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Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
Publisher: Agate RPG
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2014 19:25:19
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/20/tabletop-review-shadows-
-of-esteren-the-monastery-of-tuath/

The Monastery of Tuath is the fourth release for the critically-acclaimed Shadows of Esteren series. Each of the four Kickstarters has been more successful than the last, with The Monastery of Tuath bringing in 1,053 backers and raising $137,000. Not bad for a fifty page supplement and adventure combination, eh? Well, it deserves it. You might remember that back in 2012 I wrote glowing reviews of Book 1: Universe and Book 0: Prologue. The series would go on to win three awards in the 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards like Best Art, Best New Game and Best Core Rulebook. 2013 only saw a single release for Shadows of Esteren – Book 2 Travels. While I personally wasn’t impressed with the content of this book, especially not compared to the high quality of the first two releases, the art was still some of the best we’ve seen in years, and the release easily picked up our Best Art award in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. Now here we are with the first SoE release of 2014, and I’m happy to say that The Monastery of Tuath is a return to greatness for the series and well worth picking up even if you never plan to use the adventure or location it contains.

The Monastery of Tuath is comprised of two sections: a supplement describing the location, the history and the background of the Monastery, and then an adventure that runs twenty some pages. The adventure is heavily influenced by In the Name of the Rose, which has also spawned a film starring Sean Connery and a poorly done video game rip off, Murder in the Abbey. Of course, the adventure isn’t a straight homage. It has its own unique Shadows of Esteren twist, involving magic, monsters and curses. At its core, though, the adventure is very much a whodunit style murder mystery with false finishes and a Rogues’ Gallery that will keep players busy for quite some time.

The first half of the book will see the most use, as it gives a lot of information not just on Tuath’s monastery, but monastic life in general for the Shadows of Esteren setting. The prologue is a two page piece of fiction depicting how this particular monastery came to be, along with the origins of its particular saint. You will also see how the number six pervades everything in the religion of the One. Six prayers, six notions, six vows and so on. It’s an interesting mix of Masonic and Christian homages. The six vows especially provide some great role-playing opportunities for any character who is a servant of the One. If you’re looking to play one of Soustraine’s adepts, you’ll definitely want to pick up The Monastery of Tuath for all the content and potential story seeds you and your GM will find in it.

I absolutely loved the section entitled “Monasteries of the One,” as it gives you an amazing amount of detail on monastic life within the game. In fact, it’s so well done, other low fantasy games could easily pick this up and use the content provided with only a little bit of modification. There’s so much info about daily life, chores, potential health and income issues that come with such a secluded life, and of course – church politics.

The first half of the book concludes with information about the specific monastery the book is named after – providing a small map, a detailed look at each room (21 in all) within the monastery, and a set of thirteen NPCs that currently reside within. I was really impressed by all aspects of the piece. The art and content were top notch and the topic is one that most games really don’t give you an in-depth look at. Generally, monks in tabletop RPGs tend to be more of the eastern variant, and getting over two dozen pages on the classical western version made for a very fun and interesting read.

Then there is the adventure. Although Book 0: Prologue gave us a set of really nice adventures, the one within The Monastery of Tuath is the best so far. If this is any indication of how the upcoming Ghost Stories adventure collection will be, I think Shadows of Esteren will be up for a few more awards this year as well.

The adventure is entitled “Vengeful Words,” and the piece says it should take you five hours or more to complete. The adventure contains three acts, each of which is comprised of multiple scenes, so the adventure could run a lot longer depending on how intricate investigations get or if your players are more used to hack and slash style gaming rather than adventures where success lies with wits over die rolls. “Vengeful Words” focuses on a murder mystery that takes place within the grounds of the monastery. At first it appears to be straight forward, but it is anything but. Sure, you have corrupt religious officials and a nebulous big bad who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the adventure itself (there are allusions to him though), but it’s got all the makings of a great horror story as well as a whodunit. You have a cursed book and vengeance from beyond the grave, and it’s definitely an adventure that will keep players entertained from beginning to end.

Besides the playing of the adventure, I also have to comment on how well laid out the piece is as well. While the Shadowrun Missions format of adventures is by far the gold standard in the industry right now for ease of use and flow, the SoE adventure layout is a close second indeed. There are little icons to help clue a GM in to certain things that will/should happen when they appear in the text. These include the Gore, Supernatural, Suspense and Psychology tags, along with cues for music or text in red that highlight the most important aspects of the adventure. “Vengeful Words” is just really well done in all respects, and even if you have no plans to play the adventure, it’s still a lot of fun to read through as well as to see how SoE adventures are laid out, allowing even inexperienced GMs to run them smoothly.

All in all, The Monastery of Tuath is a terrific piece and one well worth picking up. Although it is only fifty pages long, your money might be better spent picking this up as a PDF rather than in physical form, as this is a short supplement rather than a full sourcebook or core rulebook. Regardless what version you pick up though, The Monastery of Tuath is terrific and a fantastic addition to an already awesome RPG line. If you’ve missed out on the previous Shadows of Esteren releases, this might be the time to jump in and see what you’ve been missing.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
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DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/05/2014 09:45:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/22/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classicsmaximum-xcrawl-free-rpg-day-2014/

This year, Goodman Games’ Free RPG Day offering consists of not one, but TWO adventures for lucky gamers. Dungeon Crawl Classics fans get Elzemon and the Blood Drinking Box while Xcrawl fans get Dungeons Detonation 2014. This is my first exposure to Xcrawl, so I can’t speak to what the game was like before it moved over to Pathfinder mechanics, but it does mean that fans of 3.5 style gaming get two different adventures for their gaming group this year.

Our DCC adventure is only five pages long plus a full page piece of art and the usual (awesome) Doug Kovacs map. This means the adventure is a quick one that can be played in only a single session and also that Xcrawl is the main draw in this year’s twofer. Elzemon and the Blood Drinking Box is for seven to nine 1st Level characters and consists of a seven piece dungeon crawl. This particular adventure sees the PCs hired by the wizard, Rhalabhast of Many Eyes, to steal an artifact known as Yarafad’s Box. The box requires the regular feeding (5 HP per day) of Lawful aligned blood or it will lose a horrific monster upon the world. Of course the mission isn’t THAT straightforward, and there are some definite complications along the way, both physically and mentally. The adventure lasts roughly five days and besides the usual horrors that come from a hack and slash dungeon, there is a more cerebral element to the entire affair that the PCs may never become wise to. Players will also have to solve puzzles, fight off strange and sinister creatures that should not be and, of course, obtain Yarafad’s box. It’s a pretty straightforward adventure, save for the climatic plot twist, and as such it’s a great way to introduce gamers to the mechanics and atmosphere of Dungeon Crawl Classics. You also have two possible endings, one of which may spur the GM on to do several follow up adventures based off of revenge attempts upon the PCs. Not a bad little affair in all.

As Xcrawl takes up two thirds of the Free RPG Day offering, we will spend most of our time with that. Again, this is my first exposure to Xcrawl so I can’t comment on what it was like before the conversion over to Pathfinder, but I know Pathfinder pretty well, I feel comfortable commenting on the adventure even whilst admitting my ignorance of the overall setting.

From what I can tell, Xcrawl is a comedy-adventure, almost American Gladiators or The Running Man sort of affair, where player characters are celebrity entertainers of sorts. Smash T.V. is a nother good example for you old school video game fans. That doesn’t make the dangers or threat of death any less real though. The adventure, Dungeon Detonation 2014 is for characters between Levels 6-8, but there is no mention of a suggested party size. The idea of the adventure is that the PCs have agreed to take part in an Xcrawl for charity, giving them some nice public exposure and raise money for a good cause.

The dungeon in this adventure is a single level, but as Xcrawl is an entertainment/sport type of deal, the PCs won’t be the only party taking part. There will be five teams in all trying to make it through the dungeon, but it will be successively, not all at once. That’s too much chaos for all but the best GMs to deal with. For each piece of treasure the PCs collect, an equal piece will be donated to the “Jose Villalobos House for War Widows and Orphans. ” PCs will have to collect the most treasure and survive the most encounters to win.

What I found interesting is that Xcrawl takes place is a fantasy version of our real world, similar to how Shadowrun does, although Xcrawl has a fantasy bent instead of a Sci-Fi one. I think players will either really like or really hate this, depending on how serious they take their gaming. Me? I like to laugh personally, so I enjoyed the somewhat farcial nature of this piece.

Xcrawl isn’t the most well known gaming setting, so it was a wise idea to pare it with Pathfinder since that’s one of the most popular tabletop RPGs right now. You also get a half page of glossary and vernacular specific to Xcrawl to help new players and GMs alike become comfortable with the setting. The adventure also gives you a sidebar a few pages in (it probably should have been right up front) explaining a quick overview on how Xcrawl works, setting and mechanics wise. So even though this is a bit of an obscure game compared to a lot of Free RPG Day 2014 offerings, it should be an easy adventure to figure out and have fun with.

The dungeon itself is actually pretty long, with over a dozen rooms. Of course not every room has traps or monsters to best. Aside from the specific Xcrawl trappings, it’s a pretty standard hack and slash affair. Truly though, it’s the uniqueness of the Xcrawl experience that makes this adventure both fun and memorable. Of course, that could just be because I’m viewing this as a one-shot. I’m not sure that I’d enjoy a full length campaign of this nature. It’s like HoL – this type of adventure is best served as small treats rather than something you play regularly. Overall, I though Dungeon Detonation was very well done. I laughed at the absurd nature of the piece and I also enjoyed this variant on the usual Pathfinder style hack and slash experience. It’s definitely an adventure to try, but the overall campaign setting will definitely be for a niche audience.

All in all, another Free RPG Day gives us another quality offering from Goodman Games. If you missed out on this year’s release, it will probably make it out as a PDF to the general public at some point, so don’t feel too bad if you live far away from a brick and mortar store. Packaging both pieces as a “twofer” ensures gamers who pick this get two adventures for two different systems and thus gives Goodman Games a better chance of gaining a new fan. After all, someone might be a diehard Pathfinder fan and thus will be able to play (and hopefully enjoy) Xcrawl thus giving them impetus to pick up Maximum Xcrawl (The Pathfinder variant) core rulebook once it is released. Same with DCC. That still may appeal to a gamer like myself, who generally doesn’t care for Pathfinder or D&D 3.0/3.5. Both adventures are very different in tone and mechanics, so there should be something for everyone but the devout sci-fi gamer to enjoy with this release.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014
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Wield
Publisher: John Wick Presents
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2014 08:19:27
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/07/03/tabletop-review-wield/<-
br />
Wield is one of those Kickstarter successes that just takes you by surprise. Looking for only three thousand dollars, Wield brought in nearly 1,100 backers and raised over twenty-seven grand! Not bad for a little game that could be yours for as low as five dollars. I know I was a backer. I mean, at worst I would be out five dollars and I’ve been looking for a game similar to Bloodlust, except in English. Hey, I may speak/read/write French, but very few of my friends do, and Bloodlust is only in francais. Wield definitely felts inspired by Bloodlust in terms of the core theme, but it differs greatly in both mechanics and demographics. Bloodlust for example is very dark and filled with mature themes while Wield can be for any age as it’s extremely setting-lite. Mechanics-wise…well, I can’t say I cared for Wield, and we’ll take look why below.

So what is Wield about? Well think of Elric and Stormbringer, Cyric and Godsbane, and other fantasy character wielding an intelligent magical weapon. Wield takes you into such a world, but instead of playing the hero who wields the magical blade or powerful mystic amulet, you will actually be playing as the self-aware item itself! That’s such a fun concept. The item can be anything from the usual weapon or armor to something more outlandish like a musical instrument, coin, or pet carrier. The only limit is your imagination.

There are comprehensive and detailed character creation rules for your item, known as a vatcha. Like any protagonists in a tabletop RPG, the vatcha have a goal to accomplish and will go through several thrilling adventures until they meet it or are destroyed. Character creation rules are easy as you choose an item you want to be, a goal to have and a way that your ancient artifact can be destroyed. Then you have to come up with a connection with each other vatcha being played. This creates a shared background and some potential story hooks for the person running the game. You should have a character up and running in ten minutes unless you and your friends are stumped for a connection between the flaming shield of doom and an enchanted mattress cover.

