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Portentous Dreams
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2013 13:04:13

This is a low-cost, short supplement that gives simple, specific advice on a particular staple of fantasy adventures - dreams - and does so in a straightforward, effective way. At only 6 pages of actual content (assuming we count the introduction), don't expect a massive tome or a major way of changing how you play the game or magic. However, if you want to provide a crafted dream that expresses something about the experience of the characters, this is a good supplement. It begins with an introduction detailing a creator's history with dreams in fantasy fiction, and goes quickly into an explanation of principles for how GMs should decide to implement dreams in their game. It's true - when you describe a dream a character has and the player later connects that dream to something happening in the character's waking life, the player is always thrilled, and sometimes creeped out!

Next are several tables of dream imagery that you can use for your game. This section could be improved by describing specifically how to alter the tables to connect with the cultural underpinning of your own setting. Black may be a sinister color in our culture, but perhaps in your fantasy world it is considered noble or even godly - its meaning in a character's dream should be colored (ahem) by the culture and experiences of the character. On the other hand, this can be taken too far, you don't want to have the player see their character as too alien or from a culture they don't have any instinct for or can't understand, even in their dreams.

There's a new feat that will give interested characters a game mechanical push into oracular dreams and several thoroughly described oracular dreams for common campaign occurrences. (This section appears to be missing a header, at least in the Screen version of the supplement.)

Portentous Dreams is a solid start on incorporating dreams into your fantasy adventure campaign. There are aspects that could be improved and certainly expanded, but for the (currently $2) price, it's worth checking out. It does include both print and screen versions, as well as bookmarks, but this isn't really necessary (or that helpful) given the minimalistic art and extremely short length of the product.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Portentous Dreams
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Front Lines of Choice
Publisher: Skortched Urf' Studios
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/27/2013 22:13:44

So here's a puzzle for an RPG supplement reviewer. How do you go about talking about a game supplement that's so far out there that there's nothing really to compare it to? Gonna do my best with this one, in part because it's such lunacy that it really does deserve a closer look.

Front Lines of Choice is by the same author who wrote Choice & Blood, which I gave 3 stars to, because it had the very basics of some really interesting "organization-scale" roleplaying opportunities in d20 Modern, but was a bit of a jumble mechanically and wasn't well-put-together.

Front Lines of Choice, by contrast, takes the same concept - an abortion clinic - and updates it for the Otherverse, a 22nd century science fiction world where the issue of abortion has literally torn the world in two. A religious war between "Lifers" and "Choicers" rages, and these citadels, which are far more than just abortion clinics, have become crucial parts of it. They also serve as pagan temples, defensive military outposts and cultural icons for local communities.

The psychedelic Otherverse at first struck me as a somewhat clumsy attempt to stir up controversy with its central conceit of sexual license versus conservative religosity, but as I went deeper into the highly detailed setting, I started to appreciate it more and more. Science fiction has often translated modern day conflicts into fantastic setting elements in order to expand and explicate them, and the detail and care that has gone into the Otherverse is exceptional. I was finally hooked for good when I got to the section of Front Lines of Choice in which various character archetypes were given a choice of 20 one-paragraph background story outlines to explain how they came to join this particular faction and have their particular role. This is a setting that treats its characters and their motivations as real, at least within the bizarre milieu they find themselves in. You may very well need to get some other Otherverse supplements to get all of the jargon (and I certainly will be looking back at those now that I have a better grasp of the setting), but even without a full understanding you'll find Front Lines of Choice intriguing if you want to see a social conflict unfold in the concrete way that only science fiction (well, and superheroes) can do.

Everything I said was a weakness in Choice & Blood has been expanded into a strength. There are rules for setting up the strength and health of an organization, and a random event table to provide hooks for characters who are invested in it. Characters also get benefits from the organization, in the form of wealth, equipment and skill bonuses. Mechanically, the feats and talent trees are a lot better thought out. Some, like the feat that makes you really good at spotting concealed weapons (important for clinic defenders) seem like a natural fit for any sort of setting, but it stood out to me as an example of something mechanical that brought the Otherverse to life.

