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Q•RPG Wholesale [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Morningstar Productions
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 15:41:29

There are a few ways to use these products.

First, you can use them as presented in a lightweight, narrative session -- most likely in a one-shot session. Each setting consists of two pages. The player page takes you through a quick character creation process and it explains the core game mechanic, the Skill Test. The GM's page generates an adventure summary and offers a few tips on constructing scenes to carry it out.

The game system is heavy on narrative and improvisation. As a GM, you can do some prep work if you're so inclined, to cut down on how much you have to make up on the spot. The adventure summary doesn't generate a hook, scenes, or a plot structure for you. A typical example is "A Conquering Dark Lord/Lady and their host of Marauding Orcs/Undead want to Find/Control the Queen of the Kingdom so they can Start the Apocalypse, but their secret weakness is the sleeping gods of sky and earth." If you and your players can run with that, there's no prep work required. You might, however, want to break that down ahead of time into some events, locations, challenges, clues, and revelations.

As a player, you wind up with one each of six adjectives, six nouns, and six driving forces. These are distinct for each setting, so you might be an exiled wizard driven by a thirst for glory in one setting, or a smooth-talking pickpocket driven by revenge in another. Primarily, these are character concepts that amount to narrative permission. If you're a wizard, you can do wizard things and you have wizard stuff; the non-wizards don't have your skills or stuff. If you're a smooth talker, you can try to smooth-talk your way out of trouble, while others wouldn't be so good at it. The GM might create a challenge for you based on your exiled status or an opportunity to get your revenge. There are three core attributes (Body, Charm, and Wits) and a head-vs-heart pair that varies from one setting to another (e.g. Scroll vs Soul, Circuits vs Courage, and Luck vs Planning).

There's a good amount of replay value. Different players will handle different character combinations in their own way. The adventure summaries consist of six d6 rolls, allowing for quite a few plays before it starts to feel like the same old thing.

There are no hit points, no weapon lists or spell lists, or any game mechanics other than the Skill Test. It's easy to learn. Whether it's easy or hard to play, however, depends on your group. Some would thrive in an RPG where you use narrative to describe what that successful attack means or what happens when you fail to persuade the guard to leave his post. Players who'd rather have the crunch (hit points, specific mechanics for character death, specific spell lists, etc.) will be disappointed or even uncomfortable. I can think of some players who'd fall into the latter category. Know your audience, as they say.

That leads us to a second way to use these settings: Use your own RPG system. As a player, you might use the player page for the basic character concept (such as the exiled wizard glory-hound), letting it guide your RPG's normal character creation process. Or the GM might create some prefab characters based on the character tables. Or you might ignore the player page altogether and create your character from scratch. As the GM, you can adapt the adventure summary for your system. Figure out who that Dark Lord is, stat up the orc horde, and so on.

A third way to use these products is to fold them into an existing campaign instead of treating them as one-shot adventures. If you're running a swashbuckling Captain Blood setting, for example, you could use Cloaks & Cutlasses to generate new situations. Maybe you generate the full adventure summary. Maybe you use bits and pieces, such as creating NPCs for the Corrupt Governor, the Megalomaniacal Churchman, and so on.

Overall, these are very well done. Just be aware that you might still have some work to do, in advance and/or during play, according to your GMing style. For a few of the tables, I'd quibble over some of the entries, but the easy fix there is to make your own substitutions when you feel the need.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Q•RPG Wholesale [BUNDLE]
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In the Heart of the Unknown - Procedural Hex Crawling Engine
Publisher: Goblin's Henchman
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/29/2019 18:27:39

First, I'll review In the Heart of the Unknown (ItHotU) itself, then I'll review the hex flower idea and share my simulation results.

ItHotU helps you run a land-based hex crawl in a Standard Fantasy Setting. It includes an Encounter Engine and an accompanying table for generating encounter types, a Terrain Engine for generating terrain types, and a Weather Engine for generating the local weather. Each of these engines uses the hex flower idea to generate results.

The Encounter Engine covers encounter types: wandering monsters, lairs, settlements, natural obstacles, and so on. It's up to you to figure out what they mean in the current circumstances. The accompanying table lets you roll up specific creatures when needed, with modifiers according to terrain type. If your encounter says "centaur" and you can run with that, there's no other preparation required for creature encounters. You might have prep work to do, however, if you want to stat them up in advance, if you want to figure out what the centaurs are up to, or if you want to decide how they fit into the setting. You'll have some prep work if you want to customize the creature table. For the non-creature encounters, you might have some prep work on your hands if you don't want to make up a Dungeon/Feature, Small Settlement, or the like on the spot.

The Encounter Engine's river and road results help you direct the Encounter Engine toward or away from the top hex, marked "Large settlement/city/destination." There's a potential probabilty pitfall with the hex flower approach, so the road & river mechanisms help nudge play toward a particular destination. More on this below.

The Terrain Engine covers a few common terrain types, with a wildcard "special" result that has you throw in whatever other odd terrain you want. There's no indication of scale, but your overland travel scale is probably a good fit, whether the party is traveling at a rate of a few days per map hex or a few map hexes per day.

The Weather Engine helps you track weather changes. It probably needs zero prep work.

