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Horrors From Beyond
Publisher: Project Zero Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2014 08:28:46
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/20/tabletop-review-horrors-
-from-beyond-call-of-cthulhu/

Call of Cthulhu isn’t a game you usually have miniatures for, but the concept seems to be getting a bit of a surge as of late. Reaper Miniatures has released a few for its Bones line, RAFM just had a very successful Kickstarter based around Call of Cthulhu miniatures and now Project Zero Games has put out a collection of print and play paper miniatures entitled Horrors From Beyond. While not an officially licensed Call of Cthulhu product, there are some obvious pieces of Lovecraftia in this set such as a Shoggoth, a Dark Young and a monolith with an Elder Sign on it.

For $3.99 you get the following pieces: A Dark Young, a Shoggoth, two creepy monsters I can’t place, a living green glob, a tree, a living green ectoplasm thingy, a stone pillar and an interdimensional gateway. Everything aside for the gateway is a single piece you just print and cut out. The gateway though takes a bit of assembly. This collection comes with some very easy to follow instructions for cutting out the pieces and also how to put each figure on a base. A full page of the PDF is devoted to instructions on assembling the gateway. The art on each miniature is fantastic and I especially love both the Shoggoth and Dark Young designs. All miniatures are on scale with regular miniatures, so you can use these from pre-painted D&D or Pathfinder figures on down to the aforementioned RAFM metal figures. In fact, I actually like the look of this paper Dark Young better than the “real” metal version. It’s also a lot cheaper. So you get a nice set of fantastic looking figures, for about the cost of a single resin or metal figure. That’s a pretty good deal –especially when you consider how nice these things look.

Now speaking of cost, remember that the $3.99 price tag merely gives you the rights to print these figures off. Actually making the figures will cost you a bit more, as you’ll have to have a high quality printer, card stock paper, enough color ink to print these off and a good pair of scissors to cut out the figures once printed. If you don’t have all these items already, this little set of print and play figures will end up costing you more than most metal or resin figures. Paper figures are a cheaper buy only in the long run, so if this is your first set, expect to see that simple $3.99 investment skyrocket before you are done. As well, make sure you are really good with scissors before you start on paper miniatures, because one bad cut and you have to reprint everything. This is especially true with the Horrors From Beyond set we are talking about today due to all the wacky angles and strange shapes that come with Lovecraft creatures. Finally, you’ll also see Adobe Acrobat 6 or higher to view and print this product. As always, print and play sets are for a very specific type of gamer rather than for the general public, but if you’re a fan of paper minis, this is one of the best sets I’ve seen in some time.

I absolutely love the design of these figures and if you’re a big Call of Cthulhu fan and/or miniatures type of gamer, Horrors From Beyond , this set is easily worth the $3.99 price tag – but only if you know what you need to actual make a set of print and play miniatures useable. I’m pretty happy with it, especially the scenery pieces and the art for each figure is top notch. I really hope Project Zero continues this line of Call of Cthulhu themed print and play miniatures as it appears the market for CoC figures is growing faster than it ever has.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Horrors From Beyond
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Castles & Crusades Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/18/2014 08:08:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/18/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-players-guide-to-the-haunted-highlands/

This book, along with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands were both funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Although originally planned to be a 76 book, the stretch goals ballooned the content out another forty pages. I’m generally pretty enthused about Castles & Crusades releases, especially products like the Codex Celtarum or The Book of Familars, but I’ve never really been a big fan of “Haunted Highlands” themed products. Case in point, The Free City of Eskadia was one of the driest and dullest RPG books I’ve ever read and it had a lot of errors in the PDF version that I hope didn’t make it through to the physical one. The bad news is that the book isn’t as good as a lot of recent Castles & Crusades products, but then the system has really been on a roll lately, so it’s no surprise that the quality had to dip had some point. The good news is that the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a lot better than The Free City of Eskadia and it contains nearly everything you need to play a game of Castles & Crusades – all for a few bucks less than the normal Player’s Handbook. That’s a pretty nice deal when you think about it.

Unfortunately what is missing from the Player’s Guide that is in the Player’s Handbook are the core character classes. This is odd because the book gives all the other rules for character creation including a lengthy explanation of the rules, generating attributes, how to play out combat, race descriptions and more. In fact a good portion of the book of superfluous if you already own the Player’s Handbook and because the character creation rules are only partially in the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highland, you still need the Handbook to make a character. This just seems like a really strange decision layout, editing and content wise. In fact if you added up all the pages that rehash what is already in the Player’s Handbook, you get those forty or so extra pages that were unlocked by stretch goals. It’s a shame those pages weren’t devoted to the campaign setting instead as that would have made the book more useful and less repetitive. Did we really need to go over what classes are best to dual class with or how the SEIGE Engine system works? If you buy The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands,, you probably already no these things and also already own the core rulebooks. Wasted pages and wasted trees all around here.

The actual content on the Haunted Highlands itself is both weak and sparse. Only the first two chapters, roughly thirty-five pages are actually about the campaign setting itself. Even then only about fifteen pages (8-23) actually talk about the Highlands themselves. That’s less than half the first two chapters and a tenth of the entire book itself! The rest are devoted to twelve pages of gods and fiends, a table of contents, the OGL page, a page of Kickstarter backers, legal mumbo jumbo and a lot of introduction padding. This was a real disappointment to see locations only got a single paragraph of description. There is so little detail and content about the actual Haunted Highlands themselves, I don’t see why we needed two books on the campaign setting. The Player’s Guide is just exceptionally weak if you’re looking for flavor and an in-depth discussion on the region, its people and important locations within it. As mentioned earlier the book devoted a full chapter to rehashes character creation and combat rules for the Player’s Handbook, which is space that both could have and SHOULD HAVE been used to really flesh the actual campaign setting out more. Again, this was such a disappointment and I’m left thinking how much better (and cheaper) for the player things could have been if this was stripped of the actual relevant material and put together with the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands and just made into a single book.

Now that isn’t to say that The Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands is a complete letdown. There are some worthwhile bits of information and ideas within this book. While the chapter on Races is pretty uninspired and cookie-cutter, it was nice to see stats for playing a goblin, hobgoblin, full blooded orc, Underdark rip-off races and more. Hey, at some point someone is going to want to play one of those. It’s nice to have C&C stats for playing one, including racial advantages and attribute modifiers. I also really like the complete remaking of the Assassin class. While both the original and the Haunted Highlands version of the Assassin have their benefits, I think people will find this new version which is not based on the old AD&D 1e one to really bring something new to the character class and it is perhaps the highlight of the book. Another new class is the Conjurer which is a bit too Final Fantasy Red Mage for my liking. They cast both Cleric and Mage spells and use Charisma in the same way a 3e Sorcerer does. It’s a bit cheesy, but some people will enjoy the option.

Besides full character classes, the book also offers class kits ala the old AD&D Second Edition “Complete Handbooks.” You have a Necromancer template, a Witch template, two monk variants, more than half a dozen Paladin kits and so on. While these are all neat ideas, they really don’t flesh out the Haunted Highlands as a location. There are some very interesting ideas here, but instead of laid out like 2e kits, these should have been done in the style of Advantages, which were introduced in The Book of Familiars. We’re getting way too many different optional ways of customizing a character without any actual uniformity and that’s going to bog down Castles & Crusades far more than it helps it.

The rest of the Player’s Guide is all about magic. You get almost thirty pages of magic based content, ranging from new rules for sacrificial magic to well over 100 new spells for your Castles & Crusades campaign. Granted some of these spells were published long ago, but those books are out of print and have been for some time, so these spells are more than likely new to you unless you are a veteran C&C player with a large collection of books. The spells areorganized not in alphabetical order or by spellcasting level, nor even spell class. Instead they are grouped by the mage who invented the spells or by the god who grants access to them. This is a very odd way of doing things and it makes looking up a spell harder than it should be, but at least there’s a ton of new content here – even if none of it is truly specific to a Haunted Highlands campaign.

So overall, I’m disappointed with both the quality and the content of the Player’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands. There’s very little content that actual pertains to the locations and/or campaign setting. Character creation variants and spells are nice, but I just can’t see why this was divided into two books, or why the spells and character classes weren’t just put into a supplement with all the repeat content from the Player’s Handbook excised out. While the book has a nice price point of only thirteen dollars and some fun ideas, it seems to be one of those books that serves no real purpose nor fills any specific need C&C gamers were clamoring for. My advice is to stay away from this one. If you’re curious about the Haunted Highlands campaign setting, just get the Castle Keeper’s Guide to the Haunted Highlands if anything. So far, between this and The Free City of Eskadia, the Haunted Highlands has been one of the lowlights for C&C rather than one of the highlights - at least for me.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
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Love and Sex in the Ninth World
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/13/2014 06:45:58
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/13/tabletop-review-numener-
a-love-and-sex-in-the-ninth-world/

Sex and Love and Roleplaying Games always seems to be an interesting concept on paper but one that tends to be pretty awkward in practice. As a pre-pubescent boy, there was no time for romance in my Marvel Super Heroes or Dungeons & Dragons game as there were evil villains to thwart. It wasn’t until I read the comic antics of Phil and Dixie in Dragon Magazine that it even occurred to me that a character might have romance or sexual liaisons. As a teenager, I saw the usual misogyny that was typical for the industry. You know what I’m talking about. Male gamers playing a female character as a horny slutty nymphomaniac or male players sexually harassing a female character in a way they would never talk to the actual female PLAYER. I saw relationships strained when a girl’s character ended up with a character played by someone other than her boyfriend. Then there are games like Vampire: The Masquerade that revel in sexuality and have copious amounts of content devoted to it. Yet even has someone who has written, edited and played that game, there is something inherently sophomoric and surreal that occurs when someone talks about “spending a blood point to have an erection” or times when you can’t help but laugh when two people are trying to act out a serious moment (but failing miserably) of seduction, sex or romance in front of their fellow players. Basically, love and sex are two concepts that are rarely pulled off well, either by the mechanics writer or by the players.