If there was one way I would improve this, it would be to make a version that was friendlier for the printer - especially the feat, equipment and motivation sections that would be most useful for players to have copies of while making characters or discussing characters.

So yeah, if you are not interested at all in the subject material, or you think your group would consider it too exploitative, or ugly, or divisive, give it a pass. But for what it is - a supplement about a futuristic science fiction organization based around being an abortion clinic in a world where that's the battle that everyone's fighting...well, how can I even assess it? It's absolutely one of a kind.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Front Lines of Choice
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21 Organizations
Publisher: Independence Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2013 23:13:53

Continuing my look at Gypsy Knights Games and Traveller supplements, 21 Organizations is a strong outing into an area where Traveller has always excelled. It's not without some areas where it could be improved, but it's an excellent supplement nonetheless.

First, the downsides. No bookmarks of any kind. Very few adventure hooks or means by which a typical group of Traveller characters would get involved with the 21 organizations that are described.

But overall, the book is very detailed. From a colonial service to a crime syndicate gone (semi-)legit, the world of Traveller comes to life in a way that is fun and exciting. The clear implication of the work is that in the lawless space frontier, fortunes are made, then used to various purposes to consolidate its own power - the libertarian ethos of Traveller is thoroughly on display in these organizations.

Perhaps the strongest point of the book are the career paths for each organization. Various editions of Traveller have used these career paths in different ways, but the most important thing about them is that they show what characters in the setting - whether NPCs or PCs - experience, the types of mishaps and positive experiences they have while pursuing the organizations' goals.

If I wanted to improve the book, I could certainly put in a "current events" section detailing what specific thing each organization was pursuing and how the PCs could be employed for or against that goal. But overall, the career paths give a uniquely "Traveller" feel to how the 21 Organizations will fit into your setting and game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
21 Organizations
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Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub
Publisher: Independence Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2013 21:28:11

This location supplement for Traveller has a great deal of potential, and the raw material to help GMs in many ways. However, it misses the mark of a truly great supplement with insufficient attention to how the product will be used at the table. Let's break it down.

Subsector Sourcebook 3 is meaty: At 108 pages, there is hardly one that doesn't contain information - this isn't a supplement that wastes a lot of time with artwork or frills. Many pieces of artwork I did spot were on pages all to themselves - easy to skip for those who want to print some or all of the sourcebook. The artwork of the planets seemed somewhat badly thought-out - if used on a tablet to display to the players (for that sf feel), there shouldn't be three of them to a page. If meant to print out, they shouldn't have a black background and dark colors. But they are a cool idea!

Most of the planets are simply catalogued as lists of organized facts - not in itself a bad idea, especially for Traveller. It may seem inconceivable to modern gamers, but in early Traveller editions, you didn't roll to see what information you could find about a planet using some kind of computer skill, you just picked up the book that told you what was in your computer and turned there and read it! (At the time everyone thought computers were going to be limited in the data they could effectively use.) I've found that when this mechanic gets used, it really makes things immersive, and preserves the mysteries of the setting. So at first I was excited, thinking that this supplement was taking this angle. When players asked what was up with a planet, I could just pass across a couple of pages of printout to them and let them discuss it among themselves. But...it doesn't actually take this approach. Out-of-character sidebars, and occasionally even out-of-character commentary in the planet descriptions themselves mean that I can't really take this approach at all.

I feel like the supplement was reaching for that classic Traveller feel of having extremely basic factual information on how big a planet is and how long the day is, and then letting players find out the rest themselves, but wasn't secure enough in this approach to really pursue it by separating GM information from "what's in your database" information.

Please don't take from the negative comments that I've made above that there is nothing in this supplement worth pursuing. It's a solid, thorough look at many planets in a subsector; the societies described are interesting and I would want players to explore them. The natural world is detailed and exciting. The hex maps are fun and beautiful. It certainly pushes hard for a classic Traveller feel! It isn't trying to "update" Traveller, it really pushes after the core idea of a Traveller setting - a broadly drawn sandbox with many interesting places to explore. Each planet has a couple of solid hooks - in another supplement, maybe I'd look for more, but that's not what Traveller planetary supplements have ever been really about. (Buy one of the Patrons books for that!) All my commentary above is trying to get at is how close to a bullseye Subsector 3 gets!