ItHotU is good as far as it goes. It gives you a pre-selected handful of creature types for a general fantasy setting, and it reduces your prep work. If your hex crawl includes waterborne travel, you'll want In the Heart of the Sea as well. If you want to customize or elaborate on any of the engines, you've got some prep work to do.

As to the hex flower approach itself, it's an elegant little tool: simple, but also versatile. It's a hexagon-based tracking tool that provides what I'd call stateful randomness. Essentially, it's a state diagram with 19 states. Your marker on each engine does a random walk around the engine's hex flower, but it can reach only certain other hexes from a given hex. This is how ItHotU stops you from going directly from flat plains to mountains in one random hop. You work your way there through other terrain first.

The interesting element is that the direction of your random walk is biased. A 2d6 roll picks the direction. I whipped up a simulation and had it run as many as 100,000 dice rolls on a hex flower to see which hexes got the most visits. My simulation assumed that you'd start at the bottom hex. It uses the wrap-around rules for when your random walk would take you off the hex flower. If you create your own hex flowers, you might want to know these results:

  • The bottom hex (starting hex) and its three immediate neighbors are likely to have the most visits. Put your most common stuff there.
  • The next-most frequently visited hexes will be the ones in the lower left area of the hex flower.
  • The hexes getting the fewest visits will be those in the upper right area of the hex flower.
  • Some of the available hex flower engines use the top hex as a destination. Given the probabilities, it's hard to get from the bottom to the top. The shortest possible journey from the bottom hex to the top hex is three hops, such as rolling 10, then 7, and then 3. It's statistically possible (but not likely) that you could make thousands of rolls and still not reach the top. In most of my simulation runs, the trip from the bottom hex to the top hex took anywhere from 4 to 40 rolls, but roughly 1 run in 4 took more than 40 rolls. Some took more than 100 rolls, but none of them reached 200. That's a lot of variability -- anywhere from 3 rolls to almost 200. If each roll is a day's journey, you're looking at a trip that could take anywhere from a few days to several months. You'll need mechanisms to help nudge things toward the top, if that's an important destination. You might even want mechanisms to stop it from happening too quickly. This is where ItHotU's road and river mechanisms can help. Other available hex flowers use other approaches for nudging the results in a desired direction.
  • Only three hexes lead you to the top hex. The one to its lower left is the most likely entry point. The hex directly below the top hex is the least likely way to get there. (It takes a roll of 12 on 2d6 to move straight up on the hex flower.)

If 19 possible states and 3-200 rolls to reach the top is overkill for a situation you have in mind, you could ignore the outer ring of the hex flower and use only the seven interior hexes.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In the Heart of the Unknown - Procedural Hex Crawling Engine
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Creator Reply:
Hi Jim thanks for the thoughtful review! In my sea adventure (ItHotS), I included a suggested rule that said: “Travel time – decide how many days the voyage will take and roll for each day. Alternatively, roll until any flag is reached; or for a long sea voyage, roll until the red flag with a white spot is reached.” The idea here is that with a competent captain the journey is never more than ‘x’ days. Without such a captain, then all bets are off !! In this the land-based crawl (ItHotU), the same rule could be applied. That is, the DM could set a maximum journey time (e.g. 12 results). And/or like the flags with a white spot in ItHotS, the ‘signs of civilization’ and ‘small settlement’ icons could be deemed to be a day’s journey from the city, and so getting there thereafter is then a formality. But … I figured that ItHotU is designed for exploration of complete wilderness, so if the ‘destination’ is the mythical city of Eldorado, then it could take a while to find (or it could even be a wild goose chase). Alternatively, perhaps a better way to go is for the DM to (secretly) add the city to the map and let the PCs try to find it by manual exploration. This presumes a DM, but this thing could work for solo adventures too! Another option, is to take inspiration from the Hex Flower (HF) in my procedural adventure ‘Carapace’. In that Hex Flower, the PCs can earn points to nudge the outcome of the HF roll. So, transferring this idea to ItHotU, if the PCs get a map, hear rumours, get intel, hire a guide etc., the DM could give the players points, these points to be used by the players to help them nudge the navigation results towards their chosen destination, be it a city or a dungeon. I tried to squeeze ItHotU on one page, so space is at a premium; and so I decided to go more minimalist and not include these extra navigation options! Also, that all said (unlike ItHotS) getting to a destination is an option in ItHotU, but by no means the main goal. Again, thanks for taking the time to write this review and for the serious number crunching!!! GH
The Creature Crafter
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/10/2019 14:32:58

It was only a $5 gamble, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I'll chalk it up to mismatched preferences about what makes creatures interesting and usable.

Here's an example creature rolled up on these tables: quantity 1; size - small; type - amorphous; intelligence - mindless; description - clingy/sticky; description - amorphous (why is "amorphous" in the amorphous creatures description table?); special ability - limited use; another special ability (to find out what has limited use) - resist damage (physical damage and piercing attacks). As an amorphous creature, it's immune to poison or attacks that affect specific organs. The resulting modifiers for the Potency Table are +2 for health, -6 for speed, +2 for defense, and -4 for offense. Rolling on the Potency Table, I get baseline health, minimum speed, weak defense, and minimum offense. It's then up to me to convert these to my game system of choice.

