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Torn World Presents: Hand-Drawn Dungeons: Volume I
Publisher: Torn World
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/04/2012 19:20:33
The World of Torn: Hand Drawn Maps Volume 1 is actually 5 dungeon / cavern maps in one package. The are hand drawn by Alyssa Faden. I never heard of her before, but she draws a quality map. They are keyed with traps and flooded areas, but the DM has to stock them and figure out the history behind them.

My first issue was a difficulty matching up the connections between the levels (assuming you want to use them as one complex and not individual location). It took some studying to figure them out, and I'm still not 100% sure. I probably need to print them out and let them on top of another. For the next volume, these connections should be cleanly marked to cut down on the minor frustration factor.

The maps come both in a PDF booklet and individual jpegs, which should allow for easy integration into a VTT of your choice. Well, except for the fact that the traps are marked. This is my second issue. Maybe traps should be left out of the next volume, as the GM is more than able to add his own. Including them kinda defeats the whole VTT angle.

Overall its a nice collection of hand drawn maps.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Torn World Presents: Hand-Drawn Dungeons: Volume I
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Microscope
Publisher: Lame Mage Productions
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/27/2012 19:50:06
In a nutshell, Microscope allows players to role play events in the history of the shared world, history that they are making up as they go along. Well, that might be a bit too simple of a description, so I'll try and see if I can do better.

Here's a bit from the book itself:

Microscope works differently than some other role-playing games you might have played, so let’s abandon some preconceptions:
You won’t have your own character.
You won’t play the game in chronological order. You may know all about the future, but be surprised by the past.
You’ll build the story from the outside in. You’ll decide the big picture, the grand scheme of history, and then burrow down and carve out the details.
It’s fractal gaming.
So think big: you have a massive chunk of history to play around in.

Well, that probably still doesn't explain it too well either, but it's closer.

Let's see, the is no GM. You need two to five players. You also need a hell of a lot of imagination.

After deciding on the beginning and an end, you start working on the middle - the history that takes you from start to finish. In a way, it really is that simple.

This is collaborative history building, with the twist that each player has a huge impact on the collaborative history that is defined throughout gameplay.

Heck, the overview of play takes up just a page. The concept is simple, but the result is a complex history that makes a world seem alive - or at least, one hopes you end with that result.

To paraphrase a fellow GM: "If during the world building, the players decide that The God King was slain with the Sword of the Sun and later, during the playing of the actual campaign set in the collaborative world players come across hints about the existence of the Sword of the Sun - they know it's history, they know the events surrounding it. It's a real piece of history".

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Microscope
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Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
Publisher: M.A.R Barker's World of Tekumel
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2012 19:49:25
If you are like me, you've heard of M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne but have never actually come across it. As far as I can tell, this was the first setting / house rule publication based of the grand daddy of all RPG - The Original Boxed Set of Dungeons & Dragons.

This is a copy (included is both a scan of the original pages and a newly produced and cleaned up via computer pages) of the original 1974 manuscript, of which only 50 copies are known to have been produced. TSR's version was published in 1975. To tell the truth, I always thought the TSR edition was the first edition, so this is very interesting news to me (and a nice piece of history.)

Both the scan of the original pages, and the cleaned up computer versions are shown side by side. They have even included a sweet option to only print out the cleaned up pages if you were to print this out.

This PDF is nicely bookmarked, and a breeze to navigate.

As I poke through this, I see that there are Original Skills tables. I wonder if this is where AD&D got the idea for secondary professions. Stats aren't 3d6 but d100. Wow.

Lots for me to dig through. It's like being given a piece of gaming history. Doubt I'd ever run this, but I'm pretty impressed at the depth of a game written and produced in 1974.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript)
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Publisher Reply:
Just to be clear - the TSR version was the first PUBLISHED edition. This version was not intended for publication, but was rather a set of "playtest" rules that were intended to be kept confidential. As you say, "It's like being given a piece of gaming history" - that is exactly what we intended. Thank you!
Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition
Publisher: GRAmel
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2012 19:55:42
Beasts & Barbarians is a Swords & Sorcery sourcebook / setting for Savage Worlds. It's kinda cool to be reading so soon after Crypts & Things, as it gives a different POV (as well as ruleset) for the Swords & Sorcery genre.