So it’s interesting to me that one of the early supplements for Numenera would be about love and sex. The last time two times I read anything devoted to these two concepts in a strictly gaming manner were the lackluster Strange, Dead Love for Vampire: The Requiem and the unintentionally hilariously awful Book of Erotic Fantasy for d20 games. I’m happy to say that Love and Sex in the Ninth World manages to have a mature discussion on romance without it degenerating into something Beavis and Butthead would “Uh huh huh huh” over or by turning the concept into nothing but mechanics and rules. You won’t find specific stats for a Level 5 Mega Syphilis or told that you must roll a d20 every day to see if you develop anal warts. You also won’t find pictures of an eight breasted female life form, if that is what you are looking for. That made me exceedingly happy because anytime you bog down concepts like lust or love with mechanics, it loses a lot. As embarrassing or awkward as it may be to role-play out provocative acts, it’s a huge disservice to make it a straight forward roll-based action.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are a few mentions of mechanics in this piece. For example, seducing a character is a Level X act based on what level the character is (plus or minus any other factors). However this brief mention in surrounding by a litany of telling you to roleplay the act. You are also given two example STDs that do have a slight bit of mechanics side to them, but the dice rolling is more akin to how you roll for a poison when it takes effect. The core of the experience, however bizarre, still revolves around the GM and player role-playing it out. There are also two pages of items (eight in all) that can be applied towards romantic situations. The Impulse Collar is like a mood ring, the Blood Boiler is the equivalent of both Viagra and the aforementioned V:TM blood point spending. There’s a cipher to help increase fertility (but not one to prevent it?) and the very odd Sexual Alteration Device which can act as anything from a girdle of gender swapping to transforming a characters sexual preference.

So while there are pieces of mechanics in Love and Sex in the Ninth World, there are very sparsely used, which is the wise decision. Still, the vast majority of gamers will still end up cracking wise about a Level 3 STD or rolling to get pregnant, and well they should. It’s an absurd concept that can’t translate perfectly from the real world to the tabletop no matter how hard one tries. The key is knowing your gaming group. If they make one or a few dry cracks about sex mechanics and leave it at that, they’re probably mature enough to handle these themes and concepts. If however, they constantly make jokes, or worse, seem uncomfortable with the idea of role-playing sexual activity or romantic liaisons, then the GM needs to backpedal their idea of including this type of content IMMEDIATELY. The game needs to be fun for everyone after all.

Content-wise you’ll see a lot of frank discussion on sexuality in the Ninth World. Sexual orientation and ideas of what constitutes gender are pretty out the window compared to our own 21st Century modern Earth. After all, in the Ninth World, you have alien life forms who may have genitalia more akin to a swarm of bees or copulate through headbutting. Male humans might have the ability to become impregnated or pregnancy itself might be replace by instantaneously generating a new life through SCIENCE. Like every other aspect of Numenera, the only limitation the game world has is the GM’s imagination. So if you want something akin to traditional gender roles or a matriarchal Amazonian society, you can have that. If instead, you want a society where there are forty-six different genders or where traditional sex has been replaced by events on the psychic or astral plane – GO FOR IT. It’s your game and this supplement encourages that type of thinking.

Primarily, the text continually points out common sense bits, like that sexual attraction is unique to each individual and how different cultures/regions/tribes/time periods find different things sexually appealing. There’s also a mention of what acts are potentially legal or illegal in Numenera, Rape of course is right out, which is a smart move. More controversial is the fact that things like prostitution, necrophilia, bestiality and pedophilia are potentially okay in Numenera, based on the cultural and people. Now that does not mean that Monte Cook Games supports NAMBLA. It simply means that due to being set a billion years in the future, things may be different. You might have a race that ages in reverse, so what looks like a nine year old girl might be a fully sexual adult. You might have a race that can only breed with the corpses of their kind. Who knows? However the fact this door is left open is a potentially dangerous one and if you are acting as GM, for Cthulhu’s sake KNOW YOUR PLAYERS, before doing anything that might turn out to be a sensitive trigger for them. If you have a player that was molested as a child, PLEASE think twice about running a society where adult on child sexual activity is acceptable. Again, common sense prevails here, but unfortunately common sense isn’t very common.

Perhaps most importantly is a three page guide for GMs on how and when to put sex into your game. The entire supplement sums up exactly what needs to be said in the first two sentences of this section. “Why do you need to have sex in your Numenera game? The most obvious answer is: you don’t.” That is spot on. If your adventure or campaign doesn’t need sex or romance to make it work, don’t force it on players. If however, a key part of the adventure you have designed does revolve in some time of emotional or physical entanglement, then by all means use it. So if your adventure doesn’t need a player to be kidnapped and used as a BDSM experiment by an alien race, don’t do it. If however, your adventure involves a NPC following in love with a PC after their dramatic rescue even though they already had a potential paramour who know swears revenge on the players for stealing their intended away – run with it. At no point does Love and Sex in the Ninth World endorse sexual content for every play session of Numenera. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Use love and sex as something special. Character development, motivation, a dramatic game changing moment, or as a plot thread when the randy Nano is caught with the wife of their employer. If you bog down a game with constant bits of sex, you’re going to come off as a creepy pervert to the other people in your gaming troupe. I really enjoy the fact that Love and Sex in the Ninth World not only takes the topics it broaches seriously, but also repeatedly mentions that they should be used sparingly and for moments of quality role-playing that help flesh out and further define PCs.

Sex and love can be really important aspects of a role-playing session. Perhaps a Glaive is on a mission to save her husband from a disease or an unscrupulous Jack has taken over a town via a pheromone spray that makes everyone asexual, thus ensuring the town will due out in a few decades lest they obey his or her every whim. Love and Sex in the Ninth World is an exceptionally well written piece that is a frank discussion on how these themes should be treated or used, not just in Numenera but gaming in general. It’s the best take on the topics I’ve ever seen because it doesn’t reduce everything to die rolls or mechanics and it’s also worded in such a way that it won’t become the butt of juvenile jokes. This supplement is basically, “Look, sex and love happens in role-playing games. Here’s how to do it right without potentially creeping someone out– if you chose to do it at all.” It’s a great piece, but definitely a very niche one. It’s not a must buy by any means due to the subject matter. You’re going to want to be comfortable with sexual discussions in general and also know your audience to make sure this supplement is suitable for your fellow gamers. Would I give this to a GM who is playing Numenera with single digit aged children? God, no. Would I give it to a bunch of middle aged virgins with Madonna/Whore complexes? God, no. Would I recommend Love and Sex in the Ninth World to be I know are mature capable people who can discuss or role-play sex/love without it degenerating into embarrassment or juvenilian jokes as a defense mechanism? Certainly. Unfortunately, those gamers probably don’t NEED to pick up this supplement. So while this supplement is very well written and the critic in me appreciates it for what it is, it’s hard to think of a large audience that will need or appreciate this. Like all RPG releases that are love and/or sex based, this is a highly niche product. Unlike most that have come before it however, Love and Sex in the Ninth World is well written and actually treats the subject matter like it should be.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Love and Sex in the Ninth World
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The Manual of Mutants & Monsters: Cthulhu
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2014 07:26:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/11/tabletop-review-the-man-
ual-of-mutants-and-monsters-cthulhu-mutants-masterminds/

The Manual of Mutants and Monsters: Cthulhu is the latest in the “manual” line of supplements for the roleplaying game Mutants & Masterminds. The supplement is created by Misfit Studios, while the core RPG is by Green Ronin Games. Obviously, to get any use out of this Cthulhu Mythos themed piece, you will need the core Mutants & Masterminds rulebook.

For only a buck fifty-five, you’re actually getting three PDFs. The first is a two page “Metahuman Threat Scale” piece that rates antagonists. The second is the core fourteen page PDF. The third is a thirteen page “print friendly” PDF, which is essentially the same as the core one, save it lacks the cover and everything is in black and white. Because the print friendly PDF is the same as the full colour one, assume all commentary is the same for both.

Although the core PDF is fourteen pages long, only seven and a half pages are actually devoted to content. The other seven pages are the cover, the title page, two pages of open game license stuff, a page and a half of ads and a full page of art showcasing Cthulhu in all its otherworldly glory. It’s quite comical too. So while only half the PDF is content, remember, that’s still seven pages for roughly a dollar and a half – all of which are quite good.

So what content DO you get with this piece? Well there are two pages of New Complications. As this is a Cthulhu themed piece, it’s all about mental disorders. Here you’ll find a whopping seventeen different versions, ranging from Anxiety Disorder to Schizophrenia. The mental disorders are not in alphabetical order, but they are all ones relevant to the Cthulhu Mythos or super hero gaming in general. After all, a lot of supervillians (and even some super heroes) are insane, so I’m surprised many of these haven’t been touched on by the core Mutants & Masterminds game.

Next up are two and a half pages on Deep Ones, although the art for these look more like classic fantasy lizardmen/draconian entities than fish folk. You get all the stats for a regular Deep One as well as two hybrid variants. It’s all pretty standard stuff, and it’s fun to see M&M stats for creatures generally only seen in Call of Cthulhu or its multiple variants. I do think the Deep Ones should have a higher Swimming rating, and also some points in Intelligence and Awareness. They aren’t mindless beasts after all, and many of them can cast magic – another aspect missing from their stat block.

Great Cthulhu himself gets three pages devoted to him. Again, his stats are a bit weak considering what Cthulhu is. He definitely needs his Awareness and Presence doubled. He’s a god who communicates across time and space via dreams, after all. His powers are exceptionally well done though, as is everything else about everyone’s favorite Great Old One. I’m really impressed by this stat pack. It looks as if someone cracked open the fifth or sixth edition of Call of Cthulhu and just tried to translate those stats into Mutants & Masterminds, which was a really smart way to do things. The background and description sections nicely mirror the CoC standard too. There are also three story seeds for M&M GMs to take and flesh out if they want to use Cthulhu and/or Deep Ones in their campaign. That was a pleasant surprise to see, and while they are fairly standard tropes for Cthulhu usage, they’re good ones.

Finally, I have to say I really liked the art in this piece. You have a full page comedy piece showcasing Cthulhu, a picture of the Great Old One in a town and the aforementioned lizard looking Deep Ones. All the art pieces are really nice and look like they could have actually been ripped from a comic book somewhere. Considering Mutants & Masterminds is a super hero based RPG, that makes the art all the more fitting and fun where it might otherwise be considered too bright or light-spirited to work. There’s also a picture of a guy in a straightjacket confined to a padded cell, which is a nice touch.

