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Other comments left for this publisher:
Mindcraft
by Lee P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/13/2005 00:00:00
Wow...!
I really didn't expect this level of satisfaction.
I am unimpressed with the D20 Psionics system (how, exactly, is it any different from magic...?) The core system does not lend itself to giving a unique feel for psionics and it makes it impossible to import the system into a truly futuristic campaign.
Mindscapes succeeds in just about all respects. Psionics finally FEEL unique.


LIKED: The supplement gives you a sense of how psionics should "feel" in any campaign (past, future, modern, or fantasy).

DISLIKED: A little short for the subject matter being presented. Further supplements are a must.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mindcraft
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The Whisper of Horses
by Amanda P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/12/2005 00:00:00
I used this game on a group of 7 players, 3 didn't really know anything about Cthulhu, 3 were only slightly familiar with Cthulhu and 1 was an expert. Everyone had a great time. I added in more props for the players also, as well as more sound effects (horse neighs, flies buzzing, howling wind, fax machine etc). The ones that came with the game were a good starting point. I like that the sanity rules were included, but I had to add in more "creepy" encounters in order for any of the PCs to get significant sanity damage. Overall, I think this was a great value and I think it's a super introduction for anyone looking to get a peek at the Cthulhu system. For a group of 7, it took us 9 hours to solve.


LIKED: I liked the sound effects and other props. Alternative endings. Layout of the pdf itself was superb.

DISLIKED: Linear storyline. I had to change a lot of the storyline so the players wouldn't feel like I was pushing them around. I also wish it had some default character sheets for example players.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Whisper of Horses
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Insanity: A Game Enhancement
by Jeremy F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/24/2005 00:00:00
As near as I can tell, this is just the OGC sanity rules from Unearthed Arcana (and hence, from Call of Cthulhu d20) packaged by itself.

And you know what? I'm totally okay with that. Since, I don't own UA myself (although I do own CoC d20 and BRP), I find this product convenient and useful and helpful in the extreme.

(One wonders, though-- and this has nothing with the nice folks at APG, who made this product-- how do the folks at Chaosium feel about their one-time, license WotC of the cost product becoming the vehicle for their proprietary sanity system magically turning into Open Game Content for anybody to use?)




LIKED: The Cthulhu sanity system is excellent, and I like it applied to any d20 game. It ought to be in a lot of games.

DISLIKED: More new *game* material would've been nice, but the added historical stuff is certainly interesting and a nice touch. I paid for the CoC Sanity System adapted to d20 in a modular way, and I got what I paid for, and I'm still a very happy customer.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Insanity: A Game Enhancement
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Character Theme: Alchemist (3.5)
by Chris G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
The way the subclasses work is they are minor abilities that are gained each level. They gain bonus hit points but not bonus hit dice. They get a small increase to saves and base attack and a few more class skills and a couple of skill points a level. There are some good abilities gained with potions crafting and other alchemical processes.

The Alchemist sub class does not come without a cost. Characters have a negative twenty percent experience penalty for taking the sub class. Certain races do have favored subclasses that only impose a negative ten percent penalty. In the case of the alchemist the gnome has it as a favored subclass.

The true power of the alchemist subclass lies in the potion making. At the third level of the subclass the character gets the Brew Potion Feat. It is not automatically at third character level that this would be gained. The subclass can be started later then character level one if the player chooses to do it that way. The Brew Potion feat is special in that the character need not have any magical ability. The character automatically is considered to know all spells for the purpose of creating potions. The limit of what spells can be made into potions though still exists. At fifth level in the subclass and every three levels after wards the character can make potions of a spell level higher. So, at fifth level the character can craft potions of fourth level or lower, at eight they can craft potions fifth level or lower, etc.

I really like the subclass idea. It gives another layer to the characters and it gives options without having to take certain classes or prestige classes and feats. The subclasses do have a hefty price though with the experience point penalty. That will have the character be lagging about a half level or so lower then the other characters. And with the spending of the characters own experience to make potions that discrepancy can get even worse.



LIKED: Interesting way that works inside the level system to add roles to a character

DISLIKED: I think they could have actually done more with it

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Character Theme: Alchemist (3.5)
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Honor and Corruption
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
Honor & Corruption covers exactly that and is a mechanic for keeping track of the relative honor of any player or NPC in a game. Before I get into the mechanics, let me first say that the art here is gorgeous ? the pages look like parchment, a bit fancier than the Player?s Handbook layout, and it works well. I wouldn?t want to print it, however, for that very reason ? luckily, it?s only 32 pages (not counting the add-ons they packaged with the zip in the download).

In some ways, the detailed system for gaining and losing honor reminds me a bit of Werewolf: The Apocalypse (White Wolf) ? there is a table of things to do and things not to do. The modifiers all seem to be for diplomacy and perform skill checks and a new type of feat called honor rewards. These feats aren?t purchased as normal feats, rather each game session a player may attempt to get a reward via a dice roll against a set DC.