The one unmitigated negative is that almost inexcusably, the 108 pages of this supplement have no bookmarks, no hyperlinks, no use of the electronic format of any kind. I'd rate this a four-star supplement despite its flaws if this wasn't true. For a book whose main advantage is the systematic organization of data, the lack of these features is just a straight oversight.

In any event, Subsector 3: Hub fits right into the pantheon of classic Traveller location books. If you want to see what a Traveller location is like, this is a great place to start. You'll just need to work a bit harder to get it to your table.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub
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Infamous Adversaries: Ischadra, Grandmother of Assassins
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2013 21:05:58

Ask a 8 year old if dolls are creepy - chances are they'd say no. Ask a 16 year old (or older) - and chances are they say yes. We imbue dolls and mannequins with life in our imaginations as children, but as we grow older we realize that if an effigy really were alive, it would be horrifying and wrong. This fear has led to all sorts of horror scenarios, from the classic Twilight Zone Talking Tina episode to the ludicrousness of Chucky movies.

Total Party Kill Games gives you a creepy doll for your Pathfinder games with Ischadra, Grandmother of Assassins. It's a well-thought-out and thoroughly detailed description of a unique adversary. The doll has been imbued with the spirit of a fanatical, ancient assassin who reveres the god of murder and one of the things it does - quite memorably in the opening fiction - is mentor children into becoming assassins themselves. Generation after generation have lived under her dark tutelage, making this little monster the leader of potentially a whole series of assassins of various power levels.

This unique approach gives the GM many options for utilizing the monster in your game - perhaps the party comes across an assassin or two that was trained by Ischadra, and attracts its attention that way.

One terrific addition to the work is that there are hyperlinks to the Pathfinder SRD contained within the PDF, so you don't have to remember what a particular item or magical spell does, you can just click and be taken straight there. (A couple of the links don't seem to point to the right thing, though, such as the Dust of Sneezing and Choking links on p.9.) Even rules like touch attacks have a link. This makes the supplement highly useful at the table and very effective on a tablet!

A large number of related NPCs are also presented, a welcome addition to a character whose main goal is highly social - to re-create the evil assassin's cult wherever it goes.

All in all this is a really cool, dangerous monster with many different options. If I had to pick a way to improve it (other than fixing the links) it would be to provide some plot hooks that are more appropriate for the challenge level. Characters that are taking on CR20 monsters are not likely to be dealing with the dreams of a little orphan kid, they're likely to be dealing with things of cosmic import - dismantling the whole cult rather than just handling one part of it. When you create an epic (small e) monster like this one you really want to have an epic problem handling it, and epic characters needed to defeat it, in ways other than in just combat prowess. This is especially true in Pathfinder where high-level spells permit bypassing simple situations and issues.

In conclusion, Ischadra will definitely be a memorable and exciting addition to your game. And I'm reviewer tilting up one star for the link-to-the-SRD idea!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Infamous Adversaries: Ischadra, Grandmother of Assassins
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The Deadly Seven
Publisher: paNik productions
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2013 13:59:18

Every so often, a supplement comes along that sets a new bar, and in electronic RPG supplements innovation and progress almost always comes in the direction of flexibility and usefulness. 0one Games' amazing layered PDF maps set a new standard for interactivity in map supplements. Champions' San Angelo: City of Heroes let you click to change the supplement from one game system to another. And I have to say, Deadly Seven pushes flexibility and usefulness about as far as you can expect. RPG publishers should take careful note of the many ways that Deadly Seven uses its format to help play this exciting, horrific story at the table.

First, let's note that you get a d20 Modern version, a Savage Worlds version, and a True20 version (my favorite). You get clue cards related to some of the more detailed investigations that can be handed over to the players. You get maps. You get character sheets. You get absolutely everything you can get in order to help you lay out the situation for the players.