You might like Creature Crafter if all you want is a stat block for your monster of the week so you can run a combat. To me, that's a way to make creatures boring - just a list of numbers and a couple of the usual abilities.

I was hoping for the types of things that make a creature an interesting, active part of the setting: where the creature would live (climate & terrain), how the creature interacts with its environment, how it relates to people, what it eats and what eats it, and the sorts of behaviors and triggers it might have. The tables have no hooks to suggest for the features you roll up. A good set of tables could either derive stats and abilities from the setting elements, or the tables could derive setting elements from the stats and abilities. A good set of tables would look beyond what the creature can do in combat. Creature Crafter ignores all that. Whether you're dealing with mountain tops, a desert, or the bottom of the sea, or a busy city, deep caverns, or the infernal realms, or pets or predators, it's all one to Creature Crafter. You can add those other elements yourself, of course, but if that's what you're seeking, this isn't the tool for the job.

Those omissions are the main source of my disappointment in the product, so I wish the product description had been more informative. All you really get is a stat block that you'll need to convert for your game system.

Note that "The creature classifications and special abilities favor monsters with a fantasy feel, such as mythological beasts or magical constructs," even though the product description says "works with any rpg." The product description should mention the fantasy focus. You could reskin many of the results for a low-plausibility sci-fi setting. You could adapt some of them for creatures that are natural but unusual. The more you'd have to rewrite the results for a non-fantasy setting, however, the more likely it is that some other tool would serve you better. Essentially, Creature Crafter is geared for a fantasy setting.

Although it includes a few loose guidelines about creating "regular people," I recommend you look elsewhere for NPC generators. Your game system or other tools will give you more substance and variety in your NPCs and better integration into your setting.

The tool is system-agnostic in that no one game system is represented, but it's oriented toward crunchier game systems. It's less useful for game systems that are more about story, atmosphere, and immersion than number-crunching.

Pet peeve: The description tables for each creature category (animal, humanoid, undead, etc.) include "GM decision" as one of the results. It's always the GM's decision, no matter what you roll. If I choose to roll on a table, it's because I want the input. Rolling up "GM decision" is like getting a shrug instead of a suggestion.

The document could use another editing pass (breaths vs breathes, affect vs effect, "ect.", etc.).

Bottom line: I don't really have a use for Creature Crafter, but I could see where it would be useful for a GM who just wants to make up a new stat block for a fantasy setting. You'd also have to do the legwork of deciding how to convert the generic stat block for your game system. In any event, the product description should be more informative for prospective buyers.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Creature Crafter
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Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests
Publisher: Ryan Macklin
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/27/2019 11:32:04

This was an eye-opener and a game changer for me. I also have some suggestions.

I used to consider Fate contests a minor game mechanic that might come up every once in a while. After digesting "Hacking Contests," I came to realize they offered a solution to a problem I had: combats that took up too much session time and that devolved into unexciting dice rolls back and forth until one side was taken out. Contests could let combat take on a more cinematic, narrative feel. The classic sword fight between the Man in Black and Inigo Montoya lasts only 3 minutes, for example; it would have been boring if it had lasted half an hour.

Then, after some further thinking and usage, I realized that Fate contests can serve as scene frameworks in general. If traversing the forest is a scene on its own, make it a contest. If hacking into the computer system is a scene, make it a contest. If questioning the prisoner is a scene, make it a contest. If any of those aren't worth turning into full scenes, resolve them narratively or with a dice roll or two. If traversing the forest is a rich adventure environment, don't make it a single contest. Break it up into a series of scenes (planned in advance or established on the fly according to your style), and then you can turn each scene into a contest as needed.

As a scene framework, the contest gives everyone a scene goal. With only two competitors, there are six possible scores in the end: "Red Team" wins 3 to 2, 3 to 1, or 3 to 0, or "Blue Team" wins 3 to 2, 3 to 1, or 3 to 0. That's six different ways the contest could end, and that's if there are only two competitors. A contest, therefore, enables and encourages variety while also converging toward an ending instead of letting things drag on.

This highlights a shortcoming in Fate contests: Victories are an abstraction. The "fiction first" principle tells me that each victory should mean something concrete in the game world. To create a scene goal, ask yourself what success looks like, in world. That's what happens when you score your third victory. Then ask yourself what two things should happen before you're successful. Those things happen when you score your first and second victories. This fits neatly into the "Rule of Three" for story-telling. Maybe you'll know those intermediate stages in advance, or maybe you'll figure them out on the fly.

Sometimes, the intermediate stages are a matter of inflicting bad luck on the opposition; if you're sneaking up on a guard, the guard's victories could mean your sleeve gets caught on something or you drop something important without realizing it or the guard becomes more alert. The guard's third point means you've been spotted and the "sneaking up" scene transitions to something else.

I eventually concluded that the variants in "Hacking Contests" are all really the same thing: someone or something pursuing a scene goal in stages. Maybe it's the whole PC party traversing the forest as a group. Maybe it's everyone out for themselves as they race for escape pods before the ship self-destructs. Maybe it's one PC hacking the computer system while the others hold off the guards. Instead of distinguishing contests under fire from timed events from whether you're doing a conflict phase or a contest phase, it's all one thing: Everyone is striving toward a goal. When you score a victory, you're making concrete progress toward whatever goal your action was serving. When you score your third victory, you achieve your goal, and that might or might not end the contest.