So, what do we get in Beasts & Barbarians which we aren't getting elsewhere? Well, for one thing we don't get into any of the rules / numbers until around page 60. Yep, those first pages, almost a third of the book, is all setting information. Pretty snazzy, and it does a great job of drawing you in before hitting you with actual game info.

Next up is the Characters section. It doesn't only deal with character generation but also new and changed skills and edges. Surprisingly, it also covers some asian tropes, such as fighting monks and the like. I truthfully didn't expect to find them here, but I'm glad they are, as they seem to fit well.

Arcane backgrounds are modified in this setting. I don't have a full grasp of them in the standard Savage Worlds rules, so I'm going to need to spend some time on these before I can fully comment. It should be noted that the party is limited to one member with the arcane background.

Gear is gear. When it comes up, you look it up.

Around page 110 we get to the GM section of the book. It does a great job of showing the GM how to set the tone. It's a gritty, evil world full of larger than life nasties. Sounds like fun.

Chapter 7 is the Adventurer Generator. It uses a deck of cards help determine potential plots for your story lines / adventures. It looks to be a handy tool. I may just print out this one section for handy use whenever I'm in need of something to prod me when I need a quick adventure regardless of system.

Next up is the obligatory monster section. Nice nice selection of demons and devil, along with a recognizable selection of less supernatural (yet still lethal) adversaries. When you included the templates for NPCs, this is a pretty complete (and long) section.

Vengeance of the Branded Devils is the introductory adventure included with Beasts & Barbarians. It has a pretty strong introduction and it reads well. As for lethality - one will only know for sure when it is run ;)

Beast & Barbarians is a very complete setting / sourcebook for Savage Worlds. The artwork, from the flu color cover to the black and white drawings inside are excellent. My one complaint is that for a PDF of 210 pages in length, there are no bookmarks, which makes navigation more difficult than it should be.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition
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Cosmic Patrol: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/17/2012 20:27:04
Cosmic Patrol has one of the best, built in implied settings I've seen in a game in a long time. (I hate to call it fluff, but even as fluff, it's awesome).

The system is something I had a bit of an issue fully groking at first, but I suspect that is due to my preconceived notions of what one should expect from an RPG system. This system is definitely more story than crunch, and truth be told, it fits the implied setting much tighter than a heavier setting would.

If I was given the opportunity to introduce new players to the hobby and give them these rules, dice and no other guidance, they would be up and running in less then 30 minutes. With an outside hand guiding them, probably less then 10.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cosmic Patrol: Core Rulebook
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Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
Publisher: Occult Moon
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2012 20:56:22
(originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm hooked on the Toys For the Sandbox series, but in case you've missed it - I am hooked, line and sinker too. It's an extremely affordable and flexible toolbox to have available when you need something to drop into a campaign.

Each Toys For the Sandbox entry is generic , as in "stat free" (but the OSR "feel" is very much there). It also means level free, so you can adjust these for the level you need at the moment. You get a short back story, a map for the encounter area, 6 hooks to choose from and each hook has 3 twists, giving 18 variations on how you can decide to have the encounter pan out. You also get a handful of PCs (usually 4) and some appropriate random tables (in the Cursed Catacombs we get a Rumor Table and an Encounter table)

The Cursed Catacombs is a follow up, an essentially a second part, to #4, Hermit's Island. Yes, you could run them independently, but run together it becomes a really nice micro setting.

With The Cursed Catacombs, page count goes from 4 to 7 pages. The format itself doesn't change, but the extra pages allow Occult Moon to be a bit more verbose with their descriptions. It also makes the pages less cluttered dense. The extra space is definitely put to good use.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 06: Cursed Catacombs
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Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2012 13:50:50
(review originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

Stonepick Crossing is Advanced Adventures Module #22 from Expeditious Retreat Press.  It's an OSRIC (AD&D) module for a full party of 1st to 3rd level characters.  It actually says for 6 to 8  characters, but if I went above 6 (maybe 7 on a really good day) I'd probably never DM again.  So, like I said, it's for a full party of adventurers.