These rewards range from masterwork items and monetary rewards to situational modifiers and benefits, such as an aura of courage (much like a paladin, but for a limited time) or a temporary damage resistance. You can even use it to get holdings from a lord. The chapter on corruption has all sorts of modifiers that make the corrupt look plain evil and has a very Legend of the Five Rings/Werewolf wyrm-touched feel to it.

The races have some problems, but they?re interesting. Honorborn are described as being especially righteous, but their only alignment restriction is lawful ? so a character could be an evil honorborn, which doesn?t make much sense given the background. Also, there doesn?t appear to be any challenge modifier for a honorborn character, and it should be at least +2. Tarnishborn, their opposite, do not have a necessary level modifier either. After reading them, I just wondered why they didn?t use the celestial and fiendish templates instead.

Subclasses are a new concept introduced in the supplement; basically, it?s an add-on class that you take in conjunction with a normal class selection in exchange for a cut in experience. The author takes steps to balance it, but only in the challenge rating of character. This becomes a problem if one member of the party takes a subclass and another does not. The penalty is identical to percentage cut for multi-classing, so there won?t be too much of a gap. The player with the subclass will have access to additional feats and abilities per level that the other members of the party will not.

The last section is a list of various honor-related feats for players to get. The feats have odd trade-offs, the most common being a reduction in sneak attack ability in exchange for some other bonus. The reduction is not permanent, however, and can be exchanged on a day to day basis.

Overall, I like the general concepts, but I?m not sure of their value in a game. Honor and corruption are treated as tangible things that have a real effect on the abilities of a character instead of a nebulous, social classification and reputation. Some might find that useful, so might not.

LIKED: The layout and art were gorgeous. The ideas were well presented and formatted. The concepts were interesting and offered a new look at a little broached subject.

DISLIKED: The bookmarks were listed without any organization or structure. The game material and mechanics are only valuable in settings where such concepts have meaning. Honor and corruption are definied mostly by western, Euro-centric ideals (medieval). Honor and corruption are more living, breathing things that affect a character rather than pressures and social responsibilities. It's not printer friendly.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Honor and Corruption
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Poor Gamer's Almanac (September 2005)
by Brian E. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
The Poor Gamer?s Almanac, by the Alea Publishing Group, is somewhat difficult to review, given that I?ve only read a single issue (issue 6, incidentally). As such, I?m going to give my general impressions of the magazine, rather than focusing on the specific articles within issue 6.
First of all, I?d like to say that I think that Alea definitely has the right idea. As the magazine is published by Alea Publishing, its content is almost entirely made up of snippets of their product catalog. Granted, they do give some space to other publishers (in this issue, most notably a snippet from The Year of the Zombie by UKG Publishing), but it?s mostly Alea content that you?re looking at. This acts as a good way to advertise their upcoming products, as well as inform people about what?s inside of their current releases. Personally, I think more companies should do this. I can?t tell you how many times (and I?m sure many of you can sympathize) I?ve wanted to read more about an upcoming product, but the information simply hasn?t been there. I think that there are a lot of people out there who would pay a small fee for a regular magazine from their favorite publisher, and I?d include myself among them.
That aside, however, not everything about The Poor Gamer?s Almanac is good. It?s a good idea, to be sure, but the execution could use a little bit of work. I often found the flow of my reading interrupted by grammatical errors, and there was more than one occasion on which I had to re-read a section because I simply didn?t know what the author was trying to say. I also wonder about how balanced some of the rules contained within this magazine are. Granted, I?m only looking at a single issue, and granted, some of these game rules might still be going through play-testing, as they?re from unreleased products, but I?d still give anything you read in this magazine a thorough examination before including it in your game. Of course, I?d say the same about feats and prestige classes found in Dragon Magazine, or even in some of Wizards? splatbooks, but that?s beside the point.

LIKED: The artwork throughout was of a very high quality, and I was very impressed. The layout is clean and attractive, and there seems to be a good balance of crunch and flavor in the articles, themselves. I also like the way the ads are integrated into the magazine; specifically, the fact that you can click on them to visit the advertiser?s website. Very slick, and a good example of why PDFs are good for this kind of thing. And, of course, I really like the concept.

DISLIKED: This magazine could use some pretty heavy editing and proofreading before it goes to press (so to speak). Some play-testing might not hurt, either.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Poor Gamer's Almanac (September 2005)
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Poor Gamer's Almanac (September 2005)
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/02/2005 00:00:00
This issue of the Poor Gamer?s Almanac follows the tradition of some of its predecessors in being offered for free. It contains six articles of substance, with interspersed ads in the manner of a real magazine (though a significant number of the ads are for products from its parent company, as expected). The cover of this issue is an exceptionally well done gothic-style image of what seems to be a succubus. The Almanac?s stated goal is to show gamers new to PDF products what the format can do, and leading with such a strong (though perhaps slightly controversial) art piece is a sure way to do so.