Things start to get a little more complicated when heroes come into play. You see, each vatcha is wielded by a hero, but a player does not play both their vatcha and its hero. No, instead, you play your vatcha and the vatcha of SOMEONE ELSE’S hero. This creates more potential for storytelling as well as conflict. While this is an interesting idea in theory, most people don’t like to play more than one character at a time. Sure there are exceptions like Dungeon Crawl Classics where the norm is to start out playing two-three characters per player, but the majority of games feel best when one person plays one character. Wield realizes asking a person to play two very different characters, one human and one a magical item, can be difficult so it suggests using two different voices or to have the hero card in front of your mouth when speaking as the hero, so everyone knows which one is talking/acting. That’s totally fine and it works for me. The problem I have is that this can lead to PvP conflict and that rarely turns out well for a gaming party. If player A wants the hero to do something the vatcha does not (or vice versa), which will probably happen more often than not, this can lead to some groups getting catty or spiteful towards each other. It could even lead to the hero trying to destroy the vatcha or the vatcha dispatching with the hero and looking for a new pawn to wield it. This is either going to be a good thing or a very bad thing, depending on the makeup of your group. If one or more player is immature or treats tabletop gaming as SERIOUS BUSINESS, this can turn out poorly indeed. If however, everyone remembers it’s just a silly fun game, these kinds of inter-character conflict can become a lot of fun and allow for memorable adventures. Just be sure you know your troupe well before deciding to play Wield.

Another alternative is to let Fate (the GM) play the Heroes as it would any other NPCs. This is a little more traditional and may work better as Fate does create the heroes. Otherwise when the heroes are handed out randomly to the Players, it’s like getting a pregenerated character as you would at a convention or starter set. It’s harder to become emotionally attached to a pregen, so some people playing Wield might not enjoy playing someone else’s creation. At the same time, heroes are actually meant to be disposable in Wield as the vatcha are the main attraction in this game. A Vatcha will go through several heroes as the game goes on, especially if you are playing a series of adventures or a campaign. Of course, a vatcha disposing of its hero may lead to hurt feelings by the person playing the hero, but again, it all comes back to making sure your group has the right mental makeup to play Wield. It’s definitely a niche game best left in the hands of a specific audience.

Another interesting aspect of Wield is that neither heroes nor vatcha level up, gain new abilities or advance in the same way one usually thinks of in a role playing game. In fact, both will stay the same from character creation to character death. This is definitely a game about role-playing and not min/maxing, which I like. Of course, people do like to see some sort of change or progression in the game and that’s where powers and control come into play.

Each vatcha can have up to three domains of powers. They don’t have to have three mind you, and generally having a single domain instead of two or three can be more helpful if you want to specialize in a specific power set instead of being multi-faced. Think of it as extremely skilled or a jack of all trades, master of none. Now the vatchas have these powers but they can’t directly use them. That’s what the heroes are for. They need a human patsy to channel the powers. However the more power/powers given to the hero, the less control the vatcha has over its would-be patsy. Too much power and the hero can take control, as well as learn the way to truly destroy the vatcha. It’s a very interesting give and take to be sure and with the right party makeup, Wield offers some unique and wondrous role-playing opportunities.

Now we come to the mechanics, and it is where the game falls apart in my opinion. You generally roll 2d6 to resolve things, but there are also sorts of ways to get bonus dice such as if your personality, background or vatcha power are relevant to the roll. A couple pages later, it mentions you can get up to two more bonus dice for proper equipment for a task. So your roll can get up to 7d6. That’s fine. So is the ladder of command. You have no roll for easy tasks, a target of 6 for a hard tasks, 12 for heroic, 18 for epic and 25 (shouldn’t that be 24) for impossible. Again, this is a fine scale as well. The problem is going to be remembering and justifying the bonus dice you get for each roll. I think that you’re going to see people forget more often than not all the options for bonus dice until after they have rolled. Challenge will also be highly depending on how Lax or tough Fate is as a GM.

Combat is where things get pretty weird and this is where the game will either really intrigue you or really turn you off. Unfortunately it did the latter for me. Every Player has to decide to attack or defend. You can’t do both. Fate counts to five and then if you are going to attack, you have to point at who you want to attack with one to five fingers outstretched. If you are going to defend, you place an arm across your chest with one to five fingers outstretched. The number of fingers outstretched means the difficulty roll you are willing to make. The five levels are the same for tasks (0, 6, 12, 18, 25). Now everyone has to do this at the exact same time, which can lead to a bit of a cluster. Then after everyone’s choices are revealed, you can choose to switch from an attack to a defense roll. Then all the rolling starts. However, there is no initiative in this game, so instead of a carefully laid out turn of events, Wield becomes a little too chaotic for my liking, with everyone rolling and resolving at the same time. It could also be that I didn’t care for the examples or descriptive text in this section. Nothing seems to flow well or read smoothly in the mechanics part of the book. I think there are a LOT of easy ways to improve things, and that Wield will be one of those games that lives or dies based on how well a local GM house rules the thing. I think if the team behind Wield had spent a little more time defining the rules (20% of the rulebook is fiction) and devoted some more pages to it, a lot of the potential for mishaps could have been easily avoided. Wield is a very rules lite game, which I enjoy, but this is one of those times where I feel combat could have actually used an overhaul.

So Wield is one of those games where I’m not sure if I really like it or not. I love the concept and character creation aspects of the game, but playing the game can be a real mess and utterly confusing for younger or casual gamers. Because of the high chance for PvP issues, it’s also a game that should only be played by people whose feelings don’t hurt easily and who can remember that a RPG is something to experience, not something to WIN. I think once the Wield Companion comes out and I have a lot more time with the game under my belt I can give Wield a definitive thumbs up or down. Right now I’ll say “thumbs in the middle” as it’s a very unique product and if you pick it up and dislike it, you’re only out five dollars. Compare that to money spent on Pathfinder or some other game that requires multiple 30-40 dollar rulebook purchases. My advice is give the electronic version of Wield a try and see if it is right for you and your friends. If not, at least you have an interesting curiosity piece in your collection.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wield
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Call Of Catthulhu, Book II: UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KATZEN, the Cat Herder's Guide
Publisher: Catthulhu.com
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2014 06:37:38
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/17/tabletop-review-call-of-
-catthulhu-deluxe-book-ii-unaussprechlichen-katzen-the-cat-h-
erders-guide/

Call of Catthulhu is one of those games that has really taken on a life of its own. I’ll admit that, when I picked up the basic version of Call of Catthulhu in September of 2013, I originally picked it up because it was under five bucks and I thought my wife would find it really cute. Call of Catthulhu ended up being a very solid rules-light game and I found myself really impressed by it. Then there was the Call of Catthulhu Kickstarter, for which 783 backers enabled not only a deluxe version of the game, but multiple upcoming supplements as well as a deluxe boxed version. I even got all three of my pets (two cats and a rabbit) in miniatures form for the game! In April of 2014, the first book of Call of Catthulhu Deluxe, The Nekonomicon, was released, and it too was excellent. So of course, it was a long wait for Unaussprechlichen Katzen to be released. Okay, it was like six weeks, but it felt like a long time. Did the second release for Call of Catthulhu Deluxe continue the trend of awesomeness that is a game about cats dealing with the machinations of animal versions of The Great Old Ones and Elder Gods? Let’s find out.

Unaussprechlichen Katzen, the Cat Herder’s Guide is meant to be the game’s equivalent to a DM or GM’s guide – or at least that is what you would think from the name. That is a correct assessment of the piece. Since all the rules to play Call of Catthulhu were published in the Nekonomicon, you don’t have to worry about finding things like new mechanics, prestige classes or the like here. This makes Unaussprechlichen Katzen more of an optional purchase for those who really love the game rather than a book you NEED to play Call of Catthulhu with. As such, you could just pick up the basic game or The Nekonomicon and be able to play Call of Catthulhu just fine (and for under ten bucks), but for those that want a little more out of their game, Unaussprechlichen Katzen will definitely give you what you need and then some.

Part I is entitled, “Things About the World.” Here is where you will find a lot of background information about the Call of Catthulhu setting. If you go into this game expecting to see house cats fighting Nyarlathotep or Shoggoths, well, this is not that game. This a more light hearted parody of the Cthulhu Mythos. You have Catthulhu, Hastpurr, Doggone, Phatphroggua and more. So this is not a 1:1 transfer of something like Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark, Trail of Cthulhu or the like. Call of Catthulhu is its own beast, with its own setting, background and mythos. Cthulhu fans will definitely get all the in-jokes, but Call of Catthulu is definitely its own game and will play very differently, as well as distinctly, from other Lovecraft inspired games.

In “Things About the World,” you’ll learn of core concepts with the Call of Catthulhu base setting. You’ll understand how important dreaming is to the game, as well as the concept of Gods and their place in the Call of Catthulhu world. I should point out it is very different from most Lovecraftian games, as the gods here are more or less archetypes that primarily dwell in the unconscious collective as opposed to out and about. This alone changes the nature of the Mythos creatures and helps to really make Call of Catthulhu its own game. You’ll also get a lot of information on cults and how they operate in the Call of Catthulhu world. The chapter continues on, giving you an in-depth look at a dozen or so animal gods and two human gods. Here you will find information about how these gods think, what their goals are and the specific makeup of their cults. The chapter then concludes with enemies of cats, like the Shaggoth, Mew-Go and guns. It’s very cute and by the time you are done Part I, you really won’t have a problem looking at Call of Catthulhu as a fully-fleshed out, well defined game rather than a light parody.

Part II is, “Running the Game,” and it is chock full of advice for the budding Cat Herder. It spends a decent amount of space explaining how to introduce new players to RPGs in general, gamers to Call of Catthulhu and also running a game about house cats facing off against cosmic terrors for children. All three of these pieces are excellent and worth reading no matter how experienced a gamer you are. I do feel Call of Catthulhu, with its easy rules and cute motif of playing as cats, makes it very inviting to younger, casual and inexperienced gamers alike. It’s stacked in favor of the players, unlike games like Dungeon Crawl Classics, earlier editions of D&D and Call of Cthulhu, which is neither good nor bad as a whole, but it definitely makes learning a game helpful when you don’t have to worry about dying fifteen minutes into the experience. I have at least one friend and my wife who have never played a tabletop RPG before, but both of whom are excited for the boxed set to arrive because they really want to play Call of Catthulhu with all the physical bells and whistles. Neither have ever played an RPG before, but they loved the display Call of Catthulhu had set up at Awesome Con DC this year, both are women, both are in their 30s, and both will be taking their first RPG plunge later this summer when the boxed set arrives. That tells you something about the universal appeal of this strange little game.

“Running the Game” also talks a little more in-depth about rules mentioned previously. It also gives some advice on playing a cat. After all, a cat doesn’t think like a human or know what human oriented things like doorbells, wrenches or fire extinguishers are. Likewise, they see some dice and will play with them, but not in the same way a human would. These are very different creatures and this has to be kept in mind. After all, a feral cat who has never been inside a house will have no idea what a bathtub or a bookshelf are. Likewise, the cat herder is given advice on how to play all the various NPCs that a cat might encounter, along with a strong admonishment for Cat Herders who let the NPCs take center stage instead of the characters. It’s never good when a GM for ANY game has a pet Mary Sue style NPC that they whip out, and Call of Catthulhu tries to nip that thinking in the bud immediately. Another great chapter.

Part III is entitled, “Cattventure Time.” This chapter gives you advice on how to create adventures of your own, along with three already made adventures to run for players. There is some great advice on adventure writing in here that applies to any game, not just Call of Catthulhu. You also get a printable challenge sheet for a quick reminder of what the PCs will encounter and also an icon guide to help you read the published adventures.