With a little help from the Bronze Rule, sometimes the environment is a competitor with a goal: the time bomb that wants to blow up, the burning building that wants to collapse, the forest that wants to repel or trap intruders, the security system that wants to set off alarms. Each intermediate victory gives visible, tangible, or audible in-world effects that ratchet up the tension.

If a contest feels like it has too many competitors, break it up into concurrent contests, such as the struggle to disable the security system as one contest, and holding off the guards as another.

"Hacking Contests" shows how powerful Fate contests can be. I suspect it could be streamlined, and I'd give more emphasis to making each victory meaningful in world instead of leaving them as abstract counts.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests
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Danger Cards
Publisher: Amagi Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/26/2019 08:56:46

I like these cards. They're a good mix of 20 outcomes. I use them with Fate, letting the players decide how we're going to put them into play (random draw, draw from a face-up pool of five, etc.). The cards are useful in a few Fate mechanics: when a character gains a Boost, when an action succeeds at a major or minor cost, and when a character takes a Consequence.

My players sometimes struggle to come up with ideas on the fly for such things, so these cards offer inspiration and variety. They help create dramatic moments in play.

We dial the intensity up or down according to circumstances. For example, if an attack ties and we apply the Snares card as a Boost on the defender, the defender is entangled only briefly, such as catching a sleeve on something for a moment. If a character succeeds at a major cost while trying to open the door of a sinking car, the Snares card could mean the car door is now open, but the character is entangled in the seatbelt while the car continues to sink.

I also like using the cards in Fate Contests. Each side scores 0-3 victories before the contest is over. I want each contest victory point to mean something within the game world instead of being an abstract number. If a PC is trying to sneak up unnoticed on a guard, for example, each victory for the PC reaches another waypoint leading up to the guard, while each victory scored by the opposition applies a danger card to the situation. This lets the attempt become more dramatic, if the PC's foot gets caught while sneaking up, for example, or if the PC drops something along the way. We let the Failure card end the contest immediately (e.g. the stealthy PC is suddenly, totally revealed to the guard) instead of waiting until one side or the other scores their third victory.

A corresponding set of "benefit" cards could be welcome, but these cards can still be useful for beneficial effects: Use their opposites. A beneficial version of Injury, for example, could mean heroically ignoring an injury ("'Tis but a scratch!"). The Snares card could mean something becomes disentangled. The Expense card could mean suddenly replenishing a depleted resource. And so on.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Danger Cards
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Creator Reply:
Happy to hear that you're enjoying them! I'll note that some of the possible "benefit" effects can be found as print-and-play cards in Schema, and some of your Fate mods using these have a similar flavor *to* Schema. Which is very cool indeed, but also suggests to me that you might want to take a look at that if you haven't yet done so: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=218533
Consent in Gaming
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/12/2019 13:36:02

The consent discussion is good and important in gaming. Those who dismiss this as "political correctness" have missed the point that this is about wanting everyone to enjoy the game, about being considerate and respectful toward others, and about setting expectations. It doesn't mean you can't have "mature" themes in your game, no more than an R rating means you can't have mature themes in a movie; it just means you try not to blindside anyone with them. If you have content that some players aren't comfortable with and if you can't or won't adjust, at least you have a chance to find out up front instead of halfway through the session. If you're worried that legions of players have been waiting to ambush you mid-session to throw out everything you've prepared, well, I haven't had that happen in over 40 years of RPGing.

The opt-in and opt-out tools are both important. The checklist is thorough on the opt-in side but it also looks time-consuming. With an established group and a known setting, a quick skim is probably enough, but if you've got a pile of players who don't know the GM, or each other, or the game world, getting everyone through the checklist seems like it could get tedious.

The booklet misses a spot. It fails to acknowledge the potential conflict between consent, where the default answer is no, and improvisation, where the default answer is yes. To reconcile the two, it's important to recognize that improv's "yes, and" principle isn't carte blanche to ruin someone else's fun. Use consent practices to set expectations up front, and then you've got boundaries for the improv. If someone goes outside those boundaries, the improviser is the one who needs to adjust. If the improv hits a gray area or a new area and someone wants to X-Card it, consent trumps improv. That could disrupt the flow of the game, but hopefully by that time the players have a feel for what's palatable and what's not, so adjustments can be made quickly. Anyway, the booklet missed a spot by not talking about ways to reconcile consent's default no with improv's default yes.

Consent is an important topic in an RPG where anything can happen, so I'm glad to see publications like this.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Consent in Gaming
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The Moebius Deck of Wonders - Playtest
Publisher: Mystic Dragon Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/08/2019 17:27:08

Essentially, it's a collection of magic items, including stats for D&D 5e and Pathfinder. As magic items, they're a good mix. In this starter set, they're all "wondrous items" in the D&D5e sense. That's a plus for me. I tend to prefer wondrous items over +2 whatevers because they nudge the players toward roleplay and story instead of seeing the items only in terms of game mechanics.