The first article in the magazine is Feudal Lords Workshop. Feudal Lords is a forthcoming campaign setting from Alea Publishing. The setting is very Dark Ages of Europe in its feel, and this article talks about the low magic nature of the setting. However, while interesting, the article ultimately comes off as unsatisfying. Instead of discussing the mechanics of how to make a setting low magic, it instead talks about the various social groups of society (the church, the commoners, etc.), and why they would hate and seek to oppress arcane magic users.

While interesting, this is basically a slightly more substantive section on medieval European fears on witchcraft. There is a game mechanics section, for half-a-page, but all it really gives us is the mention that wizards must specialize in a school, and a single supernatural power (Hellfire) that a new base class can use against arcane spellcasters. Ultimately, this article was something of a let-down in that it showcased what seemed to be the least interesting aspects of a low magic campaign.

The next article, however, more than makes up for the shortcomings of the first. It presents a new prestige class, the renaissance magus. This prestige class is basically the superior version of the Mystic Theurge: taking levels in this PrC grants +1 level of existing arcane spellcasting, divine spellcasting, and psionic manifesting classes! While some readers are probably recoiling in horror now, rest assured that this does balance itself. Three levels don?t grant any bonuses to casting/manifesting (they grant abilities related to Concentration checks instead), and additionally, the class only grants one good save, and doesn?t grant any base attack bonus at all.

I really liked this article. Mystic Theurge-style prestige classes aren?t uncommon, but taking it to the next logical step seems incredibly cool, all the moreso for the fact that they balanced it so well. The article has accompanying opening text to give background for the character type that would delve into this PrC. Really, the only thing I found myself wanting was to see an epic progression chart, but that?s a minor quibble.

The next article is Backgrounds. Backgrounds are character explanations that you purchase for a small number of skill points. In return, you get a benefit. The idea is interesting, especially since it seems to almost be a merging of skills and feats. Likewise, some of the backgrounds are quite intruiging, such as the Draconic Ancestor backgrounds, which make certain skills class skills, depending on the dragon?s color. That said, there were some parts of this article that were confusing. For example, the introduction only intimates, but never clearly states, that you can only take backgrounds at your first character level, leaving it uncertain. Likewise it does explicitly state that no background can be taken more than once?and several backgrounds then state that they can indeed be taken multiple times. The idea here is solid, but the article needed to go through editing just once more.

The next article is The Lost Tribe. This is part of a continuing series examining the orc tribes from Alea?s book A Question of Honor. The article opens by talking about an innovative new mechanic: class templates. Class templates are basically templates you take, but they have entry requirements, and powers are only granted when you hit certain character levels. In effect, these are hybrid template-prestige classes. Very cool. However, the one thing I wanted to know was if the powers are given retroactively also. For example, if I take a class template at 7th level, do I gain the listed 1st- and 5th-level powers? It?s not spelled out.

The orc tribe discussed here is the Lost Tribe that titles this article. These orcs lair in an area that is experiencing a planar bleed from the Plane of Shadow, and as such, most of them have the Lost Tribe class template presented here. Of course, most of them are related to shadows. All seem balanced, though I suspect that the power that lets you regenerate 2 hit points per round when not in sunlight should be fast healing instead. Following this are a few new tribal feats that only members of this class template can take, and a map of the area where all these orc tribes live.

Following that is the Product Preview. We?re treated to a brief outline of the next several products from Alea, and general times of release. Surprisingly, the previewed product is the one that?s furthest from being released: The Book O? Death. Three new feats are given, two of which are Spelltouched feats from WotC?s Unearthed Arcana (though you don?t need that to use these). Following that is a new arcane spell. At first glance, the spell isn?t too original, since it just animates someone who dies under its effect as a wraith. However, it shows off a new spell type: immediate augmentation. Spells with that type have an outline in the description about certain circumstances where you can then cast another spell as a free or immediate action. In this case, when the target animates, you may then immediately cast command undead. This is another example of new mechanics that Alea Publishing makes that seem so natural, you wonder why you didn?t think of them first. The last bit of new crunch is a new disease?being infested with undead fleas. And you thought the living ones were bad.

The last section is also the longest. It?s a one-shot adventure set in the modern day. Titled, ?The Shafted Side? it?s an adventure from UKG Publishing?s Year of the Zombie, though you don?t need that product to run it. The premise is that the zombies have risen, and your characters and some NPCs have holed up in a building in town. Help may or may not be coming, but you can?t stay there forever. Virtually the entire product is descriptions of the surrounding areas and what the creatures there do. Very little outline for what happens when characters do something is given; the adventure is basically over when your characters escape or die.

Make no mistake, dying is more likely. Year of the Zombie zombies span a large variety, as evidenced by the three different types of zombies seen in the adventure. No quarter is given to the characters either; since they?ve been surrounded by a zombie horde for days at the start of the adventure, they begin with penalties against them. It gets worse from there. Needless to say, this adventure rocked pretty hard. If you?re a fan of zombies, or just need a quick pick up game, this one-shot is absolutely perfect. It even has several character stat blocks at the end, along with stat blocks for the zombies.