All in all, The Manual of Mutants and Monsters: Cthulhuis a fine piece of reference for combining superheroes with the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s definitely worth $1.55 if you really want to do a crossover style campaign. The GM should probably be knowledgeable about Lovecraft’s most famous creation though – otherwise the players will nitpick a scenario to pieces if it’s not in line with how the Great Old One should behave (such as making it the leader of an international smuggling ring or something).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manual of Mutants & Monsters: Cthulhu
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Shadowrun: Fifth Edition: Core Rulebook Errata
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/10/2014 06:24:09
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/10/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-fifth-edition-errata/

Look, no one likes errata. NO ONE. No one likes know they paid fifty or sixty dollars for a core rulebook only to find out there are a multitude of errors that got past the authors and editors. By the time an errata comes out, rule lawyers have already found ways to exploit the errors. However, it’s the nature of the beast. Video games come out with bugs and need patches (at least in this day and age) and gaming books needing errata is something that has been around since the early days of the genre. I mean, we just now got a version of Unearthered Arcana for first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with the errata included LAST YEAR. Of course, books can’t be patched. You can print off an errata sheet and stick it in your book, but that can be easily lost or damaged, leaving you, once again, with a messed up set of rules. This is the main reason 95% of the tabletop products I pick up these days are digital. Publishers can easily edit a PDF and send it out to the purchasers for little to no cost. Trying to tracking down all the purchasers of a physical copy and mail them a few pages of fixed up rules? Well, I don’t even want to imagine the time and cost that would entail.

It’s no surprise that Shadowrun Fifth Edition required a rules errata sheet. As I’ve said, it’s something we’ve come to expect with core rulebooks. It’s also not a surprise that Catalyst Game Labs have made the errata available on their site and on DriveThruRPG.com for free. It’s also good to see that, according to Shadowrun‘s Facebook page, “The PDF will be updated in the near future, and future printings will incorporate the errata.” Great for people smart enough not to purchase first printings or the PDF… bad for those that were the most gung ho supporters and plunked down a lot of cash for a dead tree version of 5e, no?

There are four pages to the errata, with a total of 38 categories getting corrections. Most of these are simple tweaks, such as mentioning playtesters left out of the credits or noting that the thermographic vision power was left off the dwarves’ racial bonuses. Some negatively affect characters, like Trolls having to pay double for equipment rather than 50% more, and some are positive, like Combat Sense being changed from an Active power to a Passive one. Some are just plain weird, like TEN sample characters needing their stats corrected, as you would think character design would be the easiest thing to get right. Some are slightly complicated. The Mystic Adept especially had to be tweaked because Power Points now cost 5 Karma per point instead of 2 Karma per Point. OUCH. The good news is that, while some of these changes may cause consternation because of how they change the game, a lot of them are pretty fairly self obvious and are changes you have probably already made to the game yourself because you caught the original error. Case in point, in the original book, Intimidation tests were listed as “Intimidation + Willpower[Social].” That has now been changed to Charisma + Willpower, which makes sense and it a pretty apparent oops by the writers. So on and so forth.

So, if you have a physical copy of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition, you’re going to want to head on over to Shadowruntabletop.com or DriveThruRPG.com and download one of these errata sheets. It’s free and will help you out. If you have a digital copy or haven’t bit the bullet on 5e yet, there’s no need to download this, as the PDF will be corrected, and if you still want a physical copy, wait a few months and then when you go to get one, check to see what printing it is. If it’s an older model, put it back. Like Cyberware or an Ares Excalibur.

Just remember, having to have an errata sheet, much less four pages of errata, is something NO gamer likes to see, but at least CGL did one and made it publicly available for free. I’ve seen some companies that don’t even bother with errata. Just remember, it is just a game, and that while a few of these changes will drastically affect your character (hopefully you didn’t make a Troll Mystic Adept), most are common sense and feel right in the end. Still, sucks to be an early adopter, doesn’t it?

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Fifth Edition: Core Rulebook Errata
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The Amber Monolith (Numenera Fiction)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2014 12:09:26
This is, word for word, the same piece of fiction that starts off the Numenera Core Rulebook. It tells the story of a man named Calaval who would become the founder of The Order of Truth and the most famous Aeon Priest of them all. This story takes place before he becomes an Aeon Priest however and tells of his experiences exploring the Amber Monolith. The Amber Monolith is one of the great mysteries of the Ninth World, as well as one of its most recognizable. The story is a complex, compe3lling and sometimes sad tale that really highlights how different the Ninth World is from the Earth we currently live on. It's a wonderful read and it's great to see that Monte Cook games has made this free to everyone. The Amber Monolith is a great way to see what Numenera is all about without having to think about rules, stats or mechanics. Since it's free, you might as well download this and see if it tempts you into a further exploration of the Ninth World.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Amber Monolith (Numenera Fiction)
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W20 Cookbook
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2014 08:35:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/27/book-review-w20-cookboo-
k-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/

Yes, you read the name of this review right. They’ve actually released a Werewolf: The Apocalypse Cookbook. I know when I told Mark (the DHGF staffer who loves W:TA more than any other tabletop game) what I was reviewing (and had received thanks to being a Kickstarter backer for W20) his reaction was, “A… what. How does that even work?” I have to admit, that was probably everyone’s first thought when this one time joke was announced as an actual release. After all, when you think of werewolves you probably think of them eating wild animals raw in the forest or devouring some person. Printing a cookbook of “Kill the stag with your bare claws and teeth and devour it right there” or giving recipes on “How to Cook Man” would probably not be well received by too many people. Plus you know, describing how to debone a small child could get OPP in some legal hot water (It could be worse. Imagine a Sabbat themed cookbook…). So the question became how to do a Werewolf cookbook with real recipes both seriously and in a thematically correct fashion. I was very intrigued in the concept of a Werewolf themed cookbook, having penned a long running cooking column of my own and being friends with professional chefs who have released multiple cookbooks of their own and/or have their own well known cooking shows. Who better on staff to review this, right? The end result is a product I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless you are a Werewolf: The Apocalypse fan, nor is it something I’d put on par with the likes of Patti Jinich, Morimoto-San or even my arch enemy Bobby Flay’s cookbooks. I can, however, state that the W20 cookbook is a really fun thematic piece I’m happy to place on my shelf with other slightly silly releases like The Café Nervosa Cookbook, Chaz Adam’s Half Baked Cookbook and WWF: Can You Take the Heat?. It’s not something you’ll necessarily ever use the recipes of, but the W20 Cookbook is a fun conversation piece and if you collect cookbooks or just love gastronomy, you’ll get a kick out of this.

Enter the garou Peter Quire. This Silent Strider, who was training to be a chef before his first change, still retains his love of cooking and culinary history and decided to create a cookbook that showcases the culture of each Garou tribe, including the lost ones and even the Black Spiral Dancers (!). The end result is an in-character cookbook. While the recipes might not actually match up with the Garou clan of choice very well in some cases (we’ll look at those in the next paragraph) and some other recipes might be a bit dull or lackluster, I’m going to assume it is because this is by a British garou that hasn’t actually encountered some of the tribes and is doing guesswork rather than actually matching up a proper dish for the Garou in question. That’s not a knock on British cooking (although as an ex resident of Epsom, Surrey, I would be well within my rights to make a joke about how terrible stereotypical British cuisine can be…), merely that the cookbook might have suffered less in terms of thematic correctness if the character supposedly writing the book actually had contact with some of the tribes.

The weakest part of the cookbook for me involved the pairing of certain recipes with specific Garou tribes. The recipes are far from correct (in terms of theme. The actual contents and cooking part of the recipes are spot on and well done), and in the case of the poor Croatan, the choice of recipe is a little bit (albeit it unintentional) offensive (A bison heart? REALLY?). Maybe it’s just because I have access to what is considered one of the best Native American themed restaurants the States and have friends that are both Native American and professional chefs, but these could have been so much better, as well as making them thematically correct. The book could have done something simple like Fry Bread, corn totopos, a succotash, or even something really fun like fried alligator. Instead we got a Pastel because Uktena supposedly like Street Food instead of actual Native American dishes, a Venison and Barley Soup (the closest to being thematically correct but still a bit off) and the aforementioned Bison Heart. You’ll see a similar issue with the Bunyip recipe if you’re well versed in Australian cuisine or with the Hakken having…tofu as the dish to represent them. As someone well versed in Japanese cooking, this just felt like the book didn’t even try to do something for fitting for the Asian Shadow Lord variant. Now none of this is enough to bring the quality of the book down, but the book really does feel like it dropped the ball in areas and that it could have been so much better than what the final product actually turned out to be, both in terms of recipe quality and thematic pairing.

Besides this rather big quibble (but hey, I’m a folklorist well versed in this particular game and I used to do my own cooking column, so this was like the PERFECT STORM of constructive criticism for this poor book), there is a lot to enjoy about the W20 Cookbook. I really liked that the recipes give vegetarian, pescatarian and gluten-free options when it can, so that as many people as possible can try the recipes. It does strike me as a bit odd that a Garou would be that politically correct with its cookbook, especially when most professional chefs have an absolute fit if their editor tries to get them to do variants like this (Oh, the stories I’ve been told…), but it does ensure that more readers will actually go out and try the recipes in this collection rather than just view it as a curiosity piece. I also like that the author included recipes that were more simplistic or easy to prepare rather than for things geared towards winning a Michelin star or the like. These are recipes the average person can do in their own kitchen rather than require all the crazy (and some would say overpriced) crap I have in my kitchen for extremely specific (niche) uses. I’m reminded of a raw food cookbook I was sent to review where the author pretty much screamed at the reader to have a Vita-Mix blender and that nothing else would do. Well, said blender is usually around $450 – well out of the reach of a lot of people’s price range, thus making the cookbook extremely unfriendly to people curious about a raw food diet. The W20 Cookbook knows its audience really well, and thus has tailored dishes to the layman which is a good call for a thematic cookbook. It’s also worth noting that the author stays in character throughout the cookbook, even in the recipe steps themselves. I haven’t seen that outside of the Achewood Cookbook and it really made this a pleasure to read. I can also happily say that most of the recipes are pretty healthy and well balanced. You’re not going to lose any weight from the dishes in this cookbook (especially the Silver Fang and Black Spiral Dancer entries), but the food should be pretty tasty if you follow the recipes. ANYONE should be able to use this cookbook, regardless of skill level in the kitchen and that alone makes this outing worthy of respect. I mean, given the choice between cooking the recipes in the W20 Cookbook or having to make one of the monstrosities Guy Fieri or Sandra Lee puts out, I’ll go Garou all the way.