As for the adventures themselves, I have to admit, I only liked one of the three. The first adventure, “The Buzz Downstairs” is a lot of fun. It captures the feel of a Call of Cthulhu like adventure from a cat’s perspective, while still being a lot lighter in tone and scope. It really showcases the mechanics of the game and makes an excellent introduction on how to play Call of Catthulhu. It’s really well done and one of the highlights of the book. The second adventure, “Bay City Krazy Kosmonaut Krash Down,” just didn’t do it for me. This adventure is set in the 60s and has cats dealing with a Russian Astronaut who brought something inhuman back with him during his failed descent (which also explains why he is in San Fran instead of, say, Moscow). It’s weird to be sure, but it never feels quite right. The flow always seems off and it’s hard to divorce player (human) knowledge from character (cat) knowledge with this one. It’s an interesting idea, but I feel like it needed to be fleshed out and/or playtested a bit more.

The third adventure, “Greener Pastures,” is – to be blunt – pretty terrible. It’s poorly thought out in idea, scope and execution and quite frankly, I’m surprised it was allowed entry into the book since it was by a third party author and the editorial team could have easily refused it or sent it back for more work. Essentially, the adventure is about a shelter going from No-Kill to Kill and the cats having to escape into the wild (so to speak) in order to live. This is just a bad idea on all fronts. This actually happens occasionally in real life due to the overabundance of animals that aren’t fixed. It’s one thing to have a fantastical adventure about cats doing crazy stuff. It’s another to have something this dark and realistic. I feel it completely misses the point of Call of Catthulhu as well as the tone it is meant to represent. It’s not an adventure to even think of playing with children or people who love cats, and the end result is kind of a mean spirited look at shelters and the people who try to give abandoned pets some kind of life. The conclusion, where all the cats are either killed or set free into the world where they will no doubt be eaten, hit by a car or starve to death because they have no foraging skills, is equally terrible. This thing really, REALLY needed to be thought out better in terms of scope, writing and mood. Really, REALLY disappointed here, as a lot of the target audience for this game will want to have nothing to do with this piece. I can’t say I will blame them.

Finally, the chapter ends with a section on “Other Settings,” which is essentially a collection of story/campaign seeds for an enterprising Cat Herder. These are all interesting, although a Cat Herder might be better off coming up with their own homebrew piece from scratch, just to flex those creative muscles.

The last section of Unaussprechlichen Katzen is actually a set of appendices. Appendix A is kind of a quick recap of Chapter I. Appendix H is “The Book of Two-Foots,” which gives more a look at the weirdness that is the human race. You get a look at how cats view people, their own vernacular for different ones, and even a look at how they appear in dreams. This is a very cute and very funny section.

Appendix K is, “The Book of Dogs.” I have to admit, when it was first announced as a stretch goal, I thought it was a silly idea at first. I mean, we don’t have playable rabbits, squirrels, sloths or komodo dragons, so why add the option to play as a race that is already adversarial to the core concept of the game? It seemed a slippery slope. The more I thought about it though, the more I liked the idea. After all, some people prefer dogs to cats, and this will allow the game to sell more copies as well as open itself up to a larger audience. Plus, it’s kind of (but not quite) like allowing a game of Sabbat vampires instead of Camarilla ones in Vampire: The Masquerade. Doable and a lot of fun, albeit it with a very different tone. That’s not to say that dogs are inherently evil in Call of Catthulhu – just that they have very different goals and thought processes from cats. “The Book of Dogs” really highlights their worldview and converts the game from one about Cat PCs to Dog PCs in an impressively short amount of space, complete with full character creation rules. You even get some story seeds. Practically everything you need for a canine version of Call of Catthulhu is in this Appendix, which is pretty awesome.

Finally we have Appendix N, which appropriately (if you know you RPG history) is a list of books, movies, and other RPGs which have a similar tone that fans of Call of Catthulhu might find fun or even inspire them in some way. Thankfully nothing by Richard Adams (Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, etc) makes the list. I really enjoyed seeing the list of RPGs, especially Toon and CAT. A great way to end a great book.

All in all, Unaussprechlichen Katzen was a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. While I found a pretty big dent in the armor of this one, it was done by a third party rather than the person who writes and designs the vast bulk of Call of Catthulhu, so I won’t hold it against the piece as a whole. The PDF version is a bit pricey at $14.95 compared to the basic game cost of $4.95 for the PDF or The Nekonomicon‘s price of $7.95, so gamers with less of a disposable income might want to wait for a price drop. Of course, you don’t NEED Unaussprechlichen Katzen to play Call of Catthulhu, so this purchase might be left in the hands of people who absolutely love the game. At the same time, for only five bucks more than the cost of the PDF version of Unaussprechlichen Katzen, you can get the Call of Catthulhu bundle. This gives you the basic game, both deluxe books and the character sheet for $19.95. It’s definitely the best way to go, and if you haven’t invested in Call of Catthulhu yet, this is certainly the route to go. The bottom line is Unaussprechlichen Katzen is a great addition to the Call of Catthulhu line. It’s not a must own and it is a bit pricey for the PDF, but you won’t be disappointed with it if you pick it up.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call Of Catthulhu, Book II: UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KATZEN, the Cat Herder's Guide
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Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: The Harbinger Foundation
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2014 06:33:49
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/16/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-the-harbinger--
foundation/


Wow, here we are with our fourth free Quick Start Rules preview of the Valiant Universe RPG. The previous two let you view the big Harbinger Wars event from the side of Bloodshot and Generation Zero respectively. Now we’re going to be looking at things from the point of the most powerful man in the world (both fiscally and literally) – Toyo Harada. This isn’t the first time Valiant Universe RPG fans will be able to step into the shoes of the master of the Harbinger Foundation. In the very first QSR, Unity, you could play as Harada, along with Ninjak, Livewire and the Eternal Warrior. This time however, while one person takes up the reigns as Harada, three others will be playing Eggbreakers, some of Harada’s psiot muscle. This is a really interesting choice, as Harada’s side pretty much wears the black hat from the point of view of many Valiant protagonists, even if Harada himself thinks he’s the biggest white hat on the planet. This will let players see how the other half lives, and also flesh out Harada and his lackeys into more than just two dimensional bad guys should the players ever encounter them instead of playing as them.

It’s worth noting that besides Harada, the other three playable characters are very under the radar ones. I mean, I own every issue of this run of Harbinger and I had to try really hard to remember if the other three (Stronghold, Ion, Saturn) were actually mentioned by name or even more than once in the comics. This is both good and bad. The bad is that, depending on your group, EVERYONE will want to play Harada because they know him and he’s crazy powerful. So the Lead Narrator may have to prevent some bouts of immaturity, depending on the age and makeup of the players. The good news is that the other three characters are virtually blank slates, which means you can play them however you want. You won’t get a rules-lawyer style player saying, “That’s not how they were in the comics!” because there really isn’t enough on any of them to truly flesh out their personality. It also means that for gamers who felt the previous QSRs were a bit too “on rails” since they were name characters in situations that already occurred in continuity, this adventure will be the most to their liking. Not only is part of it completely original and not ripped from the pages of four color goodness, but the parts that are from Harbinger Wars will feel very different because B or C – Level characters (and Harada) are getting the spotlight.

The Harbinger Foundation‘s adventure consists of four parts, all of which have multiple scenes (except for Part Two), which should keep your players busy for one to three sessions depending on how long and drawn out things get. Each leg of the adventure is very combat heavy rather than discussion and exploration, so the length of the adventure will depend on how comfortable you are with the mechanics provided in the QSR up to this point. Remember, you’ll need a copy of the Unity QSR to play The Harbinger Foundation as it has all the rules. It’s free as well (heck, all the QSRs for Valiant Universe RPG are free, so get them all!), so remember to pick that up and read it first to minimize any issues you might encounter.

So let’s talk the adventure proper. Part One has students either working cooperatively or against each other (choose the former as teamwork is always better than PvP) in some “Danger Room” like tasks. This is a great start, as it lets players try out their characters and powers, especially those that haven’t had much face time in the comics. It also lets the players test out some strategy, which they will need for the other three parts of the adventure.

Part Two is only one scene long, but it is a doozy. Harada and Ion Vs. Bloodshot. While this battle is going on (and it will most likely unfold differently from the comics), Stronghold and Saturn will be dealing with escapees from project Rising Spirit. It’s nice to see everyone getting to shine in this scene, while in the comics, it really was just a battle between the two big heavy hitters. When one side accomplishes their goal, the other side’s battle will finish up. Make sure your Lead Narrator can effectively run two very different sessions of combat at once, as everything does unfold at the same time.

Part Three has the Eggbreakers and Harada taking the fight directly to Project Rising Spirit, where they will do combat with the Hard C.O.R.P.S. Scene Four has Harada and his Eggbreakers trying to recruit members of Generation Zero to the Harbinger Foundation. This is a short but easy scene that mainly relies on Harada’s die rolling. If it goes good, this is a short and easy affair. If it goes bad, there is a LOT of combat. Unfortunately, there are some issues with Part Four. First up is that the writing, mechanic-wise, is a bit cloudy and I think it will confuse people who are new to gaming. Re-read the opposed roll information at least twice to make sure you know what you’re doing. Second, the text states, “Take the number generated during Scene Three in the previous Event and divide by two (rounded down); treat any result higher than five as five.” I have NO IDEA what they are talking about here. Is the previous event, the previous scene? Because there is no random number generated in Part Three, Scene Three. Did they mean the Generation Zero QSR? Because there is no number generation in that either. In fact, the only random number generation that I could find is in Part Three, Scene Two of this QSR, and it’s in regards to when P.R.S.’ automated defenses come online. So this is really a bit of jargon editorial should have caught. At least it is free, though, right? A decent Lead Narrator can also fudge through his and make it work with no one being the wiser.

So aside from Scene Four somewhat falling apart due to bad editing and writing, The Harbinger Foundation is still a top notch little adventure and a great addition to the ever growing collection of free releases for Valiant Universe RPG. I’d definitely say the game is four for four so far and come Free RPG Day 2014, I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on a free copy of the physical version of the Quick Start Rules. You definitely should too. Valiant Universe RPG is certainly shaping up to be the best new RPG of 2014, and since everything released for it so far is free you have absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go download all four QSRs immediately.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: The Harbinger Foundation
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Beyond All Worlds
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2014 08:30:39
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/13/tabletop-review-numener-
a-beyond-all-worlds/

Beyond All Worlds is the first published adventure for Numenera in roughly seven months. I’ll admit, as innovative, creative and fun as Numenera, adventures seem to be the system’s Achilles heel. Vortex was fine for an intro to the system or for a convention piece, but it was over-priced and little more than a dungeon crawl. The Devil’s Spine, a collection of three adventures had similar issues. Instead of really showcasing how different Numenera is from other games, the collection was little more than generic hack and slash that felt more like a decent, but not great, D&D or Pathfinder set than something Ninth Worldly. I enjoyed both pieces, mind you, but I wanted something that gave me the same feel I got when ire ad the core rulebook and assorted Numenera sourcebooks. Would Beyond All Worlds prove the old adage of “The third time’s the charm?”

Well, yes and no. Beyond All Worlds is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s far more oipen ended than previous Numenera adventures and the emphasis is on discovery and strange sites rather than “take a few steps and kill something.” There are a lot of dangling plot threads as well as multiple ways for the adventure to unfold. I especially loved the flowchart that comes with the adventure which a good GM will make use of to ensure things run smoothly. However, the adventure can easily devolve into a roll-playing over role-playing combat heavy piece in the hands of a bad GM. There aren’t any real safeguards in place to prevent that, and the copious information on traps and monsters in Beyond All Worlds doesn’t help matters much. So truthfully, this adventure lives or dies not necessarily by what is written in the PDF, but based on the GMing style of whoever is running this. If they tend to stray combat heavy, a lot of the mystique and weirdness will be lost, and it too will be coming a generic and forgettable adventure. In the hands of someone who tends to be talking heads heavy, Beyond All Worlds could simply be the tip of an iceberg for a campaign that runs the gambit from exploring all sorts of worlds and alternative universes to a 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo type affair where the PCs are so responsible for collecting all sorts of unspeakable evil-doers that they accidentally let loose upon the Ninth World.