My major complaint with this issue was that a lot of the topics addressed could have had more coverage written for them; I can?t hold that against Alea though. My second major complaint is the one I have for virtually all of their products: no printer-friendly version! Even in greyscale, the gorgeous illustrations here would choke a printer. All in all though, this issue of Poor Gamer?s Almanac would be worthwhile even if you had to pay for it. And since it?s free, there?s absolutely no reason why you shouldn?t have started downloading it already.


LIKED: The new mechanics presented boast minor tweaks that seem to open up new avenues of gameplay. They seem so natural you can't help but wonder why no one thought of them before.

DISLIKED: Several sections don't get the coverage they deserve, letting you keenly feel how more could have been written. Also, a printer-friendly version is notably lacking.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Poor Gamer's Almanac (September 2005)
by Josh B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/01/2005 00:00:00
The Poor Gamer's Almanac's stated goal is to show the potential for pdf products, and to try and lure fencesitters over to the dark side... err, I mean turn them into fans of ebooks. Each issue is initially released for free, rising to the price of $2.00 after two months.

The physical presentation is of the same high quality I've seen in other products from Alea Publishing. Even the ads in the front are attractive. The only thing I would change is to add the wax seal page numbers I have seen in used in other products. Some of the phrasings and constructions used throughout the magazine seem a bit awkward, and there are minor mistakes scattered here and there.

The opening article is a design diary for the forthcoming Feudal Lords campaign setting; this installment discussing magic in the world. I must confess to only skimming it. I've conditioned myself to avoid design diaries; every time I follow one it seems the parts I like the best get cut by the time a product gets released.

The Renaissance Magus is similar to prestige classes such as the Mystic Theurge. In this case combining arcane and divine magic with psionic power. The only thing about this class that doesn't appeal to me is the entry requirements. While the ability to cast 2nd level arcane and divine spells, and be able to manifest 2nd level powers is a good baseline; feat or skill prerequisites would seem appropriate additions. On the other hand, there's nothing mechanically wrong with the class as is.

Next up is a section on backgrounds. These represent experience your character has prior to taking up a class, or a hereditary trait unique to your character. These are purchased with skill points; the number varies based on which background is chosen, or you may give up a feat in lieu of skill points. I'm very fond of this idea, and have used similar systems in the past. Some of the options are also interesting: I think the Draconic Ancestor background makes an excellent prerequisite for anyone wanting to multiclass into a sorcerer down the road. I'm not quite as fond of some of the listed costs. While it's hard to tell without testing every one, some of the costs strike me as needing at least minor adjustments.

Another interesting concept is that of the class template. A class template works almost like a second class. If a character meets all prerequisites, she can accept a level adjustment and begin gaining the benefits of the template as she increases in level. The particular template given here centers on a tribe of orcs who have been mutated by exposure to energies from the Plane of Shadow. Members of this tribe gain access to shadow mutations, Hide, Knowledge (The Planes) and Move Silently become class skills, and the ability to select Tribal Feats - three of which are included, all of which focus on enhancing your shadow abilities. The only thing I didn't like here was the method which determines what shadow mutations you are able to select from: rogue levels plus Dex modifier, which is then compared to a chart. This method just struck me as off. This article ends with a map which shows the areas of influence of various orc tribes.

A final informational article starts by listing products on Alea Publishing's release schedule, some of which include a brief description of the planned contents. The bulk of the article consists of preview material from the Book O' Death (Working Title). There are three new feats, two of which are Spelltouched feats; one of these apparently requiring you to die and be resurrected as one of its prerequisites. The other feat involves ritual sacrifices, and as such might get you taken off the invitation list for some of the better parties. A new necromancy spell is previewed - it also introduces the concept of Immediate Augmentation spells. The general idea seems to be that under certain conditions the casting of one of these spells then allows the casting of a another spell as either a free or immediate action. Interesting. Undead fleas round out this offering. These are presented in the format of a disease, rather than a creature. Having grown up in a rural cat-owning household I find regular fleas are more than nasty enough; what kind of sick mind dreams up a version of them that you can't kill?

Running away from the undead fleas, we find ourselves face to face with a Year of the Zombie scenario. It seems to be a well written standard zombie situation; you're trapped and the zombie hordes wish to eat your brains. Nothing wrong with that. Any excuse to kill zombies is a good excuse, as my dear old mum used to say. With the PCs suffering fatigue the deck seems stacked in favor to the walking dead. Having only the barest familiarity with d20 Modern, (I looked at the SRD once) I'm afraid I don't have much to offer on the mechanics of this adventure.

Overall this issue of PGA is a good read. The errors that kept popping up were a bit annoying but bearable. Sure I complained about almost all the mechanics, but that just goes to show I liked them. I only bother trying to fiddle with things I like. There's no reason you shouldn't check this out.