But even within these materials there are even more features. The supplement contains hyperlinks - just click on a character (or demon's) name and you'll go straight to a description of that character. Click on the name of a place and you'll go to where that place is described. The supplement is heavily bookmarked as well.

On top of that, the supplement contains many organizational charts - such as a relationship map showing who is connected to who and how - crucial for developing realistic-feeling mysteries.

And this isn't just icing - the supplement itself uses these interlocked features to a stunning degree, by presenting a multifaceted investigation/mystery into several psychiatric patients who become possessed to varying degrees by demons. Without going into spoiler territory, I just want to mention that the structure of this supplement should be something that everyone writing or running mysteries should read: after a single incident/puzzle brings the player characters into investigating the situation, some of the other demons begin to respond and target the PCs. From there, the investigation is wide open - the players can pursue different leads in different ways. It's also unique because the scientist whose brilliant idea led to the possessions is actually a pretty mild mannered guy who doesn't believe in the supernatural (this is fine with the demons). Each of the demons has their own timeline that's detailed in the sidebar of their section, and depending on where and how the PCs intervene, they may respond in different ways.

There's also a detailed section on the 7 Deadly Sins as they were understood in medieval times and some new possession and exorcism guidelines that help add some flavor to the terrifying power. There's a sort of possession FAQ with the questions answered in "orthodox, progressivist and quasi-scientific" ways, which is amazing, since different PCs may come at possession from different perspectives. There's even a list of medical conditions that might be confused with possession, to help with laying in red herrings or for blinkered NPC doctors to suggest. And if that's not enough there are historical accounts of possession and hauntings!

It is simply ludicrous how far this supplement goes to create a fully fleshed out world which the players can dig around in and pursue terribly evil monsters. And the demons are monstrous - cannibalism and rape just scratch the surface here. Your players will want to end this menace and will be amazed at how far they can go pursuing it.

If you poked me with a sharp stick over and over and demanded that I tell you something about this to improve it would be that the file names used for the various versions all show up on rpgnow as "The_Deadly_Seven", meaning you have to download all three to find which game system you want. It's a common mistake many publishers make. But this is nitpicking. It's one of the best supplements on the site because of its innovative use of the many advantages of electronic RPG creation. If you want to see what I'm always on about in my other reviews - about how just scanning your dumb print product and putting it up is not good enough - Deadly Seven will show you just how good games can be here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Deadly Seven
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Arsenal Cards: Handguns Volume 1: 1850 to 1899
Publisher: Tangent Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2013 12:50:14

I am totally obsessed with cards as RPG aids. Ask me sometime on twitter why cards are better than dice and watch me go insane as 140 characters keeps me from explaining it fully. Also, every gamer loves a bagful of guns. These Arsenal Cards provide a solid aid for a historical game and as a result I'm giving it high marks.

The supplement begins with a glossary of what various firearm terms of the period mean, from wheellock to lever-action. Then a quick page or two of setup and you're into the cards.

The cards are meant to be printed on business cards - each is a color photograph of the appropriate gun on the front, and a description on the back that includes manufacturer, weight, trigger style, and ratings in Power, Recoil and Concealability.

One particularly interesting statistic is "Max PBR", which stands for Maximum Point Blank Range. Since in most RPGs you're dealing with close-range shootouts, the creator of the Arsenal Cards actually went to a gun website and calculated the approximate range that a shooter would consider "point blank" using each of these historical weapons' weight in normal shooting conditions. This is pretty awesome.

It closes with a table that will help a player or GM see and compare different traits of different guns.

Because it's not system-specific, players will still have to adapt these ratings to the system that they're using. That's fine - this is a very in-world description of the guns rather than pursuing specific stats. (Many of these guns would almost certainly have identical stats in some broad systems.)

Weirdly, there's a suggested table of penalties and bonuses when discussing ranges, power, and concealability, but no clue as to whether, say, a -1 penalty is on a 1d20 roll, on 2d6, on a pool of d10s or d6s being added or counter, on Fate dice, or what. This section is of no use and should be discarded, or it should be more fully integrated into a specific system so that players can understand what they refer to. If I had to name another way to improve the arsenal cards, it would be to include traced or more constrasting pictures, as the details of some of the pictures will be difficult to get in normal printers. Also I would have bookmarks for the guns and the glossary instead of the glossary and the card layout section, since most of the card layout is on one page.