Getting to the adventure is a bit of a stretch. There is no real story hook save for a person that PCs care about acting as a McGuffin. Said NPC is tosses into “The Mouth of Hell”- an interdimensional prison from which there appears to be no way back. At least not that anyone has ever found and lived to tell about. So of course the PCs are supposed to bravely (foolishly) blunder into the Mouth of Hell and then find their way out. My big problem with this is that smart players will balk or lose their suspension of disbelief over a prison break of this nature. It becomes doubly hard to take the core hook seriously when the text of the adventure never breaks up the McGuffin NPC again. There’s no mention of where they might be, what camp they could be in, if they are living or dead, or even if they ever entered the Mouth of Hell to begin with! It’s as if the team behind it completely forgot how they got players into the Mouth of Hell to begin with. This does feel like VERY sloppy editing to me. I would have least put the occasional reference to the original goal in the adventure once the mouth is entered.

Once inside, characters will get Numenera at its best. There’s a lot of strange weirdness to be had. Ailen creatures, nonsensical technology, weird science and of course exploration and discovery up the wazoo. Of course, since the Mouth of Hell is populated will all sorts of unsavory types, from lunatics to cannibals, there is room for a lot of conflict. Smart PCs with use their mouth and minds instead of blades and powers. Of course, mindless violence is a way to get through Beyond All Worlds, but engaging in it involves an uphill battle that will surely get your players kill via sheer numbers. Of course there will be times when violence is the only real options, especially against some of the things that don’t even begin to resemble a humanoid lifeform in this place. There are some fantastic creatures in Beyond All Worlds including the loathsome He Who Shudders and its Snipper Moths.

The crux of the adventure has characters navigating a maze that exists primarily in the mind of the GM and the rolls of the player. If you feel you need a map to run a labyrinth properly, this is NOT the adventure for you. Most people will get by just find with the included flow chart. The adventure really is open-ended in format, so it’s not something I’d give to a rookie or casual GM. You do have to have a game plan going in and the ability to turn chaos into order. Otherwise the piece will feel unfinished. That’s not to say it IS unfinished. Just that there are lots of chances for this adventure to go poorly. If you’re new to running Numenera I’d stick with Vortex and come back to Beyond All Worlds when you feel confident in the system and your own ability to flesh things out.

As mentioned previously the adventure can end in several different ways, most of which leave the door wide open for further adventures that spin off from this one. Unless of course your characters die horribly or merge into an amalgamated blob of madness (Human shoggoth mayhaps?). Since the adventure is designed for experienced (second or third tier characters), the adventure doesn’t really work as the start of a campaign, even though it feels like it should be. I mean, you could start characters off at a higher tier, but then you lack the fun of seeing the characters grow and the GM also lacks any NPCs he can make the characters care about and thus turn into the adventure’s MacGuffin.

Overall, Beyond All Worlds is a decent adventure. It’s a step in the right direction and I think it’s a better overall piece than The Devil’s Spine or Vortex. The heart of the piece is a generic dungeon crawl, which has plagued previous published adventures for the Ninth World. Beyond All Worlds does embrace the Numenera trappings pretty well though, but I really do wish we’d get adventures that are as outside the box as the rulebooks, sourcebooks and supplements have been. We’re not quite there with an iconic or definitive published adventure for Numenera but Beyond All Worlds is getting the system closer to that point. I think the game needs something a little more Lamentations of the Flame Princess, HoL or Paranoia in tone than D&D or Pathfinder. All that said, Beyond All Worlds is still worth picking up. It’s cheap, potentially fun in the hands of the right GM, and offers some memorable antagonists. It’s the same cost as a comic book, but you’ll certainly get more out of it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Beyond All Worlds
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Gygax magazine issue #4
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2014 06:22:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/12/tabletop-review-gygax-m-
agazine-issue-4/

Gygax Magazine had a fantastic 2013. They released three top-notch issues AND won our “Best Tabletop Related Magazine” award in our 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. For a quarterly magazine these days, getting three of the four projected issues out in a calendar year is practically unheard of. Only Pathways by Rite Publishing seems to come out like clockwork, and considering that’s a free monthly, that’s pretty impressive. Well, I guess I could include White Dwarf and The Rifter, but those are more paid advertisements for Games Workshop and Palladium respectively.

Anyway, after such a great 2013, Gygax Magazine seemed to disappear. There was very little talk of Issue 4 from them, whether on their home page or via social media. Then all of a sudden, I got my reviewer copy and an email from TSR to all subscribers (of which I am one – full candor here, am I right?) stating that since they were having a problem with the publisher, they were going to push through the digital version before the physical one. I was perfectly find with that considering my physical copy of Issue #1 arrived two months after the digital one and Issue 2 suffered a similar fate. I’m used to getting the PDF version before the dead tree one and honestly, I want to read the magazine – I’m not too picky as to which format I get. I wasn’t expecting the magazine to hit this month, but as soon as it did, I downloaded it, put it on my Kindle Fire HDX and then read the issue from cover to cover. What can I say? I miss gaming magazine. As a lad, I used to have subscriptions to Dungeon, Dragon, White Wolf and even Inquest at some point (gift subscription). I loved reading about a wide variety of games I had never heard of or might never get to play, along with ones I knew inside and out. I loves articles, comics, art and even the mailbag. I’m pretty sure tabletop gaming magazines where why I was more than happy to spend six years writing for the Pokémon magazine (sometimes nearly the entire issue) for my Pikachu-minded overlords. Even in this digital age, there is something special about a magazine as opposed to a website or blog. It’s not a generational thing because the Pokémon magazine was geared towards kids and that sold like crazy. It’s just a matter of reaching your target audience with high quality well thought out articles and that’s exactly what Gygax Magazine did in 2013 – it hit the Zeitgeist. Now the quest is, after a six month break, can TSR recapture the same magic in 2014? Let’s take a look.

I have to admit, I marked out when I saw the cover. Now it probably won’t mean anything to you unless you’re in your late thirties or older, but it’s a continuation of a series of covers that started with Dragon Magazine #83. Jayson Elliot’s very short editorial (only a paragraph this time) gives a very brief history of it. As someone that owns every issue of that damn magazine, continuing Den Beauvais’ series was a great way to really highlight how Gygax Magazine is the spiritual successor to the Dragon.

Instead of the editorial this issue, Gygax Magazine has introduced a mailbag. Well, one letter really, which highlights the great nostalgia of the mailbag from monthly magazines but also the downside to publishing delays. The letter in question asks a timely question about how to get better at describing locations to his players. God only knows when this was written, but in the age of instant email and Facebook replies having to wait six months for an answer to your question would kind of suck. The mailbag might be better used for less time-oriented pieces, like inquires about the publication process, why some game lines get covered and others don’t, comments, criticism and so on. So now, let’s look at the ten articles and two comics in this issue. I have to admit, before me get into this issue, there was very little that appealed to me personally as a gamer. While the issue was well written and technically sound, there wasn’t a lot geared towards my particular tastes, wants or needs. That doesn’t make it a bad issue – just the weakest yet in terms of what I play and/or am interested in. That didn’t keep me from appreciating a lot of the articles though because even back in the day I never played Star Frontiers or Al-Qadim, but I still read articles about the games when they showed up in Dragon.

1. Men and Monsters of Polynesia. This article offers a brief look at Polynesian folklore and various beings from its folklore that you would encounter in a game that uses Polynesian culture as a setting backdrop. At first I was surprised the article used AD&D 1e stat blocks for the creature, but then I reminded myself that Al-Qadim and Maztica did pretty well in the era of Second Edition AD&D, so why not do a high fantasy game with a Polynesian bent instead of a Euro-centric one? The article was well-written and you get a fantastic description of each creature, allowing a DM to really make use of them. Do I think most of these creatures would work better with a “real world” game like Call of Cthulhu or Chill? Sure I do. Would I ever personally make use of the article? Probably not. Is it still really well done and fun to read? It sure is, and that’s what matters. 1 for 1.

2. Leomund’s Secure Shelter. This article really wasn’t for me and in a way, it highlights how anal retentive and rules-mastery/lawyery old school gamers can be. The entire article picks apart the AD&D ranged chart for missiles weapons and adds even more rules, tables and the like, which really isn’t needed. In essence, the article slows down AD&D combat EVEN more, taking away time from role-playing and instead forcing the DM to spend even more time figuring out arbitrary details in favor of more roll-playing. I personally hate that and was highly disappointed to see an article that took that stance in Gygax Magazine. The tone of the piece didn’t help either as it came off both pedantic with side commentary like the following: “(I use INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE and NEVER GROUP INITIATIVE in every melee where the players and key NPCs are involved!)” Yes, all caps and bolding in an aside for a professionally published magazine article. The magazine editor in me winced. Anyway, this was probably my least favorite article in a Gygax Magazine so far, which says something. Sometimes people really need to paraphrase MST3K and say, “It’s just a game. I should really just relax.” 1 for 2.

3. Adventuring Without the Magic. As a folklorist and writer of way too many articles on the history of something or other, Jon Peterson’s pieces in Gygax Magazine are always a highlight for me. In this case, the article looks at non-fantasy RPGs and how they slowly came about. Jon looks at several non-fantasy games where people took on roles instead of just rolling dice before D&D reared its head. Diplomacy and Braunstein (the latter of which still gets a lot of play in my old MSP haunt) get mentioned in this era, for example. The article also looks at some of our first non-fantasy tabletop roleplaying games like Top Secret, James Bond, Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha (which is getting not one, but two remakes!), Bunnies & Burrows and more. I tried a lot of these games and a kid and enjoyed them, so it was a wonderful shot of nostalgia to see the names of some of these long out of print (and sadly forgotten) classics. A great read from beginning to end. 2 for 3.

4. The Necromancer’s Cookbook. One of my favorite D&D releases of all time was The Complete Guide to Necromancer from the AD&D 2e era. It was so fantastically done, I’ve kept it and recommended it as a reference for any game that uses necromancy. It’s that good. So I was delighted to see The Necromancer’s Cookbook in this issue. This piece gives you ten new necromantic creatures to throw at players. There are five skeleton and five zombie variants, along with information on how to make them. I also liked how the stat blocks tried to incorporate both old and new forms of D&D such as THAC0 and ascending AC, along with both a XP value and Challenge Rating (CR). These are some fun and imaginative cannon fodder for a necromancer antagonist and I can definitely see Ravenloft fans making great use of this one. 3 for 4.

5. Djinn Hey! A Runequest article. That was unexpected and fun to see. These stats blocks are for Runequest 6 to be specific, although I’m kind of shocked that between BRP and Runequest, there aren’t Djinn stats already. The three page article is very brief and GMs will have to fill in a lot of blanks to make these guys work in an actual game, but magazines have page and word count maximums, so it’s understandable. I found this article to be a lot of fun, reading-wise, but again, it’s not something I would ever use personally. 4 for 5.

6. Randomize Your Realm. I have a love/hate relationship with random tables. I think the sheer glut of them over at DriveThruRPG from countless small publishers are both inane and a waste. Yet, some randomizing is fun. I love making characters for TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes RPGvia the charts and of course, HoL‘s character creation process is something you have to experience at least once. I do think that relying on random tables for that creating from scratch is the sign of a weak GM, but also that they are indispensable to new/rookie GMs in terms of helping them flesh out things. This article gives you seven d20 random tables that, when the results of each are combined, gives you a fleshed out snapshot of a kingdom. It’s fun to monkey around with, but not something I’d recommending using for an entire homebrew world, you know? You also have over thirty d100 random charts for “Events,” which will essentially give you story seeds. At six pages (Eight percent of the magazine), this is one of the longest pieces in the magazine and it feels like padding that could have been used for a more substantial article. It’s cute, but there are so many better uses of the limited space each issue has to offer readers. 4 for 6.