On top of being a set of magic items, the described usage is that it's a deck of cards at the gaming table and a deck of cards in the game world. There's a backstory for how the cards came to be and how they might be used in your setting. I considered the old Deck of Many Things arbitrary and silly. The described usage of this Deck of Wonders is only a little less arbitrary, from my perspective. Fortunately, the cards are still usable if you don't deploy the deck as described. Moreover, they don't have to be cards at all, either in-world or at the gaming table. You could use the deck simply to represent unrelated magic items.

A nice touch: "We have purposly desinged [sic] these cards without any names or rules printed on them." This lets you use hand the cards to players while revealing only the info you want to reveal. You can rename them, revise their descriptions, or convert them to another RPG system and still use the cards as handouts.

Speaking of "desinged," the text could use another editing pass in various places.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Moebius Deck of Wonders - Playtest
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Fate Location Cards 1
Publisher: Nothing Ventured Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/07/2019 23:36:43

Each of the 16 cards gives you an exotic fantasy location where you'd set a key scene or series of scenes. To give you an idea of the scale, locations include: an ancient monument, a forest, a bridge, a valley, and a castle. That is, these locations are neither single rooms nor vast realms.

The locations are described briefly in a few sentences each, such as the location's history, what goes on there now, and (in general terms) who or what you'll find there. Some locations describe something PCs can do while they're there. The descriptions are system-neutral.

Each location includes two situation aspects that are in effect while the PCs are there. They could be invoked by or compelled against the PCs. For example, one location has Supernatural Stillness and Reflections Reveal Truth. Another has WHIZ! BOOM! None of the aspects get direct explanations on what they mean or how you might use them. How you'd use them is based on how you interpret them in light of the location descriptions.

The aspects are easily adapted to non-Fate systems. If a location is Hard to Reach or Haunted by Fae, for example (and we'll assume that's not a dig at the Fate Accelerated Edition -- I'll be here all week), you could easily use those ideas in some other RPG.

Each location includes a stunt. In most cases, the stunts can be used by any character present. A few are marked "after visiting," meaning the stunt is usable in later scenes. A few stunts are marked with a moon icon indicating that PCs can acquire them as stunts of their own at a later milestone.

The stunts are written in the style of Fate Core. You'd reinterpret them for Fate Accelerated. The stunts are the only Fate-specific elements on each card.

The images on the cards are great visuals to show your players.

The cards include names ("the planetouched inventor Filigree") and various assumptions about the setting ("pilgrims venture here"). Obviously, you can come up with your own versions of the text to fit your setting. The only small catch is that the original text is still there, overlaying the images, if you show the cards to the players.

These are specific locations, not templates for building similar locations. If the PCs visit the Ruin of Fal'Triaz, for example, the card describes that ruin in particular. It's not a template for other ruins. Because they're 16 specific locations, there's not really any replay value other than revisiting the exact same site. You wouldn't make every ruin the same as the Ruin of Fal'Triaz. However, the locations can inspire you as you create other sites: two descriptive aspects that make the location interesting or challenging, plus a stunt that goes with the place.

These cards include no maps, no lists of NPCs, no creature stats, no encounter tables, or anything else that would flesh out an adventure. There are no hooks in the sense of an initial encounter to grab the PCs. That's all up to you. They're locales for you to build on. Consider this a positive or a negative as you see fit.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fate Location Cards 1
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One-roll Outposts
Publisher: 400 Goblins
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/06/2019 16:28:24

It's free, it's good, and it's modular so you can pick and choose the elements you need at the moment. The tables are Nature of Construction, Control (who's in control), Outpost Location (location type), Population, Primary Purpose, and Current Problem. Each table uses a separate die type (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20). Roll the dice and see what you get. Skip the tables for which you already have an answer.

The prouct description says it's for Stars Without Number, but there's nothing system-specific in the tables. You could use this for any game of starfaring sci-fi. Actually, only one table assumes interstellar travel, so if you have a sword & planet space opera or a first contact setting for humanity, you could still use the other tables.

The only stated dependency between tables is that your roll on the d10 table (Outpost Location) can alter your roll on the d6 table (Nature of Construction). It's an easy adjustment.

Most combinations work fine. Some combinations might be hard to reconcile, such as an agricultural outpost in a gas cloud. Maybe you'll think of a way to use that anyway, or you could take the next item down the list.

These tables don't roll up the denizens for you, human or otherwise.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
One-roll Outposts
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The No-Prep Gamemaster
Publisher: dicegeeks.com
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/06/2019 08:00:50

My problem with this guide is that it's a one-sided presentation that repeatedly discusses the evils of GM prep and the joys of zero prep while glossing over the potential pitfalls of zero prep and how to avoid them. Besides, it's still asking you to do some prep.

Consider this core statement: "Random tables eliminate the need for session prep." They don't. For one thing, you need to come up with the tables in the first place. That's prep time even if you go looking for published tables, and if you spend any time reading them or thinking about them before you play. Also, do you know the Birthday Problem? It calculates the probability that no two people in a group have the same birthday. Do the math and it turns out that in a group of 23 or more people, two people sharing a birthday is more likely than no two people sharing a birthday. And birthdays are essentially a d365 table.