Still, If you're not running a historical game, this supplement will make you want to run one with a ton of shootouts so you can scatter these cool pictures all over the table. Having one clipped to your character sheet will help you visualize the weapon your character's carrying in the terms they might experience - is it heavy? Can I conceal it? What exactly do people see when I pull it? Highly recommended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Arsenal Cards: Handguns Volume 1: 1850 to 1899
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Creator Reply:
Jason, Thank you for purchasing Arsenal Cards and taking the time to give us your comments. We greatly appreciate your comment about the suggested table of penalties and bonuses. We will include your recommendations in future versions of Arsenal Cards. Also, the comment to add bookmarks is a great suggestion and we will work to add that feature to the existing sets and to future sets. Thank you, Geoff & Coy Tangent Games
Scion: Extras - Supplemental (Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion) Scions
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/01/2013 14:51:20

(Scion: Extras) is much as I anticipated — a forest of thoughts, some true, many false, more part dubious, all of them ingenious in some degree, often in a high degree. But there is no method in (its) talk; (it) wanders like a man sailing among many currents, whithersoever his lazy mind directs him; and, what is more unpleasant, he preaches, or rather soliloquises. He cannot speak, he can only talk (so he names it). Hence I found (it) unprofitable, even tedious; but we parted very good friends, I promising to go back and see him some evening, a promise which I fully intend to keep. I sent him a copy of Meister, about which we had some friendly talk. I reckon (Scion: Extras a book) of great and useless genius: a strange, AWESOME, not at all a great (RPG supplement). - Thomas Carlyle, 1824



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scion: Extras - Supplemental (Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion) Scions
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Shenandoah
Publisher: Chaosium
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2013 23:13:28

Shenandoah is a product that I first owned in print after picking it up at RinCon 2009. It's great to see it in e-book format.

Call of Cthulhu is one of the most long-lasting and beloved properties in roleplaying. Chaosium recognized early on that H.P. Lovecraft's groundbreaking horror stories would always be able to find an audience, and a roleplaying game set in that world would always have something to offer. There have been many takes on Cthulhoid roleplaying recently, from the more mystery-structured Trail of Cthulhu to the anime-influenced Cthulhutech, which is as it should be, since Lovecraft was significant not only in his own right, but as inspiration to modern authors and creators. But the Chaosium approach has held steady for almost-identical edition after edition and as a result they've built a great catalog over the years.

One thing about Call of Cthulhu I have always found interesting is that it takes as its approach that you are roleplaying "in the world" of H.P. Lovecraft. That is, much CoC material is based on developing a consistent geography and understandable mythos (at least in its close-up form), rather than trying to emulate the fictional material itself. (Lovecraft protagonists are often blank slates who don't do much anyway - not a great formula for successful RPG play.) Other scenarios give a string of events, though sometimes these run afoul of the plague of pre-published modules, railroading.

Shenandoah does an excellent job of walking the line between these two types of Call of Cthulhu material. It details the daily life and inhabitants of a small isolated town in the Ozark Mountains in 1927, when the investigators arrive looking into a mysterious set of events that are brought about by MONSTARS. An enormous amount of effort goes into making the inhabitants and surroundings real, detailed and thorough, so that investigators feel they are prying into the secrets of a real place, with their actions as outsiders having significant consequence for the community.

I can't stress enough how important setting is in avoiding the feeling of railroading in a scenario. If players feel they have permission to explore, that they won't accidentally bump into the backdrop (uh, accidentally run into the edge of the level, if you prefer a video game analogy to a theater analogy), they are more likely to conduct themselves in a more naturalistic and straightforward way...which ironically reduces the problems that railroading tends to try to fix! Shenandoah does a marvelous job of this.