The adventure takes place in the tharp of Stonepick.  It will start in the town proper, and then lead on other dungeon like areas.  Which all sounds like old hat, but there is more then one thing going on in the Tharp of Stonepick.  I count at least 2 main plots and some sub-plots going on, and PC can get involved in any or all.  Which means that the DM needs to keep an eye on who the party has met and some events that may be going on behind the scenes.  A railroad this is not.  The party has a lot of freedom as to what they are going to accomplish and in which order.

Heck, they even throw in a new monster.  Not a bad way to start off a campaign if you are willing to flesh the town out and the immediate surroundings, as the party has much to do right from the start.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
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Barrowmaze I
Publisher: Greg Gillespie
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2012 15:49:06
(review originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

Let me start by saying this is definitely written with an Old School experience in mind. It is most certainly lethal in it potential, as it's author has no problem letting the prospective DM know. Strangely enough, I had never heard the acronym OSR stand for "Oh Sh!t! Run!" before reading Barrowmaze, but it certainly fits. A successful party in an OSR styled game needs to know when to pull back, resupply, heal wounds and re-memorize spells. Old School is not as forgiving as that new fangled stuff.

Another sign of it's strong rooting in Old School Play, is the strong (since the module underlines it, so will I) suggestion that PCs hire hireling and henchmen right from the start. Because when death comes a callin', you may need some cannon fodder to buy you some useful time ;)

Although set up as a dungeon crawl for new players (and the next couple levels that they gain), this isn't just a straight forward dungeon crawl. They start with the immediate outdoor area of the Barrows and will have to avoid / kill / run away from random encounters. When "sandbox style play" is referred to as Old School, folks forget that even within a set area, Old School often assumes a sort of smaller sandbox is also in play. Random encounters can often be random killers.

Of course, once the PCs enter the dungeon proper, they won't only be dealing with set encounters, multiple factions and random monsters - there are also traps. 10' poles and iron spikes - down leave home without them.

The PCs are more tomb raiders then heroic explorers, but that's okay. Old School rewards you experience by the GP - don't forget that :)

Hmmm - I could run this using the ACKS rules without nearly any conversion. PCs might be a tad stronger than LL characters, but that's easy enough to adapt to on the fly.

We get two new spells (one cleric, one magic-user) and 31 monsters in the monster section at the end (a handful seem to be from the old Fiend Folio). Random tables (Random Dungeon Dressing is certainly going to be reused by me multiple times) are always useful. There are even pre-gens for Men-at-Arms, Torch-Bearers and Porters and Henchmen, not to mention some PC pre-gens and a blank character sheet. Greg has pretty much covered all of the bases.

The maps are in classic TSR Blue, which always gets points for nostalgia.

You could run this straight from the PDF, but I'd recommend printing out the pages that deal with the rooms your party probably )or even improbably) will get to during the session in question and the maps. Nothing sucks like having to find maps in a PDF. There are no bookmarks or hyperlinks, but those are less needed and useful in an adventure that you will probably print out. I'd never say no to them, but I'm not going to miss them much either.

Greg wrote Barrowmaze to be a megadungeon the DM could sit down with and be ready to GM within minutes. No block text to be read to the PCs with every room, just a short description. I could probably be comfortably ready to run this within an hour after starting to read it. I won't know everything, but I'll be a step a head of the players. Isn't that the secret to effective DM'ing anyway?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Barrowmaze I
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Toys for the Sandbox 04: Hermit's Island
Publisher: Occult Moon
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2012 22:48:15
I'm getting addicted to Toys in the Sandbox - I just can't get enough of these 99 cent treasures. The Hermit's Island is the latest one I've read (there are more for me to read- I'm playing catch up).

What can I tell you about it without giving away any of it? Let's see, you get a map of a small island (which appears to be missing an indication of scale / distance - not a game killer, but it would be nice) and some background material and a brief description of said island.