In a d100 table, which they seem to favor over at dicegeeks, that crossover point happens at the 12th roll. That is, by the time you've rolled 12 times against a d100 table, repetition of a previous roll is more likely than not. Ask yourself how often you'd roll on a given table. Multiple times per room that the PCs enter? Once per encounter? Once every 15 minutes of session time? Then figure out how long it'll take you to reach that 12th roll. That's when repetition gets likely. "You find another telescope" (or whatever you're rolling up randomly) gets less interesting with every repetition. Your fifth telescope doesn't mean you're having five times as much fun. If you can live with the repettion your d100 table would give you, great. If not, you've got a problem.

What's the fix to avoid repetition? "Roll again" isn't a good approach because you'll do it more and more as you use up a table. This wastes session time and can kill the flow of play. "Uh, hang on, we've done telescopes already. [Roll] And rusty swords. [Roll] Have we done sundials?" The fix is not to use the same table(s) over and over and over. Instead, use tables that reflect the different locales and environments in your setting. How do you do that? Prep time. Maybe you can find a variety of tables in books and online sources, or maybe you'll make up your own, but that's still prep time. It's not wasted time if it helps you and your players have fun, but it's still prep time.

The guide claims that if you prepare something the players never encounter, you've wasted your time. That doesn't have to be the case. Sure, it's a waste to roll up detailed room contents for a zillion rooms when the PCs will hit only an unpredictable fraction of them. I'd consider it a waste even if they visited every room, because "there are cobwebs, a table, and three wooden chairs" gets old pretty fast. Instead, focus on your process instead of making an unthinking series of dice rolls. If you have 10 minutes to prepare, roll up three things, and ponder how they might be related. Suppose you get a rusty sword, a goblin, and a rickety bridge across a chasm. What's special about this rusty sword? Why is it here instead of elsewhere? Is it lying around loose or is it hidden away? What's the goblin's interest in it? Why is the bridge here? What's on either side? Why is it rickety? What does the bridge have to do with the sword? You don't have to force your answers on the PCs, who might come up with their own ideas you can run with, but you've still done a useful warm-up exercise. You've primed yourself for improvising during the session.

The "zero" prep method in this guide isn't zero prep. It tells you to gather ideas, watch movies and TV shows, read books, listen to audiobooks, get familiar with story structure, search online for maps and pictures and whatnot, find a selection of random tables, and set up a laptop for use during play. That's all prep time, not zero prep.

"Use Combat to Stall" is potentially a bad idea. A combat should be exciting and interesting and relevant, not a time burner to cover up for a lack of preparation. Start the session 10 minutes later if you need a little prep time, instead of wasting an hour on a combat that serves no other purpose. Besides, if you're busy managing a combat, it'll be harder to come up with ideas. What happens when the players catch you off guard during play? Instead of deliberately stalling, use something from those extra 10 minutes you took, or make the players part of the solution instead of treating them like someone to be distracted while you come up with the answer. You can say, "You got me, so let's make something up."

There are three reasons to avoid or minimize prep time: 1) You just plain don't have the time. 2) You don't enjoy it. 3) It's not helping you during play. Instead of trying to eliminate prep time entirely, try to focus on the fun parts of session prep, and use it as preparation to improvise instead of just cranking out unnecessary detail. Focus on a few critical things that can help you during play (quality over quantity). A little time spent on good prep is much better than wasting session time with rerolling until you're happy or deliberate stalling. If you really want to avoid prep time altogether, use a GMless system, or let someone else be the GM. Otherwise, even a heavily improvised session involves preparing to improvise.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The No-Prep Gamemaster
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Strange Stories: Adventures Reimagined Volume 1
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/27/2019 02:26:02

This volume notes that the wording in the stories has been modernized or Americanized and that "the most jarring and offensive terms have been walked back to be less intrusive." I'm okay with that. This isn't a literary study edition, after all. If you want to see the unexpurgated original short stories, you can find them online or in various collections. The point here is to extract RPG material from the stories. The stories can satisfy that purpose without offensive language.

The stories themselves offer some good situations to consider for RPG purposes. Even better, the process of mining the stories for RPG material can be applied to other short stories.

Each story treatment includes a one-line summary (a logline, essentially), an overview of the story, and brief discussions of plot hooks, story goals, beginnings, middles, and ends. Each treatment also includes discussions of important characters, locations, obstacles, and objects.

At first glance, those might seem like something you could get from CliffsNotes or a book club. However, a strength here is that they look at these elements from an RPG perspective. For example, one story begins with a character pondering the joys of collecting orchids. The beginning from an RPG perspective is different; it's when the characters embark on their journey to go find a special orchid. For each element, the treatment looks at how you might adopt or adapt the story's version of events for an adventure you create.

I imagine some will call "railroading" at the prospect of having story goals and endings. To me, these treatments avoid railroading. I prefer having a concrete goal for the session, such that you can tell when you've got concrete success or concrete failure. The goals and endings don't have to be set in stone, either. The players might come up with their own solutions that deviate from the story, and that's okay. You or the players might adopt new goals during play. The goals and endings described here can easily be handled as initial defaults, to be adapted in play. Besides, if you don't like the story goal or the ending, don't use it.

This is all system-neutral. The stories themselves aren't genre-neutral, but you could apply the breakdowns of these stories to other settings.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stories: Adventures Reimagined Volume 1
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The Book of Random Tables: Quests
Publisher: dicegeeks.com
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/26/2019 00:11:24

It's a collection of ten d100 tables for generating adventure seeds in a fantasy setting. It's system-neutral, without a stat block in sight.