There is a decent introductory text that tries to get across the feel of Cthulhoid horror and the nature of insanity in the world of Lovecraft. There are some ludicrous tournament rules for trying to determine what investigator did best in the scenario. (-2 for bathroom breaks, really?) Some of the points you get are for rolling really well. (Shouldn't the success in the moment be my reward for rolling well...shouldn't I gain more tournament points from flubbing things up, panicking and running and putting everyone at risk?) It would be better to have limited it entirely to hitting or discovering various secrets or plots related to the situation. And anyway, Call of Cthulhu is a game about a team of people, so introducing competitive elements is silly.

Call of Cthulhu has a successful formula and a successful approach to some often very difficult-to-envision literary material, and Shenandoah does a terrific job of showing some of the best that Chaosium has to offer. Let's hope this Monograph series, which produces somewhat smaller and simpler Call of Cthulhu materials, continues for a long time!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shenandoah
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Memorable Townsfolk [PFRPG]
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2013 12:29:12

This simple work contains everything that one could want for what's advertised, and then some.

NPC books have always been a big part of my gaming experience, since I learned that by personalizing all aspects of conflicts players get much more involved in the experience. So I've read a lot of good and bad NPC books. The bad ones either don't tell you what the NPCs should do in your game, or give you NPCs that don't do what the creators say they will.

The good ones, like Memorable Townsfolk, pursue a game role for the NPCs and explain clearly how they will work at your table.

The 12 NPCs in Memorable Townsfolk will never overshadow PCs in adventuring roles - they are tied up in their own agendas and situations. Yet they each have some significant thing they want from the PCs or that the PCs want from them. They each have simply expressed personalities, along with tips for the GM in portraying them. They each have gossip and rumors about them that may or may not be true, which may lead to further adventures or opportunities for the PCs.

What raises Memorable Townsfolk above other NPC supplements, though, is that after the NPCs, there are several sample settlements to help put the NPCs into a particular context, showing you how to put them in your campaign. This was a welcome surprise. It's rare that a supplement goes the extra step of putting its characters in the context of a setting element.

I was especially pleased to see that there were significant Pathfinder-specific materials in the game such as the witch class and the settlement rules. Why mark something as a Pathfinder supplement if you're just going to give me D&D3 stuff?

There's also a few fun tables about randomly generating personality traits or tics to make any particular NPC stand out more. (Honestly I don't see why a random table is a good idea for this, since you could conceivably roll the same entry on the table and end up with 20 people who always talk with their arms crossed - wouldn't it be better to put it on a list where I could cross them off one by one as I use them? But there always seems to be a random table. Oh well, nitpicky.) This is a fun addition to the supplement as well.

Layout is solid and clear., bookmarks are used throughout. The "completist's checklist" at the end would be a lot better ad for Purple Duck if the names of the supplements actually linked back to DTRPG or the Purple Duck website!

All in all, this is an excellent supplement that you should pick up if, like me, you like to put NPCs at the centers of your games.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Memorable Townsfolk [PFRPG]
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World War II Heroes - Players Guide
Publisher: SteelMagic Studios
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/27/2013 19:19:35

Although ultimately flawed, WW2 Heroes - Players Guide has many good ideas in it that make it worth a look for fans of d20 Modern putting together a World War II game.

Through focus in character creation, the WW2HPG (uh, acronyms, yay!) provide some good ideas for adapting D20 Modern to a game where everyone is an American soldier in WWII. Backgrounds, previously just a basic outline of pre-level-1 activities, are divided into your situation when you were recruited and the way you were trained. Equipment focuses (somewhat obsessively) on what characters may be issued or find in their backpacks, right down to the suspenders they wear with their uniforms. Units are given introduction and detail and specialization of the unit (rather than the soldier) helps give a good flavor to the team. WW2H is not afraid to extend the d20 Modern system in areas where it might help, adding new attributes such as Leadership and Guts. This is a degree of customization many other games of the d20 era shy away from, to their detriment.

Advanced Classes are about as well balanced and well-thought-out as the ones in d20 Modern; namely, not at all. But they do fulfill the function of Advanced Classes, which is to provide additional flavor and detail to the class-based system.