7. Operation: Rendezvous Oasis. Wow. I can’t believe I’m going to be talking about a Top Secret adventure. I think the last time anything was published for this old TSR game was 1990. Hell, I don’t even know who owns the legal rights to Top Secret these days. Anyway, there was a brief period in my childhood when gamers were really into this. Very brief mind you, but I still have fond memories of my character Agent . What, I was like ten! Anyway, Gygax Magazine gives us a full length adventure from the mind of Merle M. Rasmussen, the original designer of Top Secret. That is pretty cool. The only problem is that Top Secret has been out of print for decades and there is no (legal) digital version of the game available. This means only a very tiny percentage of people who pick up this issue of Gygax Magazine are going to be able to play this adventure, much less enjoy it. I mean, *I* don’t even own Top Secret anymore and pretty much had to dust off old corned off sections of my memory to make sure I still had the rules down (Funny that I can remember rules sets to games I haven’t played in forever, but I can’t remember basic Trig). You’re going to have to be middle-aged and a bit of a packrat to really be able to play this adventure, which is a shame – especially when you consider the adventure takes up nearly a full third of the issue. For those that don’t have Top Secret, which is the vast majority of you, this is going to be wasted space or a curiosity read at best. I’m so torn by this because I love seeing new Top Secret Material, but also feel that this might have been better released on its own than released widespread to an audience who can’t play or might not even remember the system. It’s definitely a choice that highlights the good and bad regarding the decision making process as to what goes into an issue of Gygax Magazine.

All that said, the adventure is well written and I’m looking forward to the cool gatefold spread in the physical copy. God knows I’ll never be able to find enough people to actually play Operation Rendezvous Oasis, but reading it made me WANT to, and that’s the sign of a good adventure. Who knows? Maybe this piece will get people to look for old copies on the secondary market or even jump start a digital release of the game. Well, probably not, but here’s hoping. 5 for 7.

8. Psionics, Without the Points. Well, this is an article I didn’t enjoy at all. I get the idea behind it, which is treating a Psychic character in an AD&D game like a spellcaster (Bard, Cleric, Mage, etc), but in doing so, you lose the uniqueness of the class as well as some of the fun. I loved the second and third edition books for Psionic characters (although 1e AD&D rules needed some/a lot of work). Retooling a class is not a bad idea on its own, but what is presented here is badly done and is even more of a mess than the original version. There’s not enough detail or description to make the class work as it’s only three pages long (along with a fourth page of spells the Psychic can use). Not only is the article not something I’d ever make use of, but it feels like a bad first draft of an idea rather than something that should have been published. 5 for 8.

9. Ed’s Effulgent Euphuism. Hey, it’s Ed Greenwood talking about 13th Age. That’s a cool combination. In fact this is one of two 13th Age articles in this magazine. I’ve jokingly referred to 13th Age as “What D&D 4e should have been,” so I’m happy to see it get press here, especially since I have yet to find anyone in my immediate area that actually plays this. Heck, I can’t even get anyone here to care enough to review releases for it! Hopefully between the presence it gets in this issue and the upcoming Free RPG Day release, it will see more mainstream (such as there is in our industry) attention. This article looks at one of the more unique and fun aspects of the system – which involves the option to rename spells in order to get some small bonuses. Not only does this personalize the spells one is casting, but you can be extremely creative (and silly) with the naming of these pieces. For anyone who wondered why Tenser, Mordenkainen and other wizards got their own spells and your PC didn’t, well this is the system for you! Ed Greenwood gives you thirty examples (stretched over seven pages) of new names and effects for classic spells. These are a lot of fun just to read and the article along should make you want to at least try 13th Age if not outright purchase the core rulebook for it. 6 for 9.

Melee Masters. This is the second 13th Age article in the collection. Here we get a look at three new class builds for the game. What’s interesting that you can compare this article with the AD&D Psychic one earlier in the issue and come away with two things. The first is how much more streamlined 13th Age feels, which is both good and bad, depending on your gaming preferences. The second is how with the same amount of space, this article lays out three character class builds that are easy to use and understand as opposed to the…less well done Psychic piece. It’s night and day here, people. The three classes presented in this article are best suited for the Midgard campaign setting, but can work in just about any high fantasy campaign. The Corsair would work extremely well in a high seas or pirate type of setting. Just a great job overall. 7 for 10.

11. Full Frontal Nerdity. A fun little two page comic involving a dragon and suspension of disbelief. I laughed. Mission accomplished. 8 for 11.

12. The Order of the Stick. Come on, it’s Rich’s long running and extremely funny comic. It’s weird seeing Durkon amongst the living though. Funny as always. 9 for 12.

So there you go. Although there’s only one article that I’d actually make use of on my gaming table (Necromancer’s Cookbook), I’d say seventy-five percent of the magazine was fun to read or made me wish I knew people that played say, 13th Age or Top Secret. That’s a pretty good quality-to crap ratio and so I can definitely recommend the issue just to read, even if you don’t play many (or any) of the games featured in this latest version of Gygax Magazine. Look, no two people are going to enjoy exactly the same things to the same degree and the usefulness of the issue will vary based on what you play with your friends, so what you like or dislike about this issue may vary quite a bit from my own opinions and experiences here. As usual, this issue of Gygax Magazine was a well-crafted and excellent release full of fun articles, and that’s what matters. All that remains to be seen is whether or not TSR can make a second (or even third release) this year. Here’s hoping they can.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Gygax magazine issue #4
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Ambient Environments - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2014 08:07:05
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/11/tabletop-review-ambient-
-environments-mp3-the-shadow-over-innsmouth/

As you can probably tell from the title of this ten minute MP3, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a background track for tabletop gaming inspired by one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories. We cover a LOT of Call of Cthulhu releases here at Diehard GameFAN and god knows many of those have had Deep Ones lurking between their pages somewhere, so I thought it would be fun to check out this piece and see how it fares. With a two dollar price tag, it’s a bit more expensive than releases by other tabletop background music providers like Plate Mail Games, but two bucks for ten minutes of music is still a pretty good deal in this day and age. The track is also part of the Cthulhu Rises! bundle, but I didn’t receive a review copy for each track in that bundle, so I can’t really comment on that.

So one warning right up front – if you’re looking for this track to be very Mythos oriented, you won’t find it here. There won’t be any cultists chanting to Cthulhu, Dagon, Shub-Niggurath or the like. You won’t hear the sopping wet footsteps of a Deep One slowly shambling along wood steps or into an old home. You won’t have any sounds for a small town like Innsmouth like general chatter or clopping of horse hooves on cobblestone. So if you’re looking for something like that, you will NOT find it in this track. You’re probably better off with Darkling Harp’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth bundle which contains actual tracks geared specific towards the sounds of Innsmouth and games set within its borders.

That said, The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Ambient Environments is actually pretty versatile. It can work for a haunted lighthouse, spooky coastline, abandoned pier, scary beach, marshy inlet of doom and more. Any coastal or large body of water that has strange goings on could make excellent use of this ten minute track.

You get a lot of great noises, none of which are distracting or overly annoying save for a few seconds of a very out of place barking dog. There isn’t any real music to the track, which is good as aside from a Hymn by the Starry Wisdom Church, I wouldn’t want any. You get a lot of wind, surf and rain though playing pretty much nonstop for the full ten minutes, which honestly, is a far better choice than any musical tracks. You do get the occasional high pitched note or very subtle hint of music in the wind and surf though via some eerie undefined intonations, which is a nice touch. Towards the back half of the track the intonation does seem to get louder and take on a dark hymnal quality, while still keeping from being full on music in the way a human would think of it.

The crashing of the waves and bubbling of the water is excellently done, as are the caws of seagulls and the occasional bell from a lone buoy. There are also some creaks, but I can’t really discern if it is from a broken down pier/dock or if it’s a ramshackle old boat making the noise as the tide rocks it back and forth. The overall feel of the track is very ominous and creepy, so even though it’s not a perfect fit for Innsmouth, it is a fantastic for any games that involve exploration of an eerie maritime location. Whether it’s a cove, swampy hamlet, or high tide along a creepy bay, there are ton of great uses for The Shadow Over Innsmouth without making your game Deep One or even Call of Cthulhu related.

Overall, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a great “spooky water related area” background tracker which you can definitely make great use of in your games and it is also one players will highly enjoy. It doesn’t really give off an Innsmouth vibe to me at all, but that’s okay because the piece is versatile enough to have a dozen other uses. I can definitely recommend it, especially as it is only two dollars. For those of you who really like musical cues and background noise in your tabletop games, The Shadow Overs Innsmouth is a fine addition to your collection.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - The Shadow Over Innsmouth
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RPG Background Loops MP3: Pharaoh's Tomb
Publisher: Plate Mail Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2014 06:33:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/11/tabletop-review-rpg-bac-
kground-loops-mp3-pharaohs-tomb/

Last month I reviewed one of the many tracks generated by Plate Mail Game’s very successful Kickstarter. I enjoyed 1890′s Train Plateform (Or Platform as it has now been corrected into) and it felt like it would be a good fit for my Call of Cthulhu games, especially the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake. As many of you know by now, I’m a big mummy fan. Be they fantasy or World of Darkness style mummies, so when I saw that Plate Mail Games had released a track called Pharaoh’s Tomb, I decided to see what that one was like as well. After all, I do love to run adventures in the Har’akir domain of Ravenloft, so I thought this might be a good fit for a dungeon crawl. What did I think? Let’s take a look.

Like all Plate Mail Games tracks, Pharaoh’s Tomb is ten minutes in length and designed to be run as a loop, providing continuous background noise for you and your players. Now I use background noise rarely, mainly because a lot of tracks designed for this sort of thing actually seem to distract players rather than enforce the food the GM is trying to provide.

The track almost lost me at first with what sounds like a weird bit of feedback, but is probably a Theremin. The noise occurs regularly throughout the track and I’m not sure what it is supposed to be, except that it occurs frequently and is annoying, distracting and loud. Maybe it’s meant to be a ghost howling or something?

The other major sound you’ll hear with the track is wind. It’s the one constant throughout the ten minute piece. Of course, if you’ve been in a pyramid, you’ll know it’s deathly silent in there, but what they hey – it’s for effect and it is very ominous even if it’s not very accurate.

There are occasionally other noises like a guttural moan that occurs once or twice, rare footsteps and even the clanking of chains (which would be more appropriate in a haunted house than a tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh), but the track is mostly wind and the weird synth/Theremin howling that just doesn’t fit the tone or location of the piece.

What’s most notable in this piece are the things that are missing. I would have put in the shuffling of feet on stone. Perhaps some creaking or noises from locations settling. The grinding of stone on stone for a trap or secret door being activating. The scuttling and scurrying of bugs (probably scarab beetles) and other things that are actually reminiscent of a pyramid. The idea of the track had a lot of potential but what I actually got wasn’t at all what I was looking for.

What’s here just in no way shape or form makes me think of a “Pharaoh's Tomb.” It’s too distracting and off-base for me to ever contemplate using in a mummy based adventure or campaign. Now your mileage may vary. The weird echo feedback playing every few seconds might be up your alley and you might not find the repletion and loudness of the track as distracting or annoying as I did. Taken on its own outside of the theme it is meant to portray, Pharaoh’s Tomb is technically sound and a decent deal considering it’s ten minutes in length for only a buck-fifty. While it doesn’t fit my needs or desires it the slightest, you can listen to the audio preview for the track over at DriveThruRPG.com and see if it is more your cup of tea than it is mine. In the end, while well priced and proficiently made, Pharaoh’s Tomb just didn’t work for me.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
RPG Background Loops MP3: Pharaoh's Tomb
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Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2014 09:41:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/03/tabletop-review-valiant-
-universe-rpg-qsr-supplemental-harbinger-wars-generation-zer-
o/

As promised, Catalyst Game Labs has been releasing free Quick Start Rules for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG on a clockwork basis. Timeliness is a rare thing in the tabletop industry, but CGL has made it three for three so far, which is pretty impressive. This third PDF continues the trend of looking at the Harbinger Wars event from last year. However, this time the PDF puts you and your friends in the role of Generation Zero – who really hasn’t seen much attention since Harbinger Wars, save for Monica Jim, who was hanging with the Renegades over in Harbinger. Of course, all that is about to change with Armor Hunters, as they’re getting their own mini-series for the event! This means the Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero QSR is perfect for both curious tabletop gamers and longtime Valiant fans, as it gives you a timely chance to reacquaint yourself with characters who are going to get the limelight thrust on them very shortly.