Each table roll provides you with a situation the PCs hear about or witness. The detail is minimal, just one sentence or a few for each entry. The entries describe only what the PCs first learn, such as finding out that the spice ships are overdue or that the prince has been kidnapped. Your players will quickly come up with questions that the seeds don't answer.

An improv-heavy, build-as-we-go sandbox campaign could use these as encounter tables. The PCs wander into a new town, for example, so you roll on the Town Quests table, find out there's been a string of burglaries, and you wing it from there.

You could use these as seeds to inspire adventures you prepare, if you prefer to come up with backstories, factions, locations, maps, and so on ahead of time. Or you could adapt the entries as introductions to adventures you've already prepared.

The entries are generic enough to let you modify them easily for an existing settings. If an entry mentions wicked mermen, you could use wicked mermen like it says or you could decide they're wicked pirates or something else instead.

Most or all of the entries could seed a single session's activities. Many of them could be the introductions to larger campaign arcs. For example, finding out that an ogre has taken over a town could be a single session to dislodge the ogre, or a few sessions for a more involved adventure. It could be the introduction to a campaign arc in which larger forces are involved. It's up to you to build on that seed of finding out that an ogre has taken over a town.

Comments on particular tables follow.

The Dungeon Hooks table is mostly about the rumor or event that leads you to the dungeon, with little or no info about what's in the dungeon.

The Royal Quests table consists of tasks assigned by a royal or situations relating to a royal.

The tables for Forest Quests, Town Quests, and Sea Quests give you seeds in those settings. An NPC might request help for a specific task, or an incident might occur in front of the PCs, or there's a general issue the PCs might involve themselves in.

The Doorways to Another World table is about ways the PCs find themselves transported elsewhere, sometimes voluntarily but usually not. There's a fantastical element in each case. The seeds are mostly about how the PCs reach the other world, and only sometimes what's in the other world or what it takes to come back.

The Questing Beasts table briefly describes some creature with an evocative name, such as the Great Bat of Elarond. The entries hint at some aspect that makes the creature different ("the size of a wagon" or "appears once a generation"). There are no stats and generally no powers. Some entries hint at why the creature might be valuable to someone.

The Quest Objects table is the same, except it's about objects. Each entry offers an evocative name and a brief hint about why anyone would be interested in the object, such as cultural or symbolic significance, monetary value, or a possible power. These could be MacGuffins that must be found and returned, magic items the PCs would want to possess, or artifacts someone needs to achieve a great purpose.

The Lost Cities table gives the same treatment to exotic cities ("Erith: The City of Diamonds"), including brief descriptions of what makes each city distinctive. Like the other tables, it's up to you build on the seeds.

I'm not sure what makes the Meta-Quests table "meta" but every entry is of the form: Get N things. It's up to you to figure out who'd want 80 ivory buttons or 50 orc thumbs, why they'd want them, and who'd want to stop you. All this table tells you is that the quest is to retrieve N things of one sort or another.

The seeds in these tables are generally pretty good for presenting a situation. The main reason someone might be disappointed with these tables is the lack of detail. For example, if you want a detailed backstory and a list of powers for the Iron Ring of Orailus, you'll be disappointed. If you just want the inspiration of knowing that it belonged to a harsh king from 1000 years ago, you're in luck.

I have only one quibble. The product description says "Cut down your GM prep with 1000 quest options." To me, that's misleading, implying that a series of table rolls (quest options) would help you build up a quest: NPCs, their goals and methods, factions, locations, challenges, clues, etc. That's not what this is. Consider an entry that says "Some sort of sea monster is disrupting the trade lanes. Nearly all the merchants have agreed to offer a fantastic reward to any who will slay the vile beast from the depths." Unless you're going to wing the whole thing on the spot, now you need to figure out what your sea monster is, where its lair is, how it came to be here, what defeats it, why it hasn't been defeated already, who the competition is, why only "nearly" all the merchants want help instead of all of them, and so on. A single table roll saved you the time of coming up with the idea, but there's still plenty of potential prep work remaining. You get 1000 seeds. They're good seeds, but they're only seeds.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Random Tables: Quests
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Weather generator for any RPG
Publisher: Manabu Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/18/2019 01:09:10

"It changes weather more realistically then most generators meaning that you will not be all nice and sunny then 3 hours later be in a snow storm." I don't know which RPG weather generators you're using, but I don't know of any that are less realistic than this one.

It doesn't give temperatures or wind speeds, qualitatively or quantitatively. There's no difference between night and day. There are no seasons and no climate zones (e.g. subarctic vs tropical, coastal vs inland, or wet vs dry). There are no prevailing winds. It doesn't yield sleet, fog, mudslides, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, tidal waves, or dust storms. It includes no options for fantasy or sci-fi settings. Actually, it includes no options at all. You get the weather it rolls up, and that's that.