I should also mention two observations about this cookbook. It’s ironic that the Silent Striders have one of the longest and most complex recipes in the book considering their section talks about “on the go” food and it’s interesting to see how politically correct White Wolf has become (the Croaton incident in this book notwithstanding). The inclusion of vegetarian and gluten free options, even though I can’t actually see a werewolf catering to those folk for a second, shows how different the World of Darkness in 2013 is from the World of Darkness in the 1990s (Back cover of the Second Edition Tzimisce Clanbook for example…).

In the end, I can say I’m fairly positive about the W20 Cookbook. Could it have been a LOT better in terms of recipe selection, tweaking and thematic pairing? Oh god, yes. At the same time, what’s here is fairly good, especially for a theme cookbook (as compared to a more serious minded recipe collection). The author isn’t going to win a James Beard anytime soon, and I can’t see the IACP even mentioning this release, but I am extremely impressed that OPP took what was originally meant to be a joke and actually turned it into a decent cookbook with a wide variety of easy to make recipes that should make your taste buds happy. You can’t ask much more than that. All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised with the Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Cookbook and even if you don’t ever use it in your own kitchen, fans of kitschy cookbooks or W:TA will get a kick out of flipping through this one.

Recipes Contained in the Book (In order)

•Stuffed Tricolor Peppers

•Chicken and Peanut Curry

•Mushroom Stew with Wheaten Bread

•Breton Apple Pie with Calvados Cream

•Gravad Lax with Dill and Mustard Sauce

•Creamy Chicken Tagliatelle

•Smoky Chicken and Peppers

•Turkey and Chorizo Stew

•Tamiya with Harissa

•Lobster Linguini

•Tuna in Miso Broth

•Pastel

•Venison and Barley Soup

•Prawn Dim Sum

•Agedashi Tofu

•Steak Tartare

•Damper Bread

•Bison Heart

•Venison with Blackberry Sauce

•Apocalypse Cheesecake

•Seitan

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Cookbook
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Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2014 06:15:47
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/06/tabletop-review-dreams--
of-the-red-wizards-scourge-of-the-sword-coast-dungeons-drago-
ns-next/

Scourge of the Sword Coast is a pretty unique experience in a lot of ways. It’s the third in the series of Sundering adventures. It’s also a Dungeons & Dragons Encounters release, much like the first two Sundering adventures. Unlike Murder in Baldur’s Gate and Legacy of the Crystal Shard, Scourge of the Sword Coast is released in a digital PDF format rather than as a physical package. This means instead of getting a DM screen, a Campaign Guide and an adventure, you are getting one large PDF and twenty supplementary PDFs. As well, Scourge of the Sword Coast is designed only for D&D Next rules while the previous Sundering adventures were compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and Fourth Edition. I’m not sure why such changes were made to the format as the first two Sundering adventures allowed a wide range of D&D fans to play the content. It’s a bit of a disappointment to be sure, but it’s not as if this is the first publicly available D&D Next only adventure. We’ve already had Vault of the Dracolich and a full campaign in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle released. We had to move on to the new edition sometime, right?

Speaking of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, it is worth noting that Scourge of the Sword Coast is a direct sequel to that campaign, with characters and events from that collection showing up here. However you won’t be able to use the same characters as you did in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle. That campaign took a character from first to (at least) tenth level while Scourge of the Sword Coast will take characters from second to fifth level. This is also a good time to mention that leveling up is done D&D Encounters style rather than based on experience points. This means you will level up after specific questions/dungeons crawls/campaign moments. This might not sit well with long time D&D players, but those used to D&D Encounters and its style of play should be used to this. I have to admit I would have preferred straight up experience because the adventure is completely open world so events can unfold in any order. So the gaps between leveling up might be really small and then take forever. At the same time goal based leveling up may not be what we’re used to as roleplayers but it does make more sense from a story point of view. No worries though because if you really want to assign XP totals to monsters, there’s nothing stopping you.

Scourge of the Sword Coast takes place around the town of Daggerford, which shall act as your homebase for the campaign. Yes, this is a campaign made up of several dungeon crawls which connect to form a larger story. The order in which quests will be discovered and completed depending on what clues and/or conversations the characters have, and in which order. It’s entirely possible for one or two quests to not be finished before the endgame is figured out and players being players, may just skip right ahead to that. There’s nothing wrong with that. Adventures need to be designed of all sorts of player decisions and Scourge of the Sword Coast does just that. Because of the open world nature of the campaign, Scourge of the Sword Coast is best left in the hands of a very experienced DM who can handle multiple dangling plot threads at once as well as the many locations this campaign contains. An inexperienced DM might find themselves in over the head and thus the experience will suffer greatly.

Scourge of the Sword Coast will see Daggerford as the crux of all sorts of strange happenings. There will be machinations by devils, plots by Thayan wizards, a massive influx of refugees as Orcs, Gnolls and Goblins seem to be attacking and harassing villages in a great decree than ever before. The Duke of Daggerfod gets a an ancient piece of art stolen and accuses the longtime ally of a disabled Paladin of the theft. All of these plot threads and more tie together as the players seek to uncover the puppetmaster behind all these apparently unrelated incidents. Besides Daggerford players will travel to the village of Julkon, Phylond Lodge, Harpshield Castle, Firehammer Hold, and the Floshin Estate. So that’s a guaranteed five dungeon crawls in addition to the copious amounts of investigation, discussion, and NPC interaction. You have a wide variety of enemies that you will encounter and while the campaign is a little on the easy side compared to other D&D Next releases, but there is still a degree of challenge and if your PCs don’t work together, character death is definitely possible.

So adventure quality wise, I really liked Scourge of the Sword Coast thanks to the open world nature of the piece, the wonderful cast of NPCs you are provided with and the multiple locations you have to explore. While it’s not as good as Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, Murder in Baldur’s Gate or Legacy of the Crystal Shard, the campaign is better than any of the D&D Encounters pieces I’ve gone through in the past few years and it’s definitely a better experience than most published fourth edition adventures. Scourge of the Sword Cost is a very well done and fun adventure and I’ve enjoyed fiddling with the adventure since October, 2013 (when it was originally provided to me). The final product, which is now for public purchase is really well done and you’ll definitely get your eighteen bucks out of it. Do I wish the piece had experience points or was in a pretty snazzy physical package like the first two Sundering adventures. Well of course I do, but as that isn’t going to happen I’m fine with what’s here. Scourge of the Sword Coast is a wonderful addition to the D&D Next line and will lead directly into Dead in Thay, which will take these same characters (if they survived) through Levels 6-8. Like Scourge of the Sword Coast, I’ve received various renditions of Dead in Thay since November and it too will be a really fun purchase for Fifth Edition fans. So far I have been thoroughly impressed with the D&D Next adventures and content and I’ve loved every single one. Here’s hoping you do too.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Like the previous two Sundering adventures, you are getting much more than just the core adventure. Where the previous two adventures came with a full campaign guide to their region and a nicely done DM screen, Scourge of the Sword Coast comes with a whopping 220 pages of various PDFs provided all the rules you will need to play D&D Next. So if you haven’t picked up any of the rules so far (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle comes with them) you can buy this for only $17.99 and receive the following glut of mechanics and crunch:

•Eight 1st Level pregenerated characters (even though you start the campaign at Level 2…)


•A Twenty page DM Guide


•A thirteen page Equipment Guide


•A four page Feat Guide


•A twenty-nine page Player’s Guide


•A twelve page Magic Item Guide


•A three page guide on Multi-Classing


•A seven page guide on playable races


•A fifty-eight page guide to spells


•A five page guide on Character Creation


•An eleven page guide on Skills and Backgrounds


•A forty-six page guide on Classes


•A one page “Read this First!” document

Wow. That’s a lot of content and it’s all free with the purchase of the adventure. For those that already have Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, you can see how the D&D Next rules have changed in the past few months. If you don’t have Dragonspear Castle, then purchasing Scourge of the Sword Coast not only gives you a full campaign but the ability to have all the rules you need to run a full D&D Next game. FOREVER! Well, until the core rulebooks come out anyway. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a great deal this is. 220 pages of mechanics in addition to an eighty-five page campaign? That is an exceptional deal and this is probably the best way to jump on D&D Next if you haven’t already. If you don’t like it, at least you only spent eighteen dollars instead of buying giant hardcover books with a fifty dollar or so price tag, right? If you’re at all a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of edition, Scourge of the Sword Coast is well worth picking up just because it’s an amazing deal for such a high quality release. Is it perfect? No, it has notable aspects that some people will rightfully pick apart as it’s not “their” version of D&D. I do think D&D Next is a massive step in the right direction and I’ve yet to read a release for it that I haven’t loved. It’s a shame we aren’t getting a physical release of Scourge of the Sword Coast, but I’ve made do with several digital renditions for months and I’m just happy to have the final product in my hands…via a Kindle Fire anyway.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
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Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2014 06:46:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/04/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-digital-tools-box-beginner-box-setrunners-tool-kit-alphaw-
are/

January was an excellent month for tabletop releases. Numenera gave us The Ninth World Bestiary, Castles & Crusades gave us The Book of Familiars and Dungeon Crawl Classics released Intrigue at the Court of Chaos. However, not to be outdone, Catalyst Game Labs has released both the Beginner Box Set and the Runner’s Tool Kit Alphaware as a single PDF. The cost? Only $19.99. That’s a decent price, but made all the better when you realize that the purchase nets you three different coupons: $5 off a physical copy of the Beginner Box Set, $10 off a physical copy of Alphaware or $20 off both! Of course, the preorders for the physical copies haven’t gone live yet, so you still have a long wait for those, but at least the digital copy practically pays for itself if you’re thinking about the physical copy.

Originally, both of these Shadowrun starter kits were meant to be one package and it was supposed to be released in mid to late 2013. Obviously, the dates for the sets were pushed back for various reasons (It’s rare for ANY tabletop product released according to its originally scheduled date.) and I’m not really sure why the two were separated out, as it does feel like they could have stayed one big set. For those curious about how much you’ll have to spend on the physical copies – it looks to be between fifty and eighty dollars. Amazon.com has the Beginner Box Set for $14.12 with a MSRP of $19.99 and Alphaware for $36.05 and a MSRP of $59.99. While eighty dollars sounds like an insane amount of nuyen to be dropping on starter kit when you can get the Fifth Edition Quick Start Rules for free, the only way to be sure is to take a look at the contents, which is the whole point of this review. Remember though, this is a review and recommendation of the digital versions, which are all that are currently available.