The presentation is marred with numerous typographical errors and references to things that aren't described well or thoroughly. It barely makes the three-star grade, and it does so purely on the strength of its willingness to really focus down on one thing: American WW2 soldiers and how d20 Modern might be used to handle that. If you want other countries' soldiers, or non-soldier adventures, or fantastical looks at WW2, or anything else, really, this is not the product for you.

But if you are looking at a d20 Modern game about American soldiers in WW2 (and the proliferation of American-soldiers-in-WW2 first-person shooters tells me that this is something people might want!), then definitely check this out. At the very least you're going to come away from it with a solid idea for organizing equipment, units and some additional mechanics that might help you put something together.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
World War II Heroes - Players Guide
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Common Criminals: Series 1
Publisher: Fishwife Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/18/2013 00:01:28

This is the first installment in a series of modern NPCs in the criminal world. It's not based on any particular system, though there are some numerical ratings to help you express them in the system of your choice.

There are six of them: a prostitute, a drug user, a drug dealer, a courier, a drug lieutenant, and a counterfeiting fixer. Each of them has about a page of description. A few sentences on their background, their personality, and most importantly the style of their crimes.

It's an interesting product for many reasons. Let me break it down. Crime is a great element of RPGs - the transgression of social mores for money is essentially the oldest RPG story there is. NPC criminals, especially small time criminals, are always needed to feed the creation of these sorts of networks.

A product like this one is a really solid introductory starting point. This isn't needed if you're already extremely experienced in putting together criminal organizations, plots or characters. But if you're just getting started and need the basics, these are really solid, detailed characters. The stereotype of a particular criminal (truck stop prostitute, erratic drug user) can be daunting to move past. This product gives you a good framework for that.

Buy this if you're working on some modern criminal stuff in your game and you need to learn - or get a refresher on - the basics.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Common Criminals: Series 1
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100 numbers between 1 and 100, Inclusive
Publisher: Troll in the Corner
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2013 18:17:49

"Hegel declares that 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100 is supreme among the arts, combining music's apprehension of the inner life of the mind with the determinate phenomenal character of sculpture and painting. In contrast to many of his contemporaries who make similar claims, however, Hegel never wavers in insisting that 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100 is the crisis of art as much as it is its triumph. 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100's uniqueness stems from the fact that the subject and the object of 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100, the medium and the message, are one and the same. Unlike painting or sculpture, 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100 can deal with any and every topic in any and every fashion because in the final analysis what 100 NUMBERS BETWEEN 1 AND 100 really expresses is the mind's apprehension of itself to itself in itself AND AWESOMENESS." - Jan Mieszkowski, Postmodern Culture, May 2005



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
100 numbers between 1 and 100, Inclusive
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100 Conspiracies
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2013 11:10:57

Nowadays it seems like there's 100 "100 _____" supplements on onebookshelf sites. Some are lists that a simple google search could beat. Others are more creative and give an insight into the setting that they relate to. Few are $7.50, the current price for Postmortem's "100 Conspiracies". However, it would be a huge mistake to conflate those one-page chart-list products with this product.

100 Conspiracies starts with a couple of pages about what a conspiracy is and how to construct an interesting one. The very first GURPS supplement I ever bought was Illuminati, so having a refresher/introduction was useful and welcome. A lot of people (including major screenwriters) don't actually put much thought into how a conspiracy works or what it might be after. This can be overlooked in an action-thriller movie, but at the game table people are going to be asking a lot of questions. The introduction, something many supplements skimp on, gives a good method for moving forward.

The meat of the supplement is 100 one-page summaries of conspiracy theories and how they could be used in your modern roleplaying games. There are 2-3 one paragraph hooks for each of them, as well as a semi-hilarious list of what factions or organizations might benefit from the conspiracy.

As other reviewers have noted, there are some proofing/editing problems, though the layout of the work is definitely top-tier in terms of its usability. If there's a conspiracy you like for your game you literally just print out one page and you're good to go - there aren't any that spill over to two pages and there's no garbage art to clog up your printer.