I'm more on the fence as concerns the overall goal of the magazine. It's certainly a laudable one, but I'm not sure how well it can currently be accomplished. Designers and fans alike should write in, and see what you can do to help.

LIKED: An interesting PrC, backgrounds and class templates.

DISLIKED: Various errors. Articles often refer you to other AP products for further examples. Which makes me then want those products so I can have the additional info. Which is obviously the whole idea but still.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Honor and Corruption
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/30/2005 00:00:00
Honor & Corruption is a product meant for fantasy d20 games dealing with a new sub-sytem that measures, well, honor and corruption among characters. However, there's more to it than just that. Almost half of the product is devoted to new races, new feats, and a new mechanic called sub-classes, many of which is only lightly (though always thematically) related to ideas of honor and corruption. And that's not even getting into the free Quests enhancement product that comes with the main product.

I want to take a moment out to mention the art here. Generally artwork isn't a factor I take into account in most products, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it here. Every page has a color "parchment" background, and there are frequent full-color illustrations on pages. Chapters begin with background pictures that are especially beautiful to look at. The only downside is that this will be murder on most printers, and there are no printer-friendly versions included.

The first chapter presents the honor mechanics. Basically, every character (unless you're Chaotic Evil) starts with some honor, and you have the chance to gain or lose more depending on your actions. The mechanics for this are simple, and place themselves nicely into the background. You can only gain so much honor during a game session, and you only check at the end of it, for example.

Chapter two talks about the rewards of honor. Basically, once per session you may make an honor check, and if you succeed at the DC for a particular Honor Reward (and meet its prerequisites), you may choose it. Given that fully fifty Honor Rewards are described here, there's plenty to make characters want to get at these.

Chapter three is the flip side, dealing with corruption. Corruption is measured as a negative honor score. The lower your score sinks, you gain a penalty relating to some form form of mental instability, and a bonus from some form of physical corruption. Only at the lowest form of corruption do you shed virtually all the negatives with being so twisted.

Chapter four introduces two new races, the Honorborn and the Tarnishborn. Thematically, these are like lesser aasimars or tieflings; these characters are born to human parents of either exceptional virtue or corruption, and have abilities relating to that. Neither have a level adjustment.

Chapter five introduces the subclass mechanic. Taking a subclass is very similar to multiclassing in a different class. The difference is that levels in a subclass tend to grant a very, very tiny increase to BAB and saves, and have class abilities (and, every so often, a few bonus hit points). That's it. In exchange, you take a -10% experience penalty.

Finally, chapter six has fifteen new feats. They feature rogue feats, which cost sneak attack damage dice to use. Not all of the feats here use the honor mechanics, though a goodly number do.

In terms of style and presentation, this product is equal to anything put out by any other company. I only noticed one error while reading through, and that was a number that had accidently been left off a table. While I have some philosophical differences with how a few things are done (such as the idea of a Neutral Evil character starting to go crazy because he becomes corrupt), I'm completely unable to deny that the formatting and layout here is rock-solid, and that the mechanics go the extra mile in how well they present themselves. Great products are found in the details, and in paying attention to those (such as mentioning if you can take 10 or 20 on honor checks, or listing the CR increase for corruption powers), Honor & Corruption shows itself to be a truly superb work.


LIKED: The extremely professional layout and design. The gorgeous artwork. How it seemed to go the extra mile in offering things (such as new races and feats) that thematically rounded out the new honor and corruption mechanics presented here.

DISLIKED: There should have been a printer-friendly version included in the download. Also, one or two things could have used further explanation (does damage reduction x/honorable mean against a magic weapon with the honorable or redeeming qualities? Or does any creature with a positive honor score have their weapons count as honorable for purposes of overcoming DR)?

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Honor and Corruption
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A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/26/2005 00:00:00
Some role playing books are like a bag of gold pieces. You find it laying in a treasure horde, and eagerly scoop it up, happy to add more gold to your coffers. But once you?ve read them, you realize that this treasure was all too quickly spent, and you?re going to have to go make another raid for more gold. Every now and then though, you come across a product that is more like an abandoned mine. At first glimpse, it?s just a dirty hole in the ground. But as you explore it, and make several repeated trips to this mine, you start finding a few shiny bits of rock. Eventually you stop to appraise these shiny trinkets, and you realize that you?re sitting on a diamond mine. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders is that kind of product.

When I first looked at the product it left me cold. Ho-hum, I thought. It?s just a book about knights and templars. I suppose it might be useful if I wanted to run a low-magic crusader type game. But as I took my time reading, and began really looking at the systems developed in this book, I became more and more impressed with the wealth of material presented in this package. Clearly, if a crusader era, low magic game is what you?re looking for, then this is the product for you. However, even if you aren?t interested in crusades, or even knights and paladins, there is still a host of useful material for almost any campaign.