Like the Bloodshot QSR supplement, the Generation Zero PDF does not contain the rules for playing Valiant Universe RPG – this is JUST the adventure and character sheets. If you want to play the game, you also need to download the Unity Quick Start Rules, as everything needed to play a game is in that PDF. Don’t worry – it’s free too. In fact, by this point you should have three free PDFs for Valiant Universe RPG (almost seventy pages of content), and CGL still isn’t done yet. It’s insanely awesome how much free content being given away for this game. Aside from Wizards of the Coast’s upcoming free release of Basic Dungeons & Dragons, this is the most free content I’ve seen released for a game ever. Anyway, make sure you definitely have the Unity QSR, because otherwise this PDF will just be something to read.

The Generation Zero PDF lets you play as four of the characters: The Telic, Little Castle, Animalia and Chronus. There are other members of the team, but they are not provided here statwise, either as PCs or NPCs. It’s also worth noting that previous PDFs contained fairly straightforward powers like Harada’s psychic blast or Bloodshot’s ability to regenerate. In this PDF we get some more esoteric abilities, like Chronus having D8 in leadership and Tactics or Tellic having d10 in Pattern Recognition. It will be interesting to see how players decide these powers will be used. Of course, the full core rulebook will define these for us, but in the meantime, less direct abilities like these and how they work will have to be determined by individual groups. For us, we had Chronus be able to give his Leadership die to an ally and his Tactics die to an enemy instead of the die they would normally roll. Tellic’s Pattern Recognition became the ability to declare what an antagonist was going to do on their next turn. Now, that doesn’t mean your game will use these powers the same way – it’s just how they played out for us. I’m very interested to see the different ways these abilities are used in everyone’s games and whether or not the core rulebook really will lock down powers with tighter definitions.

The adventure in this QSR is pretty different from previous ones. It cuts around a lot in Valiant continuity and even changes it a bit. For example, there’s no Bloodshot to be had in the escape from project Rising Spirit, and he’s the core reason that even happened. This is actually a good thing, because it shows CGL and Valiant are fine with not sticking to the canon script and letting PCs make their own Valiant Universe, and it also lets the adventure be streamlined and focused on the PCs. If Bloodshot was here as an NPC, he’d overshadow the PCs, and if he was playable, everyone would want to be him instead of a G0 kid simply because, well, he’s Bloodshot! This change in storyline really lets the focus be on the Generation Zero kids, which is where it needs to be.

There are four parts to the adventure, each with multiple scenes. Part one is the false promise of escape from Project Rising Spirit. Part two is the real thing. Depending how good your team is (remember everyone takes a turn at Narrating in Valiant Universe RPG), these events might seem a little too repetitive, so absolutely be willing to mix things up and keep them from being a straight dungeon crawl hack and slash type affair. Part three has the Generation Zero team taking over a Las Vegas casino and then defending it from covert ops and psion teams. Part four pits them against some generic Hard C.O.R.P.S. members and ends via an encounter with Toyo Harada… whose stats are not in this packet.

Overall, the Generation Zero QSR is well done, but I think it is the one gamers and Valiant fans will find the least interesting of the three so far. This is mainly because the characters aren’t as well known or defined as the “A-List” characters we’ve seen so far, and because the adventure is mostly running and fighting, but hey – it’s a super hero RPG, right? It’s obviously not going to be as “talky” as Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness games. I do think it was smart of CGL to highlight some lesser known characters, so that potential purchasers of the final Valiant Universe RPG product won’t feel like they have to play the big guns. The more unusual powers for these character will also either really intrigue or disappoint players, based on how creative they get with their potential usage. So while the Generation Zero QSR still has me personally excited for the eventual full release of Valiant Universe RPG, I think that this one isn’t going to be what some people are looking for. Still, it’s free and it’s definitely worth getting. Just remember that this one is going to play out different from the Unity and Bloodshot releases, so go in expecting some notable differences rather than something more formulaic.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Valiant Universe RPG QSR Supplemental: Harbinger Wars: Generation Zero
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Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2014 07:18:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/06/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-bullets-bandages/

It’s about time DocWagon had the spotlight thrust on it, don’t you think. I’ve played a DocWagon character back in the FASA days of Shadowrun. He was a purely defensive character and the other players grew to love having the equivalent of a D&D cleric on the team. Heck, when my rabbit was sick for over a year with a mystery disease, someone over at Harebrained Schemes (creators of Shadowrun Returns), made him his own DocWagon Platinum card which is still really sweet. Now, we have a supplement for both Fourth and Fifth Edition entitled Bullets & Bandages which gives a modern take on a pure medic character. Everything old is new again!

I’m glad that Bullets & Bandages is designed for the two most recent versions of Shadowrun as it allows more of an audience to make use of this little supplement. Speaking of supplements, this is the first I can remember referred to as “Shadowrun Options.” Now what this means, is that everything in Bullets & Bandages, from the mechanics to the new abilities are NOT not considered official rules. This is a bit odd. Usually it’s third party releases for games that’s aren’t considered canon rules and the like for a system. This is the first I can think of where a first party publisher released something that it’s canon or official and I’m trying to figure out how and why this was released. After all the supplement clearly states, “They will not be used in official products, Missions, or allowed in tournament play.” This of course means you will never see or hear from this piece again making this a truly odd piece indeed since Shadowrun releases LOVE to cross-reference each other. Like I said, I can’t fathom why this was released if CGL is essentially saying, “Well, WE will never use it, but you can.” That really reduces the potential target market for B&B, but makes it no less interesting as a curiosity piece.

Bullets & Bandages starts off in the usual manner – with a piece of JackPoint fiction. You get a nice look at a “Welcome to DocWagon” speech by one David Hill. I found this amusing because of course, David Hill is a writer for multiple RPGs (best known for World of Darkness I would think) and has even contributed to Shadowrun in the past. I’m not sure if this was an intentional in-joke or just a happy coincidence, but there you go. Anyway, the speech takes a look at what a DocWagon employee must go through, and is interspersed with commentary from the runner community at JackPoint. The fiction piece is really well done and it’s a fantastic look at the AA Corp. It’s also been a long time coming.

The rest of the piece (from page 9 through Page 23) are all new mechanics. Fourteen pages of new mechanics just for medics does seem a bit odd and perhaps overdone, which may be why CGL made B&B completely optional. After all, Shadowrun does take the occasional flak for being too mechanics heavy as is. There’s no real reason to add a metric ton of new mechanics when the much lighter version of medicine and healing works just fine. I have to admit I personally wouldn’t some of the rules in this piece, as they are very pedantic, reeks of overkill and will definitely stymie newcomers who are probably overwhelmed by the amount of mechanics the Sixth World is filled with but there are some that might want to use these, so let’s take a look at them.

The mechanics half of B&B starts off with some fantastic advice on “Building a Medic Character.” You’ve given all sorts of suggestions, depending on what type of medic you want to make, what metahuman races work best and how to build a decent Awakened medic. Skills, Qualities and gear are also discussed with some detail. There is some great stuff to be had here and it’s certainly worth a read. The Qualities are sure to raise an eye – especially Pregnancy. I really liked the Skill Rating charts for Biotech and it was fun and interesting to see how different 4e and 5e are in this regard. It’s a great example of how different, and yet similar, the two editions are. This is followed up by a page of “Advanced Biotech Rules.” This page highlights the simple and complex actions your character can take via the Biotech skill. Short and sweet.

“Care Under Fire” makes up a huge part of the mechanics and it is here where the piece falls apart for me. It’s just too much rules and roll-playing over Role-Playing for me personally. The new (thankfully not canon) damage progression rules not only changes the game into constant dice rolling, but also kind of forces your team to have a Medic character on the squad or watch everyone die slowly and horribly. It really feels like trying to shove the idea of a medic character down the game’s throat to the point where people will view the idea with disdain. Generally when you try too hard to put something over, it causes the opposite effect that you were hoping for. It’s just too much dice rolling for every little medical nuance. For the most part these rules replace good old common sense and actually role-playing your characters. Instances where any other game would be, “Well, my character does this” and in turn act out or describe the actions being taken, are boiled down to a dice roll. In essence, it turns the game into D&D/Pathfinder skill checks and I’m not down with that. You shouldn’t have to roll a Cybertech + Logic extended test to freakin’ upgrade your medkit. That’s something that should be acted out and it’s certainly not something you need to roll for. I have to admit, by the time I was done with Bullets & Bandages I was very, VERY thankful these rules will never been seen again outside of this piece and some homebrew games I am not a part of.

After “Care Under Fire,” the piece goes back to being a pretty good. You have a whole host of new “Drugs, Toxins and Pathogens,” (Six, four and three respectively) which I’m sure you and your team will be able to find very creative uses for. There are also two new spells and three adept powers worth mentioning. Death Replay will be very helpful for any investigative type missions, although it might be a tad too powerful in that regard. Incision is obviously for medical uses, but there can be a sadistic side to it too, such as constantly opening and reopening cuts for abuse or torture. The new Adept Powers are Feign Illness, Feign Death and Transmit Damage. The latter two will find the most use in play. This is followed up by some new gear, armor and drones. That’s your supplement chummers.

Overall Bullets & Bandages is an interesting piece. Aside from “Care Under Fire”, the piece is really well done and thought out. A lot of the new mechanics won’t be of interest save to gamers whose sessions are more die-rolling than role-playing, but even then as nothing in this piece is canon or will be used in further supplements or any official products, it’s hard to recommend this piece, even at five dollars simply because it’s more a curiosity than anything else. That said, B&B does have some well written pieces outside of the mechanics part and it’s great to see medics and DocWagon getting some spotlight time. Aside from the one section I couldn’t stand, B&B is fine for those us who shy away from a 100% canon and metaplot oriented game. Just remember not to get too comfy with these ideas, rules or abilities outside your own game though, as if you play with someone else or go to a convention or a Shadowrun Missions, you won’t be able to use these and perhaps even your character. Overall, the good outweighs the bad here and it’s always nice to have more options.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Bullets & Bandages
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Atomic Robo RPG
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2014 07:00:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/05/tabletop-review-atomic--
robo-rpg-fate-core-system/

My favorite comic book of all time is Justice League International, which probably dates me as an old fogie. Still comics that have blend a blwend of comedy and action remain my favorites. I loved Sam & Max, Excalibur, Scarlet Spider, the John Rogers penned Dungeons & Dragons and of course, anything by Carl Barks, Don Rosa and Floyd Gottfredson. Currently I would say the three best action-comedy comics on the market are Archer & Armstrong, Quantum & Woody and Atomic Robo. While the Valiant crew has been releasing free teasers for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG, Atomic Robo RPG actually beat them to the punch with their comic book RPG release! Even though I am a big fan of Atomic Robo, and especially his nemesis Dr. Dinosaur, I tend to buy it in digital trade form rather than pay attention to any news or the like about the series. So I was caught off guard and pleasantly surprised when a review copy of Atomic Robo RPG showed up in my inbox. Now before we begin, if you haven’t read Atomic Robo, you really should. I will try to keep from comparing the game to the comic for newcomers sakes (and avoid spoiling them), but Comixology.com has a lot of digital issues of Atomic Robo for free, so either download those before continuing or boomark the Comixology link. FCBD 2009 and 2012 are my favorites of the freebies and rank up there with some of the best in the entire series. If you don’t at least crack a smile at those two, much less laugh at loud, then you have no soul. That’s all there is to it.