First up – The Beginner Box Set

•A one page set of Instructions on how to use the box. Simple and straightforward enough



•Quick Start Rules. These are similar to the set that was released in the summer of 2013 for free (mentioned earlier in this review). This new set has the same amount of pages, but is missing the original set of pregenerated characters and has different artwork (to reflect the separate new pregenerated characters). The pregen pages have been replaced with some DM oriented content and a host of NPCs. It’s also better formatted – at least in my opinion. It also contains a very different “Food Fight” adventure. So don’t worry, you are not paying for something you used to get for free. Just something very similar.


•Five Character Sheets. These are the new pregens and each are two pages long. One page is devoted to stats and one to art and a bio. You have Coydog the Elven Street Shaman (no listing of her totem though), Gentry the Human Decker, Hardpoint the Dwarven Rigger, Sledge the Ork Street Samurai and Ms. Myth the Troll Face. So you get a nice mix of roles and races.


•Ms. Myth Booklet. This eight page document goes into detail about the Troll Face’s background, including who she is, her general tactics and how to play her. I’m of mixed feelings about this part, because players really should be allowed to develop the character themselves, even for a pre-gen. Otherwise you’re just following a script. Although perhaps a good idea for someone completely new to tabletop gaming, the downside is that a booklet of this nature can also give the wrong impression that a player SHOULD/MUST have a multipage dossier on every facet of their character. We’re not talking a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP after all. Even worse, a brand new GM could halt the game and say, “You’re not playing your character right,” which of course is wrong on multiple levels that should be obvious to anyone reading this. It’s a character – there should be no right and wrong. So while the idea behind the booklet is sound and well-intentioned (as well as nicely written), there is the potential for more harm than good to be done with it. The booklet also contains a five stage solo adventure for a DM to run with Ms. Myth. It’s very sparsely detailed, but there’s enough here than both a newbie GM and fledging player can run it and find fun in the piece.


•Edge of Now. A twenty-six page overview of the Sixth World (primarily on Seattle) and a short piece of fiction using the pregenerated characters. Really well done and will help more than anything else in this box to explain Shadowrun‘s mood and themes.


•Fire and Frost Excerpt. This is a forty-two page sample of an upcoming Shadowrun novel. I can’t say I cared for the plot or the writing here, and I usually really like the Shadowrun fiction that has been released. I honestly can say the excerpt ensured I wouldn’t buy the book… but I would review it if a copy came in, you know, like everything else Shadowrun we get. It does sound like Clockwork is going to be a supporting character in the novel, which does tempt me though, because it’s interesting to see him taking center stage. I would have preferred Neat or Another Rainy Night in the set, as they were plugged in it, are better written and are far easier for a newcomer to digest.

So, that was the Beginner Box Set. It’s probably not too impressive to longtime Shadowrun gamers, but what is here is decent enough. I don’t know if I’d pay twenty bucks for the physical copy, as everything here has a free equivalent on the web, either through CGL directly (QSRs and pregens) or can be learned from friends or websites (Edge of Now). Still, if I knew a group of people interested in Shadowrun, perhaps due to the recent video game, Shadowrun Returns, this box might be a better investment than the Core Rulebook for getting one’s feet wet. Now, let’s look at Runner’s Tool Kit Alphaware. For newcomers, be careful, because there is a Runner’s Toolkit out there for Fourth Edition. Make sure you don’t buy the wrong one. The Fifth Edition version has Alphaware in the title, which is why I’m trying to refer to it as such in this review.


•Alphaware Instruction Sheet. A one page briefing of what is in the box.


•Edge of Now. Same as in the Beginner Box Set. The digital version only contains one PDF, but the physical copies of the BB and Alphaware will each contain one.


•Five Character Sheets. These are the same pregenerated characters from the Beginner Box Set, but in a different style. These are more traditional SR character sheets, although whoever chose the fake handwriting font for these needs a good talking to. It’s pretty terrible, and you have to increase the PDF to 150% of its original size for the numbers to fully show up or for the “handwriting” to look legible. Even then, this is pretty terrible. You’d be better off recopying these onto regular paper for new players or using the ones from the Beginner Box Set.


•Four Character Dossiers. These are similar booklets to the Ms. Myth one found in the Beginner Box Set. I’m going to assume the physical copy would have Ms. Myth’s, similar to how it would have the “Edge of Now” booklet as well. If not, that’s another terrible oversight by whoever cut this original project in twain. Again, each of these booklets has some well fleshed out information about the character, some tactics to use, a solo adventure and a character sheet. Again, great intentions and these dossiers are really well done – just make sure new players or GMs know these are guidelines and not hard and fast rules about how you have to play your characters. Newcomers should be encouraged to be creative and create their own backstory if they want to.


•Alphaware Cards. I’m not a fan of print and play products for newcomers, but what else could CGL do to convert this to a digital format without doing one card on a page? Well, that’s EXACTLY what they did, and it was such a smart move on their part. The last thing new gamers need is to see if they have card stock or a double sided printer and other print and play issues. You get 110 cards divided into spells, weapons, armor, comlinks, cyberdecks, cyberwear, programs, gear, vehicles and drones. There are multiples of some cards (the spell ones) which makes sense in case you have more than one Awakened character being played. These cards make for a nice reference set, and even long time Sixth World fans should get a lot of use out of these.



•Sixteen Maps. There are eight different maps, but two versions of each. You have one without any descriptions for players and one with a key code for GMs. Usefulness of these will vary, but it’s always handy to have maps just in case. This is especially true for new players, as they get a visual to work with and an idea of what is around them.


•Poster and Map. Pretty cut and dry here. You get a map of what North America looks like in the 2070s and a Shadowrun poster. I love both, but I do wish that the borders of the different countries had different colours so that newcomers could make things out easier.


•GM Screen. This has rules and character reference pieces. It’s not a double sided stand up piece like most GM screens though.


•Rules of the Street. This is a ninety page document that contains all the Shadowrun rules you need to play the game, save character creation. This is like Quick Start Rules on steroids. This goes into all sorts of details about the different type of sourcebooks you can get, plugs for the card game, board game, video game, MMO, and miniatures skirmish sets. You get a ton of details here with Rules of the Street, and I love everything about it. It will probably intimidate the hell out of people completely new to tabletop games, so give them the QSR first and then give them this. I look at the differences between the Quick Start Rules and “Rules of the Street” similar to the Basic and Advanced versions of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Am I dating myself with that ancient reference? Regardless, “Rules of the Street” is so well written. It’s easy to follow and newcomers should be able to get through it, although there are so many things to keep track of I’d be surprised if they didn’t forget SOMETHING. This is definitely the highlight of the beginner box. There’s just so much content here, it’ll be all newcomers need to run and/or play Shadowrun for some time.


•Plots and Paydata. This is for the Gamemaster only. It’s eighty-two pages on how to run Shadowrun with nice easy handholding steps. You get some nice advice, a breakdown of how a piece of fiction holds up under mechanics and rules (awesome idea!), a fine essay on how to read/run adventures, a reprint of “Food Fight,” a second adventure in “Milk Run,” a third adventure in “Steppin’ Up” a FOURTH adventure in “Workin’ the Streets,” a FIFTH adventure in “Going Inside” and a sixth and final adventure entitled “Snatch and Grab.” Yes, you’re getting a whopping six adventures in this booklet. Holy crap, that’s awesome. All six adventures use the Shadowrun Missions layout, which is a very smart decision. The first four are pretty straight forward linear affairs, while “Going Inside” is a little more free form with room for PCs to explore. “Snatch and Grab” is a direct sequel to “Going Inside” and gives players their first taste of story continuity. After that, you’re given some advice on how to put your own adventures together, how to use all the maps included in Alphaware and whole host of NPCs.

There you go. That’s the Runner’s Toolkit Alphaware. It’s got a lot of great stuff in it, although charging sixty dollars for this as the MSRP is probably going to put too high a dollar mark on something that is meant for newcomers. After all, the price should be cheap enough to entice people to try Shadowrun. God knows in this age of fifty and sixty dollar core rulebooks, sticker shock for tabletop games is common.

So while I’m hesitant to recommend the physical copies of the Beginner Box Set and Alphaware for their MSRP prices, I can’t emphasize enough how amazing of a deal it is to get the digital two pack for only $19.99. You get all the rules you will need to play this game for some time, six adventures, pregenerated characters so new players don’t have to deal with building their own and the entire package is exceptionally newcomer friendly. One of the biggest complaints I hear about Shadowrun is that it’s one of the least newcomer friendly games on the market due to the constant referencing of other books. That and the sometimes indiscernible metaplot that assumes you have read and own every supplement and sourcebook to come out for the system. Well, this one two punch of the Beginner Box Set and Alphaware answer all those problems by making this the most new player friendly set I’ve seen the game since the days of Second Edition. This is a pretty awesome package. Plus it’s 2014, so most new players should be fine with digital copies rather than physical pieces that can get lost, stolen, wet, burned or eaten by pets.

Although long time Shadowrun gamers probably won’t get much use out of either set, guess what? THESE AREN’T MEANT FOR US! These are for either people new to the mechanics and concepts of Shadowrun or, more likely, totally new to tabletop gaming entirely! I would honestly give either of these sets (preferably both, in order) to someone totally new who has shown interest in Shadowrun where in the past, I’d have nothing but my own explanations and walkthroughs to help them out. There was a time when I’d hand someone the Sega Genesis game, as it did a better job of introducing Shadowrun to newcomers than the tabletop game. Now, I can actually give out dollops of the Beginner Box Set or Alphaware based on what their experience with the core product or tabletop games. I honestly think both of these packages are finally going to draw in a lot of new gamers to the Sixth World – although much of it is going to come from people buying the digital version. The physical prices are still a bit too steep for what you are getting. Still, this is a review of the digital two pack, and getting both of these for $19.99 with a twenty dollar coupon towards the physical releases is such an amazing deal I can’t recommend this release highly enough. Interested in Shadowrun even an teeny tiny bit? YOU NEED THIS. Is it perfect? No. Is it awesome? Pretty much, yeah.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
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The Ninth World Bestiary
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2014 06:46:56
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/03/tabletop-review-the-nin-
th-world-bestiary-numenera/

When I was a kid, my favorite part about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition wasn’t actually playing it, but the Monstrous Compendiums. I had several three ring binders crammed full with all the supplements from various different settings. Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Planescape, Mystara. I even had compendiums for settings I didn’t play in. Why? Because of the monsters. They were so creative. The art, the names, the verbose descriptions of the creatures, the methodology and personalities. For example, take a look at the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendices I & II. Bone Golems, Pyre Elementals, Wereravens, Vampire KENDER and more. This book was weird and imaginative, but also gave you exciting and frightening antagonists. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a book of monsters that really impressed me the way old 2e did. Modern D&D, Pathfinder, Castles & Crusades and other games with books devoted to nothing but fiendish thingies are extremely dry with the flavor text being dull and uninspired. I’ve spent well over a decade looking for a high quality book of beasties that would let my imagination soar. Mostly I’ve been very disappointed.