The color cover artwork by Ryan Rawls, Joshua Raynack and N.C. Wyeth is fitting, depicting a group of knights in matching livery. The cover is laid out in the by now familiar ?faux-tome? style, with leatherized texture surrounding the artwork. Gilded lettering, an ?embossed? seal and faux keyhole complete the design. It?s well done, and would certainly fit right in on a bookshelf next to the latest offerings from WotC. One page of credits, one age of advertising, and one page of Table of Contents/introduction lead off before we come to the bulk of the book.

It?s been said that RPG products live or die on crunch. Colorful flavor text is great, but if I?m not getting something mechanically new, then why bother? In this respect, A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders does not disappoint. There is crunch aplenty in this book, and while it?s presented in the light of Alea?s default setting of Terra ? a Crusade era, Earth-like fantasy world, there are plenty of great parts that could be easily transplanted into any world. Appropriately enough, chapter one lays out the new rules used in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders. First up is the Class Template.

A Class Template functions much like any other inherited or acquired template. It is a set of statistics/abilities that are added to a qualified character in exchange for a Level Adjustment. The difference between a Class Template and a regular template is that the abilities gained via Class Template are applied to the character as he levels up. This is an excellent way to mirror the concept of a military order without having to design a prestige class. With Class Templates, any PC, no mater their class can operate as a member of the order, without dipping into multiclassing, or switching to a variant class. Want to play a Rogue with a heart of gold who serves as a scout for a group of Templars? Just add the appropriate Class Template and you?ve got a whole new twist on the character. For me, templates are one of the most creative parts of the d20 system, and this novel use of them is a real winner. As I said before, while the Class Template system is perfect for modeling military orders, it can be applied to far more than that. The system would also work well for modeling guilds, and even adventuring groups with a special focus. I know I?ll be getting a lot of mileage from this concept.

Another winner in chapter one is the system for Banking & Loans. Once again, this is a perfect fit for a book dedicated to military/crusading orders. Raynack rightly includes a brief history of medieval banking, noting the historical use of banking and lending by the Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon. It?s always nice o see that an author has done his homework before presenting a book dealing with the subject. I have seen banking systems that require the DM to possess a degree in Business Administration to run. A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders? system is much simpler, and ultimately more useable and fun. Aside from serving as a moneychanger, the main role of a bank is to offer loans. Loans are handled through the existing Skill, Feat and Level systems. Want to borrow 500 gp from your order? Take 5 ranks in the Loan skill. Pay it back and you get your skill points back to spend elsewhere. Want more money? Offering a Feat as collateral in conjunction with a few ranks in the Loan skill allows you to overdraft your account even further. Still need more cash? Take an Overdraft negative level and you can accrue some truly impressive debt! The system is simple and elegant. It is worth nothing that it does still require some monitoring by the DM. An unscrupulous player could take the Loan Feat in order to have cash to use now, then pay it off when he needs the Feat to qualify for a Prestige Class. While this may be a trifle unbalancing in some games, bear in mind that the PC is still operating without a Feat during this time. As long as the DM carefully monitors the use of this system, there should be no problems.

Sadly chapter one does contain a few clunkers. The Reputation & Fame rules are a nice idea, but really just boil down to the DM choosing to apply a situational modifier to social skills if your reputation is well known. And since situational modifiers aka Favorable & Unfavorable Conditions are a part of the core rules, this system doesn?t really offer anything new. The Multi-skill Check suffers from the exact same problem. While it makes sense that a few ranks in Survival might help someone making a Heal check in the wilderness, there?s no need for a new rules system to handle this. The section on Skill Synergies in the PHB specifically notes that the DM can add new synergies at will. Why complicate a perfectly useful system?

Chapter two dives right into the military orders themselves. Each of these features an appropriate Class Template full of new features for your characters. While many of these orders are based on standard, historical groups, there is plenty of accommodation made for fitting them into any fantasy game. Again, I was pleased to see the author using accurate history to lend flavor to his rules here. The Brotherhood of the Temple of Solomon historically was destroyed by tales of witchcraft. Here the author allows Knights Templar to chose to become dedicated foes of witchcraft, or worshipers of the dark forces themselves. The rules for this are well done, and could add a lot of interesting twists to a group working as part of this order. There are several purely fantasy based orders detailed as well. Need a military order dedicated to fighting undead? Try the Order of the Perpetual Day. There?s even a ?blank? order Class Template ready for DM?s to fill out and design their own military order.

Chapter three delivers thirty-four new feats, including a new class of feat ? the Order Feat. These feats are only available to a member of the appropriate military order. In the cases of some of the more powerful feats, like Divine Physician which allows you to cast any spontaneous cure spells as a free action, PC?s will need to be high ranking members of the order to qualify. The feats seem well balanced. While there are some such as Sudden Strike (add your initiative modifier to attack rolls vs. specific opponents) that are quite strong, they are all balanced with appropriate restrictions and limits.