Atomic Robo RPG uses the Fate Core System, which is a pretty unique and well-designed system. Unfortunately, I’ve tried the new Mindjammer, Dresden Files RPG, Cthulhu in Space, Present Day Cthulhu and other titles/setting that have used Fate Core System, but I never really got into them. The only game that uses Fate that I’ve really liked was Spirit of the Century, buy my friends and I tend to use Basic Roleplaying or Amazing Adventures for my weird pulp style games, so it rarely sees use. Now that said, Atomic Robo RPG makes exceptionally good use of the Fate Core System. Modes, Aspects and even the die rolling mechanics seem tailored made for an action science somewhat comical RPG. Maybe I (or Fate) just needed the perfect setting to be tied to. After all, after reading the core Atomic Robo RPG rulebook, I can’t imagine this setting working better with any previous super hero or comic book style game, and this is coming from a pretty diehard zealot of TSR’s old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes game and an equally big fan of Mayfair’s DC RPG. I think Fate and Robo just complement each other nicely and deliver a RPG that is somewhat rules light while being incredible expansive in the field of character customization.

Now, if you’ve never played a Fate game, then I need to warn you: you’re going to need some special dice. Now, as a tabletop gamer, we’re already have special dice. We have D4s, D8s, d10s, d12s, d20s and the crazy Dungeon Crawl Classics dice. However, Fate games don’t use those dice. They have their own special d6 variants and they are nearly twice the cost of the polyhedral dice set tabletop gamers usually use. Expect to pay about between ten and twenty bucks for a set of Fate dice, depending on what type you get or where to get them. This does mean that the dice will cost you more than the PDF version of Atomic Robo RPG and while I realize that might put some off you off from purchasing the game, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it to people new to Fate and also say that the purchase is worth it. Amazon.com has a wide selection for those willing to buy the game and the dice.

So let’s talk the basic mechanics for Fate dice. You grab your four dice (rare situations can change things). They will either come up +, – or blank. A – is a negative and a plus is a positive. Add the results together with the appropriate skill and there you go. So if I got a +, +, ,-, I would have an end result of 1 which I would then add to my skill rating of oh, let’s say Burglary, which is Fair/+2. I would then have a grand total of +3 for my result. I mean, Fate is not rocket science people (although you can have the skill of Rocket Science since you are an ACTION SCIENTIST!). This is about 85% of the mechanics right here, so don’t be expecting a game like Pathfinder or Shadowrun where you spend more time looking up rules and mechanics than actually role-playing. Now obviously there are other modifiers such as Stunts or Mega-Stunts which are essentially powers or skills that let your character do comic book type things. You also have aspects of your character’s personality which can be invoked to give dice a bump. There are also Fate points similar to Bennies from Savage Worlds but closer to the GM Intrusion system you’ll find in Numenera. The bottom line is that with some rare exceptions, that paragraph above is all you need to know how to PLAY Atomic Robo RPG. You can pretty much start playing now!

One thing I absolutely love about Atomic Robo RPG is the character creation system…or should I say TWO character creation systems. You have an easy streamlined no muss, no fuss version to help you churn out a character for less experienced or younger gamers, as well as those that just want to play a run of the mill action scientist. Both versions are a lot of fun and due to how open concepts, aspects and stunts are, you can make whatever character you’d like without being restrained by die rolls, or predetermined categories. One of my big problems with the Margaret Weis version of their Marvel Super Heroes RPG was how you couldn’t really make your own characters and the premade Marvel ones were far from accurate. Honestly, the character creation system for Atomic Robo RPG is so fun, I’d use it (and the full mechanics) for other super hero licenses as well. There’s no reason why you couldn’t.

Which of course brings me to my next point. Do you have to be familiar with Atomic Robo to use or enjoy Atomic Robo RPG? Definitely not. The system does a great job of explaining the world of Atomic Robo, not just with words and descriptions, but with panels and sometimes full pages from the comic. Yes, instead of original art by guys like Larry Elmore or Timothy Bradstreet (I’m old!), Atomic Robo RPGAtomic Robo. To comfortably play in it, but you’ll be treated to some great scenes from the comic and even have a bunch of spoilers on the first eight volumes of the comic. Of course, those free Comixology issues I mentioned at the beginning of the review will also help to familiarize yourself with the game. Between the two, by the time you are done reading the core rulebook, you’ll be enchanted by the world and mechanically equally.

For only twelve dollars, you’re getting a complete 300+ page core rulebook and an in-depth look at the Atomic Robo universe. For that price, you should definitely pick up the PDF version of the game, even if you’re only mildly familiar with Fate or Atomic Robo. Now I can’t say the same about the physical copy as it’s three times as much. That’s probably best left to people who really love Fate or Atomic Robo. Simply put, the Atomic Robo RPG is exceptionally well done. It does an amazing job of explaining everything and at no point does it ever get dull, dry or boring like a lot of core rulebooks. With this in hand, you’ll definitely be able to “Tell Stores the Atomic Robo Way” (Chapter Ten). Again, grab those free comics from Comixology and if this review or those comic have your interest in Atomic Robo RPG piqued at all, just throw money at Evil Hat via their website or DriveThruRPG.com and download this game already. You won’t regret it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic Robo RPG
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d-Infinity Volume #6: The Mythos
Publisher: Skirmisher Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/03/2014 06:46:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/03/tabletop-review-d-infin-
ity-volume-6-the-mythos/

It’s hard to find a regularly published gaming magazine these days. The best ones, in terms of quality, like The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine, are published nowhere near the quarterly schedule promised. Other ones, like Savage Insider and Adventure Quarterly, are also unable to meet a regularly scheduled demand. It seems like the only thing that comes out like clockwork these days are White Dwarf and Pathways, which is a far cry from when you could see Dungeons, Dragon, White Wolf, Inquest, Scrye and the like every month at your local game store (or delivered via subscription). I love gaming magazines, though, and I find myself picking up even the ones that are of lower tier in both quality and scheduling, like & Magazine or some zines with low production values. Case in point, this brings us to D-Infinity or D-∞. Its last issue, Volume #5, came out in November of 2013, putting a full six months between issues. It’s still doing better than Gygax Magazine though. Still, while D-Infinity issues are usually very hit or miss in terms of article quality, I felt like reviewing this one because a) I like gaming magazines, b) you might not be aware this publication exists and c) this volume is dedicated to Lovecraftia and so I thought it would be a fun issue to read. Did I get my seven dollars worth out of this issue of D-Infinity? Let’s take a look.

•Editorial. This gives some highlights of what this issue of D-Infinity is all about and talks a little bit about Lovecraft. It serves its purpose well enough. 1 for 1.


•Their Blood is the Sea. This is a long (eight pages) and dull piece of fiction about some people during the Dark Ages and the problems they face, such as a storm and some enemy troops. The big twist is that one of the brothers is a Mythos priest or perhaps something else. It was really boring and hard to get through, and although I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I can say it was one of the worst pieces of gaming fiction I’ve read this year. It took a massive amount of effort to get through this. Don’t do what I did. Skip this entry. 1 for 2.



•Digital Dice: Mobile Game Support Apps. In theory, this is a really good idea for a column. Unfortunately, in practice, it’s not very good. The column specifically states, “In the interest of keeping this article relevant on multiple platforms and for a longer duration, it will not make mention of any specific mobile apps. Instead it covers what is currently possible with mobile devices and how to incorporate them into a game.” This is not a very good idea. For one thing, not a lot of people know this magazine exists. For another, if this is found a year later and read, mobile apps will have changed and provided new stuff anyway, and thus what’s here will be outdated in spite of its attempts not to be. People want to be given suggestions and reviews of apps so that they don’t have to do the search themselves. That’s why reviews are popular. This piece instead just gives some vague overviews of some types of apps and leaves the reader with no idea of which ones are good and which should be best avoided. This is pretty much the opposite of what I’d want to see from an article on Mobile Game Apps. Yuck. 1 for 3.


•The Prop Room: The Allure of Innsmouth Gold. This was another article that had a ton of potential but failed to live up to it. It’s about how to make realistic Deep One gold artifacts for your game sessions, be they tabletop or LARP. AWESOME idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually show you how. There are no steps or tips given. At most, you get a few pictures that don’t show the process from beginning to end and a statement to buy a mix of two types of clay. Had the article been given a half dozen pages or so to really show the step by step process of making these trinkets, it would have been amazing. Instead, the article assumes (perhaps because of page count) that you already know how to make props and are quite adept at it. This is the wrong path to choose. Always assume your audience is brand new to a topic and give them some meaty details. Sigh. 1 for 4.


•The Ageless. This is a WONDERFUL Cthulhu Live! adventure for ten to fifteen people. It’s about an ancient mummy and a dinner party gone horribly awry. This would be a lot of fun to pull off, but you’ll need a large home or location to do it in. My only real complaint is that, out of the fifteen playable characters, only two are women. The gender ratio should have been improved a bit, don’t you think? 2 for 5.


•Heroes and Heroines of KOS. This is an interesting article for The Sword of Kos role-playing system. Unfortunately, it is rife with bad editing. The first half of the first paragraph is repeated twice, making the piece look decidedly amateurish. You do get some nice bios of twelve different characters and they are stat-block free, meaning that you can put them into other games if you find them intriguing but you don’t play Sword of Kos. All but one character has appeared previous SoK releases, so I’m not sure what the point of this article was. Fans of the system will already be familiar with them and not need this piece, while everyone else might find the writing interesting, but not very useful. Alas. 2 for 6.


•Six Mythos Spells. Six new spells for Labyrinth Lord. This is pretty cut and dry, and well done. I especially like “Create Unholy Food and Water” and “Reverse Staircase.” 3 for 7.


•Artifacts of the Wasteland. Although this article has nothing at all to do with the titular subject of this D-Infinity issue, it’s an extremely well done piece for the Mutant Future system. I myself have never played Mutant Future, but this eight page article was so well done it’s made me consider giving it a try. I mean, I already have Labyrinth Lord and this uses essentially the same system. In essence, this piece is a collection of items broken down into four categories: Cloaks, Virtual Matter Projectors, Anti-Technology Weapons and Formulae. You are given several different types from each category and some in-depth descriptions of each example. There are no stats given for anything save Formulae, meaning you can bring a lot of these to different games if you own a different mutant/post-apocalyptic rules set. 4 for 8.



•Enter… the Living Building. This is another Mutant Future article, but there is no reason why it can’t be used in other settings, especially Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It would be a perfect fit for either. The living building is exactly what you might think – a organism in which people live. The buildings are not self-aware and are ammonite shaped. You get a lot of information about one of these, from why there are no windows to a look at how these buildings live and die. You are given a ton of in-depth information, ranging from the history of these buildings to a room generator to use with the provided map. There are even examples of built in defenses and monsters to turn this article into a full fledged adventure. Very cool! 5 for 9.


•Pathfinder System: Putting H.P. Lovecraft Into Game Terms. This is another really well done article. The premise is simple: the authors have taken lesser known Lovecraft creatures and given them stats to use with the Pathfinder and/or D&D 3.5 systems. There are six creatures in all, some of which aren’t even in Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu game, which I found interesting. It’s also worth noting the author’s version of Gnop-Kehs are very different from those in Call of Cthulhu. You also get a new skill, a new feat and some new spells. Great job. 6 for 10.


•The Saga of the Wyrm’s Son. Okay, I didn’t get the point of this article AT ALL. Yes, it’s a set of battles for Chevauchee: Rules for Battles with Medieval Miniatures, but it’s a system for low/null fantasy and this article introduces magic, trolls and other things to it. The end result has me wondering why they didn’t just use a system geared for fantasy miniature use instead of one for a more ground GMT Games style historical combat. This just didn’t work for me at all. Interesting ideas, but it just fell short of the intent. 6 for 11.


•Dagon Rising. This is a rules-light print and play board game. It’s very well done, but as with all print and play games, make sure you have the right materials on hand to properly make this thing, or the game will suffer for it. Dagon Rising is a random tile based game where up to four players work together to destroy the Pillar of Dagon… and try not to get murdered by Deep Ones. It’s very cute and well done. I hope people take the time to print it off and play it. The tokens and character standees are also very well done. There are two bonus Quactica gaming pieces as well, which are thrown in because they had some extra space I guess. 7 for 12.

