full set of stats, what you need is a clear picture of the level of challenge the NPC poses to the PCs.

It jumps right into the technical details with several pages of tables, followed by rules for adjusting NPCs created with the tables to the challenge level desired. The end has several sample characters.

As always with Adamant, the quality of the PDF is high. It's in landscape format, well-edited, and easy to follow. There are no bookmarks, but the length of the work isn't such that they're really needed.

I question whether a PDF is the right format for something like this. This sort of product seems ideal for a foe creation program in Flash or other simple programming language.

Another area of improvement that might be useful is in figuring out what challenge levels to "feed into" the Foe Factory. In other words, how do I decide how tough a particular encounter should be? Some insights or ideas regarding that subject would really elevate this solid work above the pack.

But it is solid and it provides an approach to NPC creation in D20 Modern that's beyond "winging it". If you're looking for that, this is probably the best thing out there.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
FOE FACTORY: MODERN
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Blood and Fists: Modern Martial Arts
Publisher: RPG Objects
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2011 11:36:41

d20 Modern's quick take on martial arts left many wanting more, and RPG Objects is there with this excellent supplement. Anyone who has been a fan of the Blood and * series as long as I have won't be surprised, or disappointed, at its high quality.

Blood & Fists opens with several martial-arts related advanced classes like the burly Barroom Brawler. They would fit right into most action-oriented d20 Modern games. Of particular note is the Martial Arts Master, whose special "masteries" are similar to talents, but focused entirely on martial arts. They get their own section near the end of the book.

The way that martial arts are integrated into d20 Modern is through the feat system. By selecting a martial arts style feat, moves and even some new skills are unlocked for a character. These style feats are therefore more powerful than many d20 Modern feats - and the game explains this, a welcome addition to those who are concerned with game balance when looking at third party supplements.

The styles themselves are presented each in a paragraph, each categorized and the categories explained, so that GMs who wish to create their own fictionalized style can make them similar to existing styles. Advanced uses of martial arts styles are called maneuvers or signature maneuvers and cost an additional feat.

Finally, "ki feats" introduce a new form of FX to D20 Modern, similar to what one might see in a modern martial arts film or TV show.

Perhaps the strongest section of the supplement is the description of several martial arts-focused campaigns, from wandering students searching for a legendary master to a rival-school fighting tournament setup, which is fleshed out in its own chapter.

These kinds of examples are key when you're trying to decide if you want a third-party supplement to a highly detailed game. It tells you how you can incorporate the material into your own game and what kinds of games you can expect to have.

The ZIP file comes with a print version, a screen version with landscape orientation (!) and a character sheet, all of which are welcome additions that garner this supplement my highest marks. I even sought it out in print because it was so useful to me in my d20 Modern games. If you want to incorporate martial arts material without completely replacing the system (as other games like Spycraft do), this is an outstanding choice.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood and Fists: Modern Martial Arts
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