There are no bookmarks and no hyperlinked index, which is a bit of a problem because the conspiracies are not in any particular order and their titles, while humorous, are not exactly on target. I have to reviewer-tilt down one star for the presentation/proofing problems (at least the ones that exist in early 2013.)

That said, the conspiracy theories themselves are well-written and the relentless focus on "cui bono?" ("Who profits?") helps GMs situate the conspiracies in their game in an organic and satisfying manner. Because of this, the supplement is well worth checking out for anyone who has a modern-day game of espionage or investigation. Supernatural elements can easily be added to many of these conspiracies if they aren't already there - maybe the black helicopters are piloted by psychic agents or servants of the Old Ones!

If I had to identify an area (other than editing) that could improve this supplement, I would suggest a section in each conspiracy that emphasizes what fears or anxieties that the conspiracy promotes. The AIDS conspiracy theories, for example, have racist and homophobic undertones - the Clinton Death List conspiracy theory is a product of right-wing radio. People who believe in conspiracy theories rarely do so because of evidence - the very lack of evidence is normally used as a reason to believe! They believe because the conspiracy theory fits other prejudices, fears or concerns regarding their world and their lives. We don't hear a lot about communist infiltration today (except on Glenn Beck) compared to what our parents and grandparents did in the 1950s, because in the 1950s Americans feared conflict with the Soviets. Similarly for these conspiracy theories, I would like to consider what drives them in order to determine what would be appropriate in my particular game.

All in all, "100 Conspiracies" is MUCH more than your typical "100 __" supplement, because of the high level of detail and the emphasis on constructing plausible conspiracies (not the same as realism) for use in your particular game. It's rare that a "supplement for any game" really is for any game, because most don't give this attention to customizing the material or give a framework for understanding it. "100 Conspiracies' does.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
100 Conspiracies
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Espionage Genre Toolkit: New World Disorder (D20 Modern)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2013 22:34:33

For $2, the current price, this toolkit is a bargain. Although there's many ways it could be improved (see below), what you get is a set of ideas, GM advice, simple mechanics, planning forms and an advanced class to flavor a d20 Modern campaign.

One criticism often leveled at d20 Modern is that unlike Third Edition D&D, its predecessor game, it doesn't have a clear tone/core concept. Although Allegiance was a step in the direction of providing that concept, it wasn't clear that this was what the game should be built around. LPJ has come out with Genre Toolkits to try to help push d20 Modern "gently" (my word) in a direction in order to alleviate this problem.

The New World Disorder campaign is one of overlapping and conflicting conspiracies and 1990s-style government clampdown theories. Anyone who watched the X-Files (or, really, any show in that time period) can immediately recognize the style.

The toolkit starts with some flavorful, but not mechanically overwhelming Allegiances, from The Man to The Truth, then gives three GMing tools to help conspiracies maintain a mysterious feeling even as the player characters may be charging into them head on with all they can bring to bear. Next there are the "spook" templates, based on the super-agents that are often deployed to take out or pursue troublemakers. These introduce some interesting mechanics that will pressure characters in ways they often wouldn't be, but aren't overwhelming.

A new advanced class, the Man In Black, seems to pursue that mythology really well. Class features in d20 Modern aren't balanced to start with, so I'm not going to work that out. Suffice to say they seem interesting and flavorful enough, so we'll call it a success. And of course what Man in Black would be seen in anything but the creepiest black cadillac? I question these vehicles' inclusion as a class feature - given the normal means of providing assistance in d20 Modern's organization/allegiance rules, it seems superfluous.

Finally, there's several pages of planning forms that are tailored towards a conspiracy-based game, a welcome addition.

There's some weird stuff going on here. The bookmarks are, hilariously, for an entirely different product. The planning "forms" are not actual PDF forms, you have to print them out to use them. There's a blank page just sitting there. It's kind of bad, format-wise. But I can't argue with the price tag and the pile of stuff you get for it - stuff you might really need if, like me, you like d20 Modern but have to do a lot of work to get it to the table. So it gets an extra star for me for that.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Espionage Genre Toolkit: New World Disorder (D20 Modern)
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