You get your usual (I love "usual" in this case) 6 possible plot hooks, each with 3 possible twists. It makes it very easy to tailor to your campaign and GM style.

You get descriptions of 4 NPCs that are very detailed yet stat-less. You know what drives them, but you'll need to stat them out to your system of choice.

Oh, and a random encounter table and a rumor table. A bargain and a half.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 04: Hermit's Island
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Monsters of Legend
Publisher: Mongoose
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2012 15:31:55
(originally reviewed at TenkarsTavern.com)

If somehow, someway you missed out on the Legend RPG Core Rulebook from Mongoose for a buck (still a buck, so you can grab Legend here - I'll wait). Got it? Good. Now, that core book does not include the standard fantasy races (or any race besides human) nor does it include your monstrous adversaries. This is where Monsters of Legend comes in.

Dwarves? Check! Elves? Yep. Pretty much your standard fantasy good and evil races are included.

The book is broken down by the following categories: Humanoids, Invertebrates, Dinosaurs and Reptiles, Creatures of Legend and Natural Life. It's enough to start you off, but if you are used to the huge encyclopedic source of monsters nearly every edition of D&D has had, you might feel that it's a little light. That's to be expected, as it is the core monster book. I expect there will be further volumes later.

The artwork is very nice. I'm no expert, so I can't tell if it's washed inks or charcoal (I think it's mostly washed inks) but it is very evocative. It's all black and white, no color.

The PDF itself is bookmarked, but just the sections. So you can go to the start of the Invertebrates section, but you can't go right to Crab, Giant.

It's basically a catalogue of monstrous adversaries for your players. It fills that role well. I just wish it was filled with a bit more.

Oh, and for the OSR crowd, it features a nice Chaos Creature Feature Random Table. I'm going to yoke this.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monsters of Legend
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Toys for the Sandbox 02: Fairy Glade
Publisher: Occult Moon
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/13/2012 19:28:22
originally posted at TenkarsTavern.com)

It is generally pretty hard to pull off a truly "generic" RPG scenario, as the underlying system often shows through somewhere. That happens with Toys For the Sandbox: Fairy Glade. It's not a bad thing, as it obviously draws upon the OGL/D&D as it's base. There are no stats, but trust me, it's roots are in D&D (and not 4e, but I'm sure it would work there too).

That's not what you want to know. What you want to know is if you get value for your 99 cents. The answer is, yes, you do. A map, 6 plot hooks, each with 3 possible twists, allows you to tailor this in the direction you want it to go. It IS perfect for throwing in front of your party as they are exploring YOUR sandbox (and we all know how important the sandbox is in the OSR).

Color me impressed. I wasn't expecting much in 4 pages, and what I got is a lot, and it's good.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Toys for the Sandbox 02: Fairy Glade
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The Hideout (Savage Worlds Adventure ePub)
Publisher: White Haired Man
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2012 14:17:26
(original posted at tenkarstavern.com)

White Haired Man put's out stuff for 3.5e and Savage Worlds. In fact, my one time actually playing in a Savage Worlds session was play testing for White Haired Man via Fantasy Grounds 2. Oh, did I mention that they put out a lot of stuff for use with Fantasy Grounds 2? They do. Good stuff.

In any case, they are also getting into the e-book side of things with their releases. PDF, as much as I love it, does have it's limitations. This free release of The Hideout is in ePub format, the same format used by the Nook and the vast majority of ebook readers out there. It is not in mobi, which would be the Kindle's preferred format.

So, if you have a Nook, Sony E-reader, or one of dozens of other ebook readers, give it a shot. It's free, and it's a free glimpse of the possible future of game books on your favorite ebook reader.

(this is not a PDF. it says so right on the page. It is FREE. If you can't use something that's FREE it cost you NOTHING. You lose nothing. )

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hideout (Savage Worlds Adventure ePub)
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The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!
Publisher: Dylan Hartwell
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2011 21:32:28
(review originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

First, I'd like to thank Dylan Hartwell for supplying me with a review copy. Good stuff.