There's no picking up from where you left off last time, unless your command window has stayed open the whole time. Each new interval advances the time by 3 hours, but you could always ignore the times it names. Each new interval involves a weather roll and a wind roll to determine what happens to the weather and wind index values. The index values range from 0 to 10. Half the time, the index value stays the same. Half the time, an index value goes up or down by one, within the 0-10 range. The weather index progresses from sunshine to blizzard. You won't make that leap in a single roll, but you could do it from one day to the next. Yeah, you could get blizzards every few days, regardless of season or climate. The wind index is only about wind direction, not intensity. You could flip from a northerly wind to a southerly wind and back every 3 hours. You get the cardinal wind directions (n, w, e, w) at lower index values and diagonal winds (ne, nw, se, sw) at the higher index values (or calm or "changing drection [sic] every few minutes" at the highest index values.

Search onilne for an RPG weather generator. You're sure to find something more realistic, more varied, and more usable. Frankly, this generator seems like something I might have dashed off in the early 80s before my RPG play had matured.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Weather generator for any RPG
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Solo Fate
Publisher: PPM
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2019 18:37:31

This is an improvement over the earier Fate Solo product from Cabbage Games. The earlier product was hard to understand and use -- just plain poorly written. The editing problems here are wording mistakes (such as "To me I the first icon" and "I keep use little more"), but you can figure out the meaning when you see them in context. And I'm pretty sure there's a missing "not" when it tells you that a genre-specific Seer icon "does mean it has to relate to that genre."

This product offers a decent intro to solo RPGing and it does a good job of explaining the tools in this document, including examples. It offers usage tips and guidelines. These are all good things and they're improvements over the earlier product.

It makes a distinction between the Oracle (variations on yes and no answers) and the Seer, which is for open-ended questions. The Seer consists of various icons that are much like Rory's Story Cubes -- stylized little pictures. It's up to you to put meaning to them in context. To implement the Seer, they give you a track to use or some DIY dice you can make. If you already have some Rory's Story Cubes, especially a themed set, you could use those as your Seer instead. (But they cost more than this document.)

If the idea of using Rory's Story Cubes makes your skin crawl (and I can immediately think of two players I know that fit that description), you won't like the Seer. The little icons come with no descriptions of what the pictures might represent. Those two players I mentioned would take one look at the icons and reject this out of hand.

You could use a Deck of Fate (mobile app or physical deck) as both Oracle and Seer. Ask a question, and let the Deck of Fate guide your answer.

I still wonder though whether Fate really needs a solo oracle. An oracle, after all, is a tool for getting a somewhat random answer to a question, preferably an answer more nuanced than a mere yes or no. Fate already offers that in its four action outcomes, especially for Overcome and Create an Advantage. Pose your question, set the difficulty level, roll the dice, and interpret the outcome. You already do this for your characters, so do it for your solo GM role as well.

However, if the Oracle and Seer appeal to you, go for it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Solo Fate
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Fate Accessibility Toolkit • Prototype Edition
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2019 09:48:15

All in all, good job. I commend the effort.

Two recurring themes in the toolkit are how to be inclusive of players with disabilities, and how to portray disabilities in the game with respect and verisimilitude instead of caricatures or ignorance.

The book is much stronger on portrayal than on inclusion, probably because it is, after all, an RPG toolkit. It's easier to suggest game mechanics than it is cover the broad topics of accessibility and inclusiveness.

The material on portrayal is generally pretty good. The aspects and stunts ring true (at least for the disabilities where I have any famiilarity) and let the character do cool or interesting things without lapsing into super-hearing-because-you're-blind stuff. While some might claim that representing disabilities with game mechanics trivializes the disabilities, I disagree. Trivialization would be in the attitude of the players. On the contrary, seeing "someone like me" represented in the game can be quite gratifying to those whose experiences are perpetually ignored or misrepresented in game settings. Or it could be the last thing they want to see; listen to your audience and be flexible.

The material on inclusiveness and accommodation was good as far as it went, but I was hoping for more. The appendix on "Resources" is thin - blink and you'd miss it. Frankly, the half page of Resources looks like a 5-minute afterthought. I was hoping for more material along the lines of "Here are the tools we've found useful" for accommodating various disabilities at the table, or online. You don't have to get down to specific product endorsements. Another area where I wanted to see more was about breaks. Some disabilities force people to take breaks during play, so I'd be interested in tips on various ways to handle breaks (short of "everyone just stops playing for as long as it takes").

The appendix on ASL signs for Fate terms is best suited for someone who already has some facility with ASL but who wants to establish some signs for specialized terms. For my part, I'd sign some of them differently, so I'm curious whether these are tried-and-true signs from on-going gaming groups, or something someone made up for this toolkit. In any case, paragraph-long descriptions of signs are hard to follow even if you have some ASL skills. Someone who has no knowledge of ASL probably isn't going to get these signs right. A page of videos demonstrating these signs would be more helpful than paragraphs of description.

I have my own disabilities to deal with. In fact, I had a flare-up while writing this review. As a result, it took me almost three hours to write these few paragraphs. (That's another thing about disabilities. In some cases, they can vary by the minute, hour, day, or year, sometimes with warning, sometimes without.)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fate Accessibility Toolkit • Prototype Edition
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the review! Those critiques look fair. We are hoping to include illustrations of the signs in the ASL appendix (if we put this book into print eventually, videos wouldn't print so good) once the art budget is achieved (we'll need to land close to Platinum for that).
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