Chapter Four sees the introduction of two new ten-level Prestige Classes ? The Grandmaster, and the Knight Commander. Both of these are really designed for high level play. The Grandmaster in particular being suggested as an Epic Prestige Class! This is completely appropriate. The Grandmaster is designed to be the head of a particular order. This character by his very nature must be a legendary figure. A PC can only enter this class if the previous Grandmaster is dead ? a ruling that evoked first edition nostalgia for me as I recalled the old named character levels and descriptions of challenging for rank. The Grandmasters abilities make him he supreme leader of his order. He can inspire his troops, and improve their combat abilities, even as they die to protect him. The Knight Commander is quite similar to he Grandmaster, but rather than a worldwide leader, the Knight Commander is instead the highest ranking member of an order in a single city. His abilities mirror those of the Grandmaster, with a few minor differences. Realistically, although it isn?t required, a PC should pass through Knight Commander before taking on the role of Grandmaster. These prestige classes are very much in the style the d20 designers originally intended. They are meant to evoke the atmosphere of a specific group, rather than just a set of new powers to tack on to a character. The roleplaying hooks connected to even becoming a Knight Commander of Grandmaster are truly grand. Not to mention the possibilities inherent in holding such a position.

Chapter five presents Remedies & Poultices, which are great ideas hampered by a clunky rules set. The concept behind these various liniments, compresses and poultices are to offer low magic games, or groups without a dedicated healer some access to rapid healing. It?s a great idea, and the actual concoctions themselves are well designed. Each mixture is detailed with the method of application, and the time needed to make it. The varieties of mixtures each allow healing for a specific type of wound. Falling damage requires a different treatment than wounds caused by acid, which in turn must be treated differently than burns. It?s a good idea, and one that makes sense in a world without a cleric to just ?kiss it and make it all better.? The problem is that these substances can only be created with a Multi-skill Check as detailed in Chapter One. It seems like the Mutli-skill Check was only designed for use with these materials. Here?s really no reason for it. Each of these potions could have just as easily been created with an appropriate Craft skill check.. Considering the the makers Heal ranks are sued to determine the duration and effectiveness of these substances, I just don?t see why Raynack felt the need to tack on a clumsy new system to their creation. It feels artificial. Fortunately, it?s a simple matter to just dump this system and use the standard DC?s listed with a normal skill check.

New Spells are outlined in Chapter Six, as well as a new system of Spell Augmentation. Spell Augmentation allows as caster to use special materials (usually herbs) to slightly enhance the effectiveness of a spell. These effects can only be brought about by a PC that has the appropriate class feature instructing them in this ability, or by a highly skilled scholar who researches these variations on casting. Each spell is listed, in standard format, along with the following additional information: The DC required to research the augmentation; the components required to effect the augmentation; alternative components that can be used with added difficulty, and the augmented effect each caster will receive modified by the caster?s level. It?s nice to see that the author included augmentations that will apply even into Epic level play. The spell augmentation system is a real gem, and will combine nicely with other d20 products that offer unique spell components to enhance spells.

Appendix one describes four new monsters, and two modified versions of the Vampire Template from the MM. The monsters are clearly designed for Alea?s default Terra setting. The Jackal, Dire Jackal, Scarab Beetle, and Spawn of Anubis all have an Egyptian flavor to them, as do the new Vampires. The Egyus Vampire summons different animals, and creates different spawn. It also has a different slate of weaknesses. Likewise the Romus (Roman) Vampire summons different beasts, and can assume different forms from a standard MM vampire. Again, the weaknesses are changed as well. These variant templates while clearly designed for a ?Cleopatra? style Rome vs. Egypt campaign could be a real surprise for any group of adventurers who think they are dealing with a ?normal? vampire.

Appendices two and three contain three maps. Two of these are aerial views of a keep and a castle. They contain no legends and are ready for a DM to label and drop into his existing campaign. The third map is an overland view showing an area controlled/contested by Templars and Teutogens. Again, it seems clear that this map is designed with Terra in mind, and has been labeled appropriately. The labels are vague enough that an enterprising DM could file the serial numbers off and use this map in his own campaign as well. It?s worth noting that each of the maps has been included as a high resolution JPG file. This will allow easy modification in any image editing software.

While most OGL disclaimers are fairly dry reads, it?s worth pointing out that Alea has embraced the OGL concept fully with this product. Under the open game content section on page 44 is mention that this book is to be accompanied by an ?Alea Publishing Group Reference Document? or APGRD. This file would contain only the open content found in A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders, and is designed to allow publishers easy access to this material. While my review copy did not contain this document, this is an admirable feature, that really encompasses the spirit of the OGL, and I applaud APG for their efforts.