Now, on to the review - The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! (you had me at "brewery"... heh) is a Labyrinth Lord adventure for levels 3-7. It's a large level range to cover, especially at lower levels, where the power curve is a bit stronger then at higher levels, but in the hands of the right GM it should work.

The BBof P! is not just an adventure, but it's also is the bare bones of a sandbox setting of the area around the town of Shattenburg. At this point I think I need to mention something - run as written, Elven PCs need not apply. Alright, they may apply, but it should be downright uncomfortable for them. It's actually a nice twist to the usually vanilla fantasy setting - any elves the PCs encounter in town are likely to be servants, and fairly oppressed at that.

Anyhow, on to the rest of the book. In presentation and in atmosphere, it seems to me to be a very good fit for Tunnels & Trolls in addition to the usual listing of OSR RPG systems. It doesn't take itself too seriously, yet at the same time there is a dark side to much of it.

If there is a weakness to the adventure, its the hook. I actually missed it on my first read through, as it's actually on the front page as part of adventure recap / description. In any case, it's hard to get a pre-written hook that fits your party's needs in a published adventure, even when multiple ones are supplied. So, as weaknesses go, its a minor one.

If you are a GM that likes to tweak and twist published adventures into something that fits your style, the Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! would be a good choice. If you want something that tries to cover all of your party's possible actions and totally in depth descriptions that you can read to your group, you'll probably find this lacking.

I'm a twist and tweaker myself ;)

(edit - forgot to mention the maps are works of art - detailed without being cluttered)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!
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It Came from Beyond the Stars! [Tunnels & Trolls]
Publisher: Peryton Publishing
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2011 21:39:31
(originally posted at TenkarsTavern.com)

If you are a long time reader of this blog, I'm sure you've heard on of my little rants lamenting the lack of GM or group play adventures for Tunnels & Trolls. T&T is seen as a solo play RPG system by most, but it can really excel in group play. It's just that there has been so little in the way of group play adventures for T&T it's almost laughable.

I can stop laughing now, as It Came From Beyond the Stars is a really nice adventure written for a party of beginning delvers. It even has a Lovecraftian feel to it. Fun to read, I expect it will be even more fun to play. My one complaint is the lack of maps for the adventure area. They aren't needed for play, but would have helped with the atmosphere. Besides, ever group of delver's needs a home base ;)

It's not a long adventure, but T&T generally uses less space for stats and more for the story. Same holds true here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
It Came from Beyond the Stars! [Tunnels & Trolls]
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The Northland Saga Part 1 - Veangeance of the Long Serpent, Swords and Wizardry Edition
Publisher: Frog God Games
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2011 19:50:03
(originally posted at TenkarsTavern.com)

The Northland Saga Part 1, Vengeance Of the Long Serpent, is an adventure that comes in two flavors: Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry. Today we are looking at the S&W version. After removing the cover, credits, contents and OGL pages you are left with 16 pages of fairly dense text, which is a decent size for an adventure meant to be run in a session or two.

My first impression is that this adventure would make a decent mash-up with LotFP's Weird New World Campaign setting. Yes, this is more Viking in flavor and WNW is more Finnish in flavor, but I think the two would mix well. The majority of the adversaries / monsters in this adventure aren't over the top fantasy, which should help in fitting this with WNW.

I'm a little surprised that the first adventure in a planned 10 adventure series is written for levels 5-7, but I guess one could always move the party north as they gain some experience and survivability.

I like the fact that it isn't much of a dungeon crawl but is primarily story driven. This does however, lead us to the one issue I have with this adventure. To give the party the backstory, we have an NPC regaling everyone with his deeds. I estimate his tale to be approximately 750 words or so... one side of a two column page... that the DM has to read to the players. As a player, unless my DM is a thespian, this is gonna put me to sleep. The rule of "show, don't tell" comes into play I think. I'm not sure yet how I'd rework this if I were to run the adventure, but it's not the best way to start an otherwise well written adventure in my opinion. Still, lots of pieces to steal even if not used whole for a Nordic campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Northland Saga Part 1 - Veangeance of the Long Serpent, Swords and Wizardry Edition
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