Until now anyway. The Ninth World Bestiary, for Numenera, is exactly what I wanted. With approximately 100 monsters, antagonists, animals, and enemies, this book offers an extremely wide range of encounters for you and your players. It helps that Numenera is already a very weird and bizarre place. The setting and mechanics allow a GM to cook up just about anything and have it fit rather soundly within the game. One can be as imaginative and off the wall as they want. The end result is a very fresh and original game that you can’t help but fall in love with. The Ninth World Bestiary follows this same pattern, giving us a collection of foul fiends and potential friends that are experimental, avant-garde, sometimes quixotic, but always extremely fun to read about. With each page of the Bestiary I turned, I found a new creature I wanted to use – sometimes an entire adventure unfolded in my head just as I read the page. Within this book, you will find creatures that will just leave you staring at the artwork for a while, wondering how someone came up with that visual design for something that could never exist in reality. It’s fantastic.

Of course, not everything is so freaky or out there that you and your players will suffer culture shock from how the different life forms are in this game. Some of the inhabitants of The Ninth World Bestiary might feel a bit familiar, and thus comfortable, for people used to more traditional gaming experiences. The Balkina could be a more animalistic Invisible Stalker. The Bellowheart is reminiscent of a Dark Young of Sub-Niggurath. An Ellnoica can play the role of a Displacer Beast. So on and so forth. The majority of creatures however, are not like anything you’ve ever seen before, and that’s what makes The Ninth World Bestiary so fantastic. Not even the sky is the limit here.

Besides the hundred or so monsters contained in The Ninth World bestiary, there is other content that, while different, is equally fun to page through. There is a whole section entitled, “Designing Numenera Creatures.” Six full pages are devoted to this topic, and each one breaks down how to properly design a creature rather than throwing crap at a wall and seeing what sticks. Level, health, GM Intrusions, forms of combat, diet and more are covered here. This section alone is worth the cover price if you are interested in designing your own living challenges for players to confront.

After that, you have an “Ecology of the Ninth World” section that talks about the ecosystem of the Ninth World and also gives an example of what creatures in the Bestiary are readily domesticated, used as mounts, really love the taste of human flesh and so on.

Once you get through the monsters, you’ll be surprised to learn there is STILL MORE CONTENT. This time it’s more humanoid based encounters. You’ll find three Level 6 potential antagonists to turn into long running adversaries of the PCs. You’ll also find seventeen “People of Renown” to put into your game as background, supporting or adventure driving characters. These range from Dorgur-Auk – an elderly warrior who looks more like a troll from Earthdawn, to Mila the Mindslayer, a dangerous psychic who tries to save mutants from the wrath and slavery of the Angulan Knights. Even the NPCs provided in The Ninth World Bestiary are eclectic in design and really showcase why Numenera is so different from any other game out there, while still managing to feel familiar and easy to play. You’ll find at least one “Person of Renown” you’ll want to use in an adventure or turn into a recurring character within a campaign.

Of course, the monsters are what matter most and I’m happy to say there wasn’t a one I didn’t enjoy on some level. This thing is fantastic. So rather than blindly gush over the Bestiary, here’s a quick list of my ten favorite monsters from it in alphabetical order.

• Astraphin Monolith: A giant floating obelisk of doom, powered by plants.


•Dreamsallow: A tree that sucks your very existence from you as you sleep under it, giving your soul effective immortality in a utopian dimension – for as long as the plant continues to live.


• Flying Elchin: It’s creepy and adorable at the same time. It looks like it should be a Pokémon. Which is pretty much a guarantee to win me over.



•Kirpus: This thing is perhaps the weirdest creature in the book – which is saying something. Anywhere and everywhere at once, this creature destroys anything it touches yet it isn’t purposely malicious at all.


• Nalurus: Think a Medusa except instead of turning to stone, you get a virus that causes your BRAIN TO MELT. This little oopsie aside, the creatures aren’t purposely evil. Which is and of itself makes them a great accidental or innocent antagonist.


•Neveri: The shoggoths of Numenera.


•Nychthemeron: a bizarre creature whose attitude towards other life forms ranges from murderously psychotic, to pretty friendly – based on the time of day it is. This can be either extremely horrific or hilarious depending on how you run your game.


•Queb: Kitty snake!


•Stellar Weaver: Giant spider looking things, composed of the very void of space itself. These things hunger for living flesh and are perhaps the most dangerous creature in the Ninth World. If your GM throws one at you, just run. Trust me on this – JUST RUN.


•Valma: An extremely bi-polar automaton whose curiosity about the world and gushing friendship towards everyone it meets can easily turn into a violent rage if rejected or snubbed. Craaaazy.

These are just a few of the wondrous and potentially deadly creatures The Ninth World BestiaryNumenera already, this book would have made me a convert. It’s by far the best piece released for the Ninth World so far and if you’re at all interested in Numenera, this might be the one piece to look at or by first, even before the core rulebook as it’s shorter and yet brilliantly showcases how beautiful and bizarre the earth will be in one billion years.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ninth World Bestiary
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Numenera Creature Deck
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/30/2014 08:13:13
Originally printed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/30/tabletop-review-numener-
a-creature-deck/

The Numenera Creature Deck consists of 100 foes, monsters and potential antagonists from the Numenera Core Rulebook and The Ninth World Bestiary. I’ve already reviewed the core rulebook and my review of the Bestiary will be coming shortly. For this review, we’re just focusing on the cards themselves as a resource rather that specific mechanics and the quality of the creatures. The latter with be in The Ninth World Bestiary review.

The Numenera Creature Deck consists of 100 various creatures that are commonly found throughout the Ninth World. Each card contains all the relevant information about the creature in question and can be used for a full encounter by the GM. Whether you’re using the deck as way to decide random encounters in your adventure, or it’s merely an smaller and/or cheaper alternative to The Ninth World Bestiary, you can get a lot of use out of these cards. The artwork is as weird as it is fantastic and I was impressed by the sheer amount of information that the dev team was able to cram onto each card. While a creature’s card isn’t as in-depth as their entry in either the Core Rulebook or the Bestiary, you have all the stats and mechanics needed to run one of these creatures in your game. About the only things missing are some of the GM Intrusion ideas and some background notes to help you play them. Each card does have a little corresponding icon in the lower right hand corner on the side with the stats. This icon gives you the page number where you can find the full entry of a creature in a book. If the blotch is colored blue, it is in The Ninth World Bestiary and if it is orange, it is in the Core Rulebook. So for example, the Blizter can be found on page 25 of the Bestiary. This is a really simple and easy to understand way of looking up more information on the creature in question if needed.

The art for the Numenera Creature Deck is the same art that you’ll find in both of the rulebooks that contains these creatures. There wasn’t any art made specifically for the deck, but that doesn’t make the art any less enjoyable. The pictures showcase just how alien the Ninth World is to our own, as well as how creative and outside the box a lot of the life forms are in Numenera. Plus, unlike the book versions of these creatures, the cards have the art on one side and the stats on the other, so you can use the art side as a handout without giving away any stats, powers or other GM-only information. The handout option alone might make the cards worth purchasing if you have a hard time describing the bizarre nature of life forms in this game setting.

So the cards are awesome. That’s pretty obvious. The question is – which version do you pick up if you’re a big Numenera fan? Well, my advice would be to go for the physical copy rather than the PDF/print and play version. Sure the physical copy is more than twice as much, but you’ll experience less of a headache and get a guaranteed level of quality with the professional printed cards. You can also start using them immediately instead of spending copious amounts of time on just making the cards. If you’re not used to print and play products (like the fine releases by Fat Dragon Games, for example) trying to get things right may be frustrating and the materials needed (a laminator, double sided printer, ink, utility knife, straight edge (not C.M. Punk), card stock, and more) will actually cost you more in the long run, especially if you have no plans for any other print and play items. However, for those of you who are already print and play veterans, you already have the materials and know-how, so there’s no reason not to save a bit of cash. It is worth noting that, at the time of this review, DriveThruRPG.com is having a special where you can get both versions (Print and Play and Physical) for only $19.99, a savings of roughly eight bucks. That’s a pretty good deal, especially when you remember that’s both for the price of the physical version.

So I’m extremely happy with the Numenera Creature Deck. Do you need it AND The Ninth World Bestiary? Well, it depends on the type of gamer you are. The cards give you all the vital stats, but none of the background or depth. If you want to just go hack and slash with your Numenera experience, the cards are a fine option. If you want to give the creatures a little personality, you’ll probably need both. It’s worth it though as the Bestiary is the equivalent of a game’s Monstrous Compendium and the cards are handy multi-faceted supplement. If you are looking at purchasing one of the Numenera decks, I’d definitely recommend this over the XP and/or Cypher decks. As I’ve said, these can be anything from a handout, a lighter weight option to carrying the Bestiary around, or even a way to speed up combat time as you’ll have all the creature stats on one tiny card instead of constantly flipping through your Core Rulebook for mechanics and rules questions and then back to the monster. At the very least, any Numenera fan is going to want to pick this up in addition to or instead of The Ninth World Bestiary, as it is a wonderful resource and highlights the strange imaginative land that Numenera offers its audience.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera Creature Deck
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2014 06:17:12
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/29/tabletop-review-dungeon-
s-crawl-classics-80-intrigue-at-the-court-of-chaos/

Generally when you pick up a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, you are expecting a piece that is low on plot and high on combat with well designed dungeons and challenges for your characters. Well, Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is a very different adventure from what Goodman Games puts our for its core product. As the title suggests, this is a very intrigue heavy adventure with a lot of talking, politics and betrayal. It’s almost as if an old Vampire: The Masquerade adventure mated with a first edition AD&D adventure spawning the product that we are looking at today. The end result is a piece that will really test your characters and players, but in ways you normally don’t expect a DCC adventure to do so.

Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is an adventure for six first level characters. The adventure assumes the characters all know each other and have gone from 0-level to first level together – perhaps in a previous adventure. The fact the characters all know and accept each other is key to the adventure for as a party they shall be thrust in to the literal court of chaos, where the gods of this particular alignment all dwell. Here they shall be asked to undertake a task of great importance –recovering a stolen piece of Chaos that Law has sealed away. Now obviously Chaotically aligned PCs won’t have a problem with this. Even Neutral characters might be okay with it. Lawful ones however….might not enjoy being the chosen of Chaos. That’s part of what makes the adventure so fun. Characters will really be tested on what alignment means to them and it’s such a rarity these days. You see parties where Paladins hack and slash as if they were Chaotic Evil and DMs turn a blind eye. You see True Neutral characters championing the causes of good left and right. So it’s wonderful to see an adventure that really focuses on the idea of alignment and what it means to the character. What do you do when a god of a specific alignment chooses you to do a task for them?

Even better, since this is chaos we are talking about, each god of the court of chaos has a specific agenda on hand and will pick a specific PC or two to do it for them, promising them some pretty amazing rewards for working with them. This means, the PCs might be pitted against each other as they now have very different goals of their own. Can this lead to PvP battles? It definitely can. Even if all the players end up being aligned with the same goal, there will still be that festering bit of doubt squirming around in the back of their head wondering when someone will reveal they are working for a different member of the court and betray everyone. There are so many ways this can go, many of which involve player on player conflict (either through words or violence). While this can be exceptionally fun to run with a party of reasonable mature individuals who realize this is just a game and not SERIOUS BUSINESS, if you have a player or two (or more, Cthulhu forbid) that get whiny at the drop of a hat, this probably isn’t the best adventure to play with them. Of course, there is a chance that all the players are aligned in the member of the court they choose to work with (or perhaps they choose not to work with them at all or even betray the court to Law or Neutrality), things will run extremely smooth and without drama. However, this is very unlikely. Be prepared for some sort of player on player conflict, or even a full on pier six rumble.

Once the intrigue at the court is done, it’s time for the combat excursion side of the adventure. Still defying the usual Dungeon Crawl Classics tropes, this adventure does not have a dungeon. Rather it has a location with a series of trials. The trials can be done in any order. There are six of them plus a potential bit of violence preceding the trials. These puzzles range from brain teasing puzzles to facing extreme Lawful duplicates of themselves. The wide variety of these challenges just makes the adventure a lot of fun – so much more than if it had been a standard hack and slash affair. If the players succeed in vanquishing the trials, which again, are not necessarily combat in the usual sense, they can claim the stolen artifact of chaos and return it to the court where the inevitable chaos ensues. Depending on who the players side with and who gets the artifact, the adventure can have dramatically different results. Anything from the players uniting as a solid well oiled team to only one PC still breathing can happen at the end of this. The sheer openness of the adventure just adds to how fantastic it is.

I should also add a note about how fantastic the art is in this adventure. All the artists involved really outdid themselves here. Each of the Chaos gods gets a highly detailed full body portrait and they are all awesome to look at. They’re meant to be handouts and they really help the adventure to come alive. As well, instead of the usual dungeon maps that DCC are renowned for, we get a map of the Court of Chaos instead (oddly shaped like a Star of David). It is no less fantastic than the usual maps and I was happy to see a map of some kind included in this otherwise dungeon free adventure, because they are such a hallmark of DCC’s adventures.

While Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is far from the usual Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, it is a fantastic one and one of my favorites produced for the system. This adventure offers more role-playing opportunities than anything else for the system so far and you could easily spend several sessions just on the wheeling and dealing in the court. The crazy cast of Chaotic Gods will give the GM a wonderful array of characters to interact with the PCs and the combined experience will be a highly memorable (and hopefully entertaining) affair for everyone, even if their character is stabbed in the back (literally or figuratively) by another player before the adventure is done. I really loved this adventure and I do think it might be the best Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure yet. Of course, your mileage might vary. If you want something that is just wandering around a dungeon with more dice rolling than acting out your character, this probably isn’t for you. Still, it’s a fabulous adventure I can’t recommend enough. If you’re a DCC fan at all, you’re going to want to add this to your collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
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Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2014 06:25:15
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/28/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-the-book-of-familiars/

I really love how creative Troll Lord Games is with their Castles & Crusades line. A lot of retro-clone publishers put out content that sticks heavily to OD&D or First Edition AD&D with very little original thought or creativity. It’s just a giant mega dungeon or a generic hack and slash adventure. If you’ve been reading my Castles & Crusades reviews since I started doing them, then you know this certainly isn’t the case with this system. Perhaps no book highlights how outside the box Castles and Crusades is willing to go than The Book of Familiars. It takes a rarely utilized concept that 95% of all Wizard players tend to forget even exists after they take it, blows up the concept to where it fills an entire sourcebook and makes it apply to all character classes! This is an amazing idea, and it can really be a game changer. Even if it’s something you would never use in your own personal tabletop game, the concept is intriguing enough to read about, as you’ll walk away with a very different outlook on familiars and role-playing in general.

To be clear, The Book of Familars is not just about familiars. It also includes a good deal of information about animal companions and how the two differ. I know I see a lot of gamers run their animal companion like a familiar and vice versa, even though they are two very different concepts and the creatures in question have extremely different thought processes and intelligence ratings. Thankfully, The Book of Familars goes out of its way to compare and contrast these two different ideas and still give lots of ways each class can use either a familiar or animal companion. I loved this. Instead of getting one core, but rarely thought of, concept fleshed out, we actually get two for the price of one. How is that not awesome?

In addition to extensive familiar coverage, The Book of Familars also introduces a new concept in Advantages. These are similar to feats from D&D 3e/Pathfinder in that you get them every few levels. However, when you get them depends on the level of power and/or challenge the Castle Keeper has in their campaign. There is a suggested guide to when characters get Advantages, but it isn’t set in stone. Advantages differ from Feats in that they are more of a class ability rather than something you roll dice for. Almost all of them are passive bonuses that permanently affect your character. As well, Advantages can be purchased with experience points, and in some rare occasions, gold. Due to the nature of The Book of Familars, most of the Advantages contained therein revolve around enhancing your familiar or giving classes outside the Wizard a chance to have one of their own. Not all are familiar or animal companion based, but nearly all are. Whether or not Advantages are fleshed out in further books is something we will have to wait and see, although honestly, the idea in and of itself probably deserves its own sourcebook instead of being found piecemeal throughout multiple books ala prestige classes and feats in D&D 3.0 style systems.

Once the Advantages chapter is done, you have twelve chapters on familiars – one for each character class in Castles & Crusades. Each chapter talks about how its class can get a familiar and/or an animal companion and why they would do so. An Assassin might channel a reaper spirit, a cleric might be given their familiar as a gift from their deity, a fighter might get one as a reward for completing a special quest and so on. The type of familiars and their special abilities will differ based on character class as well. Some classes might not even have an animal based familiar. A Paladin could end up with a holy spirit, a Bard with a muse or a Druid could get an elemental as their familiar. Each chapter really takes the generic idea of a familiar and fleshes it out so that it becomes tailored to a specific class. Fighters can even get an intelligent weapon as their familiar! This is a really great read, and I think anyone who runs a fantasy RPG, even if it is not C&C compatible, should pick up this book just to take in the excellent ideas presented here. Kind of like how I feel even non Shadowrun fans should pick up a Shadowrun Missions adventure to see the excellent layout and flow of those pieces.

After you get through the specific chapters on class based familiars and animal companions, you still have a full fourth of the book left. What’s in it? Four different appendices – one for familiars, one for new monsters, one for new spells and one for new magic items/artifacts. For those of you who love stats and mechanics, you’ll have a blast looking through all four of these sections. Now remember, all the bits in these appendices are familiar oriented. This is The Book of Familiars after all.

So as you can tell, I really loved The Book of Familiars. It’s such a great idea. Innovative and outside the box yet such an obvious choice for a sourcebook that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before now. I loved see all the options, from a Koala familiar to over a dozen homunculi. Surprisingly though, there wasn’t an option for a rabbit or a hare. That would be only tiny minor complaint about the book. I mean giraffes and walrus familiars but no bunnies? Still, everything in this book is fantastic from cover to cover and I just really love seeing fresh new ideas like this come to life. Whether you want an in-depth look at what exactly a Paladin’s Mount is, or just a ton of fun new abilities and tables for your standard familiar, The Book of Familiars has it all. Again, even if you never plan on letting Rogues or Barbarians have familiars, the concepts and ideas presented in this book are well worth reading and taking note of, because they’re so well done. This is definitely one of those sourcebooks that is as fun to read as it is to implement. Between this and the upcoming Haunted Highlands and Codex Nordica books, 2014 is shaping up to be an awesome year for any Castles & Crusades fan.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
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Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2014 07:28:12
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/20/book-review-of-predator-
s-and-prey-the-hunters-hunted-ii-anthology-vampire-the-masqu-
erade-20th-anniversary-edition/

The Hunters Hunted II has been my favorite release for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. Like a lot of the Classic World of Darkness releases, The Hunters Hunted II was a very successful Kickstarter project. With overfunding came stretch goals, one of which was the anthology we are reviewing today. At only 115 pages, Of Predators and Prey is far shorter than other recent OPP anthologies. Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II was another Kickstarter stretch goal (this time for Werewolf: The Apocalypse) was 240 pages, and The Strix Chronicle Anthology was 154 pages. So it was a bit of a disappointment to see this collection turn out as short as it is.