If you?re itching to run a Crusaders game ? don?t waste time. Buy this book now. There a mass of great information in this file, making it a must have if you are playing such a campaign. If the crusades aren?t your thing, this book still offers a lot of bang for your buck. Five bucks gets you a great system for designing new military orders, guilds, etc. as well as some excellent crunchy feats and a simple and elegant banking/lending system. While the spell augmentation system is slightly flawed by the Multi-skill check it?s easy enough to salvage, and useful enough to make it worth doing so. OL isn?t a shiny bag of easily grabbed gold. It?s a demanding read that you?ll need to mine to truly harvest its riches.


LIKED: The banking system is simple and elegant. The Class Template concept is a great way to build custom classes, especially for troublesome classes lke Paladin that otherwise have problems with mlti-classing.

DISLIKED: The Multi-Skill check sysem is clnky, and unecessary. It adds uneeded complication to an otherwise great idea. The rules for Reputation and Fame were likewise more complex than need be. Good ideas, but clunky implementation.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
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Mindcraft
by Josh B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/25/2005 00:00:00
As a slightly crusty (and on occasion odd-smelling) gaming veteran, I haven't been content with psionics since 1st edition AD&D. So I dove into Mindcraft expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

I always like to get the bad stuff out of the way first. Most of my complaints with this particular product are style related. The first of these is the advertised page count: the listed 64 pages includes the front and back covers, ads for other Alea Publishing products and the OGL notification.

As advertised it comes with two versions; one with all the bells and whistles, and one stripped down to be less abusive to your printer. While it's not that I dislike this, I would have personally preferred a landscape version for a more comfortable on-screen read.

Despite my small complaints, the overall visual presentation of the product is excellent. The backgrounds and page borders are attractive, but I never felt they were intrusive or distracted from the content. Mindcraft is bookmarked, enabling you to easily jump from section to section.

Moving on to the game content itself, we are presented with two core classes: the Mind Walker and Mental Warrior, which are similar to the Psion and Psychic Warrior classes. There are also two prestige classes, the Master of the Craft and Mental Inquisitor, rules for epic progression of the two core classes and rules for using reputation. Mindcraft also introduces four new skills; three of which are used in conjunction with the power system, 13 mental feats and three epic feats.

The power system presents several changes from the Expanded Psionics Handbook. Powers are assigned to slots which can not be changed later. Rather than a number of uses per day, a nonlethal damage based fatigue system has been used; overuse of powers can leave a character drained or unconscious.

The individual powers are assigned to one of eight categories. While most of the abilities do not have a level requirement, the more efficacious abilities will have one or more prerequisite powers. This new system has its good and bad points. While it allows you to customize your power selection, the inability to switch out old powers can leave you stuck with something you don't like down the road. The Energy Control powers may disappoint some players; while many of them have quite powerful or interesting effects, you are limited to pursuing only one of the elemental trees.

The remainder of the book details several new items, a selection of monsters and finishes with a brief overview of a psionic organization.

While it certainly isn't for everyone, Mindcraft presents an interesting take on psionics. Anyone dissatisfied with the regular system, or simply looking for a change of pace should consider taking a look.

LIKED: Good presentation and layout. Well bookmarked. Interesting variation on the psionics system.

DISLIKED: More accurate page count needed, would have liked a landscape formatted version.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mindcraft
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Honor and Corruption
by Steven P P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/31/2005 00:00:00
The honor system in this book is just a little bit of genius -- it takes the d20 Modern Wealth system and converts it into a method of treating one's personal Honor as a resource, with which one can purchase either permanent or temporary benefits in line with the great knights and so on.

I can see using this in a variety of campaigns and think that it lends itself to all kinds of expansion.

For example, change the name to Glory, and make a few other small changes, and use it in a Viking (or even Werewolf: the Apocalypse styled) campaign.


QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Honor and Corruption
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APG Paper Tiles Vol. III: Future Basic Room Set
by Douglas B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/29/2005 00:00:00
I am enjoying the product.
This is especially the case with the floor tiles.
I can use them in my Dwarven Forge Sci-Fi and Cavern Master Maze layouts.
It allows my change the floors slightly to specialize rooms made with these 3d Terrain pieces by Dwarven Forge.


LIKED: The Runway especially!

DISLIKED: They need more Sci-Fi tiles!

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
APG Paper Tiles Vol. III: Future Basic Room Set
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A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
by Anthony L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/08/2005 00:00:00
The main concept in this book - a class template for advancement in an order - is an idea that's astoundingly simple and yet no one has done it before. It's a great idea, and I quickly found that prestige classes were getting replaced in my games by class templates - an idea taken from this book.

So even if you don't like military orders all that much - if you find yourself using prestige classes in most of your games, or all of your games, you owe it to yourself to check out this product. You may find yourself using more and more class templates instead.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Question of Loyalty: A Guidebook to Military Orders
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Professions: Game Enhancement
by Mary J. J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/28/2005 00:00:00
Informative. I admit, I was expecting more details, more pages, but on the other hand, I don't feel I did wrong spending $1.50 on it. It will be put to good use in my new campaign!

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Professions: Game Enhancement
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