There we are. Although this issue of D-Infinity started out rough, the good did eventually overshadow the bad with this volume (although it was looking dire at first). I honestly can’t say this is worth the $6.99 price tag, especially since previous issues are a dollar cheaper. Since the quality of this issue runs the gamut from awesome to terrible, I think you might be better off waiting for a sale or a permanent price drop to five bucks or less. There is nothing here of a timely nature, so you can hold off until then. There are definitely some fun pieces to be had in this issue of D-Infinity though, and if you are a big Cthulhu Lives! or Mutant Future fan, this might be worth paying the MSRP for. Otherwise, it’s a curiosity piece at best.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
d-Infinity Volume #6: The Mythos
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Alex! It\'s too bad you didn\'t like my article (I write the Digital Dice column), but I\'m glad that you found as many as 7 of our pieces valuable! It\'s tough being all things to all people, and that might be why many old school gaming magazine legends like the original Dragon Magazine have gone the way of the dodo bird. Just wanted to let you know that we care a lot about making d-Infinity an earnest and useful multi-platform gaming supplement and are always trying to make each issue better than the last. Thanks for taking the time to review the magazine and we hope you\'ll check out future issues as well! - Brendan
Plague of the Dread Acolyte
Publisher: Trollish Delver Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2014 06:39:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/06/02/tabletop-review-plague--
of-the-dread-acolyte-tunnels-trolls/

In early 2013, I reviewed a wonderful release for Tunnels & Trolls entitled The Trollmanac. It contained odds and ends for the T&T system, and it went on to be a runner-up for “Best Supplement” in our 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. So when I saw Trollish Delver Games had released an adventure for Tunnels & Trolls, I was more than happy to review it as well. Unfortunately, while interesting, Plague of the Dread Acolyte isn’t really an adventure as much as it is the early trappings or rough draft of one. Still, it’s only a dollar, and what’s here might be of interest to those of you who are diehard Tunnels & Trolls fans.

Plague of the Dread Acolyte is the first of three adventures in the Mask of Destiny series. It’s only nine pages long and all of the art is from the public domain, but it’s also only a dollar, so you shouldn’t be expecting Wizards of the Coast or Paizo production values here. However, it’s not really an adventure. There are only six pages of content (the first three are a cover, title page and introduction) and none of it is really arranged how you might think of an adventure. It’s an attempt at making a non-linear “sandbox” adventure, but at the same time, there is nothing really set in stone except for some locations. It’s left to the GM to flesh out why players are in the village of Rockwood, how to set players on the right path, design clues to lead them to the core antagonist and finally, create a climax and a resolution to the adventure that is open ended enough to let you move on to part two, whenever that comes out.

You are given a paragraph on what the adventure’s plot is about (an evil witch turning people into Plague Monsters), three pages on the buildings of Rockwood (the town has no map so you can place things however you want), a page of magic items (more than there are current residents of the town) and a little information on the main antagonist and its plague demon minions. So it’s more fleshed out than a story seed, but not quite what I’d call a true adventure by any means. It’s somewhere in between, and expect to go into Plague of the Dread Acolyte having to do a LOT of work to make this adventure playable.

Now, this doesn’t mean the adventure is bad – just that it feels extremely unfinished and that it is nowhere near playable right out of the box, so to speak. The core plot idea of a conspiracy to acquire the Mask of Destiny (which doesn’t actually come up in this adventure) is an interesting one. The title is pretty intriguing and helped me to pick up this adventure in the first place. Rockwood is nicely fleshed out, with nine locations getting a paragraph or two of description, including a possible sidequest or red herring leading the PCs into a cavern of orcs and other perils. Of course, you’ll have to flesh out this cavern (and most likely map it) to use it. So as I’ve said, there are a lot of interesting ideas, but the adventure just doesn’t feel finished to me. The author states he tried to take a minimalist approach to this piece to keep players from feeling “on rails,” but I think he took it a little too much to the extreme.

Right now I’d call Plague of the Dread Acolyte a curiosity piece at best. If you’re a Tunnels & Trolls fan, I’d wait until all three parts of the Mask of Destiny trilogy are released and decide if you want to pick up the full set or not. Plague of the Dread Acolyte IS only a dollar and a penny, so it’s not like you’ll be breaking the bank on this one if you do buy it, but be warned, it’s a pretty sparse piece and you might be better off writing an adventure from scratch instead.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Plague of the Dread Acolyte
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Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2014 06:40:14
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/30/book-review-delta-green-
-tales-from-failed-anatomies-call-of-cthulhu/

Tales From Failed Anatomies is the second Kickstarter Arc Dream Publishing has done for their (Originally Pagan Publishing’s) Delta Green – a modern setting for Call of Cthulhu. The first Kickstarter, Through a Glass, Darkly raised $27,000 from 346 backers. The newest one saw 1,085 backers raised thirty thousand dollars. It also went so far beyond the original goal, that Arc Dream was able to fund a second book, entitled Extraordinary Renditions via the same Kickstarter! That’s pretty impressive. While Extraordinary Renditions will be an anthology by multiple authors, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a collection of (lucky) thirteen short stories by Delta Green Co-Creator Dennis Detwiller along book ended by two pieces from Robin D. Laws. I’ll admit I took part in the Kickstarter primarily to get playtester access to the new upcoming Delta Green RPG that appears to be shedding its Basic Roleplaying roots. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Tales From Failed Anatomies. The book was not only top notch from beginning to end but it’s currently the best tabletop related fiction I’ve read this year, displacing Troy Denning’s The Sentinel and Richard Lee Byers’ The Reaver. Of course it might help that I’m a big fan of Delta Green, but as I think you’ll see from this review, Tales From Failed Anatomies is a book you can enjoy if you’re a longtime fan of Delta Green or if this is your first foray into this Call of Cthulhu spin-off.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Tales From Failed Anatomies consists of thirteen lightly connected short stories showcasing the history (and eventual future) of the Delta Green program. The phrase Delta Green isn’t used that often, which is a nice touch. Same with other references to the history of the game setting like MAJESTIC, but for the most part the book’s references to the myriad incarnations of the tabletop game are subtle. The book is exceptionally friendly to newcomers, all though this is partly due to the writing style of these stories, which is both inviting and yet esoteric. This ensures that all readers get a strong sense of what the story is about, while leaving aspects of the bizarre and incomprehensible left to the imagination of whoever is reading. In many ways, I found the stories in Tales From Failed Anatomies to be a mix of European Existentialism and a twisted version of Mexican Magical Realism (American Science Cthuluism?) which will leave the reader with a sense that there are two tales being told with each short story – the general one of a human encountering what its puny insignificant brain was not meant to understand, and another one that is only hinted at because of man’s incapability of properly understand what it unfolding before it. Detwiller’s writing style ensures that readers will find the tales eerie and more in-line with the origins of the Cthulhu Mythos than most modern takes which unfortunately come down to “blowing up Lovecraftian horrors with guns and bombs and other weaponry.” I always find a good Mythos tale to be one that leaves just as much unsaid as is explored in the written word, and each piece in Tales From Failed Anatomies hits the mark in this regard.

The first three stories in the book (“Intelligences,” “The File” and “Night and Water,” are all about the WWI to WWII era. As such, all three focus on Innsmouth and the Deep Ones. Delta Green gets its origins from The Shadow Over Innsmouth after all. Again, you do not have to be familiar with the Delta Green roleplaying game in the slightest to enjoy or appreciate these stories as you get a cursory look at the roots of the organization with this triad of stories. Perhaps because they are the core of what causes Delta Green to be, these three stories take up a full third of the book, but perhaps Dennis just really liked Deep Ones. I know a lot of Mythos authors do! “Intelligences” is many ways is yet another take on The Shadow Over Innsmouth‘s core twist, but it’s done in a very interesting way. “The File” is a wonderful look at Innsmouth from a not-so rank and file government employee’s point of view. While “Intelligences” and “The File” are both heavily centered around the events that went on in Innsmouth, “Night and Water” is only vaguely connected to the Deep Ones and is more a WWII story about Nazis using a hybrid of mad science and occult magics to create…well, something horrible anyway. Still, the Deep One connection has me group it with the other two. These first three stories are tremendous and by the time you are done you’ll have a hard time putting Tales From Failed Anatomies down.

“Dead, Death, Dying” gives you a look at a scientist forced to examine something horrible brought back from an excursion into the Soviet Union. “Punching” tells the tale of a Delta Green agent who has little to no sanity left and his trip back to Harvard for a class reunion. “The Secrets That No One Knows” is a foray into a more conventional and yet somehow Kafka-esque Mythos story. Everything is spelled out and yet nothing is ever truly said in regards to what is actually happening. I loved it.

“Coming Home” is a look at the horrors and metal issues plaguing many that returned from the Vietnam War and our other excursions into Southeast Asia. In the case of the story’s main character, this is compounded all the more by the pivotal events that shook out Delta Green in 1970. “Coming Home” is perhaps the least accessible to newcomers as there is lot alluded to from the tabletop game that is never expressly mentioned in the short story, but I think newcomers will still be able to enjoy it for what it is and will take the vague mentions the same way they do all the others in the collection – sinister allusions to something not said.

“The Thing in the Pit” is the story of a hapless IRS agent that gets in over his head. What starts off as a routine inquiry into fraud turns out to be far more than he ever expected. It also features what appears to be a husband and wife Shoggoth Lord tandem, which makes for an interesting tale. Usually I hate stories and adventures involving these creatures because they are done so poorly, but “The Thing in the Pit” is the best I’ve seen that uses them. Of course they might not BE Shoggoth Lords as they are never called that, so hey.

“Contingencies” gives us a look at the Russian equivalent of Delta Green, GRU-SV8 and one agent’s hapless foray into a strange machine known only as the Mironov device. This is a wonderful story that really looks at the fallacies of reality. What starts off as a story about mathematical equations ends up becoming a stark look at what existence really is…or is not. It’s a hard story to describe without piling on spoilers, so let’s just say that you never know what is taking place in the core reality of the tale and what is taking place in a splinter version.

“Drowning in Sand” is a look at an old, probably insane scientist and his reflections at MAJESTIC in what may or may not be Area 51. “Philosophy” looks at the “forced retirement” of a long running Delta Green agent. It’s also a look at how underground Delta Green is by this point in time (pretty close to the original release date of the game version).

The last two stories in the book are the weakest and by far my least favorite in the collection. While still entertaining in their own right, they are a bit lackluster compared to what came before them in the collection. I think this is because both stories take place in the near future. One very near (2015) while one in the latter half of the 21st Century (20XX). “Witch Hunt” apparently shows “Delta Green” being exposed to the American public at large and the cover-up that goes into it while “After Math” is the apocalypse of sorts. They definitely are the weakest in the collection and it’s sad to see the collection end on a down turn, but hey, I loved the first eleven stories in the collection, so it had a pretty good run. They can’t all be winners after all, and even if I didn’t care for these two, this was still the most I’ve enjoyed tabletop related fiction this year.

You don’t have to be a Delta Green fan to love Tales From Failed Anatomies. You don’t even have to be familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos at all. Newcomers will walk away from this short story collection wanting to know more about this agency that is almost as shadowy as the things it fights. Perhaps that will lead people to purchasing other Delta Green Fiction, but hopefully it will make them want to try the Delta Green roleplaying game, be it the original version or the new upcoming take. Either way, for $9.99, you’re getting a wonderful short story collection and it’s one you’ll be able to devour regardless of your prior knowledge of the setting. These days most tabletop fiction releases assume you are intimately acquainted with the world and/or characters in the novel and make no attempt to draw in newcomers. That insular style of writing only serves to push casual readers or newcomers away. Thankfully Tales From Failed Anatomies does the exact opposite. Pick it up, even if you’ve never heard of Delta Green before this review. Once you’ve read it, there is a whole wide world of horror for you to explore.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies
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