Of course, the quality of this anthology is another disappointment. As much as I loved The Hunters Hunted II, this anthology left me cold, both in terms of editing and writing. Very few of the stories actually involve hunters. Most of them just involve humans who just end up encountering vampires through sheer dumb luck. At least two stories use the “Ho ho ho, the person you thought was a vampire was a ghoul and the ghoul was really a vampire.” At times, this collection seemed to be more about ghouls than vampires or hunters. Two stories also have strange editing. One has a little girl show up on the second to last page of the story without any mention of them before, but the characters all treat her as if she has been there the entire time. Another has a character there one paragraph, and the next they are dead without any explanation. It really feels like the collection needed to be edited and vetted better. When you only have nine stories, and several of them repeat themes and plot twists, you have to wonder why someone didn’t go, “No. Too similar. Back to the drawing board.” So yes, Of Predators and Prey is easily the weakest fiction anthology put out by Onyx Path for their various lines, but as you will see, it’s not all bad.

Our first story is “Shut-In,” and it’s about an old woman who needs to sell her house and the person who wants to buy it. Of course, the old woman is a shut-in, per the title, and the reason why relates to events that happened over twenty years ago. The woman won’t come out after dark, nor will she let anyone in after the sun sets, and the end result is a cat and mouse game between two beings, both of which assume they are the predator and the other is the prey. It’s a wonderful way to start off the collection, and it also highlights that even sometimes the hunter is more of a monster than the Kindred they want to destroy. A great way to start off the collection. 1 for 1.

“HOA/DOA” is done in an epistolary style and is a fun story about two anal retentive, uptight people in a community and the vampire that both unites and divides them at the same time. The story is a comedic romp at times, but the ending is quite dark. This is another story where the vampire seems like the lesser of two evils when compared to the obviously insane hunter. I had a blast with this story, and although it is very different in tone and style than most V:TM pieces, I think that only helped to make it stand out. It’s nice to get a breath of fresh air once in a while. 2 for 2.

“Lest Monsters We Become.” A story of two hunters, both with very different motivations for why they do what they do. This story actually involves the Sabbat and shows how different they can be from Camarilla or independent vampires. It’s also the third story where one of the hunters is worse than the vampires. The fact that this is three in a row with that sub-theme had my eyes rolling, but that’s an editing/selection problem rather than a writing one. “Lest Monsters We Become” is well written and a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the two different hunters. 3 for 3.

“Psy-Fri Friday.” Oof. This was a stinker. From being the second in the “Vince Russo style vampire reveal” in this collection, to the fact the story just ends at what feels like the halfway point without any resolution whatsoever, this was pretty much an example of how NOT to write fiction. When a story just ends abruptly for no reason with every single plot line left dangling and no resolution, you have to wonder if there was a editing error and part of the story was cut off, or how the hell this was accepted by anyone for publication. This was just bad in every way a piece of vampire fiction can be. If you really want a story about club kid vampires and the people they prey on, I guess you can read this, but the writing is terrible. Don’t say you weren’t warned. 3 for 4.

“Blood Will Have Blood.” This was just terrible. Bad writing, bad characterization, bad flow, bad editing, bad everything. It’s a story of a group of hunters and the revenge a pack of vampires takes on them. Also, one character just ends up being pyrokinetic at the end in a badly drawn out affair. This is the story where a little girl just shows up at the end who was never mentioned until the second to last page and everyone just acts as if she was there the whole time. It features a terrible dues ex machina ending, one of the worst written uses of spontaneously occurring Numera powers I’ve seen in V:TM, and I just found myself wondering how this got by editorial. This was painful to get through. 3 for 5.

“The Ivy Twines.” Surprise! ANOTHER story where a ghoul is the main focus. This is the fifth out of six stories with that aspect. Oh man, the selections really needed to be vetted by someone else. It’s just too much of the same themes reoccurring. No anthology should be this repetitive. Anyway, it’s yet another story where the hunter deals with a vampire and a ghoul and gets tricked/outsmarted to some degree. It’s also a love story… kind of. It’s also a story written by someone that really doesn’t seem to get how homeless/transitional/permanent supportive shelters actually work, as it gets everything wrong about them. Five to thirty minutes talking to someone from an agency like HUD or DHS could have easily made this from an erroneous, implausible mess to a pretty solid tale. The writing style is good, but the suspension of disbelief was totally lost because of the lack of knowledge about the subject matter the author was writing about. 3 for 6.

“Feeding Habits.” This is another story where you kind of feel the vampire is the good guy and the hunter is far more of a monster. Yeesh. The good thing is that “Feeding Habits” is really well done. It’s told from the point of view of a vampire who has spent the last eighteen years refusing to kill and trying to maintain his humanity as best a Kindred can, when he ends up being the target of a group of hunters. The story has a pretty dark and depressing ending, but it’s also a very nice twist. I was happy with this story from beginning to end, and it was a nice change of pace to see a vampire as the focus of the story and what it is like to be hunted from their point of view. 4 for 7.

“Showbiz.” This is a weird one, and I still don’t know if I liked it for the surreality of it all, of if I think the concept was incredibly stupid but that the author was such a skilled writer that they made it work. A set of three friends put together a faux reality tv show about vampire hunting. Sure, they meet people who think they are vampires, like psi-vamps and blood fetishists, but what happens when they run afoul of actual Kindred? The answer will both surprise and amuse you. This story was a lot of fun. 5 for 8.

Our final story is “Patrol,” and it just didn’t work for me. You have a bunch of high schoolers talking like thirty year olds, yet another story where the ones who are supposed to be vampires are ghouls, a vampire that is completely implausible by V:TM terms, a group of “hunters” that get mad at their leader when she kills obvious murderous bad guys, and a totally anti-climatic ending. The writing just is a bit nonsensical at times and the motivation of characters, especially the abrupt change at the very end, just doesn’t add up. This story had interesting ideas, but they just weren’t written or implemented very well. 5 for 9.

So there you go. Five good stories and four bad ones. So the positive outweighs the negative, but only ever so slightly. As a freebie to Kickstarter backers, I can’t really complain, because hey, free anthology. I can’t really recommend this for purchase unless it had something like a $2.99 price tag attached to it (Author note: Which they ended up doing! Hurrah!), simply because the stories weren’t all that great and Onyx Path really should have solicited more potential authors and vetted the submissions for quality. Compared to other World of Darkness anthologies (both Classic and New), this was really lackluster, and I’m kind of disappointed that once again, V:TM is getting the short end of the stick.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
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Spell Themes: Fog
Publisher: gannet games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2014 07:04:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/17/tabletop-review-spell-t-
hemes-fog-pathfinder/

I remember well my days with AD&D, Second Edition. With the help of a single first level, rarely used spell, I managed to stymie many a fon, stump several DMs and get some extra experience points for creativity with it. That spell? Little old Wall of Fog. I was able to do the same thing with Obscurement when I played a Cleric, but that would wait until I could cast second level spells. I have so many fond memories of fog based spells and how they’ve kept my characters alive even when my dice had turned against me, so it’s no wonder that I picked up Spell Themes: Fog, the second in the Spell Themes series by gannet games. Yes, they put their name in all lower case; I’m just following their lead.

For only a dollar, you get seven pages of mechanics involving fog. The other four pages are the two covers, the OLG and a cover page. There are new spells, new feats and new takes on old favorites that didn’t necessarily make the jump from TSR/WOTC to Paizo. I’m actually shocked at how much content is crammed into this piece. You get a whopping TEN feats and TWENTY new fog based spells. That’s right, all in just seven pages. There are no pictures aside from the front cover, just tiny text so that everything can fit into this one PDF. The layout is a bit odd as they have one feat, Fog Mastery, then the spells and then the rest of the feats. I think this was to highlight the aforementioned core feat, but the piece would have flown better had it been all spells and then feats or vice versa. It’s also a disappointment that the spells are Wizard/Sorcerer only, as several of them feel like they should be Druid spells as well. Still, these are minor quibbles on an otherwise amazing job.

Let’s talk about feats first. Fog Mastery lets you switch out a spell for a fog based one similar to a Cleric’s quick healing ability. Dismissible Fog lets you end your fog spells early. Energy Fog lets your fog do damage. Hollow Fog allows for a clear area in the mess, giving your side a tactical advantage. Moveable Fog is self-explanatory. Resilient Fog makes your fog spells hard to dispel. Curtailing Fog makes your fog spells harder to traverse through. Sickening Fog adds the sickened condition to any fog spell, making them all quasi Stinking Cloud spells. Finally, Sparkling Fog turns those that walk through it into a Mormon Vampire (Okay it hampers vision). These are all pretty interesting. Most of these require a specialization in Conjuration (Old school D&D in me save Evocation/Invocation or Alteration) or to have the feat Spell Focus (Conujuration). A caster’s Spell Level must be between 3rd and 5th as well, meaning these are out of reach for the lower level casters that live or die by fog spells. Now that doesn’t mean you still won’t use these feats once you have access to them, just that many gamers tend to go for the more damage dealing feats at that point.

Spells in this supplement are: Asphyxiating Fog (3rd Level), Choking Cloud (4th Level), Clinging Fog (3rd Level), Cutting Fog (4th Level), Dampening Fog (3rd Level), Expanding Fog (3rd Level), Fog Burst (0 Level), Fog Shape (0 Level), Following Fog (2nd Level), Greasy Fog (6th Level), Guided Fog (3rd Level), Hanging Fog (2nd Level), Intoxicating Fog (4th Level), Irritating Fog (3rd Level), Restraining Fog (5th Level), Rolling Fog (4th Level), Rusting Fog (6th Level), Shadowing Fog (3rd Level), Tenuous Fog (1st Level), and Wall of Fog (2nd Level).

Again, all of the above spells are a lot of fun and a very defensive or clever gamer can make great use of these. It’s also great to see Wall of Fog back, but it is a bit disappointing to see it at second level instead of first where I am used to it. Ah well, that’s why I’ll play 2e instead of Pathfinder, eh? The spells suffer from the same minor problem that the feats have and that’s that once a character is powerful enough to cast them, their eye is more on crazy damage or spells with more lethal effects. The 3rd level spells especially suffer from that since it’s the time you get everything like Fireball, Lighting Bolt, Vampiric Touch, Fly Haste and so on. That’s not a flaw with the spells in and of themselves – just a note at how most gamers tend to play their wizards.

Overall, Spell Themes: Fog is fantastic and the fact it only costs a buck means that any Pathfinder gamer worth their salt should download this. It will give you a ton of great options for a more defensive or trickier based wizard and more a DM, some of these spells will drive your players crazy. Big recommendation here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spell Themes: Fog
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